Reader Question: Air-Cooled Bikes in the South?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Bill asks: I hope you’ll take a moment to answer this question for me. For many years I’ve been riding a liquid cooled V-Twin. Very dependable metric bike, never an overheating problem. Lately I’ve got the itch to get another bike. I’m looking at an H-D Fatboy and an Indian Scout, both early 2000s, both air-cooled. The last air cooled big bore I rode was a long time ago, up north. Charleston South Carolina is usually very hot and humid with really heavy traffic. I ride every day that it’s not pouring down rain. Is it a mistake to think about an air-cooled bike? Beside making an already hot ride even hotter, what issues could I expect? Is there anything within reason I could do to mitigate it? Thanks very much for any insight you can give.

My reply: This one’s easy! I’ve owned (and still own) several air-cooed bikes and there’s no issue to sweat – so to speak  . . . as long as the bike is stock and well-maintained.

One of my bikes is a ’76 Kawasaki Kz900 – which in its day was the quickest and fastest production motorcycle available. Air-cooled and utterly bulletproof.

If not modified.

If modified for higher-horsepower (equals higher heat) then accommodations must be made, such as an external oil cooler and avoiding periods of prolonged idling in heavy traffic on hot days.

But if it’s stock, the bike was designed to be ridden – in traffic, on hot days. There should be no issues at all with the late-model bikes you are interested in. These probably have factory external oil coolers and run synthetic oil (much more resilient to extremes of temperature).

Aside from modding – and upgrading the engine’s ability to shed heat – the other caveat is maintenance. A poorly tuned engine will run hotter and whether it’s air/oil or water-cooled, may run hot. Keep up with tuneups and so on and you ought to have no problems at all.

As an aside: Air/oil-cooled bikes have some definite plusses, including simplicity (one less system to deal with; no radiator or water pump or thermostat or hoses, etc.) and ease of access because of the absence of the cooling system parts.

I think you’ll be fine!

. . .

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I really appreciate the info, thanks very much. I wound up with a 2012 Softail Deluxe. The bike just plain felt good, and sure is a beauty. The FI may be the one thing I don’t like, since I can’t work on it, but otherwise it seems a lot like the bikes I broke my teeth on back in the day (once literally!).

    For a few minutes after stopping I wondered what was going on with the sounds, then remembered the ‘ping – ting – ping’ of a cooling V-Twin! Been a while since I heard that.

  2. Rode a 1973 Yamaha RD-350 to work for a couple years in SE Texas, no thermal issues at all. Of course, it was a 2-stroke, and I adjusted the needles to be a bit richer than stock to get a tiny bit better vaporized fuel cooling…but no piston scuffing, etc. ever noted. Had friends with Hondas and Kawas, all air cooled back then, no issues. Air cooled Japanese bikes in the South are no big deal IMHO. No experience with recent Harleys or Indians/Polarii, but I suspect they should be fine.

    British anything however…can’t speak to vintage BSA’s or Triumphs in the heat, but MG’s and Brand X (Triumph motorcars) do need to be at the top of their cooling form down here! I suspect vintage Britbikes may be the same.

    • Hi Crusty,

      Yup – and even modified, I’ve had no troubles with my air-cooled bikes. The ’76 Kz900 has 10.75:1 pistons in it now and the rebuild was seven years ago. The bike is bulletproof. I’ve read that Kawasaki went all out with the engineering on these things; overbuilt them to withstand almost anything shy of running without oil at 9,000 RPM… and even, I bet it’d take a while for the thing to lock up!

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