If you’re reading this, then you are probably about to make your first motorcycle purchase, and are curious about a term experienced bikers and motorcycle salesmen alike have mentioned often in passing: idling. Just what exactly is idling, and why does everyone assume you already know what it means?
To put simply, idling is when your motorcycle engine is turned on and running, but the bike itself is not being driven nor are you touching the throttle. The time duration between starting your motorcycle and actually driving it is when your bike is idling. Stopping at a red light with your bike still running but not moving forward is also an example of idling.
Now that you know what idling is, the phenomenon doesn’t look unfamiliar at all, does it? Idling isn’t exclusive to motorcycles only; you have definitely seen many vehicles run at idle speeds before. In fact, we’re pretty sure you have been running your own vehicle (if you have one) at idle speeds as well.
Gear up now, for we’re about to delve deep into all there is to know about idling.
Why Do People Idle Their Motorcycles?
The biggest reason why people idle their bikes is to “warm up” the engine. They believe it helps in keeping the engine properly circulated with fuel, which in turn makes for smoother riding. This is especially common in the winters and in places where it is mostly cold throughout the year.
Another reason why people idle their motorcycles is because they think it’s not worth turning their engine on and off when they are stuck in traffic, or have to get off their bike to run a quick errand.
The idle time depends on how old the motorcycle is; old bikes idle for minutes while the newer ones idle only for a few seconds.
What Speed or RPM Should a Motorcycle Idle at?
Most motorcycles idle between 1000 and 1500 RPM; this speed might be a little bit higher during engine warm up. The correct idle speed is mentioned in the User Manual of your bike.
How to Tell if the Idle Speed is Fluctuating
A motorcycle engine in working condition at the correct temperature should not fluctuate from the standard idle speed. Fluctuations point towards some serious problems with your bike engine, but before we diagnose the problems and their causes, let’s see how you can identify fluctuations in the RPM speed:
- If your motorcycle has an RPM meter, then the easiest way to check is to match the RPM speed displayed on the meter with the standard idle speed specified by the User’s Manual
- If you don’t have an RPM meter, fret not. You can still tell if something’s wrong with the idle speed by your motorcycle’s performance:
- Your bike jumps forward when you start driving it after idling
- You need to apply excessive force in braking
Normally fluctuations can be slightly high or low, or significantly too high or low. The former isn’t much of an issue and does not cause major stress. Too high or low idle speeds, however, are a cause of worry.
Problems Caused by Too High or Too Low Idle Speeds
If the idle speed is too high, then the problems are as follows:
- High fuel consumption
- Lots of noise pollution
- Drop in mileage
Too low idle speed results in:
- Lots of stalling, especially in take-off
- Less oil pressure in the engine
- Dull acceleration, so it takes longer to reach high speeds when driving
Causes of Too High or Too Low Idle Speeds
Often the same issues are responsible for too high or too low idle speeds:
- The idle screw, which controls the fuel-air speed at idle speed, isn’t set up correctly
- The throttle valves, responsible for regulating the air supply, are not synced
- Throttle Position Sensors (TPS) used for monitoring the air intake of the engine aren’t adjusted
How to Adjust the Idle Speed on a Motorcycle
It’s quite simple, really: just use the idle speed adjusting screw if you have an older carbureted motorcycle or an early version of a fuel injected motorcycle (modern bikes’ idle speed is computer controlled and can’t be adjusted by the rider).
Slowly rotate the screw clockwise to increase RPM, and anti-clockwise to decrease RPM. This should be done once the engine is at its normal working temperature.
Is It Bad to Let a Motorcycle Idle?
While there definitely are situations where idling is unavoidable — being stuck in traffic, waiting at a railroad crossing or for pedestrians to cross the road — most experts agree that too much idling can be bad.
The biggest problem with idling is the release of harmful, toxic exhaust fumes. For every ten minutes of idling, one pound of carbon dioxide is released to the environment.
Carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and other toxic gases contribute to climate change, as well as lead to a plethora of lung and respiratory diseases.
Idling is synonymous with wasting fuel. Considering how fuel prices have been skyrocketing lately, the last thing you need is fuel wastage because of something which can be avoided.
Furthermore, most motorcycles run on fossil fuels, a non-renewable source of energy, which are already being used up at a rapid pace.
Excessive idling causes some major damage to your engine components. Since idling doesn’t occur at the maximum working temperature, a lot of fuel is partially combusted, which leads to fuel residue build-up on the cylinder walls, spark plugs, and exhaust valves. This fuel residue deposition is responsible for at least 4-5% more fuel being used.
How to Reduce Idling On Your Motorcycle
To start off, let’s debunk the most common idling myth: idling is necessary to “warm up” your engine.
The most efficient way to warm up your engine is to simply drive your vehicle, which reduces the warm up time by half, and is more eco-friendly and fuel-economical than idling. If you must idle, then 30 seconds are enough.
Most people say how idling is better than turning off the engine in situations such as waiting at a restaurant drive-thru, or when you stop to chat briefly with a friend passing by.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re going to be stationary for more than 10 seconds, then it’s best to switch off your engine instead of idling.
Another common myth is that idling does less damage than turning the engine on and off. On the contrary, the wear and tear on your engine by re-starting is less than the damage from excessive idling. Not only that, but merely idling for 10 seconds uses more fuel than re-starting your engine, so you’ll be saving some big bucks by switching your bike engine off instead.
And that’s all there is to know about idling on a motorcycle. To reiterate: idling on a motorcycle is when your bike engine is left running but the bike isn’t in motion.
Considering how combating climate change is the need of the hour, we would advise you to focus specially on trying to idle your motorcycle as little as possible. Try and spread awareness amongst your family and friends as well.
Research on anti-idling laws in your state. See what you can do to popularize them.
Last, but not least, be on the lookout for signs that indicate damage from excessive idling. A loss of power, reduced fuel economy, and rough, jerky performance are some signs that tell that your motorcycle needs to have a thorough clean.