Imagine yourself gearing up for a long-awaited motorcycle ride.
Helmet, check. Jacket check. Gloves check. Backpack with snacks and emergency supplies, check.
You throw a leg over your bike, push your thumb against your starter switch…and nothing happens!
This has happened to me (and many other riders) a handful of times and it’s never any less disappointing.
In this article, we’ll dive into the common reasons you may experience cold start problems and some helpful tips for how to prevent them.
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Is it Common that Motorcycles Won’t Cold Start?
This can be a common problem for new riders who may not be familiar with how to maintain their bike when they’re not riding it.
Cold start problems occur more on carbureted motorcycles than modern fuel-injected models. However, cold start problems can still occur in EFI models, especially if they are not well kept.
The most common reasons for cold start problems are battery failure, bad fuel, or fouled-out spark plugs.
Is it Bad to Start a Motorcycle in the Cold?
It is not bad to start your motorcycle in the cold as long as you take the appropriate measures before doing so.
Some cold region riders prepare their bike for winter riding by switching to a low viscosity oil that warms up more easily in low temperatures.
The most important thing you should do when starting your bike cold is to allow the machine to warm up to temperature before operating it.
A common mistake many novice riders do is rev up the engine quickly after starting their bike. Doing this too often can actually damage your engine.
Why Do I See White Smoke Upon Cold Starts?
The white smoke you see coming out of your exhaust is nothing to worry about. It is not smoke but actually condensation of hot gas being exposed to cold air.
It is similar to the way you will see your own breath on a crisp, wintry day outside. The “white smoke” is your bike’s breath!
However, if you see white smoke coming out of your bike after the bike is warmed up, and it’s not a 2-stroke engine, call your local dealership as this could be a sign of a mechanical problem.
Please also read our article about how to fix sticky handlebar grips on motorcycles.
4 Things to Check for If Your Bike Won’t Start
Here are things to look out for if you can’t get your bike to start:
This is usually the culprit for bikes not starting. Batteries can be finicky and go bad if not properly cared for.
Your battery is likely to go out if it is low on electrolyte or has been unused for a long time. Cold weather will also discharge a battery faster than hot weather.
If your bike makes the dooming sound of a double click when you hit the start switch, head to your local motorcycle parts shop to pick up a new battery.
Fuel has a finite lifespan, especially today when more ethanol is being used to produce gasoline.
If your bike sits for long periods with fuel, you can expect that fuel to break down in the tank and cause damage.
As ethanol breaks down, it attracts moisture. The moisture can cause rust to build up in your tank and cause corrosion in gaskets and fuel lines.
It also loses its combustion properties, thus making it near impossible to start if its been sitting for a while.
3. Spark Plugs
Spark plugs ignite a spark in your engine that fires it up. If they are fouled out, you may experience difficulties starting the bike during a cold start.
Refer to your owner’s manual for instructions on how to pull your spark plugs.
There are a few things that can cause a spark plug to foul out. One of these is if your bike is running rich. This means that the bike is getting too much fuel.
On carbureted bikes, you could correct the problem with a simple adjustment of the fuel mix screw. On fuel injected bikes, you may have an injector that is not shutting all the way, thus causing more fuel to enter.
If the bike is running rich, not all the carbon in the fuel can burn and the deposits stick to hot spots like the tip of a spark plug. When this happens, you’ll find your spark plugs tips to be blackened or gray.
Carbureted models are more susceptible to having cold start problems. This is because carburetors have a hard time enriching fuel during start up. Since EFI systems are computerized, the computer can adjust the air-fuel mixture.
If you have a carbureted bike that you find hard to start in the morning, be sure you are using the choke.
The choke valve cuts the airflow to the carb(s) and allows for a higher fuel air mixture that helps the bike to start easier.
Stale gas in the float bowl of a carburetor can also make it harder for your bike to start.
Make sure to also read our article about how to fix a faulty motorcycle clutch.
How Do You Avoid Cold Start Problems?
Cold start problems are inevitable. You’re bound to walk out to your bike and find a dead battery or bad fuel at some point.
Here are a few measures you can take to prevent it from happening:
1. Use a Battery Tender
The absolute best way to prolong the life of your battery is to purchase a battery tender. These sub-$50 devices hook up to your battery and keep it charged.
For those with a hard-to-reach battery, look for a tender that comes with a handy quick connection adapter.
Quick connection adapters are long wires. One end connects to the battery terminals and the other end hangs outside of the bike and plugs into the tender. It will save you from having to remove body panels or a seat every time you park the bike.
Leaving your bike’s battery connected to the tender will keep your battery charged but never over charged. It may also give you a little peace of mind as well.
2. Use Fuel Stabilizer
Stale fuel can cause a few problems in your bike, including making it harder to start. Adding fuel stabilizer to your tank can slow down the breakdown of gas.
You can pick up a bottle of fuel stabilizer from any automotive or motorcycle shop and add the amount instructed into your gas tank.
The additive doesn’t prevent fuel from breaking down but it helps slow down the process. Doing this can prolong the life of your gasoline and give you an easier start in the mornings.
3. Keep Up with Maintenance
Maybe I sound like a broken record, but it would amaze you to know how much damage you can prevent by maintaining your bike.
Keeping up with the maintenance of your motorcycle does more than just keep your bike in peak condition. It gives you the opportunity to inspect parts that could be breaking down and cause problems down the road (literally).
It’s best to perform basic maintenance like changing your oil and oil filter, cleaning (or replacing) your air filter and inspecting your spark plugs periodically.
Also read our article about why motorcycles die when put in gear.
How Often Should You Start Your Motorcycle?
It is recommended to start your motorcycle once a week, long enough for the bike to warm up and circulate oil throughout the engine components.
Doing this during the off season will help keep vital components lubricated and prevent substantial damage when you resume ride.
ⓘ The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.