Should You Start Your Motorcycle In The Winter?

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In many parts of the world, the motorcycle riding season is cut short by low temperatures and bad weather, so the majority of riders end up parking their motorcycle for an average of 3-4 months until the weather warms up again.  

I have repaired and rebuilt motorcycles for years now and have a good understanding about whether you should start up your motorcycle in the winter.

So, should you start your motorcycle in the winter? All motorcycle owners should start and run their motorcycles for at least 15 minutes once a week during the winter.  Letting it run will keep all the engine components and gaskets lubricated, eliminates condensation buildup, ensures the carburetor will not gum up, and recharges the battery.

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.

Keeping All Engine Components Lubricated

One of the most important reasons to start your motorcycle in the winter is to keep the engine components lubricated.  Engines have hundreds of small moving parts inside and in order to function properly all of those parts need to have a thin layer of oil covering them to keep them cool and to reduce friction between moving objects.

The leading cause of motorcycle engine failures is lack of proper lubrication.  Old oil, not enough oil, and the wrong type of oil are catastrophic for engine performance.  When you start your motorcycle once a week during the winter months you make sure that all those little pieces are getting the proper lubrication they need.

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 of the engine components get oil whether the motorcycle is running or not, like the crankshaft.  It sits in oil near the bottom of the engine 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.  Your engine acts in a similar way. When the air temperature around the engine is higher than the temperature of the engine case then condensation will form.

There is usually only a small amount of condensation that forms, but if left unchecked it can cause serious problems like making valve springs brittle, causing valves to stick in their guides, seizing piston rings to the cylinder wall, causing rust in the cylinder, rusted spark plugs, and even rust in the crankcase in serious cases.

By starting your motorbike once a week and letting it run for 15 minutes will ensure that the engine gets up to full operating temperature and evaporates all the condensation out of the engine.  The condensation will mix with the oil as oil gets sprayed around, and then as the oil heats up the water will flash off.

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.

Remember, this is very very small amounts of condensation and flashing. It’s not like having a large oil/water mixture. But even a small amount of water can have horrible consequences.  The point of running the motorcycle for 15 minutes is to make sure that the oil gets hot enough to flash off the condensation.

Gasket And Seal Breakdown

One problem that is really a pain to deal with is gaskets cracking from not getting used enough.  This doesn’t just happen in the winter either, this is something that needs to be watched year-round.

Engine gaskets require a lot of time to repair, so the best option is just to start the motorcycle once a week and let it run.  This will lubricate and heat up the gaskets. Gaskets are a lot like rubber bands. If you just let them sit they’ll get brittle and crack.  If you stretch them consistently then they last a lot longer.

Gaskets can crack in as little as a month with no use.  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.

There are also a lot of seals and bearings inside the engine that need consistent 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

The number one repair done on all motorcycles worldwide is carburetor rebuilds.  This shouldn’t be the case if people took proper care of their equipment. By not starting your motorbike during the winter and letting it sit it allows the gas to break down molecularly and become sticky and thick.

If motorcycle owners simply let their engine run for 15 minutes just once a week then this would never happen, and people would not have to do carburetor rebuilds every year.

I get questions from people constantly asking me why I think their engine won’t start in the spring.  When I ask them if they ran the engine during the winter and they respond “no” then the answer is the carburetor.

Just by letting the motorcycle run it allows fresh fuel to be cycled through the carburetor and burns up the fuel that was sitting stagnant in the carburetor bowl.  Many people suggest to empty your fuel tank to store the motorcycle for the winter. I disagree with this because that will cause rust to immediately start forming in the tank.

The best winter option for fuel is to fill up the tank and then add fuel stabilizer.  Rust can’t form with a full tank and your gas won’t gum up if you add fuel stabilizer.  You can get a bottle of stabilizer at any of your local auto parts stores for a few dollars.

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.

To get that long life, the tires need to be stretched and exercised.  When you start your motorcycle up once per week during the winter, just sit on the seat and roll it forward and backward for a few minutes.  This will let the rubber stretch and reform to its correct shape.

When a tire sits in one spot for a long time it relaxes and starts to deform, decreasing its strength and lifespan.  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

Another reason to start your motorcycle in the winter is to perform battery maintenance.  Motorcycle batteries do not function well in cold weather, and if left uncharged during the cold months it will completely ruin the battery.

By starting up your motorcycle once a week during the winter it allows the battery to charge back up to full capacity.  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.

Just by starting up your motorbike at regular intervals during the winter can save a lot of money in maintenance every year. Click here to see my other helpful tips on keeping your motorcycle battery charged during the winter.

Related Questions

How should you store a motorcycle during winter?  Store the motorcycle under some structure, whether a garage or awning.  Snow, road salts, and cold temperatures are not kind to motorcycles. If you have to store it outside during the winter then make sure you have a good cover that can handle the weight of snowfall. Click here for more information I’ve written about this.

Do I Need To Use A Different Oil In The Winter:  I use the same oil type year round and the motorcycle stays perfectly lubricated.  Modern oil grades like 5W-20 have two different viscosities, the cold viscosity and the hot viscosity.  You can use the same oil year round, just make sure you change it regularly.

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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