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To most people, a motorcycle positioned on its side is a little strange. Too many times I have seen a motorcycle in a state like this and I often am asked if it’s bad for the motorcycle when that happens.
You can lay a bike on its side. It is unhealthy for a motorcycle to lay on it’s side regularly and for long periods of time. However, if you accidentally drop your bike, it is not detrimental if it was only on it’s side for a brief amount of time (several minutes).
There is a big difference between laying your motorcycle on it’s side for a few minutes and purposely laying your motorcycle on its side for long periods of time. If for some reason your motorcycle has been on it’s side for more than a few minutes (hours, days, weeks, or months), then I’ll walk you through some steps of how to check its condition and how to make sure you don’t cause more damage when you try to start it for the first time.
External Issues You’ll Have When You Lay a Motorcycle On It’s Side
There are several reasons why a motorcycle would be on it’s side. It can happen when you move it by hand or lose your balance and let it fall. For those who have accidentally lost their balance and let it tip over, don’t worry. This is a common mistake that people make every day, even if they have been riding for a long time.
The second most common instance when a motorcycle is laid on it’s side is for safety reasons, meaning if you’re riding a motorcycle down a road and have to tip and slide your motorcycle to prevent impact.
The first risk you run with laying a motorcycle on it’s side is cosmetic issues. The average motorcycle (both dirt bikes as well as street bikes) weighs in at around 400 lbs. This much weight will almost certainly cause damage to the tank or crack it.
It is not difficult or expensive to replace gas tanks, unless you have a custom-painted job. You can click here to read my article on how to paint a motorcycle’s gas tank. There are also possibilities of things happening like breaking your handlebars and brake handle, clutch lever, foot pegs or throttle.
Many bikes have an air intake that is slightly larger than the gas tank. This can be a safety feature. An air intake replacement is usually cheaper than a new gas tank.
Internal Issues You’ll Have When You Lay a Motorcycle On It’s Side
If a motorcycle has been on it’s side for only a few minutes, you don’t need to worry too much about interior damage. However, if your motorcycle has been on it’s side longer than that, you may have several internal issues.
There are several obstacles you face when laying a motorcycle on it’s side for too long. Fluids like gasoline, oil, or battery acid can seep into areas and crevices where they should not be.
The most common internal issue when having a motorcycle on it’s side for long periods of time is a phenomenon called hydrolock. The combustion chamber is a small cylindrical cavity inside your engine. This is where gas and air are pushed into to allow your motorcycle’s engine to turn.
Oil can seep through the piston rings and settle in the combustion chamber. If there’s a lot of oil inside the combustion chamber, the spark plug can’t ignite the gas when it gets squirted in because there’s too much material and not enough air. Hydrocarbons only combust when there’s a specific range of gas and air mixture, so if there’s too much hydrocarbon then you run the risk of pumping more and more gas into your combustion chamber.
If the chamber is too full, it can cause engine damage. So if you’ve tipped your motorcycle over and left it there for a while, there are ways to check your motorcycle and possibly fix any damage made.
Most motorcycle batteries do not come with a sealed unitthere is a small air port on the top of the battery so the battery doesn’t get over pressurized. When you lay your motorcycle on it’s side, that port will leak battery acid all over the place, which can cause serious cosmetic damage and serious safety risks to you. See my article here to learn more about what happens when a battery lays on it’s side.
How Do I Fix a Motorcycle That’s Been On It’s Side For Too Long?
If you’ve laid your motorcycle over on it’s side for an extended period of time then here are some helpful tips to make sure you don’t damage the bike any more than it already is.
You can replace any bent or scratched parts by standing the bike upright and putting it on the kickstand. You will need to remove the spark plug(s) from the bike and place the corner of a piece of cloth in the hole. Do not drop anything into the sparkplug hole. It can damage your cylinder. Also don’t stuff the whole rag into the hole, leave enough of it hanging out that you can grab it and pull it out once the rag has soaked up the oil.
Once you have the rag in place, locate the fuse box and remove the fuse that controls spark plugs. If you don’t pull out that fuse then you run the risk of electrocuting yourself or damaging your motorcycle more.
After the fuse has been pulled, press the start button. If you have a kickstarter, then use it to crank the engine. The motorcycle won’t start since you pulled the fuse, but trying to start it will force the piston up and down inside the cylinder and force the oil up onto the rag.
You might also blow out the rag from the hole. This is okay, just put it back. A flashlight can be used to see into the spark plug hole. A tiny bit won’t cause any damage, it’ll just smoke for a second next time you start the motorcycle.
Attach the spark plug to the hole again, then reinstall the sparkplug wire and place the fuse in its original location. Now you’re ready to fire up the bike to make sure it still runs correctly.
If it makes a grinding noise at all then turn off the bike immediately and don’t attempt to keep cranking it. If it is not possible to make a complete diagnosis, you should take it to a mechanic.
How to tell if a motorcycle has been tipped over
I have owned and sold many motorcycles. One question that I am always asked is “How do you sell your bike?” “has it ever been laid over on it’s side?” I’ll tell you the same thing I tell everyone I’ve ever sold a motorcycle to. Any used motorcycle you buy, just assume that it has been laid over on its side at least once and then you’ll never be disappointed.
Even the most skilled riders can slip on gravel or a motorist may swerve in front of them. If you have spent enough time riding a motorcycle, you will know that there are two kinds of riders. Those who have had their bike rolled over and those who will eventually roll it over.
When determining whether a motorcycle is tipped or flipped, there are many physical indicators you can look out for. First, get to know the previous owner. If they answer yes, ask them how fast they went, if they hit anything and if any repairs were done to the bike.
If they don’t say yes, you can look for signs by yourself. To make it easier to sell their bike, many people will lie. These are the signs you should look out for when your motorcycle is tipping.
- A gas tank that has large dents or deep scratches
- Pegs for bent feet
- Broken or bent fins on the engine
- Any scratches or marks on the painted metal, or on the engine in general that are notable in size
- Broken crankcase
- scratched air intake (if it’s one that pokes out of the side of the motorcycle)
- Brake handle, bent throttle and/or clutch handle
- Handle bars bent or crooked
If you’re looking into purchasing a bike that has been tipped, don’t worry too much about it. Assess the physical damage and make sure it runs well and you’ll be just fine.
Can I lay a motorcycle on it’s side if there are no fluids in it? It is okay to lay your motorcycle on it’s side if you know for certain there are no fluids in it. This may be helpful if you are transporting a motorcycle with the only option of laying it on it’s side. Be aware that this could cause damage to parts like the handlebars. Motorcycles are designed to be able to move on their wheels.
How can I prevent my motorcycle from tipping? Always use your center stand or kickstand. Buy a motorcycle stand if you don’t trust your kickstand or center stand. Use straps for transport. And ask for help if you’re not confident with moving a motorcycle by yourself.