Air Cooled vs. Liquid Cooled Motorcycles

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There are plenty of different types of motorcycle engines out there. One of the big differences between some of them are whether they are air cooled or liquid cooled.

Learn about the difference between the two types of cooling systems as well as the pros and cons of each one.

What is the difference between air cooled and liquid cooled motorcycle engines?

Simply put, the difference between air cooled vs liquid cooled engines is how they maintain and regulate the engine’s operating temperature.

Air cooled engines rely on nothing but the outside air to cool the engine, while liquid cooled engines use water or coolant to regulate the engine’s temperature.

However, the differences don’t stop there.

Air cooled engines are easy to identify. You’ll notice the cooling fins on the cylinder blocks of air cooled engines.

These fins help disperse heat and manage air flow.

Liquid-cooled engines are good for high-speed, high performance motorcycles. These feature a radiator and pump that require coolant to keep the engine cool.

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Air cooled motorcycles were the original type of engine. The first liquid cooled motorcycle was the Suzuki GT750, a 3 cylinder 2-stroke produced from 1971 to 1977.

Pros & Cons of Air Cooled Motorcycles

Some of the benefits of air cooled motorcycle engines include:

  • Lower cost to build.
  • Easy maintenance.
  • Classic style.
  • Less parts that can break or need servicing.

Some of the cons are:

  • Greater risk of overheating in stop-and-go traffic and hot temperatures.
  • Some air cooled engines can be noticeably affected by outside temperatures.
  • Inconsistent temperature and conditions in the combustion chamber.
  • Larger tolerances required for pistons and other parts, which can lower performance.

Other characteristics of air cooled motorcycles include:

  • They run nosier.
  • More common on cruisers and motorcycles that run at lower RPMs.
  • Common for singles and twins.
  • Air cooled engines tend to run richer.
  • They require less frequent and less complex maintenance.

Pros & Cons of Liquid Cooled Motorcycles

Some of the benefits of liquid cooled motorcycle engines include:

  • Consistent combustion chamber making for better performance.
  • More consistent and efficient.
  • Tighter tolerances for pistons and other parts, which increases performances.
  • Greater regulation of engine operating temperature.
  • Unaffected by outside temperatures or stop-and-go traffic.
  • Smaller engine footprint.

Some of the cons are:

  • More expensive to build and buy.
  • Require more regular and complex service.
  • More parts and components that can break.
  • Typically heavier than air cooled bikes.

Other characteristics of liquid cooled motorcycles include:

  • Often found on sport motorcycles, race bikes, and high performance bikes.
  • Quieter than air cooled engines.
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