Kickstart Vs Electric Start. Here’s What You Need To Know


In order to ride your bike, you need to be able to start up the engine. Sometimes a motorcycle can have one way to start or even both.

You may have wondered what the differences between the start-up methods are. On motorcycles, there are two ways to fire up the engine: kickstarting or electrically starting. When you Kickstart, you kick the lever, which forces the engine to ignite the fuel. On an electric start, an electric current is combined with the wiring and it creates an electric current that starts the engine.

Any person who has a motorcycle, beginner or long-time rider, needs to know the differences between each. Both methods have their place and this article will dive into how they work, the pros and cons of each, and applications for each.

How A Kickstart Works

Kickstarting utilizes a sturdy lever attached to a ratcheting gear to the crankshaft. As the lever is kicked, the ratchet twists the crankshaft to force the engine piston to compress and ignite the fuel. Once good ignition is achieved, the engine will run on its own and an external method of spinning the engine is no longer required. 

The ratcheting action also allows the kick lever to float independent of the spinning engine. If the lever was tied directly to the crankshaft, the lever would spin wildly, preventing any riding. It also allows the rider to repeatedly attempt to start the engine without having to manually reset the lever. The lever is also designed to be tucked flush against the bike when riding. 

Kickstarting is the original way of starting a motorcycle and was the only way, up until the mid-1970s. The first Kickstarter motorcycle is the British Scott Motorcycle of 1910, featuring a V-twin 2 stroke engine. As with many inventions of the early 20th century, the Kickstarter was adopted as motorcycles modernized. 

Pros And Cons

Pros of kickstarting:

  • Simple design
  • Effective 
  • Lighter weight without starter and smaller battery

Cons

  • Less user-friendly
  • Repairing can be involved

As mentioned, a Kickstarter is quite common as it is effective and simple to use. However, there are some issues that could arise. 

For example, the kick lever is susceptible to bending and breaking as it takes a lot of abuse. This is especially true when other components of the bike are having issues, such as poor ignition or fuel mixture. The rider will likely be tempted to keep pumping on the kick starter when the bike doesn’t want to start. When a lever bends or breaks, it’s typically a matter of replacing it, but that can be difficult if the rider happens to be stranded.

Additionally, there are springs in the Kickstarter assembly that are subject to wearing out. When they give, the kick lever will flop around and be all but useless. Repairing these issues will likely involve some wrenching, so refer to a reliable source before undertaking the repair.

Finally, there is the issue of kickback. As the term suggests, this is when the kick lever kicks back as the engine has spun the wrong way and engaged the ratcheting device. Unfortunately, the lever likes to kick back into the leg of the rider, which can be quite painful. 

In spite of the issues, there are benefits to a kick starter. For one, the simplicity of the idea eliminates extra components that would be present on an electrically started bike. This usually means a lighter overall weight suited for dirtbikes and smaller bikes. Likewise, it reduces the battery size and weight. 

How An Electric Starter Works

As electronics became smaller in the late ’70s and into the ’80s, electric starters became more and more common. However, the first bike with an electric starter was produced in 1914 by the Hendee Motorcycle Company, but the design didn’t survive the coming decades. Today, electric starters are more common than Kickstarters, especially on new bikes.

The essence of electrically starting an engine is the same as a kick starter: using a gear to spin the crankshaft. However, this is accomplished by using an electric motor to spin the engine. This provides for greater user-friendliness and effectiveness.

An electric motor is created by winding copper wires tens, or even hundreds of times, in a cylinder shape. Inside this cylinder of windings is a rotor with teeth on the end that mesh with the ring gear of the engine. When an electric current is applied to the windings, it creates a magnetic force that causes the rotor to spin. An actuator pushes the rotor out to mesh the teeth. Once the engine is running and the starter switch is released, the rotor stops spinning while retracting from the ring gear. 

The starter is going to be the biggest draw on your bike’s battery. However, this draw only occurs when cranking and is quickly recharged after the engine is running. Cranking can be difficult in colder conditions since fuel is less likely to vaporize. Similarly, if there is something wrong with your fuel system, the starter might take a beating. This is why it is important to have a durable battery with adequate cranking amps.

Pros And Cons Of Electric Starters

Here are some of the pros of electric starters:

  • User friendly
  • Effective

Cons:

  • Requires repair or replacement
  • No weight reduction due to weight of motor and battery
  • can be tricky to replace

Electric starters in modern bikes is a very effective way to start up the bike. Starter motors are usually small and compact and require a healthy battery. This requirement doesn’t reduce any weight, but it also isn’t a significant source of weight. 

As mentioned, rider-friendliness is a huge pro for electric starters. While they are effective, starters can go bad, wiring can break or fail, and teeth can wear out and require replacing. This can be a tricky process depending on the bike and is certainly inconvenient. Despite this, electric starters are very popular on modern bikes and parts are usually readily available.

Alternate Methods Of Starting

Suppose you find yourself on a ride and stop to take in a view. When you hop back on your bike, it doesn’t want to start. Maybe the battery is dying, maybe the starter is no good, either way you’re stuck. Don’t worry, there may be a way to get ‘er going again.

First off, some bikes have both an electric starter and a kick starter. For example, many dirtbikes have both styles of starting. Since these bikes are usually smaller and lighter, the design can get away with both types. This is beneficial when off-road in case the battery dies. If your bike is dually equipped, then you should be able to fire it up.

If your bike is not equipped with both types of starters, there are still options. If you are in a place where other motorists are passing by, you should be able to get someone to help you jump-start your bike. This involves using the battery power from another vehicle to power your bike. Refer to the MotorcycleHabit.com article about jump-starting for more details. 

If your bike has a manual transmission, you could also push-start your bike. This uses the momentum from the wheels, transferred backward through the clutch, to spin the engine. In order to do this, put the bike in first or second gear and hold the clutch lever so that the bike can roll freely. Turn the key to the run position and begin to push the bike with your feet and build up some speed. Then the trick is to pop the clutch back in to spin the engine. Alternatively, this can also be done by having someone pull the bike at a reasonable speed.

If none of these methods work, you might be out of luck. However, if you can do it right, these alternative methods of starting can save you in a pinch.

Conclusion

Kickstarting and electric starting both achieve the same purpose via different applications. While kickstarting is the original method of starting and is still common, electric starters are much more popular due to their user-friendliness. While both have pros and cons, there are some alternative ways to start the engine as needed. 

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