Conventional kinesin transports membranes along microtubules in vivo, but the majority of cellular kinesin is unattached to cargo. The motility of non-cargo-bound, soluble kinesin may be repressed by an interaction between the amino-terminal motor and carboxy-terminal cargo-binding tail domains, but neither bead nor microtubule-gliding assays have shown such inhibition. Here we use a single-molecule assay that measures the motility of kinesin unattached to a surface. We show that full-length kinesin binds microtubules and moves about ten times less frequently and exhibits discontinuous motion compared with a truncated kinesin lacking a tail. Mutation of either the stalk hinge or neck coiled-coil domain activates motility of full-length kinesin, indicating that these regions are important for tail-mediated repression. Our results suggest that the motility of soluble kinesin in the cell is inhibited and that the motor becomes activated by cargo binding.