4 Ways to Jump Start a Motorcycle

Updated on June 30, 2018
gerardnguyen profile image

Buying a lemon as my first bike gave me the opportunity to learn more about my bike and how to care for it.

Should You Jump Start Your Motorcycle?

There are many reasons why a motorcycle won't start, so it makes sense to determine whether the battery is the issue before attempting to jump start your bike.

  1. Make sure there is gas in your tank.
  2. Make sure the kill switch is off.
  3. Check that your petcock is on. This mainly applies to older, carbureted bikes.
  4. Check your spark plugs. Clean off any excess carbon build-up, make sure they're gapped correctly, and change them out if needed.
  5. Put your bike in neutral and/or pull in the clutch. Try starting your bike in neutral and with the clutch pulled in. Some bikes have a built-in safety mechanism to prevent the rider from accidentally starting the bike when it's in gear.
  6. Put the kickstand up. This is another safety mechanism on some bikes.

Can I Jump Start a Motorcycle With a Dead Battery?

Check Your Lights

  • The battery indicator will be on when there are any issues with the battery, like a faulty connection or low voltage.
  • If your battery is drained or dead, the headlights and backlight on the instrument panel will likely be dimmer than usual or may not work at all.

Check Your Battery's Voltage

If the battery is completely dead (literally zero V), there's no use trying to jump start it, so check the voltage first.

  • If you have a voltmeter or multimeter, switch the setting to DC, and place the leads on the positive and negative terminals of the battery.
  • A good voltage (V) reading depends on the size of your battery. For a 12-V battery, a full charge is 12.66 V, and 75% charge is 12.45 V. Anything below this may not be able to start your motorcycle—especially for modern, fuel injected motorcycles.

If you've determined that your battery is undercharged but not totally dead, you can try jump starting it.

There are four ways to start a motorcycle with a dead battery—with and without jumper cables:

  1. Using another motorcycle
  2. Using a car battery
  3. Using a portable battery jump starter
  4. Push starting

1. How to Jump Start a Motorcycle Using Another Motorcycle

If you've ever jump started a car, the process is the same for motorcycles, although accessing the battery terminals might be a little more difficult. This does require that you or the other rider have jumper cables.

1. Make Sure Both Bikes Are Off and in Neutral

2. Find the Battery Terminals

  • For most bikes, the battery is under the seat, but this may differ depending on the make and model.
  • If the terminals on the battery are inaccessible, try the terminals on the chassis (where the battery cables are bolted onto the bike).

3. Connect the Jumper Cables

There is no particular order to connecting jumper cables, but most people do it this way:

  1. Attach one positive clip (red handles) to the positive terminal (usually has a red, rubber or plastic cover and labeled POS or +) of the dead battery.
  2. Attach the other positive clip to the positive terminal of the good battery.
  3. Attach the negative clip (black handles) to the negative terminal of the good battery.
  4. Attach the other negative clip to a bare metal surface (not painted or waxed) on the dead bike. This just prevents any potential damage to the battery.

4. Start the Working Bike

  • Let it run for a couple of minutes to make sure the battery is fully active.

5. Try to Start Your Bike

  • It may take a few attempts. Check the connections, and make sure everything on your bike is set to run.
  • Once your bike starts, keep both bikes running for a few minutes to build up a charge.

6. Disconnect the Jumper Cables

  • Start removing the clips in the reverse order of how you put them on, starting with the negative clip on your bike.
  • Ride around for 15-30 minutes to recharge the battery. If you know that your battery is on it's way out (i.e. not going to hold a charge that well), you don't need to ride it around very far since you'll just be replacing it anyway.

2. How to Jump Start a Motorcycle With a Car

Using a car battery to jump start a motorcycle isn't typical or ideal, but it can help get you home or to a mechanic in a pinch.

This really should only be done if no other method is possible.

You will risk damaging the battery and/or the bike's electrical system because car batteries have much higher amperage (electrical current strength) than a motorcycle battery. Too much power may be delivered too quickly, overloading the battery and burning out the starter. For this reason, many battery and motorcycle manufacturers will warn against using a car battery to charge or jump a motorcycle battery, and doing so may void warranties.

Nevertheless, if you need to get home, this is how to safely do it:

1. Make Sure Both Your Motorcycle and the Car Are Off

2. Connect the Jumper Cables as You Normally Would

  1. Attach one positive clip (red handles) to the positive terminal (usually has a red, rubber or plastic cover and labeled POS or +) of the dead battery.
  2. Attach the other positive clip to the positive terminal of the good battery.
  3. Attach the negative clip (black handles) to the negative terminal of the good battery.
  4. Attach the other negative clip to a bare metal surface on the motorcycle.

3. Try Starting Your Motorcycle

  • Keep the car off! Cranking your bike likely won't drain the car battery, but cranking your bike with the car on will likely burn out your bike's electrical system.
  • It should start up right away. You may notice that it cranked more powerfully than usual.
  • If it doesn't start right away, wait a few seconds before trying again. Crank it for no more than 2 seconds at a time. If it still doesn't start, your battery might be completely drained, or the issue might not be the battery.

4. Disconnect the Jumper Cables

  • Remove the clips in the reverse order of how you put them on, starting with the negative clip on your bike.
  • Ride around for 15-30 mins, keeping the revs high to help charge the battery. If you plan on replacing the battery, this isn't necessary.

3. How to Use a Portable Jump Starter on a Motorcycle

I would consider a portable jump starter battery pack an essential tool to keep on your bike—especially on solo rides, long distance rides, or excursions into remote areas. It will even come in handy at home, like when I couldn't get to work in the morning because I left the lights on all night.

Using a battery pack is the quickest and simplest way to get back on the road. You don't need to depend on anyone else or risk injuring yourself trying to push start your bike.

For best results, you should consult the manufacturer's instructions that come with the jump starter, but here are the general steps:

1. Start With Both Your Motorcycle and the Jump Starter Off

2. Connect the Attached Cables

Jump starter packs usually come with an assortment of attachments, but the most common ones are the familiar clips seen on traditional jumper cables.

  • Connect the positive clip (red handle) to the positive terminal (labeled POS or +).
  • Connect the negative clip (black handle) to a bare metal surface on the bike or the negative terminal.
  • If the terminals on the battery are hard to reach, try connecting to the terminals on the chassis (where the battery connects to the bike).

2. Turn the Jump Starter Pack On

  • Some versatile models may have multiple voltage settings for different batteries. Make sure the jump starter is set to the correct voltage for your battery. For example, if you have a 12-V battery, it should be set to 12 V.

3. Try Starting Your Motorcycle

  • Crank for no more than 2-3 seconds at a time. Portable jump starters are designed to deliver short bursts of maximum power, so cranking for a long time will likely burn out the battery pack inside the jump starter.
  • Once the bike starts, remove the negative clip first followed by the positive clip.
  • If your bike doesn't start up right away, wait a few minutes before trying again to let the jump starter cool down and recover. If it doesn't start after a few attempts, it's likely that your battery won't hold a charge or is completely dead.

4. Disconnect the Jumper Cables

  • Start removing the clips in the reverse order of how you put them on, starting with the negative clip on your bike.
  • Ride around for 15-30 mins at high revs to help recharge the battery. If you plan on replacing the battery, this step isn't necessary.

5. Recharge the Jump Starter

  • Cranking takes a lot of power out of the battery pack. To make sure you are prepared for future emergencies, charge your battery pack after each use.

Push starting is something you should know how to do but never have to use.

4. How to Push Start a Motorcycle

Push starting, bump starting, or pop starting a car or motorcycle is a tried-and-true method of getting the engine running when the battery is dead or when the starter isn't working. You don't need jumper cables or any special tools, and in a motorcycle, you can easily do it on your own. No need to call a friend or recruit a helpful stranger. All you need is enough strength to push your bike (hence the name), or if you're lucky, a hill you can roll the bike down on.

1. Find a Clear Stretch of Road

  • You need enough room for your motorcycle to gain some momentum. An empty street allows you to push start safely since you're less likely to run into someone or be run over.

2. Put Your Motorcycle Into 2nd Gear

  • Second gear is the easiest and safest for most bikes, and what I usually use.
  • Starting in neutral is another option and makes the next step easier.

The transmission needs to be in a low gear to make it easier to turn the motor over. Although first gear can also be used, it can be too aggressive on some bikes, causing it to lurch forward and throw you off.

3. Pull the Clutch In and Start Pushing Your Bike

The bike needs to be going at least 5 mph (8 km/h)—ideally 8-10 mph (13-16 km/h)—for the motor to turn over.

This can be done a few different ways:

  1. Waddle or walk your bike forward. This is easier if your bike is light or you have long legs.
  2. Push while running alongside your bike. Just remember that you need to jump onto your bike once you get to speed.
  3. Have someone push you. This makes it easier for you to get up to the required speed.
  4. Roll down a hill or slope. Let gravity do it's thing.

4. Release the Clutch Quickly and Give It Some Gas

  • If you started in neutral, shift up into second gear once you get enough speed.
  • Pop the clutch while gently rolling on the throttle to about a 1/2-turn. You're listening for sort of purr from the engine followed by high engine revs.

This step is straightforward for smaller bikes, but for bikes with larger displacements or high compression, the engine might sputter, or the rear wheel might slip.

If things aren't going smoothly, stay calm, pull the clutch back in and try again.

Once the motor starts, you can ride as you normally would; just make sure not to stall. Keep the engine revs high. This also helps recharge your battery—if it will hold a charge.

How Does Push Starting Work?

Simply put, push starting bypasses the starter system and supplies the needed compression to ignite the air/fuel mixture in the engine.

However, this points to a big limitation of push starting. You need a little bit of juice in your battery to at least fire the spark plugs. For fuel injected bikes—especially newer models—it may be even harder since the the ECU, fuel injectors, and various sensors also need power for the bike to run. If your battery is completely dead, don't waste your effort trying to push start.

Jump starting is not a repair. You should determine what the actual problem is so that you don't run into this problem again, or worse, damage your bike by running it at suboptimal conditions.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Cameron 

      9 days ago

      Thanks Author, good info for every motorcyclist to know.

    • gerardnguyen profile imageAUTHOR

      GerardN 

      3 months ago

      My pleasure. Hope it was helpful!

    • profile image

      dave carlson 

      3 months ago

      Thanks for posting!

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