As I get more into the racing aspect of karting, I’ve tried to understand every part of the go-kart. Even though there’s a lot of technical stuff to learn, I’ve focused more on how to make the kart go faster. That’s where a go-kart clutch comes.
Many go-karts use clutches or torque converters, while others (namely Rotax karts) implement a direct drive system. A go-kart clutch allows the go-kart’s wheels to roll by getting power from the engine and transmitting it to the wheels. Shifter karts have a hand clutch, which you’ll have to use to start the engine. Remember that the clutches used in karting are not like car clutches.
That said, the way the go-kart clutches work isn’t that simple. So, let’s look at how a go-kart clutch works and how you can maintain it.
Why Is a Clutch Needed on a Go-Kart?
Before I tell you about the ins and outs of the clutch, let’s first examine why go-karts need them. For starters, not every kart has a clutch, but most rental and racing go-karts utilize clutches.
While a clutch isn’t necessary for every go-kart, many racers decide to add a centrifugal clutch to their vehicles. That’s because they are the best at transmitting the engine’s power to the wheel at high speeds. And, we all know that you need to be pretty fast to be competitive in go-karting.
There are also direct-drive go-karts that directly connect the engine to the wheels. But, most karts use a centrifugal clutch or a torque converter.
Torque converters are better for lower torque ranges, and they are not damaged as easily. Though, this makes them a bad choice for racing karts. So, if you know that you’ll be running your go-kart on high RPM, make sure to add a centrifugal clutch to it.
That said, let’s see how the clutch works.
How Does a Go Kart Clutch Work?
Go-karts use centrifugal clutches. I won’t get into the technical aspect of these; instead, I’ll explain how these work and how they get the wheels of your kart moving.
As their name suggests, centrifugal clutches utilize centrifuge forces to function. Basically, the clutch is connected to the engine. Once you start the engine, the inner part of the clutch begins spinning around, and it expands. When it reaches the outer part of the clutch, the whole device starts spinning. And, since it’s connected to the wheels, they also spin.
When the engine is idling, the clutch is disengaged; this means that the kart doesn’t move. As you use the gas pedal, the RPM begin increasing until the clutch is engaged. Most clutches will fully engage at 1800 RPM.
With that, let’s see how you can maintain your go-kart clutch.
How to Maintain Your Go Kart Clutch
You might be wondering why a go-kart clutch needs maintenance. Well, the way the clutch gets worn is pretty complicated. When the clutch is fully disengaged or engaged, it won’t get worn. But, at certain RPM (1400-1600), the clutch slips, meaning that it doesn’t fully engage. This can make it overheat, which will destroy it in the long term.
Here’s a video from Warped Perception that shows the limit of a centrifugal clutch to get an idea of what happens when the clutch doesn’t fully engage.
That’s why you’ll need to lubricate your clutch often. This can be very difficult for newcomers (myself included), so you can ask for help. Most track organizers or professional drivers will be more than happy to help you out.
The process of oiling your kart’s clutch is complicated. You’ll have to remove the chain from the clutch and then remove it from the kart. But, once you’ve done that, you simply have to apply some oil to it, and you’ll be okay. Here’s a video showing how you should oil the clutch.
With all this in mind, you should remember to oil the clutch after 2-3 hours of track time which is around 2-3 practice sessions. If you’re pushing hard during a race, I’d suggest you oil it after the race as well.
Now, it’s a good idea to see what driving mistakes can destroy your clutch.
Mistakes That Are Destroying Your Clutch
During one of my first karting sessions, I remember my kart smoking once I got back to the pits. At first, I wondered if it was my engine, but it was actually my clutch. Looking back to that session, I wasn’t used to controlling the pedals, which was the reason why I almost destroyed the clutch. So, let’s see what mistakes you should avoid to not burn your go-kart’s clutch.
While you should slow down before a corner, driving very slowly for an entire lap will overheat the clutch. The clutch cools down when you’re fully accelerating or got your foot off the gas pedal. But, when you’re barely pressing on the accelerator, the inside of the clutch starts slipping. As you saw in the video above, this can make the outer part melt.
You should apply full throttle as often as possible to avoid this, especially in straights. If you’re learning a new track, going full speed on the straights and going slower through every corner should keep the clutch at an optimal temperature.
Having Your Feet on Both Pedals
The go-kart will get confused when you’re stepping on the gas and the brake pedals simultaneously. You’re basically telling the clutch to spin faster and stop spinning at the same time. This will lead the clutch to start slipping, which will make it overheat.
To avoid this, you’ll need to learn pedal control. I found that the only way to do that is by spending time on the track and learning how the go-kart works.
Constantly Stopping and Going
Similar to driving too slowly, if you constantly brake and accelerate, you’ll ruin the clutch. That said, when you’re learning how to control the brakes, you’ll often have to stop and go. In this case, you should oil the clutch before and after the session.
Using Larger Tires
When you use larger tires than the ones your kart came with, the clutch won’t work correctly. That’s because it will endure additional stress when trying to spin the chain connected to the wheels. So, unless you’ve modified the clutch, don’t fit your kart with larger tires.
That’s all I can tell you about go-kart clutches. There’s still more technical information behind them, like gearing and installation, but these are pretty foreign to me. And, to be fair, you shouldn’t tune your kart if you’re still a newcomer to karting.
Stay tuned for more articles just like this one!
FAQs for Go-Kart Clutches
What Does a Go-Kart Clutch Do?
A go-kart clutch gets your kart’s wheels going. By getting power from the engine, the clutch starts spinning around, and it starts spinning the wheels.
Does a Clutch Make a Go-Kart Faster?
Yes, if you tune it correctly. Since you can adjust the gearing of a centrifugal clutch, it can make you faster on certain tracks. Depending on how you tune your kart’s clutch, you can have more acceleration or top speed.