How To Start A Motorcycle In Below Freezing Temperatures


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I remember the first time I attempted to start a motorcycle in freezing temperatures. I lived in northern Utah, it was 10:00 at night, and it was the middle of winter. Being somewhat new to motorcycles at that time, I assumed my bike would start up immediately like it always did. I very quickly found that it was not going to start, at least not in its current conditions.

If this is you, you may find yourself pretty frustrated and wonder what you can do to help with this situation.

So how do you start a motorcycle in below freezing temperatures? To start a motorcycle in below freezing temperatures, ensure the battery is charged and the engine itself is warmed up. To do this, you may use something like an electric space heater and place it by the engine to let the hot air blow on the engine. After a few minutes, the engine should have a much easier time starting.

Starting a motorcycle in below freezing temperatures can be tricky, but it is certainly possible if it’s done right. I have lived in places with extremely harsh winters and have found this method to be the best way to use. There’s a lot more to consider to starting your motorcycle in the cold and there should be extra steps taken to make sure you don’t cause damage to your bike.

How To Start Your Motorcycle In Freezing Temperatures

Whatever the reason is that requires getting your motorcycle started in freezing temperatures, you may run into the frustrating situation of not being able to get it started at all. Freezing temperatures aren’t just hard on humans and animals alike, similar temperatures are hard on machines, too.

The first thing you should check is the life of the battery. If you have a dead battery, your motorcycle will not start no matter what temperature it is outside. Use a multimeter to detect the voltage from the battery. In order to start a motorcycle, you need at least 12.2 volts, or a 50% charge on the battery. Click here to learn more about how the life of a battery works on a motorcycle.

If you’ve noticed that battery is low on juice, you may need to let it charge for at least a few hours until it’s in a condition to start up the motorcycle. Freezing temperatures are especially harsh on motorcycle batteries and can drain them quickly.

The second thing you should focus on when trying to start your motorcycle in freezing temperatures is turning on the choke. This may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of people actually forget about this. During winter storage, people completely turn the choke off to prevent gas leaks which often leads them to forget that they did so when they go to start their motorcycle.

The third thing that can greatly increase your chances of getting your motorcycle started in freezing temperatures is warming up the engine. This may seem difficult if you can even get the engine to turn over, but luckily there are alternative ways.

The engine will be sluggish when it has been exposed to freezing temperatures for a long period of time. Use a source of heat, such as an electric space heater, to heat up the engine manually. This will warm up the metal and aluminum on the engine as well as the oil and other fluids inside which will make the process of starting it much easier.

Always supervise and be present when warming up your engine with a heater. Don’t get the heater too close and make sure the source of heat isn’t touching anything potentially flammable. Click here to learn more ways you can warm up your engine.

What Happens To Your Motorcycle During Freezing Temperatures?

Though your motorcycle may look fine on the outside during freezing temperatures, there’s actually a lot more going on inside of it that we can’t see or don’t notice.

Wires and cables become stiff and are less flexible. Unfortunately that makes them more susceptible to breaking if they’re not handled appropriately. Any rubber coverings such as fork covers may also become stiff and can easily tear if handled in a rough manner.

If your motorcycle has a chain, the chain also becomes stiff and less flexible and may become susceptible to breaking if not properly lubricated. It’s important to check the status of your chain before going for a ride in the winter.

The batteries on motorcycles also slowly decrease in voltage over time in freezing temperatures. There are a few reasons why this happens, the first being that most people don’t use their motorcycle near as much during the winter months and therefore are not exercising the battery’s capacity. This also causes a phenomenon called parasitic drain which means poorly grounded wires are slowly discharging the battery.

A motorcycle battery also loses it’s capacity quicker in freezing temperatures compared to normal temperatures. The cold prevents the battery from performing to it’s full capacity. All too often when I’ve tried starting my motorcycles in the winter, I found myself with a dead battery. It left me scratching my head, especially since some of those batteries were relatively new.

A motorcycle engine requires more power to start in the freezing temperatures because of the thickened oil. Additionally, a cold battery sometimes can’t supply the amperage required to get the engine started. If you’re curious about whether or not a motorcycle battery can freeze, see my other article by clicking here.

The oil inside the engine becomes thickened due to the extremely cold temperatures. The colder it gets, the thicker the oil gets which makes it lose it’s viscosity. A motorcycle engine may struggle circulating thick oil which can cause starting issues.

How To Maintain Your Motorcycle For Easier Start Up During Winter

There are a few measures you can take if you expect to be starting up your motorcycle in freezing temperatures soon.

The first thing you’ll want to use is a battery tender. This is something you can constantly keep connected to your motorcycle battery. It will be able to sense when the battery is losing voltage and automatically start charging and will stop charging when the battery is at a full charge. This will increase the life of your battery and likely prevent problems with starting your motorcycle in the future.

Keep the gas tank full to prevent any unwanted moisture from getting inside. Add a stabilizer to the gas to prevent old gas from clogging up the carburetor. Try using a low viscosity oil during the winter months. Synthetic oil will greatly help maintain the lubrication in the motorcycle engine and can make it less difficult for the engine to get started in freezing temperatures.

Can You Ride A Motorcycle In The Winter?

It is not recommended to ride a motorcycle when the temperature is below freezing (see my article here for more details). Ice will form at these temperatures and motorcycles are more susceptible to ice since they are smaller vehicles. If you absolutely must ride in freezing temperatures, make sure you have the proper gear.

Motorcycles were made to ride on a road that is not impaired with snow or ice. Dirt Bikes are able to handle such conditions, but the capabilities of motorcycles and dirt bikes are different. Compared to cars, motorcycles have two wheels which gives you less traction in the case you drive on ice or snow; motorcycles will provide less protection if you slip on said elements.

Some people are simply left with no choice but to ride a motorcycle in the winter. If you are caught in this scenario, there are several safety precautions you should abide by. Always drive slow and avoid busy roads. If you must drive on the highway, stay in either the far right or far left lane so you only have to worry about one lane of cars next to you.

Conclusion

If you must start a motorcycle in below freezing temperatures, start by checking the health of the battery. Once you’ve ensured the battery has enough juice to start your motorcycle, try warming up the engine by using an electric space heater. Once you know the engine has warmed up some, ensure the choke is on and go ahead and attempt to start your motorcycle.

Using these tactics have proven to work well for me and the 20 motorcycles I’ve owned in the last 10 years. Feel free to contact us with any other tips or tricks you may have or experiences you’d like to share.

Related Questions

Can I store my motorcycle in my house for the winter? It is completely possible to store your motorcycle in your house for the winter. Many people do this since it puts their motorcycle in a temperature controlled environment. Make sure you have the space and equipment to do so. I explain it in more detail which you can find by clicking here.

Can you store tires outside for the winter? You should not store tires outside during the winter months. Tires should always be stored inside somewhere to keep them from getting constant exposure from the sun and water. They should always remain dry.

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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