Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad



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Thread: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

  1. #1
    TwistedKestrel's Avatar
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    Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    I've seen like four people already post this season that they can't be arsed to winterize their bike, but it's okay because they'll just start it a few times a month/week to keep the battery charged. This is ineffective at best and destructive at worst, for the following reasons.

    1. It doesn't actually charge the battery!

    The electrical system of your average motorcycle is pretty modest. Usually, simply idling the bike will not do anything to charge the battery, at all. If you have a voltmeter, you can see this for yourself by checking voltage at the battery terminals with your bike idling, and then seeing the difference when you give it just a little gas. Some bikes will not even idle without a battery. On the other hand, starting the bike is the hardest thing the battery has to do. If you've ever had a problem with your bike that made it impossible to start (e.g. bad coil) then you may have noticed the battery runs flat pretty quick, after only a handful of start attempts. For a bike to actually charge its own battery, it usually has to be ridden for 10-15 minutes (made up number) after a start.

    2. Starting a motor is the worst thing you can do to it

    Of course these machines are made to be used, but you have to keep in mind that the lubrication system is not working 100% until the motor is fully warmed up. When you start a cold motor, first it has to build up oil pressure, which may take a few seconds (watch the oil pressure light if your bike is equipped with one). Until then, moving parts that have not been reach by pressurized oil are skating by on oil residue. Pretty much all bearing wear in a modern motor occurs while starting it. Then, even after the oil pump has built up maximum pressure, the farther reaches of the system are not seeing their maximum pressure - cold oil does not flow well, and "warm" oil will quickly get cooled down by parts of the motor that haven't heated up yet. Also, keep in mind that you're starting it in winter - the bike is gonna take a lot longer to heat up than when it would just be idling in your driveway in warm weather... and cranking a motor in the freezing cold is a lot more stressful on the starter, due to the oil thickening, and your cold battery being able to deliver less power.

    3. Condensation

    You know how cars in winter have visible water vapour coming out their tailpipes? Of course your bike does that too, but if you start the bike up and it never fully warms up, then you've just covered the interior of your exhaust system with condensation. This is a bigger deal for some exhaust systems than others - maybe you have a VFR with an expensive, plain steel collector that you have now just accelerated the process of it rotting out. If your run your motor briefly enough, you can get condensation inside the cylinders too! Ever heard of stuck piston rings?

    4. Don't do it

    Repeatedly starting your bike is probably better at killing your battery than charging it. Actually, one good thing about the cold weather is that it decreases the self-discharge rate of lead acid batteries. That means a better idea (if you don't want to buy a float charger/"battery tender") is to just yank the battery out of the bike and put it beside it (in case of key-off power draw from electrical faults, accessories, ECUs)... or barring that, just leaving it in the bike and not touching after a good ride.
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  2. #2
    cycling's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    ^ ^ ^ ^
    Great words of wisdom. Sorry to say some will still do it. Beats me why. You have explained this very well. Kudos to you.

  3. #3
    Lightcycle's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Excellent!

    Starting your bike up in the winter for a few minutes in the winter instead of winterizing it is right up there with "I had to lay it down" and "I can keep up with those guys no problem".


  4. #4
    Riceburner's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    good post. Hope they listen....but it's their bike.

  5. #5
    TwistedKestrel's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    This is a self-serving post, btw - I'm usually buying bikes third hand so it's me that has to replace the battery
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Vote for Sticky.
    "There's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it twice."

  7. #7
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    Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Always start the snow blower throughout the spring/winter/fall and of course the lawnmower all winter.

    I know a motorcycle has battery and other things but, honestly. What are people thinking?


    I don't do this. It's suppose to be funny. Haha.

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  8. #8
    cycling's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Quote Originally Posted by nfq View Post
    Vote for Sticky.
    I`ll second that.

  9. #9
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Quote Originally Posted by cycling View Post
    I`ll second that.
    Motion carried.Good thread TwistedKestrel
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  10. #10
    PrivatePilot's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Glad to see this stickied. So many people mistakenly think that "exercising" their summer toys during the winter months is somehow beneficial... word needs to get out that it's actually harmful.

  11. #11

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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    A dissenting opinion and a few comments on this advice.

    There is nothing wrong with wintering your bike with battery in and periodic winter starts, infact it is likely healthier for most bikes to start them monthly over the winter.

    Starting a bike monthly does a few good things:
    1) Running your charging system will top up your battery and prolong it's life
    2) Lubrication helps reduce internal corrosion and hydrates seals
    3) Moving fuel through the fuel system reduces varnishing and gumming - particularly important for carbed bikes
    4) Sitting on your running bike at 20 below in January just makes you feel good.

    Quote Originally Posted by TwistedKestrel View Post
    I've seen like four people already post this season that they can't be arsed to winterize their bike, but it's okay because they'll just start it a few times a month/week to keep the battery charged. This is ineffective at best and destructive at worst, for the following reasons.

    1. It doesn't actually charge the battery!

    The electrical system of your average motorcycle is pretty modest. Usually, simply idling the bike will not do anything to charge the battery, at all. If you have a voltmeter, you can see this for yourself by checking voltage at the battery terminals with your bike idling, and then seeing the difference when you give it just a little gas. Some bikes will not even idle without a battery. On the other hand, starting the bike is the hardest thing the battery has to do. If you've ever had a problem with your bike that made it impossible to start (e.g. bad coil) then you may have noticed the battery runs flat pretty quick, after only a handful of start attempts. For a bike to actually charge its own battery, it usually has to be ridden for 10-15 minutes (made up number) after a start.
    This is not true. A modern motorcycle charging system puts out >500watts of power at fast idle, 300+ is available for charging. A FI bike should start in 3-5 seconds of cranking in the coldest weather, so it's not using much power. About 5 seconds of running replaces the energy used for 1 second of cranking, so the battery is topped back up in under a minute -- nowhere near 15 minutes. If you do winter starts, you're likely to top up your battery before the bike clicks off fast idle.

    Quote Originally Posted by TwistedKestrel View Post
    2. Starting a motor is the worst thing you can do to it

    Of course these machines are made to be used, but you have to keep in mind that the lubrication system is not working 100% until the motor is fully warmed up. When you start a cold motor, first it has to build up oil pressure, which may take a few seconds (watch the oil pressure light if your bike is equipped with one). Until then, moving parts that have not been reach by pressurized oil are skating by on oil residue. Pretty much all bearing wear in a modern motor occurs while starting it. Then, even after the oil pump has built up maximum pressure, the farther reaches of the system are not seeing their maximum pressure - cold oil does not flow well, and "warm" oil will quickly get cooled down by parts of the motor that haven't heated up yet. Also, keep in mind that you're starting it in winter - the bike is gonna take a lot longer to heat up than when it would just be idling in your driveway in warm weather... and cranking a motor in the freezing cold is a lot more stressful on the starter, due to the oil thickening, and your cold battery being able to deliver less power.
    Hmmm.. It's true that oil flows slow when it's cold, but it does flow and even at -20 the oil flows fast enough to lubricate the engine right from the get go. Engine wear at cold start is an issue if you're running under load, wear from 20 or 30 winter starts in your garage is too small to measure. If you're in unheated space, the bike will not warm to operating temp, but it will warm quickly enought to safely lubritate itself. Your engine surfaces and seals will enjoy a fresh coating of oil and internal 'beer can' condensation will be evaporated off.

    Your fuel system will say thanks. When fuel evaporates, it leaves crud and varnish behind. Periodic starts will flush and fill the fuel system which prolongs service intervals -- particularly with a carbed bike.

    And your cooling system will thank you too. Circulation keeps corrosion at bay and keeps contaminates from crusting in your cooling system.


    Quote Originally Posted by TwistedKestrel View Post
    3. Condensation

    You know how cars in winter have visible water vapour coming out their tailpipes? Of course your bike does that too, but if you start the bike up and it never fully warms up, then you've just covered the interior of your exhaust system with condensation. This is a bigger deal for some exhaust systems than others - maybe you have a VFR with an expensive, plain steel collector that you have now just accelerated the process of it rotting out. If your run your motor briefly enough, you can get condensation inside the cylinders too! Ever heard of stuck piston rings?
    False. In the winter you see vapor as it condenses, in summer less so -- but the same vapor is there winter & summer. After a minute of running your exhaust is hot enough to boil off any vapor left when you shut down so there are no worries about water being left in the exhaust system. A small amount of condensation inside the cylinders will occur naturally as temp and humidity change quickly in winter -- but this happens most when the engine is not running, periodic startups boils this off and recoats the engine with a nice film of oil.

    Quote Originally Posted by TwistedKestrel View Post
    4. Don't do it

    Repeatedly starting your bike is probably better at killing your battery than charging it. Actually, one good thing about the cold weather is that it decreases the self-discharge rate of lead acid batteries. That means a better idea (if you don't want to buy a float charger/"battery tender") is to just yank the battery out of the bike and put it beside it (in case of key-off power draw from electrical faults, accessories, ECUs)... or barring that, just leaving it in the bike and not touching after a good ride.

    Not true.
    You won't hurt your battery with 20 or 30 winter starts if your bike is in good working order. Your battery will benefit from topping up what it loses naturally over a month.

    If you do elect to take your battery out, all you need to do is disconnect the negative lead, you can leave the battery in the bike. If you fully remove the battery, make sure it's not left directly in a concrete floor and that it has enough charge to prevent freezing (or take it inside). In the spring, top up the battery charge with a trickle or on the 2amp setting of a regular charger.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I've winter started my bikes for a very long time. My 25 year old XV920R last battery was 6 years ago an it's still running strong, she's has had one carb overhaul in 35 years and no major engine repairs in 100k KM. My FJR has her factory battery at 10 years old and has never needed fuel service. Same story for all my other rides.

    My routine for the winter is simple:
    1) Fill the tires, lube chains, raise the bike on center or wheel stands.
    2) Fill the tanks, top up all fluids, and add Stabil to fuel.
    3) Start periodically and run till the temp gauge moves (about 10 minutes)
    4) Change oil & filter and any other fluids that need changing in the spring

    This has served me well and all my bikes have performed better and with less service than my friends. My batteries last, I've never seen an exhaust system rot out, and I rarely need to decrud a fuel system.

    My 2 cents.

  12. #12
    TwistedKestrel's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Some bikes (i.e. an FJR) have more substantial charging systems, but it's not a given that all bikes will have it. I owned a Z1000SX that would stall without a battery (at idle of course). The condensation thing is a worst case scenario, but under unusual conditions like it being a colder day you may not have run the bike long enough to clear out the condensation.

    The fuel system is almost the last thing you should worry about. On a carbed bike, just running the stale gas through it is going to do very little, and fuel injected bikes are less prone to running problems caused by old gas. Either way, if you put stabilizer in, then that was all you needed to do.

    I stand by there being no benefit to winter starting your bike
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  13. #13
    PrivatePilot's Avatar
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    The only justifiable thing for starting your bike in the winter I read in your post Mike is "Sitting on your running bike at 20 below in January just makes you feel good"

    Every single other thing seems to be based on that, and little else.

    Put the bike on a battery tender for the battery - the amp draw required to start some bikes (especially big V-Twins) cannot be replaced with even 5 or 10 minutes or slow idling.

    As for the oil situation, remember that motorcycle oils are heavy weight - designed for scorching summer temperatures and often air cooled bikes - that first number ("15") in most motorcycle oils is the cold weight. Some bikes use 20 weight oil. 15 or 20 weight oil in the winter is *thick*. Ever wonder why cars typically use 5W30 year round, and some use 0W30 in the winter? The 5 or 0 weight oil flows better in a cold start. In short, starting your bike with that 15W oil sitting stone cold in the crank case means your engine is running without lubrication until the oil pump struggles to move that oil.

    Here's a great video showing viscosities. Yes, this is at -40, but even if we are talking -10c take these results and quarter them while looking at the 15 or 20 weight oil struggling to even pour should make my point very clear. That's whats in your motorcycle crankcase unless you are switching to a winter motor oil.



    As for moisture, fuel and whatnot, again, it's easy to discount it all, but when the perfectly good alternative is to fill the fuel tank with non ethanol fuel, stabilize it, put a battery tender on the bike...and then just leave it alone.....why bother starting it?

    Yes, I ride all winter long when we get a warm snap, but I *do* swap my oil in the late fall to a 0W, and when I *do* start the bike I commit to at least a 20+ minute ride to make sure that the engine and drivetrain is fully warmed up.
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  14. #14

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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    Lets also put this into perspective, were in the GTA -- not Winnipeg -- the coldest month of the year is Jan, and the average high temp for Jan is -1C, hardly cold storage for a bike, oil or batteies. You're going to find lots of days at or above freezing when you bike should start easily with a few cranks. Running it at fast idle till it warms up will more than top up any battery drain caused by starting and a few weeks of sitting.

    I've had a stable of bikes for decades, none have ever been winterized other than fuel fill and Stabil. In the 40+ years I've wintered them this way, none have suffered premature wear or damage.

  15. #15

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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    A few years ago, when I lived in an apartment, there were 3 of us with bikes, and 2 guys that had 'summer' only cars.
    We would meet in the underground parking about 7:30 - 8:00 PM and all ride or drive around the underground for about 30 mins.
    Took the edge off PMS (parked motorcycle syndrome), warmed the engines, got the gas flowing and we had some fun.

  16. #16

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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    I usually leave my stuff and do the normal prep. and i know my nighthawk's charging break even point is 2500 rpm. at idle (1100 rpm) it draws 10 amps.
    now for a carbed bike could running the float bowls dry before storage and drain the remainder out of the bowl be better no fuel to gum up the carbs.
    Ride or drive anything but transit

  17. #17
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    Re: Regularly starting your bike in winter is bad

    I used to run my carbs dry decades ago. Stopped doing that and never had an issue. So either way might be ok. Add stabilizer and run it thru the carbs if you like. But, for sure, I leave fuel in my lawnmower carb so the seals, etc. don't dry out....had that happen once.

    Once stored though, bike doesn't get started again till the spring. Batt gets charged once a month or so at 2A or less for an hour.

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