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What to Do If Your Motorcycle Won’t Kick-Start?

What to Do If Your Motorcycle Won’t Kick-Start?

Until the early 1970s, most motorcycles were built to be kick-started. Older motorcycle engines turned on after giving a strong kick to an external lever. But what if your motorcycle won’t start after trying to kick-start? It is not always easy to determine the reason why your motorcycle won't kick-start. In this article, you will learn how to determine why your motorcycle fails to kick-start and how to fix this issue.

1. What Is Kick-Starting and How Does It Work?

Kick-starting is the process of starting a motorcycle engine by kicking down a lever on the right side of the bike.


Most riders stand on the left of the bike and grab the handlebars with the left hand while using the right foot to kick down on the lever. This will cause the engine to rotate and cause the motorcycle to start. However, this requires adequate physical strength and coordination skills to accomplish this.

2. Reasons Why Motorcycle Won’t Kick Start

Listed below are several reasons why a motorcycle won't kick start:

2.1 Dead Battery:

A dead battery may not have enough power to turn the engine over. A motorcycle requires a functioning battery to start in most cases. When the battery is dead, there may not be enough power to turn over the engine, which can prevent the motorcycle from starting.


When you try to kick-start a motorcycle with a dead battery, the energy required to turn over the engine has to come from the kick starter itself. However, if the battery is dead, there won't be enough electrical charge to ignite the spark plugs or to power the electronic ignition system.


Moreover, some motorcycles have a safety switch that prevents the engine from starting if the battery voltage is low. This switch protects the engine from damage when the voltage is too low to operate the various electronic systems.


Therefore, maintaining the battery is vital to ensure enough power to start the motorcycle. If the battery is dead, it should be replaced or recharged before starting the motorcycle.

2.2 Faulty Ignition Switch:

If the ignition switch is faulty, it can prevent the electrical system from getting power. Turning the key in the ignition switch sends an electrical signal to the starter solenoid, which activates the starter motor. It turns the engine over and starts if the fuel and spark systems work correctly.


However, suppose the ignition switch is faulty. In that case, it may not send the proper signal to the starter solenoid or allow power to flow to the various electrical systems required for starting the engine. It can prevent the engine from turning over or starting, even if the battery is fully charged.


A faulty ignition switch may cause other electrical problems, such as intermittent power loss or electrical shorts, which can further complicate starting the motorcycle.


If you suspect the ignition switch is faulty, it should be inspected and tested by a qualified motorcycle mechanic, who can diagnose and repair the issue.

2.3 Bad Starter Motor:

A bad starter motor may not be able to engage the engine. It can prevent a motorcycle from starting because it is responsible for turning over the engine to get it started. The starter motor (electrical motor) uses the engine's flywheel to crank the engine and initiate combustion.


When you press the starter button or turn the key, the starter motor receives an electrical signal from the battery, which causes it to engage with the flywheel and turn the engine over. If the starter motor is faulty, it may be unable to turn the engine over or over very slowly, making it difficult or impossible to start the engine.


There are several reasons why you may impair a starter motor. For example, the motor may be worn out or damaged, the starter solenoid may be faulty, or there may be a problem with the electrical connections between the battery and the starter.


If you suspect the starter motor is bad, it should be inspected and tested by a qualified motorcycle mechanic, who can diagnose and repair the issue. In some cases, the starter motor may need to be replaced. In contrast, in other cases, it may be possible to repair it by replacing certain components or cleaning and lubricating the motor.

2.4 Clogged Fuel System:

If the fuel system is clogged with debris, including the fuel filter or carburetor, this could prevent fuel from reaching the engine. The fuel system is highly responsible for delivering fuel from the tank to the engine, which is used to power the combustion process that starts the engine.


If the fuel system is clogged, fuel may not be able to flow freely through the fuel lines, filters, or carburetor, which can prevent the engine from starting. It can happen if dirt or debris in the fuel tank, filter, or carburetor is clogged with dirt or other contaminants.


In addition, the fuel pump may also be affected if the fuel system is clogged, as it may not be able to generate enough pressure to force the fuel through the system and into the engine.


If you suspect the fuel system is clogged, a qualified motorcycle mechanic should inspect and clean it. It may involve flushing out the fuel tank and lines, replacing the fuel filter, and cleaning the carburetor. In various cases, it might be necessary to replace certain fuel system components, such as the fuel pump, if they are damaged or worn out.

2.5 Old Fuel:

Old fuel or gasoline can break down over time, becoming less effective with time. Fuel is designed to burn in the engine to create the combustion process that powers the engine. However, if the fuel is old or stale, it may not burn efficiently or ignite.


When fuel sits for an extended period, it can break down and lose its chemical properties, making it less effective for use in an engine. It is particularly true for gasoline, which can begin to degrade after just a few weeks.


If the fuel in the motorcycle's tank is old, it may not ignite when the engine is started, which can prevent the motorcycle from starting. In addition, old fuel can also clog the fuel system, which can further complicate starting the engine.


It is essential to use fresh fuel and to drain and replace the fuel in the tank regularly, particularly if the motorcycle is not used for extended periods, to prevent problems with old fuel. If you suspect that old fuel is preventing your motorcycle from starting, it may be necessary to drain and replace the fuel in the tank and fuel system before attempting to start the engine.

2.6 Fouled Spark Plug

A fouled spark plug may not be able to create the strong spark necessary to ignite the fuel. The motorcycle spark plug is responsible for igniting the fuel and air mixture in the engine's combustion chamber, which creates the combustion process that powers the engine.


However, if the spark plug is fouled, it may not be able to produce a spark, or the spark may be weak, which can prevent the engine from starting. A spark plug can become fouled if coated with oil, carbon deposits, or other contaminants, interfering with its spark-creation ability.


If the spark plug is fouled, it may need to be cleaned or replaced. Cleaning the spark plug involves removing it from the engine and using a spark plug cleaner or wire brush to remove any contaminants from the electrode. If the spark plug is severely fouled, it may need to be replaced entirely.


In addition to a fouled spark plug, other problems with the ignition system, such as a faulty ignition coil or a damaged spark plug wire, can also prevent the engine from starting. If you suspect the ignition system is causing your motorcycle's starting problems, it is best to have it inspected and repaired by a qualified mechanic.

2.7 Bad Fuel Pump:

If the fuel pump is not working properly, it can prevent fuel from reaching the engine. The fuel pump is an electrical device that generates pressure to force fuel through the fuel system and into the engine, where it is used to power the combustion process that starts the engine.


If the fuel pump is bad, it may not be able to generate enough pressure to force fuel through the fuel system and into the engine, which can prevent the engine from starting. Various issues, such as a faulty fuel pump motor, a clogged fuel filter, or a broken fuel pump relay, can cause it.


In addition to preventing the engine from starting, a bad fuel pump can cause other problems, such as poor fuel economy, reduced engine performance, or stalls while driving.


If you suspect the fuel pump is causing your motorcycle's starting problems, a qualified mechanic should inspect and test it. In some cases, the fuel pump may need to be replaced, while in other cases, it may be possible to repair it by replacing certain components, such as the fuel pump motor or relay.

2.8 Stuck Valves:

If the valves are stuck, they can prevent the engine from turning over. Stuck valves can prevent a motorcycle from starting because they can interfere with the engine's ability to intake air and fuel or exhaust the combustion byproducts from the engine.


The valves in a motorcycle engine control the flow of air and fuel. It controls the combustion chamber and the exhaust of combustion byproducts out of the engine. If the valves become stuck in the closed position, it can prevent the engine from taking in air and fuel or exhaust the combustion byproducts, which can cause starting problems.


Various issues, such as corrosion, carbon buildup, or damage to the valve guides or seats, can cause stuck valves. In addition to preventing the engine from starting, stuck valves can cause other problems, such as reduced engine performance or misfires.


If you suspect that stuck valves are causing your motorcycle's starting problems, it is best to have the engine inspected and repaired by a qualified mechanic. Depending on the situation of the issue, it may be necessary to replace the affected valves or other components or to perform a valve job to repair damaged or worn components.

2.9 Low Compression:

If the engine has low compression, it may not start. Worn or damaged engine components can cause low compression. Low compression can prevent a motorcycle from starting because it can interfere with the engine's ability to generate the combustion process that powers the engine. Compression refers to the pressure created inside the engine's cylinders as the piston moves upward during the compression stroke.


If the compression in the engine is low, it can indicate a problem with the engine's internal components, such as worn piston rings, damaged cylinder walls, or a leaking head gasket. Low compression can prevent the engine from generating enough pressure to create the combustion process that powers the engine.


In addition to preventing the engine from starting, low compression can cause other problems, such as poor engine performance, reduced fuel efficiency, or misfires.


If you suspect that low compression is causing your motorcycle's starting problems, it is best to have the engine inspected and repaired by a qualified mechanic. Depending on the cause of the low compression, replacing certain components or performing a more extensive engine rebuild may be necessary.

2.10 Broken Timing Chain

A broken timing chain can prevent a motorcycle from starting because it can cause the engine's valves and pistons to become out of sync, preventing the engine from generating the combustion process that powers the engine.


The timing chain in a motorcycle engine is responsible for keeping the engine's camshaft and crankshaft in sync. The camshaft controls the opening and closing of the engine's valves, while the crankshaft controls the movement of the engine's pistons.


If the timing chain breaks in a motorcycle engine, it can cause the camshaft and crankshaft to become out of sync, preventing the engine from operating properly. In addition, a broken timing chain can cause damage to the engine's internal components, such as valves, pistons, or cylinder walls.


If you suspect a broken timing chain is causing your motorcycle's starting problems, it is best to have the engine inspected and repaired by a qualified mechanic. Depending on the extent of visible damage caused by the broken timing chain, replacing certain components or performing a more extensive engine rebuild may be necessary.

3. Things to Do if Motorcycle Won’t Kick-Start

Here are 15 things you can do to try and troubleshoot if the motorcycle won’t kick-start:


Sr. no. To Do Detail
1 Check the fuel  Make sure the fuel tank is not empty or filled with stale fuel.
2 Check the fuel line  Make sure the fuel line is not clogged or pinched as it will prevent fuel from reaching the carburetor or fuel injectors.
3 Check the carburetor Make sure the carburetor is clean and free of debris. 
4 Check the spark plug  Make sure the spark plug is not fouled or worn out. 
5 Check the battery  Make sure the battery is fully charged and the terminals are clean and tight.
6 Check the starter motor Ensure the starter motor engages the engine properly.
7 Check the ignition switch Make sure the ignition switch is on and functioning properly.
8 Check the kill switch  Make sure the kill switch is not engaged.
9 Check the kickstand switch  Make sure the kickstand switch is not preventing the engine from starting.
10 Check the clutch  Make sure the clutch is fully engaged. 
11 Check the transmission Make sure the motorcycle is in neutral or the clutch is fully disengaged.
12 Check the air filter Make sure the air filter is clean and free of debris.
13 Check the compression Make sure the engine is at an adequate level of compression.
14 Check the valve clearance Make sure the valve clearance has adequate space and has no blockage.
15 Check the timing  Make sure a spark in the combustion chamber ignited immediately.

If you have checked all of these factors and your motorcycle still won't start, take it to a mechanic for a professional diagnosis.

4. Things to Avoid When a Motorcycle Won’t Kick-Start

If your motorcycle doesn't start, avoid doing the following to not cause further damage to your bike:

Don't Keep Trying to Start the Bike

If the engine doesn't start after a few tries, do not keep attempting to start the engine. Doing so may damage the battery or cause its power to drain.

Don't Neglect the Battery

Check the connections to the battery and make sure the connection points are clean and tight. If your battery is old, weak, or dead, it may need to be replaced.

Don't Ignore the Fuel System

Make sure the fuel valve is in the "on" position, the fuel tank is filled, the fuel filter is not clogged, and the carburetor is clean and functioning properly.

Don't Forget the Electrical System

Check the fuses, the spark plug, and the ignition system. Make sure that all of the connections are clean and tight.

Don't Overlook the Basics

Check that the kill switch is in the "run" position, the clutch lever is pulled in, and the side stand is up.


If you have checked all of these potential causes and the bike still won't start, it may be best to take it to a mechanic or dealer for further inspection and repair.

5. FAQs

5.1 Why Does a Back Kick Happen in Motorcycles?

A back kick, or backfire, occurs when the combustion process in the engine is interrupted. When the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber doesn't burn completely, unburned fuel vapors can escape through the exhaust system and ignite, creating a popping or backfiring sound.


Here are possible reasons why a motorcycle might experience a back kick:

  1. Improper fuel/air mixture: If the fuel/air mixture is too rich or lean, it can cause incomplete combustion.
  2. Faulty ignition system: A weak spark or a spark at the wrong time can cause incomplete combustion.
  3. Exhaust system issues: A damaged or blocked exhaust system will not allow proper airflow.
  4. Engine timing issues: If the engine timing is off, it can cause a backfire.

It's important to note that an occasional back kick is not a major issue. But if it happens frequently or consistently, this might indicate a problem with the motorcycle's engine or exhaust system. If your motorcycle is backfiring, it's best to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic.

5.2 How Does the Motorcycle Start When Kick-Starting?

When you push down on the ratcheting lever, it engages the engine's internal mechanism that rotates the engine's crankshaft. This compresses the fuel/air mixture in the engine's combustion chamber and ignites it with a spark from the spark plug.


Here's a step-by-step breakdown of how the process works:

  • You push down on the lever connected to the engine's internal mechanism through gears and springs.
  • The lever rotates the engine's crankshaft, which in turn rotates the engine's internal mechanism.
  • As the engine rotates, it draws fuel and air through the intake valves.
  • The piston then compresses the fuel/air mixture as it moves up and down inside the combustion chamber.
  • When the piston reaches the top of the cylinder, the spark plug ignites the compressed fuel/air mixture, causing it to combust and create the power needed to turn the engine.
  • This power is transferred through the transmission and to the motorcycle's wheels, causing them to rotate.

6. Conclusion:

If your motorcycle doesn’t start when you try kick-starting, you need to first identify the problem. After checking for all possible causes, try to fix them.


By following this guide, you should be familiar with the top reasons for kick-starting issues and what you need to do to resolve them. However, if you feel it is too difficult and cannot find the solution, try to consult an experienced mechanic. Viking Bags has several modification options available, including sissy bars, fairings, crash bars, and handlebars. There are also many luggage options available, including sissy bar bags and motorcycle saddlebags for a better motorcycle riding experience.

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