If you’ve lived next to anyone who owned an old Harley motorcycle, you must have noticed the person idling the bike every morning before zooming off.
What your Harley-owning neighbor was doing each morning is a warm-up, a regular practice among Harley riders.
However, is it necessary? Let us find out in this article.
Table of Contents
Do Harleys need to warm up?
Yes, Harley owners are advised to warm up their bikes before riding. The metal parts in Harley motorcycles’ engines are usually cold on startup and expand as temperatures rise.
After starting the bike, pulling the throttle will expose the parts (which haven’t heated properly) to pressure and cause them to crack and leak.
Besides, engine oil typically takes time to circulate properly to all parts of the engine.
The implication of riding your motorcycle immediately after startup is that some engine parts may run without oil, increasing wear’s chances.
Should You Let A Harley Warm Up Before You Ride?
If you are a fitness enthusiast, you know the importance of warming up.
Pre-exercise warm-up, which often takes stretching, helps loosen the joints and flex the muscles. This prepares the muscles and joints for physical activity and prevents injuries.
As your body requires warming up before exercising, your Harley needs to be warmed properly before driving. Revving your Harley past redline and zooming off immediately after startup will not only affect performance but may also damage your engine. How? Let’s explain.
The engine in your Harley motorcycle contains different components that contract and expand according to the engine temperature.
For the engine components to work properly, they need to become warm and expand. Idling the motorcycle before riding gives the components the chance to warm up and expand.
The implication of using your motorcycle without a warm-up is that the engine components’ temperature will not rise and expand as they should. As a result, these parts will likely be unable to handle exposure to force and pressure created in the engine when you pull the throttle.
This will cause problems for the engine as parts may crack under pressure and leak.
More Reasons to Warm Up Your Harley:
A good case of this is the recall that affected the early Evo-engine Harleys.
The base gaskets on these models used to leak oil profusely, and no one seemed to know why. Forced to recall these motorcycles, Harley-Davidson tasked its mechanics to find a cause for the leaking oil problem.
Soon enough, the techs traced the problem to one cause.
The owners of the recalled Harleys never warmed up their bikes before riding. They would fire up their motorcycles and blast off. With time, the engine parts would wear and start leaking.
Warming up is not restricted to the older carburetted models (although these need it more). It is advisable for newer FI models, too.
Yes, fuel-injection systems typically circulate oil and fuel faster and are designed to be ridden within seconds. However, this does not mean that they do not need a proper warm-up.
The only difference is that the warm-up time on the FI models is significantly lower than the carburetted models of the past.
Moreover, all engines are prone to wear, including your fuel-injected engine. So it would help if you warmed up your bike properly to avoid engine damage.
Here are some other reasons to warm up your Harley before you ride:
1. It Prevents Piston Scuffing
As we said earlier, your engine’s metal parts are often cold on startup and expand when heated.
However, these parts need to become warm and expand gradually before exposing them to extreme heat, friction, and pressure in the engine. Failing to allow these components to warm up will probably cause significant damage.
Take, for example, the pistons in your engine. These pistons are usually cold on startup, and exposing them to heat, pressure, or friction without prior warm-up will cause abnormal expansion and scuffing.
You will only achieve optimal clearances inside the engine when internal temperatures reach operating levels. Therefore, low temperatures will most likely lead to low parts clearances. Giving your Harley full throttle with low clearances in the engine will cause a rapid rise in internal temperatures.
The effect of this is that the engine pistons’ temperature will rise and expand ahead of the cylinder bores.
As a result, the chances of clearance-related piston seizure and scuffing increase significantly.
2. It Allows Oil To Circulate Properly
Because oil is thicker when cold, it takes time to flow to all parts of the engine.
In extreme cases, particularly in cold weather, the oil may be so thick that it cannot flow into the oil pump, meaning many parts will be without lubrication.
With the enormous friction that these parts are exposed to, inadequate lubrication will likely lead to faster-than-normal wear.
How Long Should You Let A Harley Warm Up?
Now that you know the importance of warming up your Harley, you may want to know how long you should warm it.
Well, it depends on the age and model of your motorcycle.
Older, carburetted models have a poor cold start, so you may need to idle your motorcycle for a few minutes. On models like this, three to six minutes is a good duration for pre-ride warming up.
We say three to six minutes because that is the average time most riders spend on pre-ride activities – putting on bike wear, checking indicators, etc. Therefore, by the time you are done putting on your gloves, helmet, jacket, your bike is ready to ride.
This idling time allows oil to circulate properly and ensures all parts are well lubricated. Moreover, this will eliminate undue expansion in the engine and prevent cracking and leaking.
Newer Harley models use fuel-injection systems. FI systems are better because they can circulate oil faster and do not need extensive warming up.
Still, we’d recommend that you warm up your motorcycle for at least one to three minutes to allow the oil to run through the system and coat all engine surfaces well.
What Is A Normal Operating Temperature For A Harley?
It’s no secret that the engines on Harley can run hot, especially in hot weather.
This is because of the air-cooled nature of the motors. If you know your locomotive systems well, you’ll know that air-cooled engines are more prone to overheating than their liquid-cooled counterparts.
How hot is too hot for your engine to run at?
Per numbers given by mechanics and technicians, the normal operating temperature for your Harley is between 180F to 200F. However, for hot weather, the operating temperature of your Harley should be between 200F and 220F.
Anything we’ve mentioned above means your bike is overheating, and you’d better switch it off to prevent engine seizure and other expensive faults.
What About In The Winter?
We do not recommend riding motorcycles during winter for many reasons.
One is that these bikes are made for smooth roads, not snow-covered surfaces. Bikes have two wheels and provide less traction on such surfaces, increasing your chances of slipping and crashing.
However, if you must ride your motorcycle during the winter, make sure you are putting on the proper gear – to protect you from hypothermia. You also need to know the normal engine temperatures for riding in the winter.
For winter riding, the minimum engine temperature should be around 50F-60F. This will ensure adequate oil circulation and proper engine performance.
Don’t forget that getting your bike’s temperature up to operating levels can be hard in chilly conditions.
How Do I Know When The Engine Has The Right Temperature?
Determining the “right” temperature for Harley motorcycles is often difficult because of the cooling system.
Harleys are “air-cooled,” meaning they use atmospheric air to cool the engine. The engine temperature depends on the weather.
The normal operating temperature for hot weather will differ significantly from that of cold weather.
For winter – and other low-temperature conditions, the right temperature should be anything between 50F-100F. Ideal temperatures for summer – and other hot weather situations – are between 200F and 220F.
For normal weather, engine temperatures should not be higher than 180F-200F.
So, to know if your engine has the right temperature, know the current weather condition. Then use the numbers above to see if your engine is running below or above the right temperatures.
How Long Should You Warm Up Fuel Injected Motorcycles?
Air-fuel mixtures in carburetted engines were usually poor on startup and had to be enriched before riding.
Riders had to idle their engines with the choke out to ensure the air-fuel mixture was rich enough for proper engine performance.
Another reason warm-ups were necessary for older Harleys was that they used normal oil, which was usually thick on startup. As a result, it took a long time to lubricate all parts of the engine.
So if you rode your bike immediately after starting it, you’d be leaving many engine parts without lubrication, making them suspect to wear and tear.
Harley Fuel Systems & Oil
However, newer Harleys use fuel-injection systems that ensure the air-fuel mixture is right, even on startup.
Also, newer synthetic oils typically flow faster than traditional oils, even when cold. So do these mean you need not warm up your FI-powered Harley motorcycle? No, it does not.
For fuel injection engines, you don’t have to warm up your motorcycle for long – it could even damage your bike if you did. But that does not remove the need for a proper pre-ride warm-up.
As explained earlier, warming up allows your engine to reach operating temperatures, improves lubrication, and prevents engine component damage.
Experts and online forum members suggest you idle your bike for one to three minutes to allow it to warm up. However, it would help if you exercise caution when warming up your fuel-injected motorcycle.
Exceeding the prescribed warm-up time can lead to problems for your engine. Therefore, follow the prescribed warm-up time.
Should I Go Easy On A Harley When Starting To Ride?
We’ll admit that the prospect of firing up a Harley and blasting off immediately is almost impossible to resist.
However, not all the things we wish for are good for us, and the same goes for redlining motorcycles on startup.
It may be fun – no one enjoys having to wait for a bike to warm up after all – but it will cost you in the future. The reason being that the metals in your engine expand at different temperatures.
So even after spending one to three minutes warming up, some parts may not have expanded properly. And as explained earlier, subjecting such parts to friction and pressure can lead to wear and damage.
Moreover, all oils – even synthetic oils – take some time to circulate. If you redline your motorcycle in that state, you’d be subjecting engine parts to extreme friction without proper lubrication.
Therefore, avoid revving your motorcycle past the redline after starting it. Rather, go easy on the engine for the first couple of miles.
Keeping the RPMs low when starting to ride will give time for the oil to flow and parts to warm up and expand, preventing the engine from suffering costly damage.
What RPM Should I Ride My Harley?
RPM or “Rotations per Minute” is the speed at which the engine crankshaft – responsible for powering the gearbox – rotates.
The faster the crankshaft moves, the higher the RPM – and the faster the bike.
Your engine’s RPM is important as it affects ride quality and comfort. High RPM may mean more speed for your motorcycle, but it will also increase the bike’s vibration.
This will eventually cause discomfort as parts of your body, such as the feet, hands, back, and hands, may become numb. Hence, it is advisable to keep your bike’s RPM in the medium range for a smoother ride – and greater fuel economy.
What is the ideal RPM for riding your Harley? According to reports from Harley riders, the optimal RPM for riding your bike is between 2000-2500 RPM – within city limits. When cruising on the highway, 2500-3000 RPM is okay for riding your motorcycle.
It is important to keep your engine’s RPM down to respectable levels at all times. Constantly high-revving your motorcycle may provide short-term satisfaction but will cost you more in higher maintenance costs. And high RPM can increase fuel consumption.
It is advisable to avoid revving your motorcycle to warm it up to prevent engine problems.
Instead of revving it, go easy for the first miles to allow all parts to warm up.
Warm-ups are essential for your Harley to perform optimally.
However, ensure you know the Harley you have before warming up. Carburetted models often require longer warm-ups, while fuel-injected Harleys need less time to warm up.
If your Harley is an FI model, then there’s no need to disturb your neighbors with the noise your idling engine makes. Also, make sure you perform warm-ups the right way. Doing it wrongly may lead to problems with your engine in the future.
You can check online forums, online DIY tutorials, and other resources for tips on how to warm up your motorcycle properly.