You hop on, turn the ignition, flip the killswitch to RUN, and hit your starter button, but nothing happens. Maybe you hear a rapid clicking or whirring, but you’re not getting a spark.
Your starter might have finally kicked the bucket, you still have to get to where you’re going. So what do you do now?
We’re going to help you get up and on the road, so follow this step-by-step process (and a special add-on for bikes that might take that something extra) to start a motorcycle with a bad starter!
What Is an Electric Starter and What Does It Do?
Technological advances have led to the replacement of the kick starter with the electric, or push-button starter, since the 1970s. The devices came onto the market in the late 1960s, but it took a few years for them to catch on with mass-produced models made by motorcycle manufacturers.
An electric starter is a button that, when pushed, alerts the battery to send an electrical current to the starter motor, which in turn spins the starter clutch, engaging the engine for power. As an integral part of the starting system, the electric starter won’t engage the electrical system if it is faulty or dead.
How Do Starters Go Bad?
Over time, the internal components of a starter can wear down and finally stop functioning. It’s a process as guaranteed as death and taxes, so over the life of your bike, it will happen inevitably.
In fact, several sources recommend practicing a pop or thump-start before you are in the situation where you really need it. Don’t know where to start, or need direction to get the nuance of it down? Check YouTube or beg your friend with the rustiest, gnarliest road hog- they’ll definitely be old hat at starting their bike and yours, sans starter.
Can You Start the Motorcycle Without the Starter?
With a little bit of gumption and some boots to the rubber, a motorcycle can start even without a starter! Two main techniques are going to come in handy to be able to go over the starter’s head and get that engine firing, pop starting (also called push-starting or clutch starting) and thump starting.
Pop starting and thump starting a motorcycle both involve getting your wheels up to speed, in a manner of speaking!
Pop starting necessitates both wheels on the ground, clutch in second gear, moving at a minimum speed of 5 mph. Thump starting requires the bike to have a center stand, be geared up in 4th, and literally forcing the rear wheel to rotate.
Both techniques work well, although the pop starting is more applicable to all bikes, even if you don’t have a center stand. And it is generally a little more convenient to do. With our advice, you’ll be able to do it in no time, so read on!
Techniques to Start a Motorcycle With a Bad Starter
Here are two techniques you can use to start a motorcycle with a bad starter:
Pop-Starting Your Bike
Most standard production, gasoline-powered motorcycles can be pop-started in 2nd gear, or by forcefully turning a free rear wheel when in 4th gear. To pop-start your motorcycle:
- Position your motorcycle on a clear path. If you can roll the bike downhill, all the better, but any short run, free of obstacles or debris, will work just fine.
- Make sure that your ignition is on and your kill switch is off. For a pop start to work, the ignition must be on to send spark to the spark plugs. The kill switch must be off or in the ‘run’ position for the electrical and fuel systems to function.
- Put it in 2nd gear and hold the clutch in. Second gear is the optimal amount of compression to get the bike rolling from a prime position. If you don’t hold the clutch lever in, your gears are engaged and you won’t be going anywhere!
- Now build up at least 5 mph speed. The faster the better, but 5 mph will work just fine. The easiest way to do this is by rolling downhill, but if you find yourself on flat ground with no hills in sight, you can enlist a buddy or kind stranger to push.
You can also push it yourself and jump on in time to release the clutch, but it’s a maneuver that should only be employed if you are really comfortable with the weight of your bike and how you balance on it. The only thing worse than a bike with a bad starter is the same bike, lying on its side.
- Finally, pop the clutch by releasing the lever quickly. You might feel a slight shudder before you kick into gear, but you’ll feel the power of the engine almost instantaneously.
If You Can’t Pop-Start Your Bike, Here Are Some Steps to ‘Thump-Start’ it!
- Engage your center-stand. If you haven’t gathered by now, you’ll need a center stand to free up your rear wheel from the pavement or dirt it’s currently resting on.
- Again, position your motorcycle in a clear path and make sure all systems are ready to run. Point your front wheel downhill where possible and check your ignition, kill switch, petcock, and choke. There’s no point putting the effort in to pop start your bike if you aren’t fully ready.
- Shift into 4th gear. 4th gear offers the correct amount of compression for this technique to work, and to make sure you don’t buck your bike off the center stand.
- Turn the rear wheel with force. This can be done by hand, but don’t feel too bad if you can’t manually rotate the tire. You can use another bike on its center stand with the rear wheel butted up to the rear wheel of the bike with the bum starter. Engage the throttle to turn the rear wheels simultaneously, ‘thump starting’ the dead motorcycle.
- Once the motorcycle is running, quickly shift down to neutral. This will allow you to safely bring the bike down from the center stand, and keep the engine from sputtering out.
Either method will allow you to jump-start the bike successfully. Replace the bad starter immediately and have a diagnostic done to make sure you haven’t further damaged the starting system or other operational systems.
Can a Bad Starter Damage the Motorcycle?
A bad starter can cause damage to a series of systems on your motorcycle. These damages and symptoms can include:
- Drained battery.
- Grinding/whirring like the sound produced by turning the ignition after the motor is already on.
- Grinding of the engine flywheel.
Generally speaking, anything that drains your battery or electrical system is a problem to look out for because electrical system damage can lead to very frustrating, time-consuming, and costly solutions.
Any kind of grinding associated with the flywheel and starter motor need to be addressed as soon as possible to diagnose any wear on internal parts.
8 Things to Check Before You Assume It’s Your Starter
Here are eight other factors to consider apart from your starter if your bike won’t start:
1. Check Your Battery!
I don’t know how many starting problems are just a drained battery. If you have a voltmeter or multimeter, check the battery for a healthy voltage between 13 volts and 15 volts. If you can jump your motorcycle with another motorcycle battery or an equally sized battery, do it.
Please attempt this before you go chingering your gearbox because the solution is going to put some wear-and-tear on your clutch, gears, and transmission. Check for corrosion on battery terminals, loose connections, or broken wires. If none of those are present, it could be your starter.
2. Are You Sure You Have Enough Fuel?
Sometimes we all forget to switch over the petcock or adjust the choke to the extent that we’re not even getting the gas needed to turn over. If you don’t switch on the petcock or don’t have enough fuel in the tank, to begin with, you’ll end up with the same result.
Once you’re experienced enough as a rider, you should know the difference between a sputtered-out gasless combustion chamber and a lifelessly clicking sound, but until then it’s always worth checking for an empty fuel tank or switched off petcock.
3. Pull in Your Clutch Lever
A good portion of bikes won’t start unless the clutch lever is engaged by squeezing it into the handlebar while you are turning it over. Make sure you’re in neutral because if the bike does start, you’re going to ride the one-pump bucking bronco about six inches forward until the bike dies again.
4. Neutral, My Friend, Neutral
It should go without saying that most bikes won’t start unless you’re in neutral, so using the clutch pedal, switch all the way down to first and then push up the half click between 1st and 2nd-that’s your neutral.
5. Make Sure the Kill Switch Is Flipped to the On Position
Your kill switch is the button/toggle/lever usually positioned on the right handlebar near the starter button. It will be marked with STOP/RUN or something very similar. Put it in the ‘run’ or ‘on’ position and your bike might just start right up.
6. Check Your Spark Plugs for Residue
Over time, a motorcycle engine’s spark plugs can either deteriorate or maladjustment in your fuel/air ratio can leave residue on the spark plug tips. Black residue means you are running fuel-rich and white residue means you are running fuel-lean.
If the spark plugs are really covered, you should replace them to ensure that the spark is jumping from the plug to ignite the fuel/air mixture in the combustion chamber. In a pinch, you can try to clean off the spark plugs with a fine wire brush or even with a rough cloth, some good old-fashioned elbow grease, and some patience.
7. Check for Blown Fuses
Fuses can blow, so pay attention and consider keeping a small collection of model-appropriate spare fuses on hand. A fuse that continues to blow is telling of some more serious electrical problems that should be explored by a mechanic.
8. Inspect the Vacuum Line
The tubing between the engine and the petcock can wear over time or damage can occur, rendering it ineffective in the transmission of fuel throughout the bike.
Any of these things can happen regularly on any make or model of bike, so be sure to do this visual rundown to make sure it isn’t just a simple fix that makes you slap your head when you figure it out!
We Hope This Helped!
If you’ve followed our directions for starting your motor with a bad starter, you should be cruising home after a frustrating day, but be sure to cruise into a certified mechanic’s shop the next chance you get! A dead starter is one way to ruin a day, but in a bind, you’ll be able to get that hog started, running, and on to a safe location.