Should I Tune Up My Motorcycle in the Winter?

One of the biggest challenges we all have when the snow starts to fly or the mercury drops is free time.

We get on Google, we start thinking about projects we can do in the garage for the scoot and then, we start making assumptions about what we think we know. Spark plugs, simple as they are, can be a real problem.


Well, too many folks don’t understand them. Take the “heat range” idea, for example. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had self-proclaimed “experts” tell me that running a “cooler” plug will make your engine run cooler. These are the same guys that think that high octane fuel is somehow magically “better” but can never seem to prove it on paper or via extended dyno runs or long-term economy data.

So is there any merit in running a hotter or cooler plug? As a matter of fact, there might be.

First of all, let’s address that heat range thing. The heat range of a plug only has to do with the temperature range that the plug is most efficient. NOT the temperature range in which it ignites or sparks.

So, where bikers get in trouble with plugs in the winter is when they can’t make ONE change and then get data on it to determine whether that change was for better or worse. Here’s an example: Charlie decides to buy all new ignition components after he’s winterized his bike. He changes out the breaker, band, bushings, springs, and then, pops in new plugs and wires. He fires it up in his cold garage in January, runs it for a few minutes with no load on it, revs the motor a time or two, then shuts it down.

Charlie is happy as a clam since he got some time in wrenching on the bike and then, when March comes, he rolls out into the early Spring and the bike runs like crap.


Too many variables! Now, it could simply be that he’s getting a little pinging from bad gas or his timing is off a bit due to his rebuild. Easily fixed if you have the time, but, that first ride of the year, you’d rather be riding than tweaking.

Charlie could have used those cold winter days more effectively if he would have taken the time to put the bike under load and see if he had the timing correct, no ping, and operating temperature was able to be tested with more accurate data – tough to do on an air-cooled engine when it is freezing cold outside.

On the other hand, by the time January comes around, most of us have been off the bike for at least a month and the urge to at least do something is a strong pull to the garage. Here’s a hint – buy the stuff you need, but don’t necessarily bolt it on. (An even smarter idea is to buy all the riding gear you need now and then buy the go-fast stuff early in the Spring to be able to tweak as it warms up)

If you absolutely have to tweak and tune in the middle of the winter, take the time to thoroughly research what those changes can and should do to your bike. Everyone is in love with Iridium plugs – me too, for awhile – but after comparing my actual mileage over 3,000 miles a few years ago, I switched back to standard Champions – a little cooler than normal, but still in spec for my motor. The result was slightly better economy but I could validate that because it was the only change I had made in that time.

Too many variables means that you are shooting in the dark and that means that you can lose time on the bike because you wasted time in the garage.

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