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A few months ago, I was dirt biking with a group of friends when one of their starters failed, causing a huge debate when we were driving back home about what was better: an electric start or kick start. Because we couldn’t agree, I took it upon myself to spend some time researching the two different starters in order to have the last word in the argument. After some heavy research, I have finally made my decision about which starter is the best to have on your dirt bike.
Although the electric start is convenient, a kick start almost never fails and requires less maintenance. The best possible option is to have both a kick start as well as an electric start installed on a dirt bike, so that there is always a way to start a dirt bike even if there is a dead battery.
What’s the Difference?
The main difference between electric starts and kick starts is pretty obvious: electric starts only require the push of a button to get you moving, but kick starts require you to kick a pedal. You might say “That was a painfully obvious statement, Emma Jo.”
But having just an electric start over a kick start or a kick start over an electric start can make a lot of significant differences in the way the bike works and how it rides. Having one starter over the other also makes a million other little differences. Keep reading below to find out what all of those differences are– both big and small.
How Do They Work?
How electric starters on dirt bikes actually work might sound pretty complicated, but it’s important to know how your dirt bike functions. The most simplified way to describe the way electric starters work is this: when you push the start button, an electric current flows to the battery on the dirt bike. After this happens, the battery spin the gears on the crankshaft. When the gears spin, the motor starts.
A major pro of electric start dirt bikes is that, quite simply, you don’t have to kick start it, which any person who has done as little as watched someone do can testify is a huge pain. (I’ll talk more about this in the con section of the kick starters.)
But there are some pretty serious benefits to having an electric start instead of a kick start.
If you stall while you’re riding the dirt bike, it’s much easier to get started again. This is especially beneficial when you’re on a steep hill or a tight track because it requires much less energy from you, and there’s less danger and risk involved when you can just push a button to get going again.
Also, if your dirt bike is street legal, it is so much better to have an electric start instead of a kick start. My reason for this kind of goes along with my previous point: if you stall, it’s easier to get started again, which is way nice when you’re surrounded by traffic full of people trying to get somewhere.
Electric starts makes riding four strokes much easier. I know some dirt bikers with some really bad ankles (Myself being one of them… Dang it, sports…) and having an electric start makes riding dirt bikes so much easier and far less painful than kick starters can sometimes be.
Electric starts are also great if you’re doing motocross racing. Imagine being in any of these situations: you crash and need to get back up quick. Or you manage to stall. Or literally anything else happens, as crazy things happen all the time when the pressure is on. Anyone who has done motocross racing knows that how fast you can get back up and going during these moments can absolutely make or break a race for them. With an electric starter, these moments are brief. You literally press a button and you’re moving again. That’s the ideal situation.
Probably the best thing about electric starts, though, is that if you get hurt while riding your dirt bike, the electric start can really save the day. Since they’re easier to get started, it’s much less work to get back onto your dirt bike and ride to safety or help.
As with every good thing, there are some downsides to having an electric starter on your dirt bike. For me, the cons of electric starters outweigh the pros big time, which is why I will always choose the kick start over an electric starter on a dirt bike.
Electric starters on dirt bikes fail all the time. And they quit for an enormous number of reasons.
If you’re riding your electric start dirt bike in a place where the electric system can get wet, muddy, or otherwise buried, you’re at a pretty high risk of your dirt bike quitting on you. If you’re alone, don’t have a kick starter as a backup, or don’t have anyone to jump start you, you’re out of luck. Stranded island.
Because it’s an electric starter, these dirt bikes require a battery. In my opinion, the extra part gives the dirt bike an extra way to fail. And it’s an extra thing to buy. As dirt bikers, we already have so many things to pay for that are really pricey. I would just prefer to not have to spend more money if I don’t absolutely have to.
Not to mention the fact that batteries die. There could be absolutely nothing wrong with any other part of your dirt bike, but if the battery dies, you’re basically out of luck– again.
Batteries can also make your life tricky if you live in a place that gets super cold in the winter like I do in Idaho. It’s a no brainer that if you live in a place that gets cold, your vehicles are going to need some special maintenance and care to prepare for winter. For electric start dirt bikes, you have to make sure you take the battery out before those cold temperatures really kick in. If you don’t take that battery out before it gets cold, or if it totally slips your mind (like it has mine, admittedly), you’re going to have to buy a new battery in the spring time. Which, again, is money you don’t need to spend.
I know this isn’t a huge deal, but it is an extra step you have to take. And why have extra steps if you don’t need them?
The battery can also make the dirt bike quite a bit heavier than dirt bikes without a battery. As a considerably small person, this makes a difference for me. If the dirt bike quits and I have to push it back to my truck, that is not going to be a good day. It’s really only about 10 pounds of extra weight on most dirt bikes, but still. The extra weight that the battery brings is not fun.
How Do They Work?
Kick starters on dirt bikes work pretty much the same as electric starters, except, instead of pushing a button, you have to kick a pedal several times until it gets started. When you kick the pedal, the gears on the crankshaft spin. Again, the spinning of these gears is what makes the motor start.
As I said before, the kick starter is, in my opinion, the better option. That said, these pros are so much better than the pros of the electric starter, and the cons that I’ll get to later are not so bad as those of the electric starter.
First, the kick start dirt bikes simply don’t fail as often as electric starts do. Plain and simple. The chance of something going wrong is significantly lower because there are fewer wires and less mechanical difficulty.
Kick start dirt bikes also require less maintenance than electric starters do. They start easier after sitting for a long time and you don’t have to do as much to prep them for winter. As an Idahoan, I appreciate that big time!
Along with less maintenance on kick starters, think simplicity.
Because there isn’t a battery on kick start dirt bikes, you can get started and moving (almost) no matter what. Of course, sometimes, things will happen. But in general, kick start dirt bikes are substantially more reliable than electric starts are.
Without an extra part to worry about on your dirt bike, kick start dirt bikes are a little bit cheaper. If you can’t tell based on my cons list for the electric start, cost effectiveness is really important to me. So if I can save a few bucks on my dirt bike without sacrificing my safety or quality of experience, I totally will.
Also, kick start dirt bikes are more light weight because there isn’t a battery weighing it down. Having a light weight dirt bike makes for an easier ride, especially through tight trails and on hills.
This pro is less about the actual dirt bike and more about the experience of dirt biking. When I’m dirt biking, I love to know that I am in control of what happens (at least, for the most part). When you’re riding a kick start dirt bike, you are required to be active in what happens, and you are more involved. For me, that brings a satisfaction that electric starts just don’t fulfill.
Kick starts are also great when you’re in bad weather, especially when it’s wet outside. Kick starts are less likely to get finicky when they’re wet than electric starts are. This is not to say that you should drench your dirt bike because that can lead to complications, but the fact that you’re less likely to hurt the vehicle by getting it wet is a huge bonus.
Again, every good thing has its bad parts. Even kick start dirt bikes.
A huge con of kick start dirt bikes is that they can be a huge pain in the neck to get started, especially if they’re cold. I’ve seen dirt bikers kick the pedal more than what seems like a million times and the dirt bike still won’t start. Heck, I’ve been there, too. It can be incredibly frustrating when your kick start dirt bike just will not start.
Along with the repetitive kicking comes physical tolls on your body. You can really make your feet sore with kick starters, or you could even injure yourself if you slip or kick it the wrong way.
Stalling on a kick start dirt bike can be absolutely detrimental, especially when you’re doing motocross racing. As I outlined before, there are several things that can go wrong during a race. Stalling is one of those things that can happen when you’re in the middle of a race and absolutely kills it for you. But it’s really only due to the fact that kick starters are harder to get started.
In the video below, you can see that kick start dirt bikes can be a big harder to get started. The dirt biker in front kicks the pedal a total of eight times before he finally gets going. The dirt biker that’s recording has an electric starter, as you can tell by the ease he has getting the motor on. This is honestly the biggest con of kick start dirt bikes– they can be hard to get started.
Which is Best?
So, after all of that information, which starter is superior?
I still hold my opinion that if there absolutely has to be a “best” of the two, kick starter wins. My main reason for this is that they are just more reliable than electric starts are. They hold up better, and require less maintenance. To me, these are all major factors.
It also seems impractical to rely entirely on electric starters because there are so many ways and situations in which they can fail. I simply cannot justify an electric-only dirt bike because the battery is not as reliable as my foot is.
All of the cons for the kick starter are associated with the fact that they’re hard to get started. I really can’t deny that the difficulty of kick starters can be such a huge downfall, but in the grand scheme of dirt biking, it doesn’t matter as much to me as reliability does.
All of this being said, the choice is ultimately yours. Whether you decide on a kick start or an electric start dirt bike, you are still getting out there and riding; that’s what it all comes down to. You have to decide what is more important to you, what you’re willing to sacrifice, and what will work better for you and your dirt biking style.
But as I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, most dirt bikes have both a kick starter and an electric starter these days. If you can, choose a dirt bike with both because the pros of both starters combined on one dirt bike would make for the absolute best experience.
Whichever starter you choose, have fun out there.