Harley Motorcycles and Extreme Cold
The last time it was that cold in our part of Texas was sometime in the 1920's. So if any of us was alive to experience it, we dang sure weren't old enough to be riding a motorcycle. Hopefully that whole below freezing for days thing won't repeat itself anytime soon, but it isn't the last time we'll experience cold and snow. Winter is tough on man and machine. We're going to break this down into two parts: what you need to know to ride in extreme cold and how to keep winter weather from causing mechanical problems for your bike.
How Cold is Too Cold to Ride a Harley?
If you were on a bike last Wednesday and you're here to tell about it, we want to know about it. Because maybe you're absolutely nuts, or maybe you are the toughest person we'll ever meet, either way there's probably a story in it.
For safety reasons, it's best not to ride when temperatures are below freezing. Like we saw last weekend, even when it's not extremely cold, ice quickly starts to form on roadways, bridges and overpasses. It's dangerous for cars, and they have four wheels.
On a bike, you're more likely to hit ice and skid or slide. Whether you slide into another car, a tree, or just dump your bike, you could get hurt.
Plus, even with winter riding gear, below freezing temps can get to you fast. If you're riding, there's always wind chill, whether the weather predicts it or not. So if it's 30 degrees in real life and you have an hour commute averaging 55 mph, that cold could be excruciating by the time you make it home. When you're numb or in pain, you can't concentrate as well. You're much less likely to notice black ice, and you might get frostbite or hypothermia.
The answer to the question, how cold is too cold to ride is answered differently depending on who you ask. We all know someone who says, "I ride my Harley all winter, in all kinds of weather, and I've always been fine." They might, but that doesn't mean it's the right or safest thing for you. Listen to your gut and have a realistic view of your skill and comfort level. If you're going to ride, make sure you have the best winter gear you can afford and take along extra layers just in case.
Getting Ready for Cold Weather Riding
You've been cooped up at home, the roads are clear and the sun is out. It's still chilly but you're ready for some open road therapy. We've mentioned winter gear for you, but your bike needs some prep work too. Check these items:
- Tires - Pressure changes when temperature does. Check your tire pressure and inflate or deflate as necessary so your tires can get a good grip. If you've been meaning to replace your tires but haven't gotten to it yet, wait to ride until you have.
- Lights - Make sure all your lights and signals work. Bad weather obscures visibility, and drivers on slick roads aren't always paying close attention.
- Oil - If you haven't kept up with oil changes, take care of that before you spend a lot of time on the road. Some types of oil aren't suited to low temperatures and can cause engine problems. If you're not sure what you have or need, call our service department, we can help.
- Coolant - if needed, add a brand that's safe to use for motorcycles.
- Moving parts - Salt, mud, ice and all the other cold weather elements cause wear and tear on components. Clean and lubricate regularly, especially when you're about to go riding in the cold.
When you head out, allow extra time for proceeding with caution. Increase your following distance so if you do have a problem, you have time to react.
Why Bikes Struggle to Start
So let's say your Harley sat in the garage this past week. We were all cold, even inside. In your garage it probably doesn't often get below freezing, but unless your garage is insulated, it probably did last week. Cold is hard on batteries.
Most automobile batteries lose up to 35 percent of their strength when temperatures fall below freezing. Reactions happen more slowly inside a cold battery. There's a good possibility if your bike was in Texas last week, the battery could have problems when you first try to start it again. If you hear grinding or clicking, the engine is slow to turn over, there is a rotten egg smell or your headlights dim at idle, our battery is probably the issue.
Also, it's still not exactly balmy. Cold air is is denser than warm air, so carbureted bikes will struggle to get started in the cold because while they're sucking in the same air volume, that air is much denser, so the air to fuel mixture isn't the same. Your engine could be running lean. Also, increased oil viscosity causes increased friction, which makes it harder for your engine to crank.
We're Here to Help
Last week was a challenge, and this week we want to help you get back on the road. Feel free to send us your motorcycle maintenance and repair questions by using the chat feature in the lower right corner or through our contact page. And once you get back on the road, tag us in your photos!