Winterizing Your Bike – Motorcycle Maintenance Tips

Okay, NOBODY is going to want to hear this, but I ride all year round. Any given day down here in the southern US can be a great day to ride, but for a bunch of the guys that read this, your time is coming.

Yeah. You’re gonna have to get your bike ready for the cold and –most likely – put it up for a few months. I know, I know, right now it’s beautiful weather. In less than a month, though, guess what? Snow. Cold. Frozen tundra. No matter how hard core you think you are, I’m willing to bet that you put the bike away for a while and lower yourself to ride in something that has climate control.

So let’s spend a few minutes – and later an afternoon – getting you and your bike ready for the winter. I’m not saying to do it this weekend, but why not get the stuff you need so that you are able to when its time. Here’s my list for you-

Depending on what kind of motorcycle you ride there may be different things that will need to be addressed, but there is some general wisdom on how get it ready to be stored for the winter. Your main enemy during winter storage is damaging moisture, so most of our winterizing efforts will be aimed at keeping that away from your bike. In addition, you need to show some attention to your fuel system, battery, tires, and all your moving parts as well.

The biggest step is not to defer anything! If you need brakes – schedule it now – why get put off in the Spring when every biker in the world is trying to fix all the stuff they put off in the fall? Plenty of shops are going to have some winter specials – and that can make things like brakes and fuel systems even easier to manage – and afford!

1) Wash that thing!
Washing your bike when nobody will see it for a few months anyway can be a drag, but giving your bike a thorough cleaning before storage is important; letting bug guts or water spots sit on your paint can corrode the finish permanently. Wash your bike and dry it completely to get all the moisture off the surfaces (an electric leaf blower is a great way to get all the nooks and crannies really dry.) Add a coat of wax, which will act as a barrier against moisture and rust. Finally, spray exposed metal surface with WD-40 to displace all moisture and to give them a protective coating against corrosion.

2) Change Oil and Filter
Change your oil and filter. It’s better for your lubrication system to have fresh oil sitting in it for several months than to have used, broken down oil in it, not to mention the last thing you’ll want to do when riding season begins is change the oil before you can go ride. Using a winter weight oil like 5W30 can help it start up easier come spring time as well.
If you’re going to be storing your bike for a long time (4-6 months or more) you will want to protect your engine’s internals against moisture by coating them lightly with oil. You may not be able to see it with your naked eye, but the cold winter air is perfect for moisture to gather in your engine and cause rust to form on your pistons and cylinder walls.
In order to do this, remove the spark plugs and put a little squirt (about a tablespoon) of engine oil into the holes, then turn your engine over a few times to coat the cylinder walls by spinning the rear wheel with the bike in gear. Once everything is coated, replace the spark plugs.

3) Lube Moving Parts
Keeping moving parts lubed during the winter will help keep moisture from building up on them and causing any rusting or binding. Any part of your motorcycle that needs to be lubed at any point should be lubed again before storage. Some parts to check are: chain drive, cables, controls, fork surfaces, and any other pivot points.

4) Prep Fuel System
Gas tanks have a tendency to rust when not in use, and untreated pump gas breaks down and becomes gummy over time. To prevent rusting and make sure your fuel is ready to run after a few months in storage, you’ll want to fill your tank completely with fuel treated with a product like Sta-Bil Fuel Stabilizer.
On your last ride of the season, stop in at the gas station nearest to where you will be storing your bike and add the proper amount of fuel stabilizer, then top off the tank. A full tank will keep moisture from building up on the tank walls, and adding the stabilizer before the short ride home will help mix the gas and stabilizer together and run it through your fuel system before storage. Depending on your induction setup, you may find that draining the bowls of the carb(s) and flushing them out with the lube of choice is a good way to protect those surfaces and keep varnish from forming in the carb.

5) Safeguard Battery
Batteries have a tendency to self-discharge when sitting over time, especially when they remain hooked up to the bike. Normally you should pull the battery from the bike for storage, but with a trickle charger you can also connect the tender with the battery left in the bike. Before doing this, make sure the electrodes are clean and corrosion free; if necessary, clean them off and give them a light coating of grease.

6) Protect Tires
If your tires are let sit in the same position all winter long, they could develop flat spots. Keeping the tires off of the ground will prevent this, so if you have motorcycle stands, put the bike up on them for storage. If you don’t have stands, try to get at least the rear tire off the ground, or you can rotate your tires by rolling your motorcycle slightly every few weeks. If you need to leave your tires down on concrete, put a piece of carpet or plywood under them to keep any moisture from seeping into them.

7) Check Coolant/Anti-freeze
If you’ll be storing your bike somewhere that gets below freezing, make sure you have adequate levels of anti-freeze in your coolant system. This is very important; if you run straight water in your coolant system and it freezes, you could come back to a cracked head in the spring!

8) Plug Out Pests
Mice and other rodents are notorious for hiding from the cold inside exhaust pipes and making homes out of air filters. You can simply stuff your air intake and the ends of your exhaust with some plastic bags, but use bright colored bags or tie something to them so you don’t forget take them out when you fire up the bike!

9) Keep it Covered
With your motorcycle fully prepped for winter, invest in a proper motorcycle cover. A quality motorcycle cover will not only keep dust off the bike, but will keep the moisture out so it doesn’t get trapped underneath it and create corrosion or rust. If you’re storing it outside, be sure to get a cover with tie downs to prevent it from blowing loose in wind. If you’re storing it inside you’re in much better shape, but you should still use a cover to prevent dust from building up on it.

By spending a little time and thinking through what needs to be done, you can do all this late one afternoon and then, tearfully, put your ride up for the winter. I’ll think of you when I fire up for a ride down the coast in December.

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