Winter is coming.
And for most of the country it's already here with an estimated 90 percent of the United States at or below freezing temperatures to start 2018. But who says you can't ride in the cold? The cold does, actually, if you don't take some precautions before heading out for the day.
Most people, ok probably all people don't leave their dirt bikes in the house where it's warm. Even the garage cat comes in on cold nights, at least he should, but the dirt bike? Machines stay outside. But that doesn't mean your riding buddy gets cold. Garage or shed temperatures easily drop below freezing especially when the thermometer shows 10 or even 0 degrees outside.
Cold doesn't always equal snow therefore riding a dirt bikes isn't out of the question if trails remain clear. However, don't think you can fire up the engine like an 80 degree summer day and rip through the backcountry. Dirt bikes don't like cold weather and enjoy a proper warm-up before you open the throttle. Therefore, if cabin fever starts settling in and the cure sits on a stand in the garage check out these potential problems and the remedies before heading off into the great cold outdoors.
Hard to Start
Like a car, dirt bikes also have a hard time starting when it's cold. Fluids thicken, the spark plug hibernates and manufacturers don't make -5w-30 engine oil. An electric start might produce a "hard start" meaning the engine starts but not posthaste. As for a kick start, try pumping it a few times to get the oil moving first. If at first you don't succeed try, try again but not too many times. If after four or five kicks the engine still refuses, give it a 10 minute rest then have at it.
Anti-freeze and dirt bikes generally don't go hand-in-hand since the bigger concern when riding is an overheated engine. Once started, you won't have an issue with a frozen engine but poor quality coolant, too much water mixed in, or a coolant not certified for sub-zero temperatures can freeze if the storage facility for your bike gets cold enough. Even worse, frozen liquid expands and this can cause serious damage to certain engine components made of less flexible cast aluminum and steel, like the cylinder walls and water jackets that contain the coolant for engine cooling.
Check the coolant before starting the bike if you suspect it's frozen. Don't start the engine if it's frozen, either. Thaw it and replace. Frozen coolant is ruined so if you ride on previously frozen coolant expect an overheated engine before long. The best way to prevent frozen coolant is to replace it after summer riding with an anti-freeze that protects from freezing and overheating. Note: Most reputable coolants protect at least to sub-freezing temperatures but more drastic weather extremes require an anti-freeze type of coolant.
By the way, for those who winterize their dirt bikes for the long nap before riding season begins, anti-freeze should replace the summer blend to prevent any freezing during winter.
Once you get riding don't be surprised if the suspension feels off. This is normal so don't go messing with the clickers. Keep riding. The suspension won't work properly until the fork fluid gets warm. You should feel the normal suspension return after about 10 minutes of riding.
It's rare, yet possible, but you could seize the engine if you roll the throttle too soon after starting the engine. This is called a cold-seized engine. Ice cold oil doesn't properly lubricate right-away so even though the engine is running keep the RPMs low and wait for the oil to heat before giving the engine some revs. It's very similar to starting an engine with no oil, all the unlubricated engine parts quickly seize without adequate protection.
Rock Hard Tires
Don't expect the tires to perform normally especially at the start. Like the suspension, the tires eventually warm up and function appropriately but it takes some time. Tire pressure changes about 1 psi for every 10 degrees in temperature change so keep an eye on the tire pressure and add air as needed. You might see a 3 psi gain so recheck the tire pressure between Motos or after some time riding the trails to ensure you're not over-pressured.
Or really pamper your dirt bike and slip on some tire warmers before heading out.
If the gas in your dirt bike freezes, that's the least of your problems. You won't be riding or going outside. Bundle up, stay warm and pray for better weather. Or move.
Don't forget to wear winter riding gear and if it snows you can still ride! Check out Get Prepared For Winter Dirt Bike Riding which also covers what to wear. Need help on long-term storage or riding in the rain? Read on: