Classic Motorcycle Build

Motorcycle Carburetor Problems

Carburetors are designed to mix a small amount of gasoline with the right amount of air so that an engine runs properly. How complicated can mixing two things be? Well, factor in cold starting, idling, and wide-open-throttle, then delivering the correct mixture all the time gets a bit more complicated.

Linkert DC on Harley 45 flathead

Only in theory are carburetors simple devices.

Fuel And Air

To get your motorcycle running just right, the carb needs the proper mix of fuel and air. Before you start adjusting your carburetor, remember that no matter how well-tuned it is, it will not make up for bad ignition, wrong spark plugs or incorrectly adjusted engine timing. Make sure all of these are in good shape before you start blaming the carburetor and start changing jets and settings.


As with all mechanical devices, carburetors wear with usage. They sometimes require periodic cleaning and adjustment. The two most common problems are running too lean or too rich.


Lean Mixture

A lean condition exists when the carburetor is delivering too much air. If there is not enough fuel mixed with the air, an engine will run lean, which will cause it not to run it's best, or potentially damage the engine. Typical symptoms of a lean mixture include some or all of the following:

Fixing A Lean Mixture

Most carburetors have an adjusting screw that regulates the fuel/air mixture in the lower rpm range. Turning this screw clockwise will reduce the amount of air entering the carburetor, and will richen the mixture (refer to your shop manual for correct settings).

motorcycle carburetor problems

Sometimes adding after-market accessories such as exhaust systems, air filter systems or replacement carburetors will contribute to a lean mixture. If no changes have been made to the bike, and it previously ran well, a lean mixture can sometimes be a leaking intake or exhaust gasket.


Rich Mixture

If there is too much fuel mixed with the air, the engine will have a rich condition. This may cause flooding, bogging, and stalling. It also wastes fuel.

Fixing A Rich Mixture

If the fuel level is set too high in the float chamber, a rich mixture will result. A rich condition may be caused by a dirty or clogged air filter(s). Also keep in mind that both altitude and humidity effect your engine's performance.

Carburetor adjustments should be done with engine at normal operating temperature.

Vacuum Leaks

A vacuum leak will allow an engine to suck air in through a small crevice where it shouldn't, which throws off the gas/air mixture. Check and tighten manifold bolts and clamps, as well as carb mounting bolts.

Octane Requirements (rule of thumb)


The Effects Of Ethanol Gas

Ethanol is used in today's gasoline as an additive, and E10 gasoline today contains roughly 10% ethanol. Ethanol has a shorter shelf and tank life than gasoline, and can begin to break down in as little as three weeks. Another problem with ethanol is that it attracts water and "breaks down" faster than gasoline.

Ethanol Gas Problems

The ethanol found in pump gasoline is the same type of alcohol that is found in an alcoholic drink, and it works somewhat like a cleaning agent - not good for an older engine. It also increases vapor pressure in gas, which may cause vapor lock in the carburetor.

Ethanol gas issues are not so bad with daily transportation vehicles, but with vehicles not driven regularly they are problematic.

Fuel System Maintenance

If you store your bike over the winter, untreated fuel may go bad in as little as three months. Longer than that, a fuel system cleaning is recommended.

motorcycle carburetor problems


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