Connecting blood, sweat, and gears
FIRST, AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH: A perfectly executed bump-start is immeasurably cool. The effort of using your own muscle, balance, and skill to get your machine lit is deeply satisfying. Do it well, in front of a crowd, and the act becomes majestic.
The electric leg has long graced road-going machines. Indian was among the first to recognize the need, experimenting with electric starters as early as the 1910s. Today’s starter motors are so compact that it’d be lunacy to leave them off. Which leaves the art of bump-starting to two distinct contemporary groups: those who are bad about battery maintenance, and vintage racers. Both are prominent in Motorcyclist’s social circles.
“Where else can you see a bump-andrun-start nowadays?” asks longtime contributor Thad Wolff. Though he earned his reputation as a superbike fiend, Wolff is frequently found flogging Honda CB160S with the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association. The race class features a Le Mans start, complete with a sweaty, leathered-up dash across the track.
Wolff ’s style is impeccable: a furious push into a languid sidesaddle. He drops the clutch as his weight keeps the rear tire from skidding, then he pins the throttle, plants his left foot on the peg, and casually swings his right over the saddle. “People jump on and paddle like ducks. A lot of people are scared to tip over. It just takes getting used to riding sidesaddle a little,” he says.
On the grid, the effect of dozens of silent machines being thrust to life at once and immediately held wide open is electrifying. Watch heroes such as Spencer, Roberts, and Mamola, in the early ’80s, when Americans led the GP circuit. Watch them leaning into their leathers for the start at Assen in 1983 as the field of ferocious 500s roar to life— then say it’s not worth a try.
A well-honed bump-start in your arsenal is a practical skill—one that pays off when you leave your lights on or forget to put your battery on a charger before a weekend ride. While the bumpstart has increasingly become a lost art, it’s one that, with a little practice, is quite easy to keep alive.