Harley Maintenance For Inactive Riders

This is for people who own Harleys and don’t ride them regularly

Reading this entire document will save you lots of money if you fall in this category.

Its sad but its true, there are many people out there that own a Harley and for some reason or another end up doing little to no riding for long periods of time.  We have had customers who don’t ride at all “zero” kilometres for a full year and then there are some who do less than two hundred kilometres in two years and then a few of them don’t ride their bikes at all for anything between one and five years.  If you are someone who rides little and sits somewhere in the categories mentioned above you need to have a clear understanding of the words that follow.


We are going to cover a few different deteriorating factors which are in no particular order, they all need to be kept in mind if you are not riding your bike regularly.  Before we carry on you need to remember that starting the bike every now and then does not solve the problem, it sometimes makes it worse.  We also need to keep in mind that some of these Harleys that stand have old school carburettors on them and some are modern fuel injected models.  We will talk about both of these models here.


Firstly the fuel, it deteriorates fast.  The octane rating gets less and less, the longer it stands the worse it gets.  After a few months the bike, if it can start can hardly run because the octane is insufficient (the octane is what causes combustion in the engine).  There will be flat spots, misfiring and no power at all. The fuel smells horrific and sometimes changes colour, it goes brown and dark brown depending on how long it stood.  Depending on the storage conditions the fuel as well as the tank inside and all the fuel components get contaminated with moisture which eventually turns into rust and or white dust. This substance ends up doing further damage all along, its much like cancer which spreads.  The filters in the tank and fuel lines self-destruct and if left in the fuel long enough turn into powder.  Many of the rubber components also eventually self-destruct i.e. fuel taps, seals, “diaphrames”, fuel lines, o-rings etc.  Starting a bike every now and then whether it has a carburettor or is fuel injection requires that the choke is engaged manually or automatically so it will end up carboning up and or contaminating the spark plugs.  This results in misfiring and backfiring and in most cases when the fuel is very old the bike will not even run after a while.


Harley Davidson battery

Now let’s talk about the battery.  This is a component that needs to work regularly.  It needs to have enough power “voltage and amps” to run the bike.  The bike should not run on a flat battery because then it relies on the alternator to create the power needed to run the bike and fix the battery.  This often destructs and burns out the alternator coils because they overwork and as a result overheat.  The batteries cannot be kept in a good condition with a trickle charger alone for long periods of time.  They need to be re-habilitated  and charged properly in a workshop, at least every three months or so.  If a bike stands without a trickle charger and or battery maintenance has not been done, the battery will fail within eight months if it is a good quality gel battery or less if the battery has liquid and acid inside.  These batteries are very expensive.  If your bike is used regularly and the battery is well maintained the battery can last up to five years.


Engine oil – This applies mostly to the older bikes, but the new ones can have the same problem if left to stand long enough.  All Harleys run with a dry sump arrangement, so they have an oil tank that keeps all the oil.  Although there are various types of valves and seals to stop this oil from syphoning “with gravity” into the engine the oil eventually gets past these seals and fills the engine.  If one was to check the oil level now you would find that there would be too little or no oil inside the tank.  Most people would then go out and get some oil and top it up.  On the older bikes, on start-up this oil would then come out at the breathers and end up all over the floor (if the bike starts).  The newer bikes do more damage because the oil tank becomes overfilled and ends up blowing seals or popping oil caps off, sometimes even worse things happen.

Brake and Clutch fluids

Harley essential brake maintenance

These also get contaminated with moisture which ends up thickening and deteriorating the fluids.  This is also very dangerous (brake failure) and becomes costly if this moisture and bad fluid goes throughout the whole clutch or brake system.  Brake fluids need to be flushed, replaced and bled annually to maintain the systems and keep them in a good condition.


This starts getting dangerous, the tyres have a shelf life and deteriorate (compound changes) the rubber gets hard and no longer has the grip that it needs.  This doesn’t mention that the tyre pressures need to be checked before riding.  Just looking at the tyres often confuses people – they look inflated because they have hard sidewall construction, but the air inside will be far too little.  A bike that stands in one place on its wheels for more than three or four months will have a bad vibrations and sometimes this does not go away. The tyres get badly flat spotted and the sidewall gets damaged and mis-formed. We’ve had bikes that come in here (and they were ridden to our shop) with less than one bar pressure.    This is extremely dangerous and can end up very bad to say the least.


While most people don’t want to believe that their houses and garages can be invaded by rodents, this happens regularly.  We very often get bikes in our workshop especially those that stand in one place for long periods of time that have been feasted on by mice – rats.  They like wiring, certain insulation tapes, certain rubber tubes etc.  The worst part is, they normally thrive in areas on top of the engine, underneath seats and on the touring bikes inside the screens.  They do a tremendous amount of damage which is very costly to diagnose and repair.


In summary – All the topics above have not been covered comprehensively, this is just a little overview of what happens when a Harley stands for long periods of time.  The cost implications are huge, most times a client can get a bill for a new battery, fuel pump, carburettor clean up, fuel tank clean etc. that exceeds R10 000 just to get the bike running.  Some of our customers who have between five and ten bikes which stand can spend much more every year on just keeping the Harleys alive and running.


Remember “goedkoop koop is duurkoop” and “prevention is better than cure”.  Its bad not riding but its much worse when you haven’t ridden and it cost you lots of  money.  Many people don’t understand this.


There is no easy solution for this problem but at the very least, if you aren’t riding your bike regularly you will need to book it in to our workshop every two to three months in order to keep your Harley  in a good riding condition.

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More interesting pages to read:

Harley Mechanic technician
Harley Preventative Maintenance
Harley special bike builds
Harley Davidson for sale