From a friend I received this extremely boring document on kickstarting… but the note accompanying it was too real to let pass the opportunity to share

This should give you five minutes – says the note- from the boredom of COVID confinement” And it persuaded me: reading how to kickstart a  360cc Husky at the traffic light with traffic behind and a choking carburettor is definitely more entertaining than watching CNN.

 First of all this is not about “turn on the key and push the button.” Nor is it about the Rokon with the rope pull or the Honda with the wind up spring.  This is about real bikes that you had to kick, curse, and sometimes beg to get them to run.                                                                                                                                                               

One of the first things is to know a little about engines. The size is important, also if it’s two or four stroke, number of cylinders etc. Knowing what the rotating parts do and where they are is important in getting the engine running and not getting hurt in the process.

As with about anything you do, follow through is important.  If you stop your kick too soon, the ratchet pawl can stay engaged, and the engine not having enough rotating energy will reverse or stop quickly causing discomfort or injury to the rider.

Small two stroke engines are usually easy to start.  You depress the start lever until it has resistance. Then with a brisk movement kick the lever through, and if you had the throttle set right, the engine will start and run.

The larger two-stroke engines take a little more thought in the process.  All engines fire Before Top Dead Center. That means while the piston is going up, compressing the gas/air mixture, the ignition will fire, igniting the mixture. At full retard most engines time at 3-4 degrees and can be as high as 40 degrees at full speed.  You are rotating the internals of the engine with your foot.  Right before the engine hits Top Dead Center it will fire. If you are kicking with enthusiasm and a dedicated follow through the engine will start and run.  If not things may not go well.

I had a 360cc Husky that was a really neat bike.  It was a bit pernickety on starting and a starting drill needed to be adhered to.  The start lever was on the left side so usually the bike was started while standing next to it.  First the side stand had to be up, then you tickled the carb. That is you press a button on the float bowl that holds the needle open until it floods. Now you put your foot on the start lever and ease it down until it stops.  It’s now time to kick the start lever. That is, depress it like you are trying to kill a snake.  If done correctly you will be standing in a cloud of smoke, with the harsh rasp of the exhaust tearing at what is left of your hearing.  If done wrong it went something like this. You get the bike in position, side stand up, carb tickled, etc, then you kick. If your kick has any hesitation then the engine will try to reverse when it fires. With the Husky that would cause your foot to come off the lever and after raking your shin on the foot peg you would stomp the ground hard. Then the freed lever would somehow bounce back and hit your shin just slightly above where the foot peg had removed the first layer of skin. As if that wasn’t enough, the engine would sometimes continue it’s backward movement and run in reverse. That was a real thrill when you popped it in gear and let out on the clutch.

Big twins are fairly straight forward.  Roll the engine with the start lever until it stops. Since most of these engines kick through the transmission you need to be in neutral and the clutch engaged to be able to rotate the engine. When you roll the engine to TDC or Top Dead Center you can release the clutch to locate the start lever.  If you start your kick with the lever horizontal, in my opinion, you get more power to the kick, and it is easier to kick through releasing the starter pawl so you don’t get kicked back.

Some of you may be wondering why I keep harping on the bike kicking you. It can be painful to the point of sprained foot or ankle, broken ankle or leg, or serious ego damage. I remember seeing my brother sitting in the snow in front of his old Harley with a dazed look on his face. Probably the most serious mistake is not being committed and following through with the kick. 

Now we will get to the bikes that are serious, the big singles.  The old timers called them Thirty-Fifties, Five hundreds, or the smaller Twenty-Ones, or Three fifties.  With sixty-one cubic inches being one litre or one thousand cubic-centimetres, you can see where the names came from.

To start one of these engines was almost an art.  If done right they could be easy and reliable to start. If you didn’t follow the drill or something was wrong with the bike, it could be frustrating, painful, and many other bad things. I had a 500 Yamaha that was usually consistent to start.  One day I kicked for a full twenty minutes, tried to push start and finally gave up.  After a cup of coffee I went out and gave it one kick and it was running. It wasn’t flooded, plug was good, had gas, I checked all things that I could think of and never found a reason.

Knowing where the piston is at is one of the most important things in starting a big single. If you just kick the bike without knowing were the piston is you can get seriously hurt. There are two common ways with little difference between them. The most popular is to bring the engine to compression then pull the compression release on the handle bar (holds the exhaust valve open) the gently roll the engine past TDC, let go of the release lever and kick like you mean it. The other is to bring the engine to full compression, pull the compression release but do not rotate the engine. This lets the air out of the cylinder you have built up, release the lever then kick. If all goes well this will fire the small amount of gas/air mix in the cylinder and help carry the engine around to fire. 

If think about what You are doing when you kick start a bike you will realize how important it is to have every thing right. With an electric starter you can change throttle settings, choke or not, all while the engine is turning, not so with kick starting.  Each kick is a single effort, if the bike fails to start, each try takes a little out of you and the chances of a successful ride dwindle.   

Do not miss the good articles of “The Blue Groove” at and the Aerostich blog essays at

Read the 76 blogs on lessons from biking at