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Kickstarter: The Art of the Start

A Kickstarter? Oh no…

I don’t have much recent experience with a kickstarter. Perhaps this is for the best and a combination of both luck and preference. This issue, through the force of fate, has more bikes with kickstarters than any Canadian Biker in years. If you play “Where’s Waldo’s Kickstarter” there are about eight different bikes in the issue that start by the “rudimentary” process. There is little doubt as to why we thought more deeply about this form of starting.  John Campbell writes at the opposite end of the issue about “Sportster Knee” and the dangers once inherent in getting a Sportster starter via the kick handle. 

Those looking from afar with little experience with kickstarters might wonder how it was possible to break one’s leg in the simple act of starting your motorcycle. Perhaps the blatant and obvious danger can be seen through a vehicle analogy. I cringe every time I read about or see a picture of someone starting an old vehicle with a crank handle or, worse, starting the engine of a plane by turning the propeller. The inherent danger of physically turning an engine over is so obviously close to the surface that it cannot be denied. Starting the car, the unlucky soul was head down, in front of the car with a handle that could easily come back at the bottom of a stroke—while their head was even closer!  Every start involved the dangers of broken or lost limbs and concussions. Thank goodness electric start removed that process from most internal combustion engines. 

I don’t want to suggest that I have never manually started a motor. Our very first motorcycle came with a pull start, which itself could be extraordinarily frustrating for an eager youth wanting to go for a ride. A Beluga scooter passed through our house and I think it had a kick starter supplement. But, riding a Beluga, the last thing to stick in the memory is how you started it. And there was also a small dualsport that featured a kickstart. The obvious benefit with the  aforementioned machines were the engines were all tiny and kickstarting never seemed to pose a problem.

Kickstarter Crunch 

Move forward many years to a Honda XR650R, the much ballyhooed, often lamented and frequently modified Honda off-road machine. It didn’t last long maybe because it was too modern in comparison to the archaic XR650L air-cooled and the DR650. The XR650R was powerful, modern and light, but it only came with a kickstart and it could only be ridden off-road unless retrofitted with available aftermarket kits with turn signals, headlights and very basic road legal whatnots. There was an electric start kit that could be installed but many owners opted to leave that kickstarter as the sole means of ignition. Purists! Which is what I found myself aboard one day.

The owner wanted to give my bike a try so I took his XR650R. It was running when I jumped on. But it wasn’t running for long. Perhaps I stopped to adjust my helmet or maybe I stalled a temperamental bike. Oh yes, and everyone was off and running by the time this happened. But I knew the process. Or I thought I did. I kicked, I set and kicked again. Several times. I probably cursed in general and at the bike itself. How long does it take for other riders to realize you are not there and perhaps you aren’t coming? A while. The owner did return, concerned either for the bike or perhaps me. He had the bike going in one or two kicks. Sure, he had to face the bike west, honk the horn three times and flash the high beams to complete the process but it started quick enough.

For most riders, the art of the kickstart is a fading skill. Thankfully.

John Molony, Canadian Biker Issue #355

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