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Push starting.

Discussion in 'New Riders and Riding Tips' started by kneedragon, Jul 24, 2011.

  1. It's crossed my desk that some newer riders may have never had to start a bike by the time honoured technique of pushing it. If there is already a How-To on here about it, then feel free to delete this.

    Push starting - or Clutch starting a bike.

    Batteries can go flat. Starters can go on holiday. Bikes can sometimes just be stubborn and cold blooded. Wouldn't it be nice if there was another way to start them? Fortunately there is.

    Briefly, switch on the ignition AND the kill switch, put the bike in neutral, and push it. Run like hell for a few steps, until you're going about as fast as you comfortably can, then jump on the bike. Clutch in - select 2nd gear (depends on the bike, 2nd is usually better) and quickly stand up, drop your butt on the seat and dump the clutch. The idea is that the sudden thump of weight will give you a good deal more rear wheel grip for a half second or so, which can be very useful to get the engine turning over the first compression stroke.

    And that's about it, really.

    Beyond that, there are a multitude of details, which I will attempt to flesh out a bit, but I'm sure others will add more to fill in the gaps.

    Some bikes start best with little throttle, some like a bit of throttle. Most prefer to start with the choke on. If starting was difficult because the bike was flooded, then you want the choke off and the throttle held wide open. If the bike was cold and lean then you want full choke and not much throttle, generally.

    Some bikes are very much easier to push start than others. Smaller and lighter is generally a bit easier than bigger and heavier. Low down (like a cruiser) is easier than high up (like a dirt bike). Multi cylinder is easier than single cylinder. Opposed twins are easier than V twins and wide angle V twins are easier than narrow angle V twins. (I've never ridden a Harley, much less clutch started one, but it would be hard.) Lots of compression is harder than not much compression. Two strokes are way easier than 4 strokes. Some engines just spin more freely than others.

    Some bikes are kind of awkward with regard to the way the handlebars and stuff are placed, when you're trying to push them. That isn't good. Mind you don't head-butt the windscreen - it can hurt and the friggen things can be worth a lot of money if you break them.

    Four cylinder jap bikes are usually pretty easy to push start - even big ones. Large single cylinder trail-bikes like the XT600 and the DR650 are amongst the hardest. There are some tricks which may help, but getting up over that first compression stroke can be tough, and you will struggle to do it in 1st gear, because the wheel will just lock, unless you're good deal heavier than me, but when you try it in 2nd, you're not going fast enough, and it still won't start. A hill is a really good thing at this time.

    There are a very few bikes that can not be push started. They are mostly cruisers, as far as I know, and they have very big engines in a narrow V twin, and a back-torque limiting (slipper) clutch. You roll the thing down a hill, grab a gear and drop the clutch, and the clutch only half engages, so the bike quickly drags to a stop, but without the engine turning over. I understand some of the MotoGP bikes are damn hard to start for the same reason.

    Like picking up a fallen motorcycle, being big and strong doesn't hurt, but it certainly isn't necessary. Being stubborn, knowing the way to do it, and knowing that it has to be done, are just as important.

    I'm not very big or strong or fit, and I never was what you'd call a superbly coordinated natural athlete. I rode around on a clapped out Z1-J 1,000 for over a year, that had a stuffed starter clutch. So I push started it. There were times when that was inconvenient, but it was never a huge problem. Now if a drongo like me can do it, ...

    Once you have clonked into gear, drop your bum and drop the clutch pretty quickly, because there's not a lot of drag in the transmission while the bike's in neutral, but the clutch will drag quite a bit once the bike is in gear, and you will be bleeding off momentum pretty quickly once the bike is in gear. Some people put the bike in gear and then push with the clutch held in. In my experience, that makes the job a lot harder and means a lot more work, because the clutch is dragging the whole time you're pushing.

    Oh yeah - that trick with singles? Put the bike in gear and roll it forward until you hit the compression stroke. Keep pushing until it's near the top. The first time, you'll go to far, so push more until it comes up against the compression again. You may have to do this a few times to get the feel for it. The idea is that when you start running, the piston is half way up the compression stroke already, so when you dump the clutch it will have about one and a half revolutions to build up a bit of momentum before it comes up against the compression again. Some people push the bike back against the compression. Some engines tolerate being rotated backward and some don't, so that could be one to ask your mechanic about.

    Remember that up until the mid 1970s all motorcycle road races started with the bikes quiet. You rode a warm up lap, came back to the grid, and shut down the engine. The race began when the flag dropped, and everybody push started their bikes. Some bikes start easily and some don't, and that used to be quite a significant factor. Am I sorry to see the change? No, I'm not - standing starts with the engine running are fairer and more even and way safer. Lots of people have been hit from behind while trying to start a stubborn bike. But it did have the good point that it made manufacturers give some attention to how easily and well their bikes started.

    • Like Like x 5
  2. Tried that on the R1 once - all that happened was i got compression lock of the rear wheel in 2nd gear - never fired up
  3. I had a 150 single, couldn't really do it in 1st gear but 2nd gear was as easy as piss, you wouldn't even have to sit on it, you'd just put it in 2nd, pull the clutch in, push it while running on the flat, dump the clutch, keep the momentum going and the thing would just start like that. then pull the clutch back in and ride.

    I never HAD to do it because I've never had a battery die on me or a starter go on vacation yet, probably because I've never owned any old bikes and I usually ride almost every day. Plus my second bike had a kick start backup. Thing is, the thing was a biatch to start when cold because the choke simply did not do anything, so even if I did get a dead battery I probably would've push started it anyway.

    I haven't managed to get the DR650 to push start yet.
  4. Nice one KD, although I've always had better success in 3rd than 2nd...
    And another thing I've wondered: how do modern EFI bikes go, with all the electrickery?
  5. The 14 fires up just fine. Comes in with a bit of a crack! First it's not running, and then very suddenly it is. The Aprilia had a high compression 60 deg V twin, and a slipper clutch, I never actually tried to run and start it, but I did roll it down a hill and bump it in 2nd, to see if it worked. It was tricky, but possible.

    Tak - was your R1 a newfangled cross-plain crank one by any chance? Because I pretty much guarantee I could start an old R1, and I've got a gammie leg. From memory, R1s have got a pretty high 1st gear - I'd be trying an almighty drop on it in 1st. It may have failed because the bike just wasn't going fast enough. On the other hand, it there was a nice big hill, you could try 3rd.

    In preparation or homework for this, should you ever need to, let the bike slow down to idle speed in 2nd, or which-ever gear you think you'll need. That's the minimum speed that it'll work at. Take note of how fast it is. It'll work better and easier if you can get it a bit faster than that, but that's the minimum speed.
  6. Learnt very quickly how to clutch start a bike when I got mine. When it was bought from the previous owner, it had basically been sitting for nearly 2 years with no use so the battery was pretty well knackered. Every time I rode it for the first 3 days I pretty much had to push start it until I got a new battery for it. It is a cruiser, but luckily it is only a 250 and only ways about 150kg.
    Even luckier, is that my driveway is reasonably steep so I could just roll down the driveway, whack it into 2nd and away we go :)
  7. My driveway is steep and there is a steep downhill street - still didnt work for me its a 2004 R1 - it did sowrk on the wr250x single though
  8. Good post, it's a handy thing to know.

    If your battery is low it is good to push it rather than trying the starter as draining itoo low is what will cause a fail.
  9. true that, I should probably push start my DR as it's been sitting for about a week now...
  10. Wtf? Why? A week sitting won't drain a battery... Its not something you do just cos it has been sitting for a bit....
  11. Oh ok...
    I consider a couple of days to be "a bit", while to me a week is a long time for a bike to be sitting, only cause I ride so much
  12. You could leave the bike for 3 months and with a modern battery it would still start fine...

    Besides, you would only push start it after trying a normal start that didn't work and you know the battery is dead...

    You get things around the wrong way sometimes...
  13. So much so that one would suspect it was deliberate...
  14. sad, huh?
  15. Thanks for this. I was wondering about this the other day when the bird wouldn't fire up (due to the cold more than anything else.) I remember doing something similar on a friends' old '92 Lancer.
  16. Actually serious question, out of interest how long will a standard bike battery discharge below starting level in naturally, assuming decent health?

    I bought a CTEK charger for mine, simply because it was a fairly inexpensive way to maintain battery health but am still interested
  17. That's a bit hard to answer because there're so many variables. When you switch off and remove the key, how many things don't switch off? Does the bike have an immobiliser? What about an after-market theft alarm? Clock? How old is the battery, and is it a good one, and what's the ambient temp been doing? And what did the cat have for dinner?

    I've heard of people leaving them over six months and having everything fire up just fine, and I've also heard of bikes you can't leave longer than a week.
  18. Haha this is very pertinent as I've had to push start it 3 times in the last couple of months. Battery may be on the way out... :(. Nice post KD!

    A quick question though, why do you say jump on the bike for extra weight. Will the weight on the back wheel help counter the compression lock?

    I've done it in 2nd all the time and today was the hardest of the lot (given it hadn't been ridden in 3+ weeks cause of the rain). It took me a good 6 or 7 tries with lots of lock up before she finally fired up.

    Bike of choice is the GS500F, so going off your checklist I would say a "medium" difficulty clutch start...

    Any tips?
  19. I became an expert at bump starting the CBR250RR....damn thing.