It's getting to that time of year again. Some of us have to start turning on the heat at home in order to avoid turning into a human icicle. Something else happens this time of year as well; there's a particular post that starts appearing in motorcycle forums and Facebook groups. "How should I prepare my bike for winter storage? Do I need to change the oil? Should the tank be full or empty? Is there really a point in doing these things?"
And then there will be as many different opinions as there are members in the group... and the occasional smart-ass who'll tell you all about how they can ride all year round since they live in a nice, warm climate. Bastards!!
Let's answer these questions once and for all. Here's the bottom line: If you prepare your bike properly for winter storage it will definitely save you a few headaches, and probably a lot of time and money as well when it's time to get the bike on the road again.
Since different motorcycles have different parts and designs, we'll cover a general overview of the process. You should always check your repair and owner's manuals (you do have those, right?!) for the exact procedures for your particular bike.
First things first, go on that final ride of the season. You will suffer from PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome) so make some memories that'll last you through winter. Needless to say, you should be careful if it's cold outside.
The Final Ride And Filling Up The Tank
Going for a ride is also the most fun way to drain some of the fuel from the tank so you can add a stabilizer.
Leaving the bike with a half-empty tank of untreated gasoline can create some unnecessary, expensive issues. A full gas tank will help prevent any rust from forming inside the tank, and by adding gasoline stabilizer you're making sure it won't turn into gunk.
Usually, I add the stabilizer to the tank as I'm done with my last ride of the season, then I'll put in a full tank of gas. This will mix the fuel and stabilizer. The short ride home is enough to get the treated fuel into the entire fuel system.
If you don't have the option to take it for a last ride, there's always jerry cans. Read the label on the gasoline stabilizer and add the right amount. Don't forget to let the bike run for 5 minutes or so to get the treated fuel circulating.
If your bike is running carbs, you should drain them. Shut off the petcock and then either drain the fuel float bowls, or run the engine until its starved of gas.
This will remove any water and other contaminants from the carbs, and prevents the orifices of the carbs from getting clogged or restricted, which can quickly become an expensive fix.
If you have a fuel-injected bike, it's not possible to drain the system. Just fill up the gas tank and use a fuel stabilizer as previously mentioned.
The oil change is the other reason why I take the bike for a last ride before it's put in storage. The oil will be hot, so you can drain it as soon as you get home.
Change The Oil
Some prefer to do the oil change in the spring, due to tiny amounts of water getting into the engine during storage. However, when spring comes along and you fire up the bike to take it for a long-ish ride that water will evaporate quickly.
Oil will go from being a nice, golden fluid when new, to dirty, black gunk when old. The contaminants in old oil will eventually corrode engine parts and can do some serious damage if you leave it in the bike for months. Do yourself, and your wallet a favor and change it before placing the bike in storage.
This is one of the areas where you should consult with the bike's manual for the specifics since different bikes are, erm.. well, different. Find out what type of oil, oil filter, amount of oil, etc. for your particular bike.
If you have to put the bike in storage for a long period of time, it can be a good idea to remove the spark plugs and spray a tiny amount of oil on the inside of the cylinder walls. Put the bike in gear with the plugs out and the ignition turned off, now turn the rear wheel a few times to spread the oil over the cylinder walls before replacing the plugs.
Brake fluid actually absorbs water, and this is exactly why you should change it.
Sort Out The Brakes
You should definitely change it if it has started to change color. This also goes for hydraulic clutches, where water in the fluid can make your clutch stuck when it gets hot.
There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to changing brake fluids. Some will tell you to change it before storage in order to prevent any moisture from corroding brake components. Others will say you should change it when you take the bike out of storage in order to have better brakes during the riding season. Whichever method you go with, make sure you change the brake fluid at some point before the next riding season.
Of course, this step is only necessary if you own a water-cooled bike. If you own an air-cooled one and you're trying to do this, I'm afraid you need help I cannot provide.
Check The Coolant
Make sure you use the correct coolant, especially if you live somewhere it gets extremely cold as radiators and lines can bust, leading to corrosive fluid spraying all over your bike.
Here's a pro tip for you: When you're cleaning the bike, inspect it at the same time. This will save you some time when the next riding season comes around.
Winter Cleaning Session
I prefer to lube and grease all the moving parts that need to operate smoothly. Once again you should check your manuals to see what's needed on your bike.
Start by cleaning the dirtiest parts, such as the chain, brakes, and wheels. Using the proper tools and products, like a good grunge brush and an O-ring safe degreaser, should make it easier to clean all the nasty stuff off the chain. Disc cleaner is good to get the brakes cleaned up, and some non-corrosive wheel cleaner will help get the grime off the rims.
Now it's time to wash the rest of the bike, I prefer using Meguiar's motorcycle cleaning kit and then thoroughly dry the bike with a microfiber cloth. If you're putting a cover on the bike after cleaning it, it's especially important to get it completely dry. Any water left on the bike will create moisture, which will cause corrosion and mold.
Once the bike is nice and clean it's time to apply some wax on the paint and shining up whatever chrome is on your bike. This will act as an additional layer of protection while your bike is stored, and you'll have a shining machine to ride when you put it back on the road. It's advisable to treat whatever leather is on the bike as well, like seats and bags, or you can take it off and store it in the house.
After cleaning the exhaust I spray a tiny amount of WD-40 into the end of the pipes.
Prep The Exhaust
This helps to protect the inside of the pipes and engine from moisture, which will turn into rust.
Then I just use a plastic grocery bag and insert some of it into the pipe, wrapping the rest around the outside of the exhaust and secure it with a rubber band to keep any small animals from nesting inside there during winter.
A trickle charger will give the battery a steady stream of electricity, enabling it to stay charged for during long periods of inactivity. A device like Battery Tender Junior is fairly inexpensive these days, and it can make a battery last for years.
You can either remove the battery, and keep it on a trickle charger, or you can fit a pigtail on the battery, which gives you an easy way to connect to the trickle charger.
Inspect the tires to see if they'll last a while into the next riding season. Inflate the tires and use a tire-pressure gauge to make sure it's the correct pressure before putting the bike in storage. Correct pressure helps the tires retain their shape.
Take Care Of Your Tires
If you are storing the bike on its tires, rotate both wheels at least once a month to avoid flat-spots.
If your bike has a centerstand it should definitely be used when the bike is in storage. An even better option is to use paddock stands, one on the front and one on the rear so you can get both wheels off the ground. This also prevents you from having to rotate the wheels, and keeps the suspension unloaded.
Never ever use plastic to cover your motorcycle during storage. I've mentioned moisture and corrosion several times in this article already, and plastic traps that moisture inside. You definitely don't want that. You'll end up with a corroded bike covered in mold. Get a breathable motorcycle cover, there are some affordable ones on the market.
The Proper Way To Actually Store The Bike
You should also make sure that you store the bike in a well-ventilated area, preferably indoors. The circulating air will keep moisture from building up under the bike cover. There shouldn't be any open cans containing chemicals near the bike, as this can speed up corrosion.
There you have it. Everything you need in order to store your bike for the coming winter. Now all you have to do is start planning next season's riding, and look for parts online to make your bike even more awesome. Feel free to check out our shop as well, it's never too early to start writing that Christmas wishlist ;)
Wait For Spring
Comment below on how you prepare your bike for winter storage.
And if you're one of those who are lucky enough to ride through the winter... Stay safe out there.