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Hi,

I just bought an '88 and everything seemed to be in working order at the time. It started once a few days after I got it, but it died after idling for a few seconds.

Since then, I would often hear a click when trying to start, but the starter motor wouldn't activate. I replaced the starter solenoid and checked the battery, but the click was still there. I then rotated the flywheel by hand and tried to start again. This time, the starter activated for a second or two, then it kinda just whined. When I tried to start again, the click had returned.

I'm confident the battery, starter solenoid, starter motor, and the connections between them are all fine. When the starter spins, the flywheel does as well, so I don't think the weld has fractured.

Any idea where my problem might be?
 

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unless the engine has been changed it's a gen 1 so first port of call is the magnets on the inside of the flywheel. take the cover off and check the magnets are all there. have the battery drop tested. then with the cover off. try turning it over on the button to see what is going on.
it is a common problem. on these early bikes. usually (80%) it's battery related. 10% it's shed a magnet or two. and the rest a combination of other issues. like slipping starter clutch. without checking fully it is hard to just to make a guess .
 

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As Yorkie said, difficult to trouble shoot over the interwebz. Sounds like time to pull the stator cover and have a look. The starter drive can have various mishaps in addition to the rogue magnets. The sorta good news is that improved flywheels are slowly dropping in price. The latest on eBay is about $130 or so. It's good insurance if your '88 still has the original flywheel with the six separate magnets. While the cover is off, it's not all that difficult to pull the flywheel and have a look at the starter clutch.

However, the battery can be reading 12+ volts and still not have enough amperage remaining to start the engine. For that reason, load tests are appropriate.
 
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I have a gen 2 from 97 so I'm a little out of my depth here, but I am familiar with starter motors. I have a 1984 Mercedes that stranded me an hour from home because my starter went out. I was so close to going and buying a new battery or starting to diagnose other charging issues, but I called my good friend and he in short order reaffirmed that the starter had simply gone out. I had a new one ready to install the next day and lo and behold that was the issue.
Relating to your first gen, it's ALWAYS a good idea to check the magnets if you never have. Those engines can catastrophically damage themselves if they are in the process of shedding or have shed magnets. Much cheaper to deal with that before it becomes a problem as opposed to after. As for the starter motor itself, I do not know the going rate for a new or rebuilt starter or a starter rebuild kit, but I'm of the opinion going the starter route could be the cheapest option with the highest probability of success. 1988 was a long time ago, and the starter motor does a lot of work. Goes through heat cycles with the rest of the engine even though they are only used for seconds. Before my starter went out on my quad it would start it fine but slow, then it would need a tap to spin, then we just bought a new one before it went for good. My Mercedes, it would only start when cold. If the engine had any heat it would crank slow, usually start but then the day it left me stranded it cranked slow and then just stopped and I got clicking. What makes you so confident the starter is fine? Has your bike ran (up to temp once) during your ownership?
 

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Starter rebuild kits, if needed, are about $20 online. Amazingly, used starters are not much cheaper than new Chinese motors. Still, more likely sometihng is amiss in the starter clutch. Gotta pull the cover anyway...
 
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