It seems like motorcycle keys are always getting lost. Maybe you’ve lost a motorcycle key yourself, or maybe you’re thinking about buying a motorcycle that doesn’t come with a key. Either way, you’re going to need to figure out how to replace a lost motorcycle key.
The good news is, you have six options for getting a key for your motorcycle. Some of the options for dealing with a lost motorcycle key are actually quite affordable and quick. The bad news is, some of the options might take a trip to your local motorcycle dealership and could get expensive.
So what’s a guy or girl to do when you have a motorcycle with no keys? Here are some of your main options: getting the key code, accessing the ignition cylinder (ignition switch) code, taking the entire ignition cylinder (ignition switch) to a locksmith and having a new key made, replacing the ignition switch and keyset with new parts altogether, or just letting the dealer figure it out. As you can tell, we’ll start from the easiest and least expensive option and go up from there.
What I want you to keep in mind before we get into this is that losing a motorcycle key isn’t a kiss of death. You can still get a motorcycle back on the road, and depending on how lucky you are, and what your skill-set is, you might even be able to do it without having to pay for anything more than just the cost of a new key. My name is Adrian from YouMotorcycle, and I’m here to help you replace a lost motorcycle key.
Do you have a key code?
OPTION 1: Call the dealer with your key code
The first thing I want you to ask yourself (or the person you’re looking to buy a motorcycle from), is do you have a key code?
Motorcycle keys come with a little code for the lockset from factory. Typically, these come as a little metal tab attached to the key chain that you get from a dealership when you buy a new motorcycle.
Some motorcycle manufacturers actually have the key code printed right on the side of the key itself, like my 2006 Harley-Davidson V-Rod. You simply slide back the plastic cover, and the key code is right there.
Once you have the key code, you call up your local dealership, give them the code number, and they’ll order you up a new key. You don’t have to worry about changing locks or taking the whole motorcycle apart. You just have to worry about how long it will take, and sadly, I can’t help you there.
How to find a motorcycle cylinder code?
OPTION 2: Tell a locksmith your cylinder code
While a key code usually comes with your new motorcycle keys or or is stamped into the keys themselves, another way to get a new key made for a motorcycle that doesn’t have a key is to get the cylinder code.
A lot of “barn find” old motorcycles won’t come with keys. They might not even come with ownerships, so you might want to read about how to get the ownership of a motorcycle with no ownership, here. Don’t let lost keys or lost ownerships stop you from buying a project bike. That should be the least of your worries, and you should be more concerned with what kind of shape the motor is in.
Back on the topic of lost keys, the second cheapest way of replacing lost motorcycle keys is by getting the cylinder code. The cylinder code is usually a 3 or 4 digit code on the ignition switch cylinder. It’s normally on the left side of the cylinder that you put your key into.
You might have to loosen or turn the ignition cylinder to be able to see this number. It’s obviously not something they want visible. Take a look from all angles, and use your phone’s camera and flash to try to help.
Once you have your key lock’s cylinder code, take a nice, clean, and clear picture of the code. Next, give a call to your friendly neighborhood locksmith and make sure he or she can cut motorcycle keys. Your locksmith might tell you that you need to get a key blank from the manufacturer, which would mean passing by your dealer or ordering one off of the internet.
Once you bring your key code to the locksmith, and either your locksmith has a blank key or you’ve brought a blank key with you, your locksmith will have a look up table or software that they can use to look up the key code or cylinder code you’ve brought them and cut a key that fits your motorcycle.
Note: If you have anything newer than a year 2000 motorcycle, especially if it’s a higher end one, I strongly recommend calling your dealership anyway. In the 2000s, more and more motorcycles began having keys that were electronically programmed to work with a motorcycle’s ignition system. On motorcycles that came with this anti-theft feature, even cutting an exact duplicate of your key wouldn’t make your motorcycle start.
Tip: You might be able to find your cylinder code in more than one place. Many motorcycles use the same key for the steering lock, the ignition switch, the gas tank, and for the rear seat. On a motorcycle like that, you would have four opportunities to find the ignition cylinder code! Because they all use the exact same key, the code should typically be the same.
What if you don’t have a key or cylinder code?
OPTION 3: Find a mobile locksmith who can come to you
Some ignition cylinders may not have a code, or the code may be damaged or too rusted with time and age to be readable. If you don’t have a key code or an ignition cylinder code, don’t worry, you can still get a new key made for your motorcycle, but you’re going to have to work a little harder for it.
The very first thing to do is start calling up mobile locksmiths and explaining very clearly, and in detail, what you’re dealing with. Tell them the year, make, and model of the vehicle, that you’ve lost the key for it, and that you can’t get either a key code or ignition code, and ask them if they are still able to help you. Some might be, and some might not.
If there are no mobile locksmiths that can help you, your next bet is to bring the whole ignition cylinder with you to a locksmith. Again, you’ll want to call ahead of time and explain to the locksmith what your situation is, and ask them if they can make a new key using an ignition cylinder. Most will say yes, but some are not able or willing to, so call ahead.
How to disconnect an ignition cylinder?
OPTION 4: Bring your ignition cylinder to a locksmith who can make you a key
Most motorcycles have the same setup connecting the ignition cylinder (ignition switch) to the motorcycle. You have two bolts holding the cylinder in place, and you can just squeeze and unclip the wiring to remove it. Some Harley-Davidson model ignition switches have little screws holding each wire in place, but those are easily removed with a small screw driver.
Tip: Before you do this, I recommend you take a few pictures, or use some colored tape, to help you remember how everything was connected.
Tip: I also recommend placing any hardware in a small zip lock bag so they won’t fall out and get lost, and then writing “Year/Make/Model Ignition Cylinder Hardware” on the zip lock bag in permanent marker so that you won’t lose the parts.
Once you’ve brought your ignition switch cylinder to a locksmith, they can make an impression of the lock in the cylinder by inserting a key blank into the lock and turning the key blank to turn the pins. This lets the locksmith know where to make the cuts and files he or she needs to make a key that fits your motorcycle.
This option is more expensive than providing a key code to a dealer, or a lock code to a locksmith, because there’s more specialized work involved. It’s also more time consuming on your end, as it involves removing and reattaching the ignition cylinder to your motorcycle, but a good locksmith will be able to make you a new key to replace your lost keys.
How to replace an ignition cylinder?
OPTION 5: Order a new lockset
What if you can’t find a locksmith able or willing to help you, or you live in a remote cabin 1,000 miles from anywhere? You’re going to have to replace the ignition cylinder and get a new key set.
I had to do this after a motorcycle accident years ago and was amazed to find that the new ignition cylinder and a new key from Suzuki was less than $50 taxes included. That was only for the actual ignition switch though, if you need to replace a gas tank lid and an underseat access lock you can expect to pay a little more.
Your first step will be to remove your current ignition cylinder following the instructions from the last section. Then you’ll want to call up your local dealership and let them know what you’ll need.
You might also want to see what you can get on Amazon, eBay, or from online sellers of OEM parts like BikeBandit.
If you’re choosing to buy from Amazon or eBay, I recommend reading the description very carefully, and looking at the pictures very carefully. Are all the parts there? Does it have a key with it? Is there anything in the ad description that says things like “Parts are not guaranteed.”?
Remember this: When it says ‘Universal’ it means it fits everything and nothing at the same time. Everything is universal if you’re willing to spend enough hours to make it fit. What you want is something that says ‘Plug-and-Play’ or a similar claim. Even a ‘Universal’ Harley-Davidson ignition switch will fit 80% of Harley’s line up, but not the Street or LiveWire family of bikes which use a different type of ignition switch. Buyer beware.
That’s why I recommend getting an ignition cylinder from a dealership that is made by your motorcycle manufacturer specifically for your motorcycle. You won’t have to guess on how to put it together. You’ll be taking pieces off and putting identical pieces back on. The only downside is that you may have to wait a few days for the parts to arrive.
Spending all of the money
OPTION 6: Get a dealer to take care of it for you
If you don’t have a key or ignition switch code, can’t find a locksmith who can help you, and you don’t feel comfortable or compotent enough to change your lockset on your own, you’re going to have to go to a dealership.
I started this article with the least expensive and least time consuming option, but we’ve finally come to the point where you just have to take your motorcycle to dealership, hat in hand, and beg for mercy.
Going to the dealership is expensive. The one ray of sunshine is that more and more motorcycles are coming with greater anti-theft protection, which as we talked about before, might mean that your key needs to be programmed by an authorized dealership, so you would have had to come in anyway.
Before you push, tow, or pay someone to tow your motorcycle in, you should definitely call the dealership first and let them know what’s up. Before your call you should have your VIN number handy. VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number, and you can find it on your motorcycle’s ownership, on your insurance, and on the right side of your motorcycle’s steering column.
The VIN on your motorcycle’s steering column is usually black on black and hard to see, so I suggest digging up your motorcycle’s ownership, especially because unless a dealership has an established relationship with you, they may want proof that you are in fact the owner of the vehicle before they install a new lock set on the motorcycle.
If you don’t have a copy of the ownership, you’ll want to read my article on How To Get the Ownership of a Motorcycle With No Ownership and take care of that first. Dealerships not providing new keys for motorcycles is a way of helping to reduce motorcycle theft, so we shouldn’t hold this against them.
How to avoid losing motorcycle keys
In over twelve years of motorcycle riding, I’ve never managed to lose a key. I’ve damaged a lock set to the point of no return in an accident, but I’ve never lost a key for either my vehicles, my homes, or my businesses. Here’s how.
- I only have three places where my keys get put down. One spot on the first floor, one spot on the second floor. If I have my keys in my hands and need my hands to be free, and I’m not in one of these two places, my keys go in a third place: my pants pocket. Then, if the keys aren’t in Spot A or Spot B, all I have to do is check the pants I was wearing after my ride.
- In my late teens and early twenties I used to have a really big key chain. It was a small puppet-like little pirate made of string. I bought it as a souvenir on my first big out-of-state motorcycle adventure, and because of it’s size it was always easy to see and feel. It also had a tiny bell so when I dropped it I heard a ding.
- Get a Tile. A Tile is a small little keychain attachment that pairs with your phone to show you where your keys are. You can learn about it here. If tech isn’t your thing, I also like this motorcycle keychain and this protector.
- I kept keys away from cluttered places. We all have cluttered corners in our homes. Some are all over the place, others are discrete little “junk drawers” where we stuff things in. Whatever your cluttered corner, keep your motorcycle keys out of there. Cluttered corners are black holes that will suck in your motorcycle keys and spit them out into another dimension and must be avoided.
- My last tip is to get verbal, and maybe even tell a friend. If my hands are full, dirty, or I need to drop everything to help someone and there’s no possibility of getting my keys in my pockets, I’ll say out loud “I’m leaving my keys on the door step.” And if someone is around me, I’ll even say their name first to make sure I get their attention. It’s a little memory tip, sounds like crazy person talk, but it works!
The two kinds of motorcycle thefts
A friend I’ve known since kindergarten is now a cop in the neighborhood that we grew up in. He said that there are two kinds of motorcycle thefts. The most common kind of motorcycle theft is where people show up with vans, pick up motorcycles, throw them inside, and drive away.
The second most common motorcycle theft comes from people who left their keys inside of their motorcycles. I get it, there’s a lot to do when you park your motorcycle. Put it in neutral. Killswitch. Kick stand down. Gloves off. Helmet off. Get off the bike and walk away.
Did you forget something? That’s right. Your key is still in the ignition switch. To date, I’ve seen keys left in a motorcycle ignition switch while just walking down a street three times. On one occasion, it was a motorcycle parked right outside of my work, so I took the key and left my phone number on the bike on a Post-It note. The other two times I was only passing through the area so I just left it to chance and crossed my fingers for the rider.
My #1 Suggestion
If you’re reading this article, odds are you’ve already lost your keys, so my number one suggestion moving forward, is once you have a new key made, don’t stop there. Get at least a second key, if not a third key made.
Have one key you always use. One key locked away somewhere safe. Some say to keep a third key hidden somewhere secretly on a motorcycle, but as an all-weather rider, I don’t like that. Any kind of adhesive will eventually wear out and your key will fall out and be missing when you need it most, and if you use anything bulky like a ziptie it may be noticeable for others, and you would need scissors or a knife when you need it later.
Instead, I say leave your third key at a friend or a relative’s house. Maybe you have a family member who’s retired or works from home, someone that’s home a lot. Then all you would have to do is get an Uber, call up your friend or family member and say, “Hey, Paul is coming in a silver Honda Civic, when he gets there, please just give him my key.”
Fifteen minutes and $8 to your Uber driver later and your key is delivered to you at minimal cost, time, and effort.
Always have spare keys, somewhere both safe and accessible.
What happens if my key is bent? A locksmith might still be able to make a copy of a bent key, but I would recommend taking it to a proper locksmith, and not just a hardware store employee.
What happens if I have my key but the lockset won’t turn? Try WD-40 or graphite powder. Only a tiny amount of both. Unless it’s stuck because the lockset might be frozen. In that case get some de-icer or a heat gun. If you don’t have a head gun I’ve used my mom’s blow dryer on a scooter lock when I was a teenager during a cold winter in Canada. It’ll work if you give it a few minutes.