Push starting a motorcycle is a genius way to get your motorcycle started when your battery is drained or if you have no battery at all. Push starting is also referred to as pop starting, hard starting, rolling starts, or tow starting.
So, how do you push start a motorcycle? To push start a motorcycle, you need to get it rolling fast enough that the compression of the engine will start the combustion cycle. Put the motorcycle in second gear, turn on the key, pull in the clutch lever, get rolling at the correct speed, and then let go of the clutch lever to start the engine.
If you’ve ridden a motorcycle for long enough then I’m sure you have a story about when your motorcycle has left you stranded at least once. It happens to all of us eventually.
I’ve been left stranded countless times since I love buying old classic motorcycles with problems and fixing them. In this article I will teach you how to push start your motorcycle so you can get home and fix the problem.
Best Option: Find A Hill
Normally, the starter would do the job of rotating the engine and creating the necessary compression to keep the motorcycle running.
But if your battery or the starter has bad electrical connections then the necessary current to turn the starter drive gear is not going to find a good path from the battery to the starter solenoid. So you need to artificially create the compression yourself by getting the motorcycle rolling at least 4 or 5 miles per hour.
Using a hill is the best option to push starting your motorcycle because it is the most effective and requires the least amount of effort. I have done this one myself dozens of times.
During one such experience during my college years I was taking my now wife on a ride on one of the motorcycle I had just restored. We got to the top of the mountain and parked the bike and were talking for a while, then when it got dark we got ready to head home and the motorcycle wouldn’t start! So we both hopped on, rolled down the hill, dropped it into gear and it fired right up!
Here are the steps necessary to push start your motorcycle when you have a hill nearby. Turn the key to the on position. If you forget to do this then the ignition coil will not energize and will not be able to send a voltage dump to the spark plugs in order to fire the engine up and you’ll never get it started.
The next step is to put the motorcycle in second gear. Many people make the mistake of putting it in first gear when they do a push start but this can cause damage to the cylinder walls, pistons, and connecting rods because of the hard jerk.
To find second gear roll the bike slightly forward and backward while you click the gear lever down as many times as you can, this is first gear. Then click it one full click up and you’ll be in second gear.
To test if you’re actually in second gear you shouldn’t be able to rock the motorcycle forward and backward with your hand off the clutch. The gear should stop you from moving more than a few inches.
If you can still roll forward and backwards easily then you only did a half click up from first gear. Do one more click up and that should definitely put you in second gear. I recommend rocking backward and forward when you change gears because a lot of older motorcycles have worn transmissions and require a little help to find the correct gear.
The next step is to pull in the clutch lever and push yourself off down the hill. Your speedometer should still work if you have a mechanical drive speedometer, so as you gain speed, glance at the speedometer and try to get between 5-10 miles per hour. I don’t recommend going any faster than 10 because it will give you quite a jerk and might try to buck you over the handlebars.
When you get to the desired speed, quickly let go of the clutch lever. If you do it slowly then the bike will slow down before the engine engages and won’t work as well. You have to quickly dump the clutch. When you dump the clutch the motorcycle is going to jerk hard, so don’t let it lurch you forward over the handlebars.
Most of the time the motorcycle will instantly start when you dump the clutch, but it’s good practice to also hit the starter button after you dump the clutch as this can help the engine turn over as well. Some motorcycles require you do this in order for the ignition coil to get its first surge of electricity.
If the motorcycle does not start the first time then try again a few more times. If it doesn’t work after three attempts then I would start checking some simple things on the motorcycle to make sure you didn’t miss something simple.
Check these simple things:
- Make sure the fuel petcocks are turned on.
- Make sure the motorcycle is rolling fast enough.
- Make sure your fuel tank level is above the petcock feeder, even if there’s a little fuel in the tank it might not be at a high enough level.
- Check the main fuse to see if it is blown.
- Check that the spark plugs are screwed in tight and the spark plug wires are connected tightly.
- Check that the key is turned to the “On” or “Run” position, not just the “Acc” or accessory position.
If you have checked these simple things and still cannot get the motorcycle to start while rolling down a hill, then I would recommend calling a friend or family member with a truck or trailer to help you get the motorcycle back home where you can diagnose the problem.
Next Option: Have Someone Push You
If you do not have a hill or incline somewhere near you to get rolling at a good speed, then the next best option is to get one or two people to push you. This generally does not work as well as a hill because it takes so much more effort and it’s hard to get rolling fast. I have done it before and made it work so I know from firsthand experience that you can do it.
Put the motorcycle in second gear and hold in the clutch lever while your friends try to push you as fast as they can on a flat surface. As soon as you get going at a good rate then let go of the clutch lever quickly and hit the starter button. Remember, the motorcycle is going to jerk hard when you dump the clutch so don’t let if throw you off the front.
If the motorcycle just has a dead battery then this method should work just fine. If there are fuel delivery or spark issues then these methods will probably not work because the motorcycle still needs spark and fuel in order to run.
Try this method a few times and if you can’t get it to start then try moving on to the next method.
Get Another Machine To Pull You Along Slowly
This is my lowest recommended option that you should only use if you’re really in a bind and don’t know what else to do. I have done it myself several times and it works, but it creates the largest jerk on the motorcycle and has a higher chance of you tipping the motorcycle over.
Get another small vehicle, like another motorcycle, four-wheeler, UTV, golf cart, etc, and attach a towing rope to the front forks of the motorcycle and the back of the other vehicle. Be sure you have a lot of slack so you don’t run into the back of the vehicle that’s towing you.
Attach the tow strap to BOTH front forks, not just one. If you attach it to just one then it will try to turn the handlebars and can be dangerous.
Put the motorcycle in second gear and pull in the clutch handle. The driver of the front vehicle will slowly take up the slack in the line, there should be no initial jerk with your motorcycle standing still. Slowly start towing the motorcycle and get to somewhere between 5-10 miles per hour. Quickly let out the clutch just like in the methods listed above, and the compression of dumping the clutch will fire the engine right up!
Remember, when trying this method make sure the key is turned on, you have enough fuel, and that your motorcycle spark plugs are in good condition.
The reason I like this method the least is because when you dump the clutch the front vehicle is going to give your motorcycle an extra jerk forward which can cause damage if you’re going too fast. I had a friend try this method incorrectly and it caused major damage. He attached the tow rope to one of his cylinder head bolts on a boxer engine and cracked the cylinder head.
Last Option: Run Alongside The Motorcycle Pushing It Yourself
This last option is one that I have never been able to get to work myself, but I have friends who say they have done it. This option is when you are on a ride by yourself and your motorcycle stalls on a very flat surface. The lighter your motorcycle the better when trying this option, if you have a huge cruiser then I highly doubt you can get this to work.
Follow the same procedure for this method as the others I have listed above. Put the motorcycle in second gear, turn the key on, go through some of the simple systems and make sure everything is okay. Check your fuel level, your fuel petcocks, the main fuse, the spark plugs and spark plug wires.
If all these look okay then proceed with trying to start it. Put the motorcycle in second gear, pull in the clutch handle and start pushing the motorcycle as fast as you can. As soon as you get up to your top speed then let go of the clutch handle and hopefully it will fire up.
Be careful when you let go of the clutch handle because the motorcycle is going to stop in its tracks and the handlebars can jab you right in the stomach, it hurts. This is the last method I list because it’s the least effective.
Another disclaimer, if you know you have a seized engine do not try any of these methods, you can do serious damage to your engine. Dislodging a seized engine should be done carefully by someone who knows what they are doing. If you try these methods to break your piston loose then you run the risk of gouging your cylinder wall and piston which will end up costing you even more in the long run.
Why does my battery keep dying? The main culprit of batteries losing their charge is from parasitic drain. This is when one of the accessories on your motorcycle is accidentally left on or if it is drawing power from somewhere in the system from a shorted wire. This can cause your battery to drain very quickly. Click here for more info.
How do I keep my battery charged? If you ride your motorcycle every month then a battery charger is not needed, but if you go months at a time without riding you should buy a trickle charger or battery tender with automatic shut off so you don’t overcharge your battery.