Common 5 Causes of Harley Davidson Shifting Problems

Several factors contribute to Harley Davidson shifting problems. If you own and ride a Harley Davidson, understanding the essential maintenance tips will help you identify and quickly correct issues with your motorcycle.

Especially problems that are not related or connected to the engine. One of these issues is inadequate or inappropriate shifting.

Shifting problems are sometimes associated with the way people operate their motorcycles.

Nevertheless, there are other numerous reasons why a shifting problem may occur with your Harley Davidson.

As you read along, we will highlight some common Harley Davidson slipping issues, the causes, and how you can solve these challenges whenever they occur.

Why Harley’s Transmission Would not Shift?

When your Harley transmission fails to shift (when your bike doesn’t move when you put it into gear), this may result from a low fluid level.

The transmission fluid may become low due to leakage.

Some major reasons for leakage include faulty fluid lines, damaged pan gaskets, or when bolts are not properly and securely tightened.

Low oil level affects the transmission’s performance, and as a result, leads to shifting difficulties.

Other issues that could prevent the transmission from shifting include a clogged filter, faulty clutch cable, non-functioning shifter, and damaged gearbox.

Immediately you diagnose the issue after troubleshooting the transmission.

If you don’t have the adequate skills, resources, or necessary tools to correct the issue, you may consult an expert to fix the problem for you.

Remember, when the transmission is not healthy (when it slips), your bike will find it very difficult to stay in one gear.

This is why you need to ensure your transmission is in a good state at every time for better shifting.

A healthy transmission also ensures your bike remains in a particular gear until you attempt to switch it.

Causes of Harley Davidson Shifting Problems

This section discusses the common Harley Davidson shifting problems and how they can be solved or corrected.

We cannot leave out or neglect the fact that poor or inadequate shifting can simply be caused by insufficient knowledge or experience on the part of the bike owner or rider.

The first approach towards eliminating or avoiding shifting issues depends on how you operate your bike.

For the best shifting experience, riders must invest a lot of time into understanding the appropriate shifting skill.

This way, it becomes easy to avoid quick or sudden gear transitions. This may occur when you compromise on control.

Once a rider has enough experience that is required to operate or ride a bike, shifting between gears becomes an easy task.

In the end, this improves the riding experience by making it fun and satisfying.

Now, let’s discuss other major shifting issues you may experience with your motorcycle.

We will also discuss the factors that contribute to each problem and how you can easily correct them.

01. Gear shifting into neutral

When your bike’s transmission is functioning or working optimally, your Harley Davidson will operate and remain in a chosen or designated gear.

You can easily initiate and shift between different gears to support the bike’s operation.

In a situation where you find it hard, difficult, or impossible to initiate and operate the gears appropriately, there is an issue you need to detect and fix accordingly.

Your motorcycle’s gears may fail to hold or slips out of an intended or supposed gear.

This action may force the bike’s gear to shift into neutral. If this happens while riding on the highway or down the road, it is pretty dangerous.

The two major factors contributing to poor or inadequate shifting when you attempt to change the gears are a faulty clutch or a damaged gearbox.

Solution: If you find it difficult to adjust your clutch, this component may have gone bad or worn out. In this case, make sure you get the clutch replaced.

If the clutch is in good condition, you may need to check the gearbox for possible wear and tear.

If the gearbox is the issue, you may either decide to get it replaced or rebuilt.

02. Cramped linkage

This issue may occur due to a recent modification or change done to the shift pedal.

Bike owners perform this modification to ensure the shift pedal’s height suit or match their ankles.

While this adjustment is being made, the linkage could eventually get cramped or hampered against itself, making it challenging to engage the gear optimally.

Since the linkage is cramped, whenever you attempt to shift or initiate a particular gear, it becomes hard or almost impossible to engage the gear fully.

This is because the shift claw is restricted or hindered from pushing as far as it should due to the adjustment made to the shift pedal.

Solution: If you have altered the shift pedal prior to when you begin to experience shifting difficulty, you may need to look at the external linkage to check if everything is in order.

03. Shift lever becomes difficult to operate

This issue occurs when the motorcycle becomes cold or idle for a long time. When the shift lever becomes difficult to operate, it becomes almost impossible or hard to shift your bike into gear due to the clutch dragging.

When the clutch drags, the shifting may be very harsh. Also, this experience may lead to a situation known as an excessive gear clash.

In a situation like this, you may need to check the clutch cable and make the necessary adjustment to it.

Solution: To adjust the clutch cable, you need to relax the locking adjustment by loosening it.

Once this is done, you can work on the clutch lever until it is in good condition. Swing the handlebars in both directions until they are fully locked.

Once the handlebars are placed or positioned in a complete lock, you can re-engage the locking mechanism.

04. Inappropriate use of the clutch lever (releasing the clutch lever abruptly)

While riding on your Harley Davidson, ensure you engage and release the clutch lever at a slow pace.

This action allows the spines on the bike’s gearbox to function adequately and work effortlessly together to support a smooth and an uncompromised shift

If your clutch lever works adequately, this eliminates the risk of having your rear wheel locked unexpectedly, and it also prevents drag.

Solution: To achieve a smooth and excellent shift while riding your bike, make sure you engage the clutch lever appropriately at all times.

In case of noticeable drag, while shifting from one gear to another, you may need to pay attention to the pace at which you release the clutch lever.

05. Bad or worn out shift selector cable

When the shift selector cable is bad or damaged, there is no way you will experience smooth or better shifting.

For best performance, make sure you check your cable from time to time to find out if it is in good condition.

If the cable is old, bad, or worn out, ensure you conduct a replacement immediately to avoid drag and achieve adequate and responsive shifting.

Solution: Replace damaged and old shift selector cable with a top-quality design or brand for effective and long-lasting performance.

You can also get a new sheathing and replace it alongside the cable for better results. The sheathing is a component that houses the cable.

FAQ’s Harley Shifting Problems

What happens if the transmission fails to shift at speed?

If your bike transmission fails to shift at speed, it could lead to a risky and unsafe riding experience.

It is advisable to check your transmission oil level at all times. Ensure the oil is neat and in good condition from time to time.

How does the size of the rider contribute to shifting problems?

When you purchase or ride a bike that is not a perfect fit for your size (bigger or smaller).

You will find it difficult to operate or engage the various controls appropriately. For instance, you may find it hard to accurately turn in the clutch lever, which contributes to shifting problems.

While choosing a bike to buy or invest in, go for a design or model that fits your size and that you can easily control.

How can I detect if my gears are going bad?

The primary or most common technique or approach of detecting the condition of gears and bearings is through sound diagnosis.

You can find out if these components (gears and bearings) are excessively worn or damaged through this approach.

Whenever the gears become bad or worn out, the space or gap between the gear lash or teeth expands.

So, whenever you attempt to shift between gears, initially try to release the clutch, or when the momentum changes during compression braking, you will hear or experience gear-clashing noises.

How can I detect if my bearings are going bad?

When your bearings are bad, the major detection sign or symptom is the growling sound produced or that you will hear when the transmission is in operation (turning).

When you pay attention to some factors and conditions surrounding the sound produced.

In the end, you will be able to detect or pick out the affected bearing and have it fixed, changed, or replaced easily.

For instance, when you experience or hear the growling sound when the clutch lever is out and the transmission is positioned or placed in neutral.

You may need to check the main-shaft bearings and identify the faulty or damaged unit.

Suppose you experience the growling sound when the clutch lever is out, but the transmission is in gear.

In that case, you may need to check the countershaft bearings to identify the faulty or damaged unit.

Also, if the growling sound frequently occurs, irrespective of the clutch’s position and while the bike’s engine is still running.

This indicates a damaged clutch hub bearing.

What happens when the transmission goes bad?

First, you should not ride on a bike with a bad, damaged or faulty transmission.

When you ride on a motorcycle with a defective transmission, it could damage other expensive components.

There is also a huge safety risk attached.

When your transmission is going bad or not working optimally, your bike may stop moving unexpectedly, which may cause unnecessary or costly delays and distractions.

Once you notice that your transmission is faulty (bike failing to keep to gear, or bike suddenly shifting out of gear while riding down the road).

Ensure you get the transmission replaced, and you can even decide to sell off your bike, provided you find a buyer that offers a reasonable price for it.

How does a bike sitting idle for extended periods affect the transmission?

If your bike stays cold for a long time and without a specific maintenance routine in place, corrosion or rust may form or occur on the gears and shafts. Let’s look at how this happens.

When your bike is not shielded or protected from the possible effect of snow and other extreme weather condition.

Water vapor might find its way into the transmission case from the atmospheric vent or opening.

Once this happens, the water vapor then eventually settles on the various transmission components. Especially the components that are above the transmission oil’s level.

The effect of the corrosion can result in gear-meshing noises. These sounds give a similar impression to what is experienced or perceived when the shifter mechanism becomes faulty or damaged.


Harley Davidson shifting problems may occur as a result of any of the factors highlighted above.

Whenever it becomes hard or challenging to shift from one gear to another, make sure you troubleshoot and diagnose the possible causes or related issues as fast as possible.

Also, ensure you fix these issues immediately.

If you do not have the adequate tools and experience to detect the problem on your own, do not hesitate to reach out to a mechanic or professional to inspect your bike, detect the possible problems, and get them corrected as soon as possible.

This is the only way to prevent further damage to the transmission and avoid dangerous situations or occurrences.