Should You Warm Up Your Harley Before Riding it?

It happens all the time – seeing a Harley-Davidson rider starting his bike and letting it idle for 10-15 minutes, infuriating the whole neighborhood with the noise.

But is this really necessary? Motorcyclist Magazine answers a question asked by Steve Dickens / San Ysidro, CA.


My next-door neighbor has a Harley. He also has the annoying habit of starting it in the driveway and letting it idle for 10 to 15 minutes before he takes off. I say annoying because his pipes rattle the windows in my house until he’s gone. I know there isn’t much chance of talking him out of the pipes—we’ve had the “loud pipes save lives” discussion before—but what can I do to convince him not to leave the bike idling for so long? I asked him about it once and all he said was, “It’s good for the bike.” Is it really? – Steve Dickens / San Ysidro, CA


You don’t say whether your neighbor’s bike is carbureted or fuel-injected, but either way it’s hard to make a convincing case for so much idle time before riding. According to Harley-Davidson, carbureted models should be started on the enricher and allowed to idle for maybe 30 seconds; after that you can push the enricher back in as soon as the engine runs smoothly, and, of course, ride away. Fuel-injected Harleys are designed to be started and ridden within 15 to 20 seconds—not minutes—which is long enough for oil to circulate and coat all the critical surfaces inside the engine.

We checked with a Harley factory technical expert on lubrication and were told there is no scientific reason for long idle times before riding. Remember that all the mainline Harleys (not the V-Rod) have roller-element main bearings that are really tolerant at the low loads your neighbor will see getting to the end of the block.

It’s possible your neighbor is an old-school Harley rider who still treats his late-model bike as if it were carbureted. Back in the day, some bikes ran poorly when cold—and even when hot—due to poor carburetion or mismatched engine accessories. But carbs on new Harleys are a thing of the past, and modern FI systems can easily adapt to a variety of engine mods so long idle times are no longer necessary. Next time your neighbor’s idling bike rattles your windows, tell him to hit the road (nicely, of course). It won’t hurt his engine, and it’ll stop annoying his neighbors.

So, do you let your Harley idle for a long time?


9 Comments on Should You Warm Up Your Harley Before Riding it?

  1. Edwin Tutty // January 5, 2017 at 3:12 pm //

    Always!! I let it get to operating temperature..which on my 2014 Fatboy means the revs drop down to normal idle speed before I ride it…I find the bike runs smoother all day!! I’ve always done it on all my vehicles & have got high mileage out of the engines!! If the neighbours don’t like it …it’s their problem…it’s only for a few minutes!!

  2. If it’s really cold outside, the older evo engines need a little more time for the main gasket the swell and be less brittle. My 2002 got a leak between the rear cylinder and the rest of the engine when that gasket broke. I usually idle it for at least two minutes in the winter and don’t ride it hard for a few more miles to prevent that problem.

  3. Papa Jim Everhart // January 5, 2017 at 5:54 pm //

    i warm mine up about 5 minutes – long enough to get my gear on and get the juices flowing……

  4. chris gray // January 5, 2017 at 6:50 pm //

    I have a 2003 standard softail and I pull the choke let it idle high for a few seconds push the choke back in and it’s ready to go.Of course I check the oil before taking a long ride…

  5. It depends on the bike. But if i keep my machine well tuned, which I tend to be pretty anal about, I generally roll my bike out, fire it up and start getting my final gear on. By the time I am ready the bike is ready. Generally 2-3 minutes. Much heat is created in 2-3 minutes, things tend to smooth out, the choke is off and I roll out. I have never owned a fuel injected engine, and carbs if kept in good shape and well adjusted generally are not a problem. Though some carbs are better then others and bikes differ from one to the next. I also do not like or talk to any of my neighbors anyway, and prefer they keep their distance and stay out of my business. The couple who have had the balls to complain were promptly told how I do not like them mowing their lawns at 7 AM in the summer, but they don’t see my beating on their doors bitching about it either.

  6. I ride a V-Rod and I also ride through most of the cold months and at most let mine idle 1 to 2 minutes (on the cold days) usually just long enough to get my helmet and gloves on before hitting the road

  7. I idle mine up, while I’m maneuvering it inside my garage..the auto choke comes on and by the time I’m finished and aiming it towards the road the chokes off and and I’m ready to roll…and shake everyones windows down my street..may as well share the excitement with all not just the bloke next door.

  8. Anonymous // January 5, 2017 at 10:16 pm //

    I have an 04 sportster, if I leave before it is sufficiently warmed up it will spit and sputter and at times down right stall. My bike has a carb.

  9. I have a 2011 Fatbob and i start her up walk to the garage close the door put my gloves and helm on and ride away probaly 60 seconds .

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