These actions beg the question, “Why is it important to warm up an engine”?
The answer lies in a simple explanation of science and mathematics. Before you quit reading because you may not have been an ace at math and science in high school, just give me a minute to break it down. It is actually really simple...
Now that we understand that engine components change dimensionally from when the motor is cold to when the motor is warm we can start to see the importance of warming up the engine. When a cold engine is first started the piston heats up and expands first. Heat is transferred from the piston to the rings and then to the cylinder wall. If we rev the engine and generate lots of combustion cycles and increase the frequency of friction too early the piston will grow much faster than the cylinder. If there is not adequate space between piston and cylinder to account for this growth the engine could suffer what is known as a cold seizure and you will have yourself a bad day.
By allowing your engine to warm up before you start riding you allow all the components in the engine to slowly expand and stabilize. Once the engine is warm, changes in the engine part dimensions are less drastic and there is much less risk of damaging the engine.
The picture below shows an engine which was limped home after the coolant started leaking out. As the engine lost its ability to cool down, things began to tighten up. You can see how the piston contacted the cylinder evenly around the bore and created the vertical scuff marks.
So you are probably wondering, “how do I know when my engine has properly warmed up then?” and, “what exactly do I do to properly warm it up?”
The procedural advice below is aimed at folks just getting started and is very basic. For warming up the engine I recommend the following.
1. Start the engine using the choke if necessary
2. Once the idle comes up due to the choke turn the choke off
3. Allow the engine to idle with the choke off until the cooling system warms up and the engine comes up to temperature.
Knowing when the engine is ready to ride is a bit subjective. As you begin to pay closer attention to your engine, you will begin to detect when it is ready to ride.
Personally for water cooled engines I like to feel the radiator and use that as an indicator. I place my fingers on the side of the radiator where the coolant is returning from the cylinder head and lightly touch to get an idea of how warm the coolant is. I do this until the radiator is just getting uncomfortable to touch. This typically only takes a few minutes and after that I’m ready to start riding the bike.
For air cooled engines my approach is much the same except I feel the cylinder and head to determine when I think the motor is warm enough to ride without causing any unnecessary wear or damage.