The longevity of a clutch depends on the rider and the ride.
Pros often burn through a brand new clutch during the main event in Supercross while the trail riding weekend warrior enjoys months, even a year of trouble free shifting. But when the clutch stops working it doesn't matter whether you ride hot for 20 minutes or cruise along the woods in one gear - if the clutch gives out forget the podium or battling your riding buddies to the next trail head. You can still ride but forget peak performance. Unless...
It fails upon engine start then your bike simply lurches forward as if it's in gear and dies. That happens too.
Regardless, clutch problems generally don't offer a heads-up giving you time before the necessary replacement. Instead, once it slips, for example, it progressively gets worse. The good news is other problems that affect clutch performance prove relatively easy to diagnose. Chain slack, worn out chain and sprockets or an unlubricated clutch lever impact clutch operation. Rule those issues out and you've narrowed your problem to the clutch and the internal parts.
However, it's not always just new clutch plates that's needed - from the clutch lever to the basket check out these common dirt bike clutch problems you'll eventually experience and what to do about them.
A frayed cable is basically an old cable. You'll notice this if the clutch lever feels hard when pulled without much fluidity. This is about as easy as it gets to fix - just replace the cable. Also, a badly routed cable or one not adjusted properly can wreak havoc on shifting so ensure the cable line doesn't get hung up in the handlebars when turning and adjust accordingly.
A slipping clutch is the most aggravating of clutch problems because it impacts the power you put on the ground. Imagine at the gate drop, with the throttle pinned you're kicking it up gears, it still shifts but the power fails to resonate. Everyone at the line looks faster than you even though the engine rips like you should have the holeshot. Then the burning smell of oil floats by. That's your burned out clutch.
Bad clutch plates or worn out pressure plate causes the clutch to slip. You'll need to disassemble the clutch and measure the thickness of both plates using a micrometer. If you routinely burn the clutch either replace the clutch springs with a stiffer spring rate or stop riding so aggressively.
Poor disengagement is the evil brother to the slipping clutch. It greatly affects power to the ground but instead of slipping gears you get sticky gears. When pressed the shift lever feels a bit sticky and you get a delay, the clutch failing to easily change from one gear to the next when prompted. This delay in changing gears affects the power output leaving you once again behind everyone else.
Poor disengagement usually results from a worn out clutch basket. Check the fingers of the basket. Are they smooth? Eventually, the clutch plates wear grooves into the fingers of the basket preventing the clutch from properly disengaging.
Want more clutch information? Check out these past articles on dirt bike clutches: