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Mailbag: Riding Cross Country in the Cold on a Motorcycle | WhyBike? Motorcycle Blog

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Mailbag: Motorcycle takes a Long Time to Warm Up

By James - 7/23/2005

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I’m writing to see if you can answer a beginner riding question or point me in the right direction. I Have a 2001 Kawasaki 125cc bike with less than 200 miles on it (bought new). I’m finding a couple of problems. It takes a long time to “warm up.” Meaning, even with the choke on for a few minutes sometimes it will shut off until after riding for awhile, or I’ll have to rev the throttle at stops to keep it going until its warm. I don’t always ride every day, so sometimes there is a few days in between use. Can this be the problem? Also, I was riding on a parkway the other day at around 50mph and the bike died on me. I was able to pull over start it up again and ride off, but I was surprised and a bit spooked. Is this normal if the bike doesn’t have enough warm up? Is it because the bike is new or the engine is too small? I appreciate at help. Thanks!

- Emmanuel P.

Smaller displacement bikes often take a long time to warm up. My wife’s Honda Rebel is a cold-blooded motorcycle but big bikes suffer from this as well. It usually has to do more with the idle setting and fuel/air mixture than displacement. You can figure out whether you are running lean or rich with a simple test. Start your bike up and ride it down the road. Don’t let it warm up and don’t give it full throttle. Ease up to 55mph and then pull in the clutch and kill the engine. Pull over and pull the spark plug out. You will need a wrench, practice before you leave if you haven’t done it before. If the ceramic element is white then you are running too lean, a black element means you are running rich. You are hoping for a tan spark plug. That is perfect. Usually new motorcycles come from the factory lean, for pollution reasons so my bet is that it is too lean.

The other reason your bike may be cutting out is electrical. Either the battery is weak (especially after sitting for a while), there is a short somewhere (does it happen when you go over a bump?), or there is condensation in the wires (rainy days or cold mornings) giving you a weak spark. It is hard to diagnose over the internet so if you don’t feel comfortable monkeying with the motorcycle talk to a mechanic and they should be able to narrow the focus.

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Mailbag: Riding Cross Country in the Cold on a Motorcycle

By James -

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My 17-year old son wants to take his 20 year old 550cc Kawasaki from Chicago to San Francisco in February. Is this something that can be done? Should I panic now? Any help you can give me would be very much appreciated.

- Kit S.

There are a lot of situations that could determine whether you should panic now. Rapture, being chased by lions, a comet on a collision course with Earth; but your son riding across America on a motorcycle is probably not one of them. Your description of his trip causes me some concern especially with someone so young, but is definitely not panic worthy. Instead help him have as safe of a trip as he can. Here are some tips to get him and his motorcycle to the Golden State.

I have never been to Chicago in February and I think I know the reason, it is really cold! Ice is really dangerous for motorcycles and it is one of the reasons people don’t ride during the winter in the Mid-West. As bad as that can be eventually he will have to go over the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges where it will be even colder and icy-er. The Donner party tried to cross the Sierras in open vehicles in the winter and we know how that turned out! I have ridden around Lake Tahoe in March and started shivering and I didn’t have that far to go. He will need really warm motorcycling gear. He will probably need an electric vest and maybe some electric gloves. Forget about it if he doesn’t have a full face helmet with a balaclava to go under it.

He might be able to avoid most of the really cold weather and mountains by heading south but it will add significant mileage to the trip.

A 20 year old motorcycle may or may not be a concern depending on the condition of the motorcycle. Make sure the tires have plenty of tread, the battery is strong and the oil is clean. I have heard of chains freezing so make sure it is properly adjusted and lubed. 550ccs is also not much of a concern. I rode to Cabo San Lucas and back to San Francisco on a Vulcan 500 motorcycle with no problems even though bigger bikes are the rage these days.

There is plenty of time to take the Advanced Motorcycle Safety Course so sign him up.

Is this something that can be done? Yes. Will it be an uncomfortable trip? Yes. Make sure he is prepared.

Here are a couple articles he might find helpful:
How to Stay Warm in the Cold
Cross Country Motorcycle Riding

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