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Should I Start my Motorcycle During the Winter to Charge the Battery

Should I Start my Motorcycle During the Winter to Charge the Battery?

4 Reasons why you shouldn’t start your motorcycle during the winter to keep your battery charged up

The longer I work in the motorcycle biz, the more I encounter myths about motorcycling that people believe without questioning. One came as a question, which was, “Should I start my motorcycle during the winter to keep the battery charged up?”

The question is based on a false assumption. People believe that because idling a car can slowly charge up the battery, that idling a motorcycle would do the same. That’s not the case. Not only will idling a motorcycle in the winter not recharge the battery, but it could also damage your engine and other components. You should never start your motorcycle in the winter for the sole purpose of recharging your battery, and here’s why:

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1) Starting your motorcycle in the winter doesn’t recharge your motorcycle battery

A motorcycle’s charging system doesn’t work like a car’s charging system. Idling a car might be enough to recharge the battery, but idling a motorcycle will not.

How can we prove this? Grab a multimeter and check the voltage of a healthy battery in a motorcycle at idle, wait few minutes and then check it again. The voltage will be the same, meaning idling the motorcycle hasn’t done anything to recharge the battery.

How do we know that motorcycles only charge at higher RPMs? With your multimeter still monitoring the voltage on your motorcycle battery, and your motor running, twist the throttle to rev up your engine. When your motorcycle engine’s RPMs go over a certain amount (which varies based on your motorcycle) the voltage on your battery will begin to increase. That’s the engine speed (or RPM) your motorcycle engine has to sustain in order to charge the battery. When you’re riding around the city it’s not a problem. When you’re revving up your motorcycle for half an hour in front of your house, neighbors aren’t going to be impressed.

Your motorcycle idling can be a welcome sound (to you) in the winter. Unfortunately, leaving it idling won’t actually charge your battery like going on a ride would.

2) Starting your motorcycle in the winter is bad for the life of your engine and other components

After learning your motorcycle won’t recharge at idle, you might be thinking, “No problem, I’ll just start my motorcycle up and rev up the engine and keep it revved up. That will charge the battery up!” Uh, yes, kind of, but there’s more to it than that.

Your motorcycle engine’s lubrication system might have been designed by geniuses, but they were counting on you to be a little smart too. The engineers who developed your motorcycle weren’t designing it to be used in sub-freezing temperatures. Your engine’s lubrication system is not working fully until your motor is fully warmed up. Your engine’s lubrication system relies on building up oil pressure, which requires a warm engine. In the spring through the fall, warming up a motorcycle engine to optimal temperature doesn’t take very long at all. In the winter, your motorcycle might need quiet some time to warm up. Unfortunately, while it’s still cold, you’re going to have a lot of moving parts keeping your motorcycle idling, without actually getting the lubrication that they need to avoid premature wear to your motor.

Last but not least, cold starts are very hard on your motorcycle. When your battery is cold, it puts out less power than when it’s warm out. Your oil will be thicker and less runny, making it flow less. These combine to put more strain on your starter, and can cause it to wear out prematurely too.

3) Starting your motorcycle in the winter can create condensation, which isn’t good

Another reason not to start your motorcycle in the winter is the condensation that this can create. When you start your motorcycle, you’re setting fire in a cold metal internal combustion engine. As the engine warms up, moisture from the air that’s in your crankcase will cause condensation (water) in your engine. What happens to this water inside your metal engine is up to you:

If you turn off your motorcycle before it has reached and maintained it’s optimal temperature for a decent period of time, that water inside your engine will not evaporate. Instead, it becomes the weird white cloudiness you see in your engine oil. It can also stick to your oil fill cap, or your oil dipstick, or goop in your valve cover. Overall, none of this is good for your motorcycle’s engine.

If you take your motorcycle out for a good ride of at least half an hour the condensation will evaporate. Of course, you might have to deal with salty roads and other motorcycle winter riding problems, but that’s a whole other article.

4) Starting your motorcycle in the winter is kills your battery more than it charges it

One of the hardest things for a motorcycle battery to do is to start your motorcycle. Think of your motorcycle battery as a bank account. Every time you hit the starter, you’re withdrawing power out of your account to get the motorcycle started. If your motorcycle isn’t being taken out for a ride, all you’ve done is withdraw power, without putting any power back in. You can only make so many withdrawals before your before your battery is left empty.

If your plan is to just start the motorcycle, over and over, and never actually ride the bike to put power back into your battery, you’re just going to end up depleting your motorcycle battery, not refilling it. Motorcycle batteries don’t do well with being left unfilled. It can harm their overall lifespan. By starting your motorcycle and not recharging your battery properly, you’re actually hurting it.

If it’s too late, and you’ve already found yourself with a dead battery, here’s how to tell if a dead motorcycle battery will still work perfectly after recharging it, or if it needs to be replaced. And here’s how to properly fill and charge a new motorcycle battery.

“But what about…”

Before you rush down to the comments section, yes, you’re right, there are some great reasons to start your motorcycle in the winter:

A motorcycle is full of moving parts and those parts should be moved periodically. Tires rolling forward and back are less likely to get flat spots. Fuel flowing through fuel lines and injectors or carburetor jets are less likely to gunk up. Neglect is one of the biggest causes of a motorcycle not starting, so you should try to avoid it. The more love you can give your motorcycle, the better. No argument there. But what I’m saying, is that versus starting your motorcycle as a strategy for maintaining your battery. It’s just a bad idea.

If you’re wondering how to keep a motorcycle battery charged during winter

You should take proper care of your motorcycle, and that means, learning about how to winterize a motorcycle properly. Check out the link to the article I wrote, it only takes half an hour, a $3 bottle of fuel stabilizer, and $25 for a Battery Tender Jr. battery charger.

Follow the steps in my article above. Treat your fuel, hook up your battery to a Battery Tender Jr. trickle charger, and roll your bike forward or backward a couple inches every month. If you want to start your motorcycle, that’s fine. Just make sure you take it for a good ride if you do.

What if I want to ride during the winter?

I love motorcycle riding during the winter! Just beware of reduced traction from having colder tires on colder (and sometimes wetter and grittier) road surfaces. If you’re going to be doing a lot of winter motorcycle riding, you might want to look at these options for motorcycle winter tires.

What if my motorcycle battery dies during the winter?

If your motorcycle battery dies during the winter the first thing you’ll want to do recharge it with a motorcycle-specific battery charger. Next you’ll want to test the motorcycle battery using either a multimeter or a battery load tester. It’s not enough to just see if the motorcycle starts again, because that doesn’t mean the battery can hold a charge for a long time. It could just leave you stranded by the road. At the same time you don’t want to waste money for nothing, so testing your motorcycle battery is a good idea any time the battery dies.

Conclusion

Starting your motorcycle during the winter is fine once or twice to keep your fluids flowing, but you shouldn’t do it as a means of keeping your motorcycle battery charged up.

Starting your motorcycle during the winter won’t charge your motorcycle battery. In fact, it will just draw from your battery’s power without recharging it. Your motorcycle isn’t meant to be run for short periods in cold conditions. You can damage your starter or even cause condensation to form inside of your motor which could cause premature wear.

Ultimately, the best thing to do is winterize your motorcycle properly. Check out this article I wrote on how to winterize your motorcycle, it’s the best thing you can do for your motorcycle before putting it away, and if you follow my instructions it will only take half an hour.

Lastly, if your battery is already dead, here’s how to fill a new motorcycle battery with acid, charge it, and install it.

What if I did start my motorcycle in the winter and now my battery is dead?

If your motorcycle no longer starts because of a weak battery, you can either use a jump-starter, jump start it with a car, or charge it back up fully and try again. I recommend charging it up fully and then following these simple steps to testing your motorcycle battery to make sure no long term damage has been done and it is still okay.

Remember: Just because a motorcycle battery has enough power to start your motorcycle now, does not make it a healthy batter. It may still leave you stranded down the road.

About YouMotorcycle

YouMotorcycle is a lifestyle motorcycle blog to be appreciated by those who see motorcycling as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby, sport, or method of transportation. Most of the posts on the site are written by past and present motorcycle industry staff. We remain fiercely independent, innovative, and unconventional. Our goal is to encourage more people to enjoy the world's greatest outdoor sport by helping new riders get started and inspiring current riders to get out more. We motorcycle, do You?

7 comments

  1. So, as you know, my Dyna has a carb. My overwintering technique is to absolutely fill the gas tank with a blend of 75% regular gas and 25% high octane gas. Then drain the float bowl. Battery kept on a batterymate trickle charger and I do usually go into the garage, uncover the bike and roll it forwards or backwards a few inches. If I do get a favourable combination of time/weather, then I will take her off charge and take her out for a ride. When I get back, she goes back on charge and I top up the gas tank from a can and re-drain the float bowl.

    That’s my normal technique. This winter, due to my accident, I wasn’t physically able to do ANY of that. Fortunately, I had filled the gas tank to the gunnels about ten minutes before I was hit. The bike lost about a litre of fuel when it went over. It spent the next week outside in a Police Pound before it was recovered and then simply put in my garage and covered over. Being unable to walk much due to many badly broken bones and what is now known to be permanent nerve damage, the battery wasn’t put on charge and the float bowl wasn’t drained. The crash happened on September 1st so the bike has been languishing for five months!

    I finally got into the garage to see the bike last week. Took the cover off to find my beloved Harley covered in black mould! Fuel was ok though. We haven’t had any REALLY cold weather and certainly no snow. I have since topped up the gas tank and given her a damned good clean! I have also drained the float bowl. What DID surprise me, was the battery. It is far from flat! Hopefully, the insurance company are going to stir themselves into action this month and she will be taken away for repair and a service. In the meantime, I am concentrating on getting “Bike Fit” for that longed for time when I can take her out again!

  2. I have my battery connected to a battery tenders I have turned it on in a couple of weeks. The weather has been very cold and snowing for several weeks. The bike is parked indoors, but my garage is not warm and gets like a ice box. So I tried to turn it on and it won’t. I had it checked at advance auto and it appears to have a full charge. Should I keep the battery indoors some place warm, then connect it when I want to turn it on. Do the cells freeze up making it difficult to start.

    • Your bike was hooked up to the tender this whole time properly and it still won’t start? It should be able to. I live in Canada and it gets pretty cold here and i haven’t had any issue like what you’re talking about. If you’re really dealing with extreme cold you can try bringing the battery and the charger inside with you overnight and try again in the morning.

    • Found your article very helpful as i thought i should be starting my bike because i see a lot of people out on days when i personally will not go riding. Im extremely new to riding and will not ride under 54 degrees. Is it too late to add the fuel stabalizer now since the bike has been sitting since october? Appreciate any good advice.

  3. Thank you for this article! My husband recently passed away so I am in charge of my own bike now. He always started it periodically during the winter, as does a friend. However after he was unable to ride it sat for quite awhile and the carbs are super gummed up now so will need a lot of attention. I think that’s what scares me the most about not starting my bike. But I want to be smart about it too. What I have done is put a stabilizer in the gas tank, lubed up my chain but will have to research how to do the cables, and filled the tires. I also have it on a trickle charger. I haven’t ridden it much at all since my husband passed so it worries me if I don’t start it, it will gum up like his. So… I guess I’m just wanting to know if I should go ahead and start it a couple times during the winter like you mentioned, or leave it alone. Don’t want carb problems!! Thank you for your help!!

    • Hey Donna, sorry to hear about your husband passing. Did you put the stabilizer in before it was left sitting for a while, or after? If you only put it in after the fact, it can’t correct any changes that have already happened to the gas, and you might want to get the old gas out first. You can use one of the fuel transfer pumps to suck the old gas out, put fresh gas in, and stabilizer the fresh gas. https://amzn.to/35oQ0vP

      Then if you want to run it periodically you can, but do that in addition to keeping the bike on a trickle charger.

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