Con­nect­ing blood, sweat, and gears

Motorcyclist - - Garage - —Chris Can­tle

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.

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