TOTW: Start and stop your engine with FINE-C

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

Time marches on

I’m told that many rider training courses, including the one I used to teach with, no longer teach the mnemonic device, FINE-C, that is the point of this article. That’s too bad. I found it useful, and certainly continue to use it myself after decades of riding. I offer it here despite the fact that it’s apparently no longer in the modern curriculum.

What’s the problem?

There are several steps involved in starting your bike’s engine and moving off. Forgetting any one of them will either make starting difficult or cause you a problem a short distance down the road. Another set of steps is important when shutting your bike down to park.

  • Many bikes have a manual fuel shut-off. Forgetting to turn it off when parking can cause fuel to leak out. Forgetting to turn it on when starting normally won’t prevent you starting, as there will be some fuel in the line; but you will run out of fuel and stall a few minutes down the road — usually at an inconvenient or unsafe time. Worse, if you pull into a gas station on the Reserve setting and forget to turn it back to Regular, then you will have no reserve gas the next time your bike runs low and stalls.
  • Your Ignition key needs to be turned on to the correct setting to start, and completely off when shutting down. Forgetting to turn it completely off will often leave your headlights running, quickly killing your battery.
  • To start your engine, you should have the bike in Neutral and the clutch pulled in. Some bikes have safety switches so they will only start in this state, while others rely on you to remember. Having the bike in this state minimises load on the starter motor and guarantees you will have no surprise forward lurches when you key the starter.
  • The Engine Kill Switch, usually a red toggle switch near your right thumb position, must be On. On some bikes the starter motor won’t run without this switch in the proper position, while others will crank happily but won’t let the engine start.
  • Your Choke or Fast Idle control, if you have one, must be set properly to start a cold engine.
  • Your Side Stand must be up. Most bikes won’t start with it down; some will start but won’t go into gear. Some older bikes will do both, and you’ll crash the first time you try to turn left.

The solution

The solution to remembering any complex series of steps is to use a mnemonic — some kind of easy to remember device that helps you recall the complex steps. You can use FINE-C (pronounced Fine See) for starting and its reverse, C-ENIF (pronounced See Nif), for stopping. When starting your bike, you should say “FINE-C” to yourself, then go through the letters one at a time and perform the corresponding steps below.

F is for Fuel: Ensure it’s in the regular “on” position — not off and not on reserve. Read your owner’s manual carefully to learn about these positions; on some bikes they don’t apply because of some kind of automatic shutoff. Even on a bike whose fuel you don’t shut off, you use this step to ensure it’s not still in Reserve, and to remind your muscles where the shutoff is so you can find it by feel, while moving, should you need to switch to Reserve.

I is for Ignition: Ensure your main ignition key switch is in the correct On position.

N is for Neutral: Ensure your transmission is in neutral. Use the dashboard indicator light, if you have one, as first check, but then roll the bike slightly to be absolutely sure. This means you’re testing the correctness of the indicator light once a day as well as ensuring you’re in Neutral.

E is for Engine: Ensure your Engine Kill Switch is in the correct On position. See below for why it would be off.

C is for Choke: Read your owner’s manual for details of when you should use the choke on your bike. Generally you use it any time, and only, when starting a cold engine. Skip this step if the engine is still warm from a recent run; develop a feel for when you need the choke.

When shutting down your bike, run through the above letters in Reverse order, and perform the following steps.

C is for Choke: Hopefully the choke is off well before you stop. Now is a good time to make sure, at least so you will know if you forgot to turn it off and can try harder to remember next time.

E is for Engine: Note that, since the engine is running at this point, turning off the kill switch now actually stops the engine, and this acts as a test of the kill switch. Better to find out now that it has shorted and no longer kills the engine than when you have a stuck throttle and really need it.

N is for Neutral: Put the bike in neutral now so you’re ready to start.

I is for Ignition: Ensure it’s fully off. (Not in the “parking” position some bikes have, which leaves some of your lights on and will allow your battery to die.)

F is for Fuel: Ensure it’s off (if your bike requires it — read your manual). Leave it alone if your instructions say you should. In any case, check it’s not still on Reserve from your last fill-up.

Modern modifications

Many modern bikes don’t require some of the steps mentioned above, but the memory device is so useful that riders have invented additional meanings for some of the letters so they still apply.

F: If your bike has an automatic fuel shut-off you don’t need to manually move it. You should still use F to remind you to check that you haven’t left it on the Reserve setting from the last fill-up. If it has only a “low fuel warning light” you may have no contorl to adjust at all. In addition, why not say F is for Foot, to remind you to put the side stand up and down?

C: If your bike uses Fuel Injection you don’t have a Choke to adjust. You may, however, have a “fast idle” control that serves a similar purpose when starting. Call it a Choke so this handy reminder still applies.

C: C also stands for Clutch, and many riders use the C in FINE-C to remind themselves to pull the clutch in before starting, in addition to, or instead of, setting the choke.


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