Kicking Your Bike into Ignition: How to Kickstart a Motorcycle

When it comes to modern motorcycles, most of them use electric starts, which means you can start your bike up without much work. It's a sort of convenience we have thanks to technological advancements, but that wasn't always the case. Once upon a time, the only way to start up your motorcycle was with a good kick.

For those of us who have older style bikes or a newer model that still lets you start things up the old fashioned way, it's essential to know how to perform a kick start if we ever want to hit the road—not to mention it just looks cool to get the engine going that way. So what's necessary to pull it off? Our guide for how to kick start a motorcycle is here to help.

Getting the Technique Down

At the core, kick-starting works on the same internal principles across motorcycles, but that doesn't mean all bikes will take the same approach. Differences in build and model can mean slightly different things in the process. The key is to know and understand that not all bikes (not even ones that are the same make and model) will kick start the same, and then find the most suitable technique to get the job done.

Smaller bikes will usually let you perform a kick start from a straddled position, while larger hogs generally have a better shot of getting it right if you stand on the side as you start it up. Also pay attention to factors like compression release, carburetors, and throttle bodies, as they can all impact the best way to approach your motorcycle.

After that, practice and perseverance will be the key to a successful kickstart.

How Does Kickstarting Work?

Okay, so the purpose of a kick start is to get the engine running, but how exactly does that happen? There are a couple of potential mechanical setups, but the most common is a ratchet type system.

In this system, the kick start mechanism has gear teeth, which will engage when you perform the process correctly. From there, the gear teeth turn clutch housing, which will continue the cycle and turn the crankshaft, which ultimately puts the engine into operation. When you kick start your bike, you allow the mechanisms to turn and set the engine in motion.

Alternatively, some setups will have the kick mechanism turning any transmission shafts in your motorcycle, which then rotates the crankshaft. Both builds have the same end goal; they use different devices to make it happen. However, without the first successful push on the kick mechanism, nothing else will set into motion.

Tips for a Successful Kick Start

While you'll want to adjust your technique to best suit your bike, there are still some tried and true tips that work to help perform a successful kick start. While you'll likely need to practice if you're new to the process, keeping these tips in mind can help make the overall process smoother.

Follow Through on Your Kick

It can seem tempting to hit the kickstart with your foot and quickly pull back. Unfortunately, if you use that approach, you won't have the force and weight you need to set the gear teeth into motion properly. You want to follow through on your kick, as that will carry you through better than a "hit and run" approach.

The goal is to use your body weight to perform the kickstart, not just the muscles in your legs. That's why it's important to remember to keep yourself lifted off the seat and pegs if you're straddling the bike. You also should pause at the bottom and wait for a successful startup or kickback before you pull back your foot.

Start on the Compression Stroke

Kicks have a particular position they need to be in to start up successfully, and it's essential to know where your compression stroke is: the top dead center position. The more you practice, the simpler it will be for you to feel it in the kick lever. For best results, you want to find the compression stroke before opening the fuel valve or turning on the ignition switch.

Perform a Pre-Check

No matter how flawless your kick is, you won't get anywhere without the key in the on position. You also want to have the gas on and be in neutral. While this seems like common sense, it's still essential to make sure everything else is in place before you get ready to rev things up. It also eliminates some options if you have trouble and need to figure out what's happening.

Keep Your Bike Well-Tuned

The better tuned your motorcycle is, the easier it is to kick start generally. While it's not possible to always keep your bike in prime condition, the better upkeep you perform, the less hassle you'll find when the time comes.

Know How to Handle Cold and Warm Starts

When cold starting a bike, you want to kick the bike over a couple of times without the ignition switch or the fuel on first. Doing so allows you to prime the engine with oil. Afterward, you can turn on the required switches and get ready to start up your bike. With a warm start, the oil should already be in the engine, so you don't need to do the same prep and get straight to kicking.

Give Yourself Time Before Kicking Again

If your first attempt doesn't get the engine going, you'll need to try again. Even well-tuned bikes can take several kicks before they start up properly. However, going too hard too fast can lead to kick back and potentially damage your motorcycle. Be sure to give enough of a pause before you reset the kick and go for it again. Your bike (and your legs) will thank you later.

Pay Attention to Your Compression Release

Some bikes have a compression release, while others don't. Even amongst those that do, they can have different operating approaches. In general, if you have such a release, you want to use it. Since doing so can mean operating one manually, make sure you understand the appropriate timing for pressing and releasing the lever in time with your kick stroke.

Compression releases are another part of your bike that can impact your performance if it's out of adjustment, so include this part in your regular maintenance.

Lighter Grade Oil Is Okay

When it comes to classic bikes, you can get away with using a lighter grade of oil without any consequences, especially if you're not driving around in hotter ready. The oil level will make it easier to land your kick just right.

Wrapping Up (and Kicking Off)

Those new to kickstarting bikes may need some time to adjust to the process, but it's possible to nail down the technique with some practice and awareness of your motorcycle. Once you start to nail it, you'll not only have an easier time starting your ride, but you can also gain some coolness points, as well.

Many used or vintage bikes are likely to have a kick start, so stay alert while comparing makes and models. Even some 3 wheel motorcycle options can have kickstarts, so keep that in consideration if you want that for your ride when comparing other factors like motorcycle values.