How A Motorcycle Wet Clutch Works

Lubricating a clutch with oil seems like an invitation for slippage and inconsistent shifts.

How A Motorcycle Wet Clutch Works

Lubricating a clutch with oil seems like an invitation for slippage and inconsistent shifts. However, a properly formulated oil can reduce clutch slippage. Here’s how.

Clutch BasicsWet clutches are widely used in motorcycles and dirt bikes. The term simply means the clutch is lubricated with oil, as opposed to a dry clutch. A wet clutch typically lasts longer and is more forgiving to operate than a dry clutch.

Frictional Performance Vital

As shown in the images, the clutch connects the engine and transmission via a series of alternating friction and steel plates. Friction plays a big role in proper clutch operation.

To illustrate, imagine sitting aboard a motorcycle or dirt bike with the clutch lever activated, idling at a red light or in a starting gate. The friction and steel plates are separated, allowing the bike to run without moving. The light turns green or the gate drops. As you let out the clutch lever, the plates squeeze together. The transition from the friction and steel plates spinning independently to becoming locked together is an example of dynamic friction. Once the plates are locked together and spinning in unison, they’re subject to the principles of static friction.

Oil Chemistry Important

Motor oil plays a vital role in both areas. The formulation influences the dynamic friction you experience, which is best thought of as clutch feel. Oils with incorrect frictional properties can result in inconsistent or “loose” clutch feel. This negatively affects your ability to confidently pull away from a red light without the bike cutting out, or start quickly and grab the holeshot in a race. The oil also contributes to the holding power, or static friction, between the plates once the clutch lever has been let all the way out and you’re riding. Oils with incorrect frictional properties can allow the plates to slip in some circumstances, which you’ll feel as lost power to the ground. A powerful V-twin riding up a hill, for example, can generate sufficient load to cause the clutch plates to slip and the bike to surge.

The oil’s additive chemistry has the greatest effect on performance. Friction modifiers, added to some passenger car/light truck motor oils to maximize fuel economy, can decrease the coefficient of friction within the clutch pack and result in excessive slippage. Extreme-pressure additives, commonly used in gear lubes to protect against shock loads and intense pressures, can cause excessive clutch slippage and related damage.

The key is to use a lubricant specifically formulated for wet clutches. AMSOIL Synthetic V-Twin Motorcycle Oil, Synthetic Metric Motorcycle Oil, Synthetic Dirt Bike Oil and Synthetic Dirt Bike Transmission Fluid contain no friction modifiers or extreme-pressure additives. They’re dialed-in with the correct frictional properties to promote smooth shifts and consistent clutch feel while guarding against wear for long clutch life.

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