Reader Question: 1980 Harley Starting Problem?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Jon asks: I hope you can point me in the right direction. I saw your video titled 1980 Ironhead starter rant and it got me thinking about a similar problem I have on my 1980 XLH1000. Basically, my issue is intermittent whereby sometimes the bike will start, then others it wont after pressing the starter button the starter motor just makes a winding noise like its not meshing. Just to confuse matters, my bike is also fitted with a kickstarter. So, to get around the starter motor problem, if I reach down and push the kickstarter a quarter turn then retry the starter it will start.  I was wondering if you had come across this problem at all, or a least know where to start before I start dismantling, etc. The battery seems good too.

My reply: The bike I was working on did the same thing. I pulled the starter and physically inspected it for any damage to the gear, also the gears in the case. Then bench tested the starter to make sure it was actually working correctly. Then carefully reinstalled it per the factory service manual. It is possible you may need to shim it a little to get the correct alignment/mesh. I think the clue here is that the starter will engage if you rotate the engine a little with the kicker. You’re fortunate to have that back-up, by the way!

It’s one of the things I like about my ’76 Kz900!

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  1. I know nothing about motorcycles but, I pose this question. On my cars with a manual transmission I’ve occasionally had a similar issue. However, the solution has been to put the car in gear and give it a push thus turning the flywheel just a bit. It has always been corrected by this method. Can you do the same with a motorcycle? That is put it in gear and push it to get the same result.

    In Jon’s case it also sounds like the starter solenoid might not be pushing the impeller to engage the flywheel.

    • Mark, the impeller not getting to the flywheel is often the problem on anything. Sometimes it’s a weak solenoid and sometimes it’s just binds on the shaft from dirt and rust. Works the same on every electric start engine I’ve worked on.


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