Here’s How To Keep Your Motorcycle From Overheating

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Though motorcycles are machines, they do have some similarities to us humans such as overheating. It’s completely possible to happen to a motorcycle and it often leave us wondering how to handle such a situation if it ever happens.

An overheated motorcycle engine is something that shouldn’t ever be ignored. The damages can be catastrophic and will leave you frustrated and with a huge bill from the mechanic.

So how do you keep your motorcycle from overheating? To prevent a motorcycle engine from overheating, you will need to keep up with basic maintenance of the motorcycle such as regular oil changes and having proper coolant levels (for water cooled motorcycles). Make sure the idle screw on the carburetor is at a decent spot so the motorcycle does not maintain a high idle.

I’ve had my fair share of overheating vehicles, especially motorcycles. As unfortunate as that was, I’ve been able to learn a lot about overheating motorcycle engines and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Preventing Your Motorcycle From Overheating

One of the hardest things to deal with concerning vehicles is overheating. Certain factors can make them susceptible to becoming as such like hot weather, high RPM’s, and lack of proper maintenance.

Motorcycles are no exception. I’ve actually heard people say that it’s not really possible for motorcycles to overheat because there’s constant airflow. Such is not the case and they’re in for a big surprise when their motorcycle overheats one day.

There are two different types of cooled motorcycle engines. First, there are air cooled motorcycles which probably comprise of 90% of all motorcycles out on the roads right now. The engines have fins on the side of them and as you ride, the air rushes past those fins and cools the engine down.

The second type of cooled engine is called a water cooled engine. This is a type of engine that is attached to a small radiator (just like a car) where water circulates through the engine and cools it down as you ride. These require a water/coolant mixture for optimal cooling for the engine.

It all boils down to performing basic maintenance on your motorcycle to prevent it from overheating. If you have an air cooled motorcycle, you’ll need to always make sure that it doesn’t have a high idle and it’s not constantly being revved to a high RPM. Click here to see more information I’ve written about why a motorcycle idles high. Revving can be fun and essentially doesn’t cause much damage, but constant revving can lead to unnecessary overheating.

If you have a water cooled motorcycle engine, maintaining the right coolant and water mixture is vital. The cooling system of a motorcycle is relatively simple yet can cause a lot of problems if you don’t maintain it. Occasionally inspect the radiator and make sure no rocks or other debris have built up on it and that there are no holes that can cause fluid leaks.

Whether you have an air cooled or water cooled motorcycle, doing regular oil changes is also extremely important. As a general rule, you should change your motorcycle oil every 4,000 miles or so or every 6 months, whichever comes first.

Why A Motorcycle Overheats And How To Address It

There are two main reasons why an air cooled motorcycle engine overheats. The first main reason is probably due to the engine working way too hard and the rev is too high.

During a high rev, the RPM’s are increased so the friction that’s happening inside the engine also increases. As a basic law of physics, constant friction leads to heat which leads to a motorcycle engine overheating. See my other article here that discusses whether or not it’s bad to rev your motorcycle engine.

If you suspect this is the reason your air cooled motorcycle engine is overheating, discontinue doing high revs and let the engine cool off. If your motorcycle is idling high by itself, you may need to readjust the idle screw on the carburetor so the motorcycle idles between 700-1,000 RPM’s. Anything above 1,500 RPM’s is excessive.

The second reason an air cooled motorcycle engine overheats is because of improper oil circulation. Oil acts as an engine coolant on an air cooled motorcycle because it lubes everything that’s going on inside. Lubrication helps reduce the amount of friction happening between parts that are contacting each other thus reducing the amount of heat it emits.

A motorcycle engine overheating due to lack of oil circulation and lubrication is easily addressable and preventable. You simply need to change your oil, address any oil leaks that may be happening (click here to see my suggestions on how to fix a motorcycle oil leak), and/or maintain regular oil changes.

If you are overheating on a water cooled motorcycle engine, check your coolant to water ratio. You always need to maintain a mixture of 50% distilled water and 50% motorcycle coolant. An uneven mixture can cause a motorcycle to overheat.

Never use tap water in a motorcycle cooling system because it has a lot of additives in it that the city puts in such as iron or calcium. These additives are okay for us humans to drink but is terrible for a motorcycle engines. Always used distilled water in a water cooled motorcycle engine.

Occasionally the coolant lines can get plugged up which will prevent the coolant mixture from circulating. If you feel this may be your problem, use an infrared thermometer and point it at the inlet of the radiator then at the outlet of the radiator and compare the temperatures. The temperatures should be dramatically different from each other. If they’re not, then coolant is not circulating properly and your likely culprit is plugged lines.

What To Do When A Motorcycle Overheats

A lot of motorcycles don’t come with temperature gauges so it may be hard to know whether or not an overheating engine is your issue. There are a few obvious signs you can look for if you suspect you may have an engine that’s overheating.

Your biggest sign will be the smell of burning fluids such as oil or coolant. Those are smells you shouldn’t be smelling on a regular basis. Another obvious sign would be smoke coming from the engine or excessive smoke coming from the exhaust.

Though most motorcycles don’t have a temperature gauge, there are other lights on the instrument cluster that can be an indication of a problem. Some motorcycles have a check engine light or some sort of warning light that notifies the rider there’s something wrong. Older motorcycles may have the oil light come on.

If you suspect your engine is overheating, immediately pull over to the safest spot possible and turn off your motorcycle. Let your motorcycle cool off for at least 15 minutes before attempting to start it again if you have to. It may help to pour some water on the engine to help it cool down.

If you go to start it again and it continues to overheat, turn it off again immediately and discontinue using the motorcycle. You will likely need a friend or towing company to pick you up so you can correctly address the cause of the issue either in your garage or with a mechanic. Calling a towing truck is a lot cheaper than having to get your engine rebuilt.

The Damages An Overheating Motorcycle Engine Can Cause

One of the worst things you can do for any machine is let it overheat and do nothing about it. There are sever consequences that can ultimately make them unfixable. Unfortunately, there are too many motorcycles out there that overheat for too long and become ruined.

A lot of people assume metal is a lot tougher than it actually is. Some feel it can handle heat at higher temperatures than what it’s meant to withstand. When you have an overheating engine, there’s a lot of friction going on inside which can cause some of the parts to fuse together.

The most common things to happen during overheating is the piston seizing inside the cylinder. Once that happens, your engine is ruined and can no longer function.

There are still possible damages if the piston doesn’t seize. Warping of the pistons and cylinder walls is possible. There’s also a lot of wiring that’s by a motorcycle engine; if the engine gets too hot it can burn and melt those wires which will cause other malfunctions throughout the motorcycle.

A hot or overheating engine can pose some danger to you as the rider. If the engine were to seize, that means all moving parts inside of it seize and the chain stops moving the back tire. If the back tire suddenly stops moving, that can easily make you lose your balance or even throw you off the motorcycle. Not to mention if you accidentally touch the hot engine.

Related Questions

What should you do if your motorcycle engine overheats in traffic? If you find your motorcycle is overheating in traffic, turn off the motorcycle during stops to let the motorcycle cool. If you don’t come to complete stops, pull over, turn off the engine, and let it cool for a few minutes before proceeding.

Which is better, an air cooled motorcycle or a water cooled motorcycle? Both an air cooled and water cooled motorcycles have their perks so there is no complete answer about which is better in general. However, water cooled engines are less likely to overheat if proper maintenance is kept up.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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