Classic Motorcycle Build

Motorcycle Carburetor Problems

Only in theory are carburetors simple devices. They 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.

motorcycle carburetor problems

Common Types of Motorcycle Carburetors

Unlike most classic American cars, most motorcycles have side-draft carburetors, which mount horizontally to the engine. Many classic European cars also used side-draft carbs - that was mainly for hood clearance. Some of the British-made SU carburetors found on older European cars can be adapted for motorcycle use.

Tube-type vs Float-type Carb

In a tube-type carburetor, air supply is taken through a single unobstructed channel of fixed air through the jet. There are no air valves or metering valves, so it is a simple design. The float-type carb has a float-operated needle valve that keeps the fuel level a constant distance below the edge of the discharge nozzle.

read Best Carburetor For Ironhead Sportster

Carb Fuel And Air

To get your classic bike 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 changing carburetor jets and settings.

As with all mechanical devices, carburetors wear over years of use. They also 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).

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.

S&S Super B / Super E

When introduced in 1975, the S&S Super B was the carb to run. That was until the Super E came out in 1990. Although the Super E has gone on to become the best selling performance carburetor in the V-twin aftermarket, many riders still prefer the B over the newer E and G models, claiming it has better flow and more low end punch.

read Tuning The S&S Super B

Super B carburetor on Sportster

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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 is the same type of alcohol that is found in an alcoholic drink, which 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. These issues are not so bad with daily transportation vehicles, but with small engines not driven regularly they are problematic.

Octane Requirements (rule of thumb)

Proper Gas Storage

Make sure that you store your gasoline properly and try to use it in a timely fashion. Use a product like Sta-bil and add it as directed. This will help prolong the life of the gas and keep it from harming your engine.

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.

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