Common Tread

How to start a chopper

May 19, 2016

Many choppers, being highly modified (as well as quite old), have a fairly specific sequence of events that must be followed carefully to get the bike to start. 

Mutterings, oaths, incantations, and animal offerings sacrificed at appropriate points in the lunar phase must not be overlooked, lest one risk travel by shoe leather. Only through careful tuning, a state of oneness with the bike, and a blind commitment to the efficacy of the Otto-cycle engine can a chopper be coaxed to life.

kick start
Tuning and technique are equally important. Photo by Dan Venditto.

Every bike is a bit different, so the sequence can vary a bit, but here’s what a stereotypical owner-written instruction sheet on how to wake the sleeping beast might look like.

Starting bike, rider only

  1. Turn on fuel petcock
  2. Retard magneto
  3. Apply choke/enrichener
  4. Kick twice to prime
  5. Turn on ignition, turn off enrichener
  6. Bike will start within two kicks

Starting bike, rider with several friends watching

  1. Retard magneto
  2. Apply choke/enrichener
  3. Kick twice to prime
  4. Turn on ignition, turn off enrichener
  5. Begin kicking
  6. Bike should fire off within eight to ten kicks
  7. Bike will die
  8. Bike will not restart; kick furiously
  9. Buddies should then proffer suggestions on diagnostic solutions, beginning with likely items, but rapidly escalating to suggest increasingly wild and improbable potential reasons for no-start condition
  10. Pant some
  11. Remove Ray-Ban Wayfarers
  12. Adjusting valve lash
    Step 12 involves exposing the pushrods and lifters to determine proper valve lash, and exposing the engine internals for the owner to softly swear at them. Photo by Lemmy.
    Remove pushrod tube covers
  13. Ascertain pushrods are adjusted correctly
  14. Kick some more
  15. Remove spark plug and wire, check for spark
  16. Verify spark is present
  17. Petcock problems
    "What's this on/off thing here on the tank?" Photo by Lemmy.
    Notice fuel petcock is off. This step should be performed by a friend or bystander, ideally the one with little mechanical experience
  18. Turn on fuel petcock
  19. Bike will start within two kicks
  20. Re-install Ray-Ban Wayfarers

Starting bike, rider with strangers and attractive members of opposite sex watching

  1. Turn on fuel petcock
  2. Retard magneto
  3. Apply choke/enrichener
  4. Kick twice to prime
  5. Turn on ignition, turn off enrichener
  6. Kick
  7. Get flannel shirt good and sweaty
  8. Kick more
  9. Bike will not show hint that it could start in the near future
  10. Stand back, fiddle with carb
  11. Begin kicking again
  12. Checking plugs
    Grounding spark plugs to test for spark is a critical part of the extended diagnostic process. Photo by Lemmy.
    Verify spark
  13. Ignore snickering and comments from bystanders
  14. Notice liquid on top of tank
  15. Identify liquid as sweat
  16. Remove flannel shirt and beanie; use as sweat absorption tools
  17. Notice attractive members of opposite sex begin to drift away
  18. Kicking
    Textbook form demonstrated when kicking the motorcycle. White pants are a nice style touch one can add between Memorial Day and Labor Day in the United States. Photo by Lemmy.
    Kick again
  19. Kick more
  20. Are you still kicking? Kick harder
  21. Injure self while kicking, turn off ignition
  22. Sit on curb, remove engineer boot, verify foot still complete and whole
  23. Watch attractive members of opposite sex completely retreat
  24. Wait for foot to feel better as strangers of same sex also clear out
  25. Hobble back to bike
  26. Give tender half kick
  27. Bike will start flawlessly

As a chopper owner increases his knowledge base, hones his technique, and recovers from the various forms of injury H-D kickers inflict upon their masters over the years, the sequence becomes slightly less complicated.

electric start
"So you just push that button with the lightning bolt? Lightning on a motorcycle seems sort of dangerous." Photo by Lemmy.

Starting bike, former chopper owner, onlooker status irrelevant

  1. Turn on ignition
  2. Press starter button briefly
  3. Release starter button as engine begins firing

And there you have it. For the truly evolved chopper owner, it's really as easy as one, two, three.