Do You Need to Start Your Motorcycle in Winter?

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Many parts of the world have short motorcycle riding seasons due to bad weather and low temperatures. Most riders park their motorcycles for 3-4 months until the weather improves.

I have been fixing and rebuilding motorcycles over the years and have a good idea of when to start your bike up in winter.

Do you want to start your motorcycle in winter? Every motorcycle owner should run their bike for 15 minutes at least once per week in winter.  Running it will help keep all components and gaskets lubricated, prevent condensation buildup, recharge the battery, and prevent the carburetor from getting gummed up.

Each component mentioned will be explained in further depth about how it works, why it’s important you start your motorcycle in the winter specific to that reason, and what happens when you don’t properly care for your motorcycle with that system considered.

Keep All Engine Components lubricated

Lubricating the engine is one of the best reasons to start your motorcycle in winter.  There are hundreds of moving parts in an engine. To keep them cool and reduce friction between moving objects, a thin oil layer must be applied to the oil.

Lack of proper lubrication is the leading cause of motorbike engine failures.  Engine performance can be severely affected by oil quality, including old oil, insufficient oil, and the incorrect type of oil. You can ensure that your motorcycle is properly lubricated by starting it once a week in winter.

If you don’t start the motorcycle periodically then the metal parts inside can start to stick together and get stiff and can cause problems next time you go to start the motorbike.

Many components of the motorcycle’s engine get oil, regardless of whether it is being driven.  It is kept in oil near the engine’s bottom all the time. But the majority of high consequence engine components like the pistons, valve springs, lifters, pushrods, and connecting rods need to be sprayed with oil while it’s running.

The last thing you’ll want is a higher risk for a seized engine when spring rolls around. See my article here for a helpful guide if you suspect your engine is seized or is on it’s way to that point.

Eliminating Condensation Buildup

I’m sure everyone has noticed that when you have a cold drink on a really hot day that condensation will immediately form on the container.  Similar behavior is observed in your engine. Condensation forms when the temperature of the air around the engine exceeds that of the engine case.

While there is often only a tiny amount of condensation that forms in most cases, it can lead to serious problems such as brittle valve springs and sticking valves in their guides. It can also cause piston rings to stick to the cylinder wall.

Allow your motorbike to run for 15 minutes once per week. This will allow the engine to reach its maximum temperature and eliminate any condensation. As oil is sprayed, the condensation will mix with oil. Then the oil will heat up and the water will evaporate.

If you only turn it on for a brief amount of time then it will just condensate even more and you’re just perpetuating the problem even worse.  It’s better to not even start it at all than to turn it on for a short time.

This is very little flashing and condensation. It’s not like having a large oil/water mixture. A small amount of water can lead to serious problems.  Running the bike for 15 minutes is necessary to ensure that the oil heats up enough to melt the condensation.

Gasket and Seal Breakdown

Gaskets cracking due to insufficient use is one of the most frustrating problems.  This doesn’t just happen in the winter either, this is something that needs to be watched year-round.

Repairing engine gaskets can take a long time. It is best to simply start the motorcycle once per week and let it run.  This will heat up and lubricate the gaskets. Gaskets look a lot like rubber band. If you just let them sit they’ll get brittle and crack.  You can stretch them more often to prolong their life.

Gaskets may crack within a matter of months with no usage. I’m dealing with this on my old Triumph right now. I didn’t run it enough this past winter and I’m suspecting that one of the engine gaskets has a crack in it, letting oil soak through.

The engine also has many seals and bearings that require constant lubrication.  They give very little warning before they fail, and when those crank bearings fail you’ll need an entire engine rebuild.

Ensuring Carburetor Does Not Gum Up

Carburetor rebuilds is the number one motorcycle repair worldwide.  This shouldn’t be the case if people took proper care of their equipment. If you don’t start your motorbike during winter, and leave it sitting, it allows the gas molecules to deteriorate and become sticky and thick.

This would be a great way to save money on carburetor repairs and allow motorcycle owners to run their engines for 15 minutes every other week.

I get questions from people constantly asking me why I think their engine won’t start in the spring.  When I ask them, they reply that they did not run the engine in the winter. “no” The carburetor is the solution.

Let the motorcycle run and you can cycle fresh fuel through the carburetor. It also burns the fuel that has been sitting in the bowl. Many people suggest emptying the fuel tank in order for your motorcycle to be stored for the winter. This will lead to rust formation in the tank.

It is best to add fuel stabilizer before filling up the tank. Rust can’t form with a full tank and your gas won’t gum up if you add fuel stabilizer.  For a few bucks, you can buy a bottle fuel stabilizer from your local auto parts shop.

Extending Tire Life

This is a little nugget of information that many motorcycle riders don’t think about when they store their motorcycle for the winter months.  Tires are expensive and you’ll want to get the longest life out of them as possible.

The tires must be stretched and exercised in order to have a long-lasting life. You can start your motorcycle once a week in winter. All you have to do is sit down on the seat and move it around for a few moments. This will allow rubber to stretch and then reform to its proper shape.

Tires can deform if they are left unattended for long periods of time.  By starting up your motorcycle regularly during the winter and rolling it back and forth you’ll be extending your tire life.

Easy Battery Maintenance

Battery maintenance is another reason you should start your motorcycle in winter.  Cold weather is bad for motorcycle batteries. If the battery isn’t charged during winter, it can cause irreparable damage.

You can charge your battery back by starting your bike once per week during winter. You’ll be performing battery maintenance with almost no effort at all, and saving yourself money as well.

Battery replacements are the 2nd largest motorcycle maintenance expense in the spring (behind carburetor rebuilds) simply because people don’t start their motorcycle up enough during the winter and this allows time for the battery current to deplete and then freeze.

You can save thousands of dollars each year by starting your motorcycle at regular intervals in winter. You can also click here for other useful tips to keep your motorcycle’s battery charged in winter.

Similar Questions

How do you store your motorcycle in winter? The motorcycle should be stored under a structure such as a garage, awning or other similar.  Motorcycles are not well-suited for snow, road salts, or cold temperatures. Make sure your cover can withstand the snowfall if you need to store your bike outside in winter. Click here for more information I’ve written about this.

What Oil Should I Use in Winter? I use the exact same oil year-round and my motorcycle is perfectly lubricated.  Modern oil grades such as 5W-20 come in two viscosities: the cold viscosity or the hot viscosity.  The same oil can be used all year, but you should change it frequently.

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