MC Garage Tips: How To Fix A Hard-Starting Motorcycle

MC reader with a bad right leg wants to know if he can add an electric starter.

How to fix a hard-starting bike.
Is there an electric-start option that can be added to an '82 Honda XL500R?©Motorcyclist

Question: I'm unable to kickstart my 1982 Honda XL500R. Others can but with difficulty. It doesn't help that I'm 74 years old with a weak right leg due to spine degeneration. My mechanic has gone through the carb and so on, but it's still hard to start. Is there an electric-start option that could be added? Is there a mod to increase the spark? Please help or I'll have to sell the bike. It only has 10K miles and is in excellent original condition.

David Campbell
via email

Got tech questions that need ANSWERS?

Answer: First of all, David, we're sorry to hear that you're having difficulties with your XL. Unfortunately, there is no electric-start kit available for that bike. So it's time to go back through everything involved in making the bike start well, and it's a short list: fuel, compression, valve timing, ignition. If the bike runs well once started, especially if it idles consistently, then your carb is probably fine. Still, it's smart to double-check that the choke is engaging properly and not sticking in the start position. How fresh is your gas? Stale fuel will make starting more difficult. If the bike has good power when running, chances are your compression and valve timing are fine—or close enough.

That leaves ignition, which is typically the system to suffer failure over time. Unfortunately, Honda no longer makes the CDI module for the XL-R, so you’ll need to check eBay or other sources for a used replacement. A new coil is available, reasonably priced, and that’s a good investment toward easier starting. Also be sure the plug is clean and gapped properly. Electronics degrade over time and are subject to bad or intermittent grounds, so this is the first area we would look.

Finally, your XL has a manual compression release, so it’s also worth checking that the cable has the proper amount of slack and that the mechanism is working properly. Our resident old guy doesn’t remember the XL-R being especially hard to start, but he wasn’t 74 at the time either.