Is It Bad To Push Start A Motorcycle?

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We’ve all seen the classic bobsledder approach to starting a motorcycle. Have you ever wondered how to do this or if it’s bad for the motorcycle? Luckily, we live in a time that has motorcycles that are fuel injected and have an electric start, but not that long ago we had bikes that were only kick started, and before that, early motorcycles were only push start. 

So, is it bad to push start a motorcycle? It is not bad for your motorcycle if you push start it correctly and the transmission and clutch are not compromised if they are in good health. It is not, however, the most ideal way to start a motorcycle and underlying problems to starting issues should be addressed first if possible. 

Push starting a bike is simple and we shouldn’t be afraid of doing it as long as we know what we’re doing. In this article we will look at why this isn’t damaging to the bike, and we will also look at how it works and how we do it.

Why It Isn’t Harmful To The Transmission Or Clutch

Like I said earlier, push starting a bike isn’t ideal. It takes a bit of work, sometimes more than one person, but it won’t out right damage the transmission and the clutch. This being said, just because push starting won’t wear out the clutch or break the transmission, when we notice starting issues with the bike that are related to the battery, we should fix the problem as soon as possible.

I’ll explain later, but when we start the bike, we want to start in second gear because by doing so, we are limiting the drive train shock that is felt on the bike when compared to first gear. Drive train shock, whether that comes from improperly shifting the transmission, or having a clutch that cannot fully disengage gears, we can damage the transmission. 

When the gears of a transmission grind, it is called gear clash. Gear clash can be extremely damaging to the transmission, but gear clash WON’T occur during a push-starting event. When push starting, the transmission will sit in neutral, and then get ‘tossed’ into second gear. Doing this may put strain on the gears of the transmission, but with most healthy transmissions, this won’t cause anything bad to happen.

The same is with the clutch. Will push starting a motorcycle place wear on the clutch? Yes, but the wear put on the clutch is almost negligible because of how minor the wear would be.

Push starting a motorcycle will be more difficult if you are noticing that the clutch is wearing out or beginning to slip. In order to be pushed to start, the bike needs to have a healthy clutch so when the transmission is engaged, it will be able to hold long enough for the engine to turn.

How Does It Work?

Push-starting works on motorcycles and cars that are equipped with a manual transmission, and an engine driven alternator. If you have a scooter that has a CVT or a car with an automatic transmission, push-starting isn’t an option.

With a motorcycle, how it works is very similar to a car. If you’ve verified that the battery is the problem with the bike, then you need a way to turn the engine over in order to have the alternator start to charge the battery. If we look at the engine, it has what’s called a crankshaft, and it’s the crankshaft that both drives the alternator, and also has an input shaft to the transmission.

The usual flow of power happens when the pistons move and then rotate the crankshaft, the crankshaft runs the alternator and then inputs to the transmission, which then transmits power to the chain and sprocket and powers the rear wheels. When push starting a bike, you try to do all of that in reverse

Starting with the wheels, as the bike is moving, it is sending power from the wheel to the chain, to the transmission. The transmission will be in neutral, but it will be sitting in the correct gear ratio, and in this case, it is second gear. When the clutch is ‘dropped’ or quickly released, the transmission puts power through the crankshaft, which then turns the alternator, and moves the pistons, and allows the battery to now signal the injectors/spark to ignite.

How To Properly Push Start A Motorcycle

To push start a motorcycle, you should have at least one other person around to help push it. If you’re by yourself, this process is made much easier when you are going down an incline. Before you start pushing, make sure that your bike is in second gear. I mentioned this earlier, but you want second gear because it will minimize the shock in the transmission as you put it into gear. 

With second gear chosen, hold in the clutch and start moving your bike forward. Maybe this means to start rolling downhill or having your friends push it. Push or ride the motorcycle until you’re going around 10 miles an hour.

You want to sit around 10 mph because any less than that won’t be fast enough to engage second gear. What will likely happen is you will release the clutch and the bike will jerk to a stop and not turn over. Going over 10 mph just ensures you ample time to turn the engine over. 

Once you are going at least 10 mph, quickly release the clutch. It’s important to have your friends stop pushing right before you release the clutch. You need to release the clutch quickly because you want enough torque on the crank in order to start moving the pistons.

When you release the clutch, you want to simultaneously push the start button. When the clutch is released, the engine will begin cranking, so you want to push the start button to have the engine start while it’s cranking. Once the engine turns over, pull the clutch back in and rev the motor up.

Don’t rev it all the way, but maybe hold it around 2000 to make sure that the battery will hold. The battery might take a while to charge off of the alternator, so don’t turn it off. Make sure it has enough time to idle and charge before turning it off again.

Remember that charging a battery won’t fix a worn-out battery. Batteries can only be jump started or push started a couple of times before it’s time to replace. So once the bike is running, you should be prepared to replace the battery, or ride it to a place that you can properly fix your motorcycle. See our other article here to learn more about how to push start a motorcycle.

Things You Should Not Do When Push Starting A Motorcycle

The most common mistake when push starting a motorcycle is misdiagnosing the battery. You can find example after example online that shows people trying to push start the bike when they were out of gas, not dealing with a bad battery.

I even saw a post of a guy who was out of gas and then killed his battery when he was trying to push start it when all he needed was some gas. So, make sure you verify the problem with the bike is battery related, not spark or fuel related.

Another thing to be careful of when push starting the bike is that you should be careful where you are pushing it. You shouldn’t do it inside an intersection, you should do it in a place that gives you enough room on the road to push it and jump on it.

Also, the jerk that comes from the push can sometimes put you off balance, so be prepared for that so you don’t fall over once it starts up. Finally make sure that when you release the clutch your friends who are pushing you have their hands off the bike. When it kicks up, the shock might hurt their wrists or their arms. 

As always be safe out there and make sure to follow the right steps when push starting a bike!

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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