How to start a motorcycle that has been sitting for a long time
Starting a motorcycle after a long period of time doesn’t have to be problematic especially if you had properly winterized your motorcycle. However, if you have recently purchased a used motorcycle from a private seller that was sitting idle for many years, or if you are trying to revive an old motorcycle that you somehow realized was your first love, it is best to avoid any risks by carefully checking the motorcycle before your first run.
It is important to understand that our primary objective is not to start the motorcycle quickly or hastily, unless you are planning to ride it for a day before disposing it again.
If you had stored your motorcycle in a warm room, perhaps in an apartment or in a heated room, then most likely you will not encounter any problems. But, if you’ve stored your motorcycle in a cool, unheated room, or even worse, in an open space, then your two-wheeled friend will not be happy to wake up after hibernation at all! Nonetheless, few simple rules will allow you to sort this problem precisely.
Take a look at our step by step guide to re-start your motorcycle after a long idle time.
Step 1: Clean the spark plugs
The first thing to do right after removing your motorcycle cover is to clean the spark plug with a piece of fine-grained sand paper and wire brush until the plug is clean and shiny. This action allows the electrodes to produce a more powerful spark if somehow the plugs lost their efficiency during hibernation (which is most likely).
It is necessary to make sure that the plugs are not damaged, and if they have, you may need to replace them. In fact, if the motorcycle remains outside or in environment subjected to temperature changes, it may happen that the plugs may become damp and therefore no longer produce spark of sufficient intensity to create an explosion in the combustion chamber.
Step 2: Check the tank
Storage room is often subjected to temperature variations which leads to condensation and oxidation. The situation is worse if the motorcycle is stored outside or in an iron container. It is important that you inspect the bottom of the fuel tank with a flashlight before turning on the fuel tap. Because if there are traces of rust, fine particles may clog the fine vents of carburetor.
If you notice any traces of rust or oxidation, it is best to empty the tank and repaint your tank to eliminate corrosion completely.
Step 3: Replace the old fuel
Volatile elements present in the fuel evaporate with time. These elements are responsible for complete combustion in the ignition chamber, without which, it would be difficult to ignite the engine. It is therefore prudent to replace the old fuel completely and refill your motorcycle with fresh one.
After a long period of immobilization, the carbs are often stuck inside the fuel inlet; this often causes your motorcycle engine to run lean or rich. So once you have replaced your old fuel with the fresh one, open the valve of the carburetor and drain some of the fresh fuel to flush out impurities.
In case of a fuel injection, switch on the ignition five to six times to refresh the contents of the injection circuit.
Step 4: Battery voltage inspection
Battery plays an important role in a motorcycle. It provides the first ignition required to run the engine. There is no point in keeping your hopes up unless it was powered to an external source that maintained its charging cycle.
A battery that was not charged for a prolonged amount of time will obviously drain itself completely. By checking with a voltmeter, you might get an idea if the battery can be revived with charging or not. Generally, batteries that are sitting idle for more than 1 year might underperform or not perform at all. It is wise to replace the battery with a new one.
However, if you observe some reading in your voltmeter, probably because you had charged your battery periodically in changing temperatures, you can re-use it again after fully charging it with the help of external adapters.
A completely charged motorcycle battery will indicate voltage of 12.8 V to 13.0 V on the voltmeter. In case the voltmeter shows a lower value even after a full charge, you may need a replacement.
Step 5: Remove the air filter
Once your battery inspection is complete, it is time to check the air filter. It is generally recommended to replace the air filter if the motorcycle was sitting idle for more than 1 year. Air filters are made from pleated paper, their functionality reduces considerably with time. It is ideal to not waste any time in cleaning them, as replacing them would be a wise decision.
In case your storage time was less than 1 year, you can clean the filter with the help of compressed air and reuse them. However, periodic inspection is recommended to keep a check on their efficacy.
Step 6: Inspect oil filter
This may seem unnecessary, but it is highly recommended. Dirty engine oil might coagulate and obstruct the normal functioning of pistons. The same applies to impurities stuck around the filter. Generally, these impurities around the filter can be cleaned using petrol, but if you notice that the dirt is too stubborn, you can replace the filter with a new one.
Step 7: Engine oil
Once you have drained the old engine oil after cleaning or replacing the oil filter, it is time to refill your oil tank with fresh engine oil. Oil replacement must not be ignored under any circumstance, provided you observe that the engine oil is still bright and in original form.
Step 8: Coolant
Another liquid that cannot be ignored is the engine coolant. When the fuel is ignited in the combustion chamber, chemical energy is converted into kinetic energy which results in a lot of friction. This friction produces a lot of heat which is dissipated by the coolant. Just like engine oils, coolant also ages. It loses its cooling properties over time and has to be completely replaced to prevent the engine from overheating.
Ideally, this change should be made every two years.
Step 9: Tires
Be sure to check the tire pressure before driving. It is normal for the pressure to fall down if the motorcycle was parked for a long time. Typically, motorcycle tires have an ideal pressure range between 28 PSI to 40 PSI, but it would be best to check the ideal pressure by inspecting the label printed on the tire depending on the brand.
Also read: When to replace motorcycle tires
Step 10: Brakes
In order to check your brakes, park your motorcycle on center stand and rotate each wheel with your hands. Apply the front brakes while you are rotating the front wheel; likewise, apply the rear brake while rotating the rear wheel. The brakes should not squeal while pressing against the disc pad, and in case they do, you should check the disc pad and disc shoe for wear and tear.
While you are at it, check the level of brake fluid as well. Generally, the brake fluid needs to be replaced every 2 to 3 years, however, for a motorcycle that is not used for a long time, it is best to replace the entire fluid with fresh one.
Step 11: Wiring and Joints
Treat all the electrical joints by anti-corrosive sprays. Thoroughly clean the coil and the cable connected to the spark plug. With the same aerosol, treat other joints as well, including, saddle hooks, footrest, kick starter, etc.
Step 12: Cleaning and lubricating chain
One of the most important part of a motorcycle, but one that is least cared for is the chain. Lubricating and cleaning the motorcycle chain is one of the simplest tasks to perform, but it is no less important. It is highly recommended to do this activity before you take your bike for a test ride.
Step 13: Carburetor
In order for the motorcycle engine to work correctly and to be able to develop an ideal power, it needs a high-quality mixture of air and fuel. This air to fuel ratio (A/F ratio) is maintained by the carburetor. However, due to prolonged inactivity, there is a high possibility that the carburetor is clogged with fuel residues and carbon. These impurities can reduce the efficiency of the carburetor, which further results in an underperforming engine.
Before you hit the road, it is important that you flush your carburetor with Sea Foam®. For an in depth guide, you can read our article: How to clean your motorcycle carburetor without taking it apart.
Step 14: Check for corrosion
Moisture, temperature variations, and sunlight affect the performance and appearance of motorcycle components. Metal parts might rust, whereas rubber parts might get brittle. If you do not take any preventive measures, your motorcycle can corrode and rust into a heap of dust.
Corrosion usually occurs near the exhaust and gradually expands towards other metal parts. Over time, the corrosion can destroy the metal from inside, making them hollow and brittle. Carefully inspect your motorcycle muffler and exhaust for traces of corrosion. In case you do find some traces, it is important that you take necessary steps to prevent your exhaust from rust.
Step 15: Test Ride
Finally, when everything is ready (phew), it is time to start the engine and take a test ride. Take it easy at first and keep in mind that many of the mechanical parts of the engine, which are usually greased, may now have dried out. It is important to let the motorcycle idle for few minutes, so that everything greases and warms up well. While the bike is idling, inspect all the lights and indicators for their functionality.
That’s it. You are ready to roll!
What to do if my motorcycle won’t start?
If you have tried all possible methods, including thorough cleaning of the carburetor, but still your bike is not responding to kick start, you may try the push start method. To do this, first you need to find a slope near your vicinity, once you are on a slope, put the bike in second gear and pull the clutch completely. Now sit on your bike and give it a little push towards the slope. Once you gain sufficient speed, release the clutch.
With this method, you will spin the piston manually which in turn will set the engine into action.
If in case the bike is still not responding, you need to troubleshoot the causes. It is not necessary that the engine is at fault, and can be caused due to a faulty spark plug or ignition coil.
You can read more about this issue in our article: Why my motorcycle won’t start?
What happens if the motorcycle is sitting for years?
Motorcycles that are void of any maintenance and are kept parked for a long period of time are subjected to a lot of wear and tear from the inside as well as outside. One should not expect much from them since a lot of metal parts degrade over time if left unattended. And even if you were able to successfully start your motorcycle after cleaning and lubricating its parts, there is no guarantee that the engine would perform the same way as it used to do.
Even if the bike was stored in a closed room with no direct contact with the varying temperature, the long downtime usually leaves its mark on the vehicle. The very first consequence that can be seen just after few months of inactivity include carbon deposits on the piston and vents of the motorcycle engine.
However, these adverse effects do not arise while winterizing your motorcycle, since it only involves inactivity for few months. Besides, we usually take series of steps before and after winters to keep our motorcycle running.
There are several reasons why a rider may leave his beloved motorcycle stranded for years. These may be personal, financial, or accidental. The possibility of restoration totally depends on the number of years of inactivity, the weather, and the storage conditions. Remember to follow our step by step guide before taking your motorcycle out on the road again. Good luck!