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May 2, 2010

The video isn’t very good, but it does show the basics of starting an early 3 speeder.

These directions apply to a typical belt drive pre WWI Brit bike, with bicycle pedals and a 3 speed rear hub. Variations abound when riding other types of bikes, but the basics apply.  See the earlier article to see where some of these controls are located.

How to start a veteran motorcycle:

1. Put bike on the stand

2. Turn on fuel and oil taps

3. Lube valves, rockers, front suspension rockers, pivots, hubs, etc.

4. Flood the carb

5. Set the timing to be about ½ advanced

6. Open the air lever 1/3rd

7. Open the throttle lever 1/3rd

8. Engage 1st gear if there is a 3 speed rear hub

9. Lift compression release

10. Use pedals to rotate motor through 1 or 2 revs to suck petrol into the motor

11. Lower compression release

12. Use pedals to turn over motor to compression

13. Lift compression release, then pedal just a small amount to get over TDC

14. Release compression release

15. Pedal once through

16. Listen for sounds of “bonk, bonk, bonk”

17. Put in foot clutch

18. Set into neutral gear –this is IMPORTANT!

19. Get off bike, take bike off rear stand, put rear wheel onto ground.

20. Get on bike

21. Foot clutch in, engage 1st gear

22. Release clutch gently and ride away.

Steps 12-16 can be done another way, by just lifting the exhaust valve, pedaling like crazy, then dropping the valve. If done in steps 12-16 as described in the list above, it is very similar to the method used to start any big single cylinder motorbike with a gearbox and footstarter. When you understand the bike well, one gentle prod on a pedal should result in the desired bonk bonk bonk sounds.

While those 22 instructions work for a belt drive with 3 speed hub c1910-1922, many early bikes were direct drive. That is, they had a belt from the motor directly to the rear wheel. No clutch… To start them, you set all the levers to the correct spots, run alongside with the bike with the compression release opened. At just the right speed, you let the compression release go and the motor will start. The tricky part is that you must have the throttle set just right. If it is open too far, the bike may run away from you before you get your leg over the seat! This can be embarrassing if, for example, you do it in traffic, say with a policeman stopped behind you at the red light… urggh.

When running and bumping, be sure to land on the bike with your feet on the pedals. If you miss the pedals, the family jewels will contact the seat and/or petrol tank and/or top frame tube!


Mr and Mrs on the Premier @ Pebble Beach 2009.  Photo by Motorcycle Classics Magazine

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard McKenney permalink
    May 2, 2010 6:45 pm

    G’day Pete

    That Premier started to easy! Was there any ether in her lung?

    Did you hear the one about the Blonde who walks in front of the camera?
    The camera man has manners not to tell her to, MOVE!

    Was the hand to nose movement part of starting proceedure? I’m a thumb man myself.

    Very dapper period costume Messrs, exellent stuff.

    Cheers Richard

  2. Pete Young permalink*
    May 3, 2010 7:57 pm

    Hi Richard. No ether in her lung! It starts first kick almost every time, if I set the levers correctly for the throttle, air, tickler, oil, and timing. A low compression ratio and a good magneto take care of the rest.

    The suit isn’t my normal gear, but the Pebble Beach guys asked for period attire. 😉


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