Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tom Rose tells us why kickers are the only option pt.2

And these are Tom's most recent thoughts on the subject...

Birdman recently asked me how I could froth at the mouth so easily in my violent endorsement of kickstarting and whether there was any rationale attached to it at all.

After that conversation I put 2,872 miles of thinking into it which brought me to this:

Some time ago I walked out of a big motorcycle store in a sunny place my Granny used to call “The Land of the Mushheads” and a guy (stylish hair, glasses, clothes & body art) says “I know that bike and you must have really wanted to kick it. Bet you regret that regularly”.

My mind straight razor sharp from sparring in La La Land traffic, I thought “I ain’t been nowhere on this bike in years” and got wary. I responded slowly, mildly “Nope. Not once. I enjoy every kick”.

We exchanged pleasantries and his busy scheduled saved me and him from an extrapolitive logical monologue on exactly why my bike is still (because it could be any way I want it) kick only after approximately 130,000 have-fun miles. After I purchased my bike brand new from the man who has become my good friend “Chippy” I told him my bike would someday be kick only with no battery.

Chippy nodded and said “Uh huh” and probably wondered if I could make the payments. He was years used to 20 year old kids spouting shit that they would never come through on which brings me to the question


I s’pose I’ll dedicate a paragraph per reason. Possibly I will never conclude, that way I can add paragraphs at my leisure as I develop new reasons. Got a reason I missed? Write your own paragraph and Birdman might post it.

Weight: My bike is over 100 lbs lighter than stock,, most of this weight reduction is due to the elimination of electric start components. If you do not understand that most Holy of concepts, the power to weight ratio, I suggest you quit reading this and seek rudimentary performance therapy. Remember though, you have to want to change. For many it will do no good.

Thrift: A motorcycle battery for an electric start bike costs a minimum of sixty dollars, a max currently of around $1,800 for the Thorsten Durbahn type. Those batteries have one year warranties because that is all that is expected by the manufacturer to be the useful life. Most wise old guys I know write a “put into” service date on their batteries. After one year they replace them. This practice prevents embarrassing phone calls at odd hours to immediately jeering, kickstarting relations. If I had purchased a new battery every year I have owned my bike I would be out about $2,000 – not chump change. If one wishes to prolong the life of ones battery it should be considered that the greatest load on the battery occurs while using the electric start. This would seem the time of greatest wear. This theory is borne out by my brother Joel. He has gotten up to 5 years out of batteries in his kick only Weber fed FXR.

Bling: Besides being a great place to hang your helmet (It’ll even keep it warm on a cold day) a kicker is a great place to put chrome. Some of you who know me will be surprised by this statement, but just as I put no judgments on other’s sexual preferences and no shit some of my best friends drive Ford or Dodge trucks, I accept that performance to some people involves shine. I support everyone’s right to freedom that doesn’t impinge on mine.

Safety: People who ride kick only bikes get in the habit of doing pre-kick inspections. Much like aircraft pilots they walk around and visually inspect the whole vehicle, feel its cylinder head temps, etc. Anyone disagree that this would be the ideal time to locate a loose axle nut? A tire going soft? An oil leak or frayed clutch cable? Under this same heading I’m going to bring up theft. A 7-year-old with a basic mechanical background and a Swiss Army knife can easily hot wire a bike. So can a potential thief. On the subject of kids, do you want your two-year-old climbing onto your bike clad only in a mildly soiled diaper, starting it and then dumping the clutch, propelling child and bike through the garage door? Besides the obvious damage to bike and garage, this is bad parenting – the child should never ride without boots and eye protection. If your bike’s compression is so low a two-year-old can kick it through, stop reading and start wrenching.

Recently this picture was posted of Sexy Jesse with his fingers bandaged.

Sexy Jesse was working on his inherently unreliable e-start system and he caught his fingers between the ring gear and the starter drive gear while it was energized. Those kinds of accidents don’t just happen to the Beautiful People of the world like Brad Pitt, Sexy Jesse, Shakira or Margaret Thatcher – they can happen to you or me.

Engine performance: A well tuned motorcycle starts much more easily. A hard start problem is harder to ignore and procrastinate on remedying when it is your own physical energy that is being expended. Years ago I noticed a cam grind described as “easy starting”. A six hour Dynomation computer simulation revealed what I suspected; vast quantities of power had been thrown away for “easy starting”. The cam was a turd. I have not tried all cams that allege “easy starting” but if I see a turd in a punch bowl I’m having coffee. To cam an engine based on starting performance rather than maximum running power/performance seems ludicrous to me. The market is flooded with more powerful starters and “regeared” starting systems. All of these costly, mechanically complex modifications are sneered at by those of us who are using the traditional technique of kickstarting.

Street cred: It has now been over two decades since Harley offered a bike for sale with a kicker yet they still mention “kickstarting” this or that in their well-funded advertising assaults. Why? Because nothing says “I’m in charge and owning this bike which is a PART of me – an APPENDAGE!” like the action of physically starting your bike with your own muscle. An audience always forms around a person that is about to kick their bike. The audience waits with baited breath while the owner does his pre-flight, makes some minor adjustments and then goes into the well-practiced choreography of the kicking routine. A proper kick should have the grace and fluidity of Michael Jordan’s lay-up, Baryshnikov’s leap or the gear split of an ancient long-haul trucker on Mont Eagle pass. So your bike doesn’t start on the first kick or two? (See previous paragraph on performance). Would you be embarrassed to kiss your spouse or hug your child before this audience?

Sex: So you and whomever you ride with walk out of a tittie bar with some dancers; one of them a blonde who can’t carry on a coherent conversation on the status of her or his hair or nails; the other a SABRA vet, dancing to pay tuition for a double doctorate in neurology and engineering. Which bike is the SABRA vet going to be interested in? You know she (or he) can change the ejection on an Steyr AUG from right to left blindfolded, find a lung and ventricle simultaneously with an ice pick and certainly bought her own tits. Who the fuck given a choice wants to ride with a bitch who didn’t buy her own tits?

I guess reading all of this I have come to a conclusion on the commonality of all these points. A button makes your bike an appliance. A kickstarter makes it part of you. Just like the dancers mentioned above – one can be replaced with a blowup doll, the other may drown you in your morning porridge. You haven’t invested all the time to read this if you’re going to be satisfied with a blowup doll or a sheep – unless by chance you are a sheep..


This is Tom's kickstart only little slice of Scottish engineering. Magneto powered, stripped down, 500 lb dripping wet, dual sport, combat touring, corner carving, drag racing, super slab assulting, do everything, Swiss army knive of a motorcycle, attack FXR. 200,000 miles of CONSTANT abuse and still going strong!


  1. Cool article!


  2. Excellent article. Kickstart is the only way to go. It's a motorcycle people , not a cellphone!

  3. Well said, have only owned kick only bikes and would never go any other route.....