How to Start a Classic Harley Or Vintage Indian Motorcycle

Lyle Ellerbee

Thanks to modern technology like Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI), pointless ignition and 12-volt electronics strong enough to operate an electric starter, many of today’s motorcycle riders have never had to master the art of the motorcycle kickstart. I will show you, step-by-step, the process of prepping and kickstarting a classic Harley or vintage Indian motorcycle to life.

Step One: Check to make sure the ignition is turned off for now.

Step Two: Make sure there is enough gas in the gas tanks (sounds simple, but this one step might save you a lot of frustration) and open the fuel petcocks to allow the gas to run from the tanks to the carburetor.

Step Three: If the engine is cold, close the choke down all the way (if not sure which is close – remove the air cleaner and look). If the engine in hot, leave the choke fully open.

Step Four: Retard the ignition fully (if your motorcycle has manual advance/retard ignition option built into the handlebars) and open the throttle fully. Retarding the ignition makes it easier to kick the engine over, and the fully open throttle allows a proper primer of fuel to the engine.

Step Five: With the motorcycle balanced safely on a side or rear stand, kick the kickstarter over 2 or 3 times to prime the engine with gas through the carburetor and into the cylinder heads.

Step Six: Open the choke on your carburetor half way to allow a leaner mixture of gas and air into the cylinder heads.

Step Seven: Close throttle to no more than a quarter turn open.

Step Eight: Move the ignition advance/retard to roughly the middle (if you have a manual advance/retard system).

Step Nine: Turn on the ignition and give the kick starter a solid and complete kick through. Ideally the engine will fire and come to life.

Step Ten: If the engine does catch and run, advance the ignition fully and allow the bike to idle for a half minute to warm up, then ease off the choke and go for a ride. If the engine does not catch and run, try kicking it one or two more times. If that does not work repeat the entire process.

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