A Helpful Guide On How To Start A Motorcycle That’s Been Sitting


Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon to let a motorcycle sit longer than it should without using it. Most of us motorcycle owners have done it. But there are some out there that let their motorcycles sit for longer, years even. If you encounter a motorcycle that’s been in this situation, you may wonder if you’ll be able to even revive it.

Luckily, motorcycles are a lot less complex than cars, so it’s absolutely possible to revive a motorcycle that’s been sitting anywhere between a few months to 20 years.

So, how do you start a motorcycle that’s been sitting? To start a motorcycle that has been sitting, you’ll first need to charge/change the battery. Next you’ll need to change the oil, replace the gas, and examine the carburetor and jets to make sure they’re not clogged. After these have been checked, you can attempt to start the motorcycle.

Even after checking through these items, your motorcycle may still not start. It can be frustrating, but it usually takes a few tries to get it to start. I’ve compiled a detailed guide that can assist you in getting your motorcycle to start after it’s been sitting for a while.

How To Start A Motorcycle That’s Been Sitting

A motorcycle that has been sitting for 20 years is in a different condition compared to a motorcycle that’s been sitting for just a few months. However, no matter how long a motorcycle has been sitting, these are the first few steps you need to do to get it started.

The first thing you’ll need to do is charge or change the battery. Check when the battery’s expiration date is. If it’s close to or long past the expiration date, you’ll simply need to buy a new one. If a motorcycle has been sitting for years, you’ll definitely need to get a new battery; you don’t want to use one that’s been sitting dormant for years.

Once you get the new battery hooked up, the next thing you’ll need to do is change the oil. Even if the motorcycle has only been sitting for a few months, dormant oil can still go bad, in fact it ages a lot faster when it’s not being used.

If the motorcycle has been sitting for years, you may notice the oil is a bit rusty and watery. You may even feel a bit satisfied getting all of that corroded oil out of the motorcycle. If the motorcycle has been dormant for longer than a few months, you may need to get another oil change soon after you get the motorcycle started to ensure you get all the rust particles and moisture out of the engine.

The next thing you’ll need to do is completely empty the gas tank and fuel lines and put in new gas. Gas can become gelled up over time which is probably what has happened with this motorcycle you’re working with. This will clog up a lot of elements on the bike, so you’ll probably need to replace the fuel lines and add a fuel filter in the fuel line.

One of the biggest consequences of having old gas in a motorcycle is a clogged up carburetor. The jets inside a carburetor are incredibly small, so it’s very easy for them to get clogged.

Through my experience of restoring motorcycles, even ones that have been sitting for years, I have found that the usual culprit to a motorcycle not starting is due to a dirty carburetor, so this is probably the main reason your motorcycle isn’t starting.

Thoroughly clean the carburetor from your motorcycle that has been sitting. It’s a good idea to get a carburetor rebuilding kit so you can replace some of the screws and gaskets. Rebuilding kits usually come with a set of instructions that make reassembling a lot easier.

I recommend using an ultrasonic cleaner to really clean out the carburetor. Ultrasonic cleaners will get any build up that’s developed in places you can’t see or reach on the carburetor and yields excellent results.

At this point, you may want to also get a new set of tires. Tires that have been sitting for a while will most likely have flat spots along with cracks that make tires unusable.

If you still can’t get the motorcycle to start after going through this list, there may be a few underlying issues especially if the motorcycle was sitting for a few years.

It’s actually pretty common for water to get inside the engine and rust the pistons into place. It’s annoying when this happens, but it is fixable. First, you can try pouring some lubricant down all the spark plug holes and wait a few hours for the pistons to soak in the lubricant. You can also attempt to manually crank the engine by turning the flywheel to break off the rust that may be keeping the pistons in place.

If the lubricant or manually turning the flywheel doesn’t get the pistons to move, this is the point you’ll need to take it in to a mechanic to examine a possible engine seizure caused by something other than rust. Click here for more information about how to tell if your motorcycle engine is seized.

What Happens To A Motorcycle When It Sits For Too Long

If you come across a motorcycle that has been sitting for too long, you may notice a few cosmetic issues. Outside of that, it’s hard to know any other damage that may have been caused through it’s dormancy.

If you’re wanting to get a motorcycle started that’s been sitting for a while, it really helps to know what has happened to the motorcycle so you know better how to get it started.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong when a motorcycle sits, but some of the main things that happen are a fading/peeling gas tank, damaged seals and gaskets, drained battery, condensation build up, and rust.

The constant beam of the sun is ruthless on motorcycle gas tanks. Once the UV rays eat through the clear coat, the paint underneath begins to fade. See my article here to find out what other damages the sun can do to a motorcycle.

Seals and gaskets are a lot like rubber bands. The more you use it, the longer it will last. Riding a motorcycle heats and expands the seals and gaskets which ultimately makes them last longer. Without that heat and expansion, the seals and gaskets become fragile and brittle.

Constant temperature fluctuations and parasitic drain cause a motorcycle battery to drain quickly. Once a battery loses so much voltage, it’s incapable of getting a 100% charge.

Condensation and moisture build up on a motorcycle that has been sitting is the most common and most damaging factor. It causes rust and sometimes the rust becomes so severe that some parts will completely need to be replaced. There are a lot of other things that can happen to a motorcycle when it sits, click here for more information.

How To Store A Motorcycle Long Term

After starting and reviving a motorcycle that has been sitting, you’ll probably never want to have to go through it again. Luckily there are several steps you can take to keep your motorcycle from reverting to such a condition.

A motorcycle needs to be started about once a month to keep it’s elements in check and burn off any condensation that may have snuck it’s way inside.

If riding or attending to your motorcycle every month isn’t possible, you’ll need to properly prepare it for storage. Such steps include changing the oil, relieving pressure from the tires, and removing the battery or hooking it up or a battery tender.

You’ll also need to top off the gas and add a stabilizer to the gas to prevent the gas from gelling up. Make sure to run the motorcycle for a few minutes to get the stabilizer through the whole fuel system of the motorcycle.

Lastly, don’t forget to put a good cover on it, even if it’s parked in the garage or shed. The cover will prevent a lot of moisture and condensation from getting inside places it shouldn’t.

How Long Is Too Long To Let a Motorcycle Sit?

A motorcycle should never sit longer than a month without starting it or properly preparing it for storage. Aside from starting it, a motorcycle should be driven at least once every other month if it has not properly been prepared for storage.

You may also wonder if there ever comes a point where a motorcycle has simply sat for too long and is beyond repair. There’s really no solid answer for this as this all completely depends on where the motorcycle has been sitting and the type of climate it was sitting in. It also depends a lot on how much time and money you’re willing to invest in it to get it fixed up.

I have restored over a dozen motorcycles and over half of them were bikes that had been sitting in a field for years. I have yet to encounter a motorcycle that wasn’t fixable.

Related Question

Is it possible to tow a motorcycle without a trailer? It is possible to tow a motorcycle without a trailer. In fact, it’s completely possible to tow a motorcycle with a car. Such methods include using a tow dolly or motorcycle carrier that is attachable to a truck, SUV, or sedan. See more information I’ve written about this by clicking here.

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