One of the considerations to make when buying a motorcycle is the difference between air cooled vs liquid cooled motorcycle engines. Depending on where and how you plan on riding, a motorcycle’s air or liquid cooling may play a large part in your decision to buy, and how much you’ll appreciate your machine.
Typically speaking, high-performance motorcycles tend to be liquid-cooled. MotoGP motorcycles, which cost millions of dollars, are all liquid cooled, but then again, when’s the last time you took your bike to a race track? Maybe an air cooled motorcycle will work just fine. Read on to find out the pros and cons of air cooled vs liquid cooled motorcycle engines.
Air cooled vs liquid cooled motorcycle pro and cons
- Air cooled motorcycles run noisier.
- You’ll tend to see air cooled more on cruisers, as most cruisers typically run at lower RPMs then sportbikes.
- Sportbikes tend to be liquid cooled.
- Air cooled engines provide more simplicity, representing one less component which could break, need to be replaced, or need servicing
- Liquid cooling rads are sometimes fragile, and external or aftermarket oil-coolers can also be expensive and could break in an accident.
- Air cooled bikes may be cheaper.
- Air cooled motorcycles are likely more feasible for single cylinders (big thumpers), or parallel twin engines.
- In V-Twins, the back cylinder could remain hotter than it otherwise would.
- In liquid cooled engines, the circulating liquid evens-out hot spots in the cylinder head. This is better for detonation control and for emissions. The combustion chamber surfaces can be kept hot enough to encourage more complete combustion, but not so hot so as to promote detonation or high NOx emissions.
- Liquid cooling is better for long-term durability since it allows tighter build tolerances.
- Liquid cooled engines transfer the heat to the rad at the front of the bike, making a long ride or a traffic grid lock more tolerable for the rider.
My personal experience on air cooled and liquid cooled bikes
Personally, I switched from a japanese liquid cooled motorcycle, to an air cooled Harley-Davidson. I was a student riding to downtown Toronto, and the bike just got far too hot for me. I switched back to liquid cooling. Of course, I live in the most densely populated city in the country. Your experience on an air cooled motorcycle may be far different from mine. In fact, Harley-Davidson has the largest share of motorcycles over 750cc on the market. The vast majority of their line up are bikes powered by air cooled motorcycle engines.
It’s not about right or wrong, or good or bad, it’s about letting you know what the differences are.
Does a liquid cooled motorcycle engine work well in the winter?
You may also want to check out this story we just did, answering a reader’s question on how well, and how, a liquid cooled motorcycle works in the winter.
Where does the heat go?
About 44% of an air cooled engine’s heat gets blown out of the exhaust. Only about 12% leave through the cooling fins. In liquid cooled motors, the heat is cooled by a coolant liquid, and then released into the air through the radiator, which acts as a heat exchanger.
Some additional notes, from the comments section:
- Air cooled engines run richer, making them less efficient and more polluting.
- Water jackets in an engine act as sound insulators therefore liquid cooled engines are quieter than air cooled engines.
- Liquid cooled bikes can rev higher because they have higher tolerances due to their ability to self-cool.
- Air cooled require less maintenance and are often associated with simple vehicles.
What you’ll want depends entirely on your ride. Sportbike or other high-revving engine, you may want to make sure you’re getting something with liquid cooling. Scooter or cruiser can probably get away with air-cooling. Many people say Harley-Davidson Sportsters never overheat, but if they do get hot, there are always things you can do, such as switching to a full synthetic motorcycle oil, or adding an OEM or aftermarket oil cooler.
Have other questions?
You might also be interested in articles such as Disk Brakes vs Drum Brakes, or Shaft Drive vs Belt Drive vs Chain Drive. Tap into our library of motorcycle knowledge here, or ask a question in the comments area below!