Harley Davidsons tend to be tough on batteries. If you get 5+ years out of one, you’re doing great. You never know exactly when your battery is going to start the bike for the last time. Hopefully, you’re at home when it happens – but we aren’t all that lucky.
Older carbureted Harleys can usually be bump started so long as the problem is that the battery has lost its charge. As for newer fuel-injected bikes, they’ll need at least 9 volts in order to run the fuel system – otherwise, you can push them all you want and they still won’t start.
How to bump start a Harley Davidson
If you believe a low battery is the reason your bike isn’t firing up, you can try bump starting it. This will also get you up and running if your starter has died.
1. Find a hill (or some friends)
One way that Harleys differ from other motorcycles is their sheer size and weight – these pigs are heavy! Unlike a light weight sport bike, running alongside a Harley and hopping on to bump start it is much more difficult.
A slight downhill slope can make life a LOT easier when you’re trying to get enough momentum to push start your Harley. Even a smaller bike like my Night Train weighs in at 640 lbs so this is going to take some serious physical effort. If you’re riding a bigger touring bike, I’m afraid your chances of bump starting it are lower.
If you can’t find a hill, you’re going to need at least a friend or two to help push you. With a bike this heavy, it’s safer to be straddling the bike for this and you likely won’t be able to get enough speed going with just your own legs.
2. Turn the ignition on
This seems obvious, but if you’re already flustered with why your bike has left you stranded, you might forget. Turn the ignition on and don’t forget to put the kill switch in the “Run” position.
3. Shift the bike into 2nd or 3rd gear and hold the clutch in
Don’t bother trying to start your Harley in 1st gear. In most cases, it’ll just lock up the rear tire (or try to send you over the bars). Use 2nd or 3rd gear and hold the clutch in.
4. Get pushing
This is going to take a lot out of you. If you’re able to find a hill, roll down it with the ignition turned on, the bike in 2nd gear, and the clutch in. Once you feel like you’ve built enough speed, pop the clutch quickly. Don’t let it out slowly – it’ll just act as a gentle brake then.
5. Pull the clutch back in right away
If the bike doesn’t start on the first try, make sure you pull the clutch back in as soon as possible. You’ve gone to all that effort to build speed up, so it would be great if you can get a few attempts before having to start all over again.
6. Keep it running
If you’ve been fortunate enough to have started your Harley this way, don’t let it die or you’ll be doing this all over again. Make sure to give it some gas if it’s stumbling when trying to idle.
If you’re back to riding again, make sure you clutch in way before coming to a stop – that will give the RPMs enough time to drop to idle and if it stalls, at least you can use your own momentum to bump start it again while riding.
What Harley models can you bump start – Carb VS. EFI
Older carberated Harleys are much easier to bump start when the battery voltage has dropped a lot. This is a nice benefit to owning these simpler bikes.
Newer fuel injected bikes (EFI) are a bit more tricky. Depending on their reason for not starting, they might still be able to be bump started.
If the battery is too dead to turn the engine over, but alive enough to turn the lights and accessories on, it’s worth attempting to bump start it. If the battery is dead though, there won’t be enough juice to run the fuel pump – which means you can push all you want but that bike isn’t going to fire up.
The best way to know if you have a good chance at bump starting your Harley is to turn the ignition on and listen for the fuel pump to prime. If it has enough juice to do that, it’s just a matter of replacing battery power with your legs to turn it over. If the fuel pump isn’t coming alive, you’re going to have to move on to plan B.
Is bump starting a motorcycle bad for it?
Bump starting your Harley isn’t going to cause any wear or damage. You’re essentially doing the same thing the starter does every time you fire up the bike normally.
If anything, bump starting a motorcycle is bad for YOU. It takes a lot of effort and if you end up making multiple attempts, it can be absolutely exhausting.
There’s also the risk of crashing. Getting this movement wrong can be catastrophic so if you tend to be on the clumsy side, you might not want to try bump starting your bike. It’s not worth dropping your expensive motorcycle just to save a $200 tow truck bill.
How do you start a Harley with a dead battery?
If you know the cause of your Harley not starting is due to a dead battery, you have a few options. It really depends on just how “dead” your battery is though – there are times when a battery can’t be saved no matter what amount of charging you give it. If your battery has a dead cell, it’s toast.
If your battery still has life in it and you simply ran it down by accident (leaving your ignition/lights/radio on etc) you’ll just have to find a way to give it a charge.
You can keep a small booster pack with you wherever you go. This allows you to be completely self-sufficient and get your bike running without any help.
You can also rely on the help of strangers that might have jumper cables. A motorcycle can be boosted by any 12V battery (even a car). A good samaritan or a phone call to a buddy can save the day.
If you’re stranded and your battery is completely dead, the only choice is to replace it with another. Head to the nearest store in search of either a motorcycle battery or even a 12V lawn mower battery. As long as it can fit properly in the location, it’ll get you home. You can always replace it with the right one for your bike at that point (and hopefully even return the temporary one to the store).
Whether or not bump starting your Harley Davidson will help you heavily depends on the reason it’s not starting in the first place. Any mechanical issues outside of the charging system or starter are not going to be bypassed with bump starting.
Try your best to diagnose what the problem is first before trying to push your heavy bike fast enough to pull off a successful bump start.