Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I found this at Heavy Duty Cycles I thought it was cool so
I republished it ,wthout permission of course.


Ahh. The dreaded Sportster Knee. The Milwaukee Crippler is worn like a
badge of courage by some. Many are unfortunate, or fortunate as the case
may be, to have experienced this excruciating time honored ritualistic
Harley rite of passage into manhood. Only in Harleydom can a disfiguring
scar become a thing of beauty and tenure. Tenure is automatically earned
by a bonebreaking or scarring roadrash accident. It is the fast track out
of being
designated a new rider. Graduation is also earned through the debilitating
injury known affectionately as Sportster Knee. You can earn the
fascinated, admiring glances of the nouveau by grimacing your face in pain
each time a step is taken on your bad "kicker" leg as the knee slips in
and out of it’s damaged mating joint. Sometimes the afflicted veteran will
have to proudly walk with the kicker foot splayed out to the side as the
knee locks past the normal 90-degree angle. You’ve all seen these people.
The advent of the electric start and the resultant demise of the kicker
have largely wiped out this affliction. This e-start antibiotic that cured
Sportster Knee is looked down upon by these grizzled old guys with their
gray beards. They came from an era were men were men and women rode on the

The Callused Thumb

To have a right thumb callused from pushing an electric start is the tell
tale mark of a lower social class. By the way; please don’t get mad at my
politically incorrect comments. I’m only having fun describing "the way it
was." You see these guys at any Harley event. They hobble with
abandonment, having adapted to their mild disabling long ago. Most have
graduated to a more comfortable bike with an electric start since their
puberty rites into manhood are well established. They have earned the
right?something that money cannot buy. Others are supremely proud and keep
kicking their beloved Sportsters?..with the other leg?.for they have
learned how to avoid a doubling disablement. You see them standing beside
their bike facing to the front. Holding the handlebars, they search for
the compression stroke gently pushing down with their left leg as the
steady themselves on their "bad" right leg. When the gentle pushes that
indicate the intake or exhaust strokes are suddenly and firmly rebuffed by
the advent of the compression stroke, it is time to propel the body up.
Still grasping the handlebars, the veteran kicker, uses the resisting kick
pedal to help the upward motion of the rest of his body. This is necessary
to get all of the weight of the rider above the kicker to use both
bodyweight and muscle to propel the kicker around and down forcefully and
masterfully. For the kicking leg must be the boss?.showing fear through
hesitation will only result in the kick gears nefariously slipping.
Lacking determination to finish this job properly, once started, will
indicate weakness to the kick gears. They will delightfully use left over
compression to snap back, with disastrous results, for he who showed fear.

The XL Kicker: A Primitive Lifeform

Now, the reader begins to understand. These supposedly inanimate gears are
really a primitive lifeform that can sense fear, indecision or hesitation.
They react instinctively to cripple their prey. Furthermore; they need to
be taken care of and treated with respect or they get very cranky. Yes,
indeed. Take them for granted and they will lie in wait for the
opportunity to slip suddenly which will extend your leg past 90 degrees at
and against the knee joint. Or, they might suddenly kick back with the
help of their old pal "Compression." This folds your knee, albeit in the
right direction but so fast that it strains the tendons and ligaments.
Tired or cocky? Well, that’s when the gears turn the show over to
Compression to strut his stuff. The contest begins as Compression tries to
throw the hapless rider over the handlebars. How far is the only question.
This is the equivalent to Harleydom’s game of shotput. Let the gear teeth
round from inattention or not replace that kick start bushing as she wears
beyond tolerance, or heaven forbid, allow the kick start cam plate to get
unsightly gouges and the Sportster rider is about to be taught a painful
lesson. For those in the know; whenever a Sporty rider goes to kick over
the Beast, it is time to readjust the chair and take a sip of beer. The
contest is about to begin. Will the rider get admiring glances from
onlookers as he gently seeks the compression stroke? Not until he launches
himself up over the kicker, follows through with determination and
authority, hears the engine begin to cough, quickly blips the throttle to
change the cough into a roar of appreciation as the Beast rumbles to life.
Ahhhh! There’s nothing sweeter. Or! Does the sly Fox slip, sending the
wounded rider to the ground writhing in agony as pity etches the faces of
the onlookers. Orrrr! Does the predatory beast send the rider over the
handlebars to display its strength over a mere mortal much to the
merriment and derision of the crowd. No matter which of the three
scenarios occur, it is of great interest to the Harley crowd. This is
entertainment, Harley style, living or dying on the moment.The Big Twin
had a more engaging kickstart, so to speak. It was tame. It might slip
when badly worn or kick back occasionally in a lackadaisical way. Maybe
the Sportster has a small man complex, out to prove his virility at every
opportunity. "Come on, ya mother! Think ya can fool with me. I’ll show
ya!" And show you it does!

The Cause: Cranky Gears

The Sportster kicker was available on all Flathead K’s from 1952 to 1966
and the Overhead valve models, the XLCH, from 1957 to 1979. In 1980 the
XLH designating electric start officially ended the era of Sportster Knee.
Unofficially it continues unabated as there are tens of thousands of
kickers still out there. As I’ve stated elsewhere, the Big Twin is not so
much an issue because it’s gears mesh more effectively. There are also
more teeth to mesh. Furthermore, when the kickstart bushing wears, the Big
Twin will whine incessantly until it is fixed while the Sportster quietly
awaits prey.
So what’s the proper way to kick a Harley, especially the Sportster, to
avoid the crippler?
I’ve started my Panhead with my arm. It’s something I had to learn after
watching a guy do it around 1968. It was the most impressive, cool thing I
think I ever saw at that time of my life when testosterone ruled
everything. Put quite simply, the Sportster kickstart is a Mickey Mouse
setup. If it were available today in the same form, the lawsuits would be
staggering. The modern rider would not put up with this Factory installed
disabling device. I can still do it on a bet but it is something better
left to another era that was very much different from today. But, now, on
with the technique. First, seek the compression stroke. Launching the kick
depends on your weight, technique and confidence level. The height of the
bike is important to me. If not too high, I stand on the ground with my
left leg to the back while I kick over the bike with my right. If this is
awkward, I’ll hop up onto the kicker and use all my weight, letting my
left leg act as a balancer as I plunge through the half circle. Others
feel comfortable, kneeling on the seat with their right knee and kicking
down with their left. And, of course, those with injured right legs or
knees kick down with their left using the right to balance in the air. The
key is to follow all the way through. The kicker doesn’t stop on its
internal pin until past the 90 degree mark. This is the mistake most make.
They stop when the kicker is perpendicular to the ground or worse before.
Follow through past this point about another 10 or 15 degrees towards the
front of the bike. Do this and there will be no compression to snap your
knee back or throw you over the bars. Beware, as the Predator waits for
those who ignore this advice. If the gears slip, do the same. Follow all
the way down and through until your leg is extended out and locked and you
will be fine. Of course when this happens, it is time to do the necessary
repairs to thwart the Beast from injuring your knee.
So there, you have it.
The ins and outs of the dreaded Sportster Knee?.from a time gone by.

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