Everyone rider has their own definition of paradise, but in our little corner of the world, the defining feature would be weather that is nice enough to allow us to ride our motorcycles year round. The Italians enjoy such conveniences throughout most of the country, which is a big part of the reason that most of the world would consider Italy a decent approximation of paradise.
Sadly, most of us don’t enjoy the luxury of riding our bike through the winter months. Ice, snow and sleet are not kind to two-wheeled transportation. Instead, we must store our motorcycles and wait until warmer skies return.
Motorcycles are complex machines with thousands of moving parts, and they require near-constant attention and regular use. While it may be difficult to achieve the latter during the winter months, we can definitely make sure we achieve the former. Storing your bike isn’t as simple as parking it in the corner of your garage and making sure you don’t knock it over. Doing so will only invite problems down the road, and all of these problems can be avoided by putting in a little effort now.
Today, we’ll talk about the best way to store a motorcycle for winter. We’ll discuss some things you should do to make sure your bike survives its winter hibernation and faces the bright light of spring ready to rip up the asphalt. We’ll also discuss some ways to keep your hands on your bike, even if it never leaves your garage. The list is long, so consider this a mix of the mundane with the more advanced or perhaps less obvious ideas for winterizing your motorcycle.
In addition to lubrication, your engine’s oil performs the task of keeping your engine clean. Any particulates, contaminants and corrosive remnants of the combustion process will be carried out of the engine and deposited in the oil filter.
If your bike is going to sit for three or four months, you’ll want to evacuate these dangerous materials so they don’t sit in constant contact with your engine’s surfaces. Performing an oil change should literally be the last thing you do before you put your bike away for the winter.
There are a few other maintenance options available to you while you are doing an oil change, and many different opinions exist on the necessity and effectiveness of these additional maintenance items.
Should You Change the Weight of the Oil?
This isn’t absolutely essential. If you can’t store your bike in a temperature-controlled garage or storage facility, or you might want to take your bike out for a spin a few times throughout the winter, a lighter weight oil will hold up better in the winter.
That said, if you do this, then you’re already committing to an oil change in the springtime to put the recommended weight back in your bike. If you put your regular oil in the bike during your winter-prep oil change, then it will still be perfectly usable when you’re ready for your first ride in the spring.
Should You Fog the Engine?
The idea behind fogging your engine is to coat all of the internal parts of the engine with oil, providing a moisture barrier so they don’t sustain prolonged contact with water or condensation. Special products exist to fog your engine, and the process involves spraying the fogging oil onto the throttle body and running the engine until smoke — or fog — comes out the tailpipe. This smoke indicates that the fogging oil has completely coated your engine and is in the process of being burned off.
Fogging can be helpful for the right type of engine. If your motorcycle doesn’t fit the mold or the process is more labor intensive than you are willing to commit to, there are alternatives. For example, you can turn the engine over a few times once you add fresh oil. This will distribute the new oil to provide a similar coating to internal parts.
We don’t have a definitive answer for which is better, because so many factors are involved in making that decision. Do some research and decide if it’s a good idea for your bike.
Fill the Gas Tank
An empty gas tank is an invitation for moisture buildup. Moisture collecting on a metal surface is a recipe for corrosion. If you think your choice between bad gas and a corroded gas tank is a difficult one, consider this: You can treat your gas so it survives four months without use for only a couple dollars, or you can replace your gas tank when the inside gets corroded for two thousand dollars. It’s an easy choice for us.
Add a gas stabilizer/ethanol treatment product to a full tank of gas right before you put it away for the winter. The gas will protect the inside walls of your gas tank from the moisture that causes corrosion. The stabilizer will protect your gas from breaking down, and eventually wreaking havoc in your fuel system when you go to run your engine again.
To make the best use of a fuel stabilizer, take the bottle to the gas station when you fill your tank for the last time. Follow the directions on the bottle and add it to your tank. The ride home will help to mix the treatment into the gas and allow the treated gas to distribute through your carburetor, protecting your entire fuel system.
Install a Battery Tender
A dead battery can put a halt to any early-season riding plans. If you leave the battery unattended for four months or more, it will be dead. Thankfully you have some low-cost options to keep your battery in top operating shape year-round. As motorcycle winter storage tips go, hooking your battery up to a trickle charger or a battery maintainer is a no-brainer. If you’re reading this and don’t already have one, go get one now! We can wait.
Trickle chargers work as the name suggests. They supply a constant trickle of energy to your battery. These chargers usually supply a current of around 1.5 amps, compared to as many as 8 to 10 amps for a standard car battery charger. However, even at these low amperages, you are essentially overcharging your battery, and overcharging is harmful to any type of battery. It likely won’t cause your battery to fail over the span of one single winter, but it will almost definitely compromise the life and performance of your battery.
Battery maintainers — or battery minders, or battery tenders — contain intelligent circuitry that monitor your battery’s charge and supply electricity only when required to top it off. Think of it as the next technological generation of trickle charger. This is one advancement you will want to invest in.
Some trickle chargers also claim the ability to sense the battery’s charge level and stop delivering current, but at this point we are only talking about differences in marketing terminology. It’s the smart circuitry that is important, no matter how the manufacturer labels their product.
Check the Coolant
You don’t want the fluid in your coolant system to be mostly water. It’ll expand if it freezes, and it could contribute to rust. Make sure you have an adequate amount of anti-freeze in your cooling system.
Run Your Bike Occasionally
Unless you live in the far north, where your forty degree daytime temps are more likely to be the “below” variety than the “above,” chances are you will see a couple days throughout the winter with weather nice enough and streets clear enough to take a ride.
Engines are happier when they’re running. A ride long enough to get the engine up to operating temperatures will be long enough to burn off any condensation that might have built up inside.
Keep an eye on the forecast! As long as you didn’t dismantle your bike or bury it behind a mountain of stuff, take advantage of a few unseasonably warm days and give your motorcycle the workout it deserves. It’ll keep the gas mixed up, the engine lubed up and the battery charged.
If you don't have the ability to put the bike on jack stands, make sure you don’t leave the tires stationary for four months. The spot on the tires that are in contact with the floor will develop flat spots, and once your tires go out-of-round, there’s no way to fix it.
If you don’t already own jack stands, you don’t have to go out and buy a set just for this purpose. It is perfectly fine to leave the motorcycle sitting as is. Every few weeks, move your motorcycle just far enough to put a new spot of the tire on the floor. Also, put two squares of cardboard under the tires to keep it up off the concrete. Concrete traps and conducts moisture, which could contribute to dry rot in your tires.
Pump Your Tires
Insufficient tire pressure can contribute to stress on the sidewalls, which can put your tires out-of-round. Also consider the fact that cold air contracts and pressure drops, so you will want to make sure you inflate the tires to the maximum recommended tire pressure. This will be stamped on the side of the tire. Keep an eye on them throughout the winter, and inflate as necessary.
Clean Your Chain
This follows the same logic as the oil change. If your chain is dirty, leaving all of that dirt sit in contact with the metal of the chain for four months can help speed up the corrosion process. Special brushes and cleaners are manufactured to help you clean all of the chain’s crevices.
Once your chain is clean, spray it with a fresh coat of chain lube and make sure you get complete coverage.
Wash and Wax Your Motorcycle
Hopefully you’ve noticed a theme as we’ve been discussing winterizing a motorcycle for winter storage: a clean bike is a corrosion and rust-free bike. A fresh change of oil, cleaning the chain and filling the gas tank are all important steps in making sure the essential parts of the motorcycle aren’t exposed to premature wear-and-tear.
Following this line of thinking to the very end, a thorough washing and waxing of the entire bike will help to ward off rust and corrosion on the chassis and other body parts. Think of it as one last dinner with a good friend before you say goodbye for a while.
Coat Metal Surfaces With WD-40
Any surface that hasn’t received individual attention in the steps noted above could benefit from a quick spray of WD-40 to ward off condensation and possible rust. Waterproofing metal is the original purpose of this jack-of-all trades. This magic material provides the added benefit of calming squeaky hinges.
Plug the Tailpipe and Air Intake
How many times have you heard a motorcycle owner complaining about critters finding their way into an exhaust or engine? A car offers mice and other furry animals more places to hide, but a motorcycle offers some space too. This means some extra protection is warranted.
Find some material that is easy to remove, and stuff it in your motorcycle’s tailpipe and air intake. Stainless steel wool works, as mice won’t chew on it. Be sure to include some painfully obvious visual indicator to remind you that you stuffed something in your tailpipe, so you don’t forget to remove it when you start the bike again.
Buy a Proper Cover
Even if you’re going to store your bike in a climate-controlled garage, it’s important to cover it to prevent dust and moisture from settling on it over the winter. A generic tarp from the hardware store isn’t an adequate solution, as it would be difficult to get a tight fit, and it won’t breathe to allow any moisture out that did happen to collect on the bike.
You have a decent task ahead of you to keep up with routine street bike maintenance in the winter. Of course, the winter is also the perfect time to embark on the projects you have always wanted to do, but were never willing to sacrifice a week of riding to complete. Some suggestions for winter projects could be:
Every motorcycle owner has a list of projects they have always wanted to work on. Using your winter-free time is a great way to keep your hands on the bike for more than just the boring old street bike winter maintenance.
Winter has already started for most of us, so hopefully you’re thinking about your winter storage checklist. If you have a few more weeks of riding left, we envy you, but we also remind you that the snow and cold weather is right around the corner. A little bit of planning can make the process much smoother.
When you’re asking how to prepare your street bike for spring, you can put yourself ahead of the game by figuring out how to maintain it through the winter. You’ll be ready to pick right up where you left off.
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