Start a motorcycle in neutral, or in first gear?

by on May 29, 2016
in Riding Tips

I was reading an article online the other day in which the author laid out her motorcycle start-up sequence. Because I am a believer in doing my start-up tasks in the same order every time (so I don’t miss something important), I decided to write down my own sequence in case it might be helpful for someone else.

I noticed when I did this that there was one notable difference between my sequence and hers: she starts her bike in neutral, and I start mine in first gear.

I have no idea where I picked up the habit of starting my bike in first, but i immediately wondered if one method was recommended over the other.

Turns out, yes. And it’s not mine.

I looked for this information a few different ways: I polled my knowledgeable tribe of biker pals… I looked online in Harley Davidson support forums… and (HORRORS) I broke open my owner’s manual for a quick review of HD’s “official” recommendation.

Start your bike in neutral or first? | Biker Chick NewsBased on all that exhaustive research, although I’ve been starting my bike in first gear for as long as I can remember, I am changing my ways and will henceforth be starting in neutral.

The obvious benefit to this is, in neutral, I don’t have to worry about the bike lurching forward and possibly getting away from me. (That’s assuming I am absolutely certain it’s in neutral. )

Or, as my friend Shirley said when she responded to my non-scientific poll on this question: “I always start in neutral. Why? So I don’t forget and run into the garage wall!”

Aside from this bit of common sense, there’s also a mechanical reason for starting the motorcycle in neutral, especially when the bike is cold: starting in neutral allows the fluids and clutch plates to warm up before you attempt to engage them by putting the bike in gear.

This is helpful because when the bike is cold, the fluids have also cooled and settled away somewhat from the parts they are protecting.  The clutch plates are therefore likely to be somewhat stuck together due to the suction created from this cooling and settling.

If you start the bike in first gear, you’re attempting to unstick those suctioned plates without benefit of first warming the fluids.

Think about the viscosity (resistance to flow) of other cold fluids vs. their warmed-up counterparts. You know the old expression, “slower than molassses in January”? That’s not just something a pioneer hillbilly made up one day while sitting on his front porch, waiting for his kin to come along with a washboard so they could start the jug band jam. It’s actually a perfect illustration of how temperature affects viscosity: molassses is slow in January because it’s cold. And cold impedes flow.

HD owner's manual start-up procedure | Biker Chick NewsFor motorcycles, flow (of fluids) is critical for smooth operation. When you start the bike in first gear, you’re asking moving mechanical parts to unstick from and engage with each other while surrounded by cold, poorly-flowing fluids. You are causing unnecessary wear and tear on those parts. You are being unreasonable. And you are annoying the hell out of your motorcycle.

Stop annoying your motorcycle, and start your motorcycle in neutral. You’ll improve its overall performance, and you’ll (probably) avoid running into the garage wall. 

Win-win!

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    Comments

    4 Responses to “Start a motorcycle in neutral, or in first gear?”
    1. Shirley says:

      So I am doing it right … even if not for the “right” reasons!!

    2. Corn Dog says:

      On the contrary, you’re doing it for EXACTLY the right reason… in fact, the accidental movement of the bike is the ONLY reason that’s given in my owner’s manual (see photo of actual page in manual). The manual said nothing about the mechanical effects of starting in first… I found that discussion in the online forums. The unexpected lurch forward (as you said, not running into the garage wall) is – I would say – the primary reason. :D I have NO idea why I started doing it any other way, but it’s a habit that has stuck and I need to break it!

    3. theharls says:

      Starting in neutral will preserve your starter motor. The clutch does not ever completely disengage (as evidenced by the “clunk” when you put it into first, even with the clutch pulled in). So you don’t want the starter motor stressed unnecessarily by trying to drag engaged clutch plates that can’t spin because it’s in gear.

      Put it in neutral so the clutch plates can spin freely, and be kind to your starter motor!

    4. Corn Dog says:

      Really appreciate this additional info – thank you!

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