Motorcycle Clutches: Dry vs. Wet

We take a look at how these clutches affect motorcycle performance

There are two main types of motorcycle clutch mechanisms, the wet and dry clutch. If you’ve ever been stopped at an intersection and had a motorcycle pull up next to you with a constant rattling sound (like something’s broken), chances are you just heard the sound of an iconic dry clutch. With today’s manufacturers all employing wet clutch systems, dry clutches are a thing of the past, reserved for older motorcycles. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both types.

Let’s start with wet clutches. They are called wet clutches because they are immersed in engine oil, which cools off the plates. Because of this cooling effect, wet clutches are more tolerant to abuse, such as stop and go traffic and hard riding. They also last longer than a dry clutch, and have a nicer and more progressive engagement threshold. They’re also much quitter than their dry clutch counterparts. On the flip side, wet clutches make your engine oil dirtier since all the dust and grime as the clutch wears stays in the engine, while the oil filter is there to take care of the impurities. Expect wet clutches to be much harder to work on, as they are messier and a challenge to take apart. There’s also the issue of slight power loss with a wet clutch because the clutch spins in oil, creating resistance.

Dry clutches, as the name suggests, aren’t bathed in engine oil or any liquid. This creates more power due to less resistance, and cleaner engine oil. No oil does mean less cooling for the clutch, which, in turn, means that you’ll have to keep an eye on them in terms of reliability and when to replace them when they go bad. They are also harder to modulate and a handful for stop and go traffic. They are also much nosier, and new noise regulations over the years have led to the extinction of the dry clutch for most manufacturers, like Ducati.

Today, dry clutches are still found in the current lineup of Moto Guzzis with their V-Twins requiring a huge, single clutch plate, and Moto GP bikes, where every power advantage counts. In the end, it’s ease of use, durability, and quietness that have made the wet clutch the setup of choice for the vast majority of motorcycles.