Unless you’re one of the few (million) people living near the Xmotorcycle offices in Southern California, it’s definitely that time of year where you want to consider winterizing your motorcycle. While not everyone has a work space, tin shed or huge garage to play with, here are 10 easy tips to help make sure that your bike is protected now, making it good and ready for the first ride of the spring.
1.) Beautify Your Bike
While it may seem kind of silly to wash your motorcycle just so you can store it for the next few months, you definitely want to take the time to give it a good once (and maybe twice) over. The reason for this is twofold: a.) All those bugs and bits that are stuck to your bike now are only going to get worse with time; and if you don’t clean your bike now those bugs spring welcome will NOT be pretty. b.) In addition to bugs your bike has undoubtedly picked up bits of tar and road oil, in addition to just sludge, mud and dirt (no, dirt isn’t just for dirt bikes). Those small, seemingly insignificant specs can and will eat away at your paint if they’re allowed to sit for any long period of time. The last thing you want to do on the first day of good riding weather is uncover your bike, only to see that it’s as speckled as the ladybugs you forgot to wash off it last winter.
Do yourself and your bike a favor and clean it off from headlight to taillight before stowing it away. Your bike will thank you for it.
2.) Put On The Polish
While it’s somewhat related to number 1, you’ll want to put on a good coat of polish/wax after your bike is good and clean. This will help ensure that any moisture that gets into your garage (or sneaks under your cover) will bead up and fall off, rather than just sit there and eat away at the paint and chrome all winter long. This may mean that you have to pick up a separate chrome polish, but the price you’ll pay for that one bottle is infinitely cheaper than the cost of replacing rusted pipes and headers.
3.) Time for Tires
Now that your bike’s pipes, gas tank, shell and windshield are good and clean you’ll want to focus briefly on your tires: specifically, you’ll want to make sure they are clean (see above), inflated and treated before you wave farewell to your two-wheeled friend. By applying a tire finish or tire protector to the rubber you will help protect against cracks and unnecessary wear and tear that can happen during the year’s coldest months. By inflating your tires to the proper PSI (consult your owners manual for this information…or you could just Google it since you’re already online) you will help protect your motorcycle’s wheels from taking damage if the tires deflate and put pressure on the rims; and you will also prevent the tires themselves from wearing out and bulging around the sides from being too low on air pressure.
Again, just doing this simple clean up and maintenance before winter could possibly save you hundreds of dollars in repairs or replacements once the cold finally breaks.
4.) Give it Some Gas
If you’re filling your tires at a gas station, go ahead and fill that tank up to full. While it may seem ridiculous and wasteful to put a full tank of gas in a vehicle that literally won’t be moving for 3-5 months, storing your bike with a full tank will help prevent moisture building that can cause rusting and erosion. There seems to be a lot of people out there on the web who say that you should drain your tank to help winterize it, especially since gas is at record levels and you could use some of that fuel for your snow blower this winter. However, it has been proven time and time again (using science, of all things) that an empty gas tank will suck and retain water like a dehydrated football player.
For an additional level of protection consider buying a fuel additive (don’t go cheap here, though) and adding it to the tank. Right before you store your bike and try to forget about it through piles of leaves and snow, turn your bike on and let the treated fuel run through your bike for about 3-5 minutes — giving it enough time to reach all the parts of your bike’s exhaust and engine, specifically the carburetor (if applicable).
5.) Obtain Some Oil
After you’ve ran your engine for a bit let it cool down for a few minutes, then, while the engine is warm — but not too hot! — start to change the oil (and oil filter if applicable). Changing your motorcycle’s oil while the engine is still warm allows randomly floating particles to still be suspended up inside the oil tank, rather than resting on the bottom. If those particles are floating inside the oil they will fall out and leave your engine rather peacefully when you start to drain the oil into a Law-abiding receptacle.
Changing the oil in your tank will not only get rid of those nasty particles that can slowly eat away at your engine, but will also safe you the hassle of changing the oil in the spring. Even if you can’t start up your bike for 4 months or more, the oil you put in right before storing your bike should be good enough to let you ride for at least a few weeks once the levy of bad weather finally breaks.
6.) Maintain That Chain
Regardless of whether your motorcycle uses a chain or belt drive, before you wave farewell for the fall (and winter) make sure you’ve checked the tension and that if it’s a chain drive that you’ve lubricated every link of it fairly well. As the temperature fluctuates, so will the metal/rubber of your drive chain. Keeping your belt or chain well lubricated — at LEAST at the beginning of the winter season — will ensure that it doesn’t crack or snap before the cold does.
7.) Put Down The Plastic
Now that you’ve done all the hard work you can relax a bit and complete this step in just one quick flick of the wrists. By folding out a tarp on the ground where your bike will be resting (assuming you don’t have a fancy lift to put your bike on) you ensure that your garage doesn’t get oil, but, more importantly you’re also ensuring that water and air moisture won’t seep up through the garage or shed and cover the bike. Moisture from the ground can and will easily seep up through cracks in your garages floor, and even that tiny amount of water can, over time, form a dew on your bike that can eventually cause rust and other, aesthetic damage.
8.) Careful With That Cover
If you are going to be covering your bike this winter make sure that any tarps you buy stay on the ground and don’t make their way up to your hibernating motorcycle. Covering a motorcycle (or car for that matter) with a blanket or tarp that doesn’t have a decent way to “breath” will only trap moisture from the air underneath the cover, effectively causing the damage you were trying to prevent by covering your bike in the first place.
When you go out and look for a cover (and, honestly, if you’re going to pamper your bike like you should you can get away without a cover by just wiping your bike down once every other week) be sure to grab one that is made from a thin material that will not suffocate your sleeping, motorized friend.
9.) Unbolt Your Battery
We’re almost done! The second to last thing you’ll want to do to winterize your motorcycle is remove your battery and ensure that the bolts and connectors are all cleaner than your mother’s language at Sunday School. Use some de-greaser like WD-40 and a steel sponge if there is a lot of buildup; otherwise just use a good brush with soap and water. Get the connections on the battery as well as the motorcycle!
If you have a battery that takes electrolytes now is also the time you’ll want to pour some water in and fill it all the way to the top. Now that you’ve cleaned the battery now comes the choice of whether to keep the battery off the bike and store it somewhere warm inside; or you can leave it connected to the bike with a smart charger. A smart charger usually plugs into a wall outlet or extension cord; uses very little power and will keep your battery charged all winter long with almost (if not entirely) no attention from you required. Just set and forget.
10.) One More Once Over
The last step is also the easiest in practice but can also be the most time-consuming if you’re a stickler (I know I am). Basically, you’re just going to go over everything you’ve already done one more time, while also checking off a list you’ve made — or, you can just print off this article if you’d like. There are always little things you can add or do to your bike to ensure it’s extra cared for…as long as you’ve got the time and money to do so. Some people like to buy fancy plugs for their exhaust pipes to keep birds and other small critters from making nests in their pipes. Others will make or buy stands to try and get their rear wheel off the ground. But, if you just follow the ten steps I’ve listed here, and as long as you don’t live in an area that experiences sub-zero temperatures too often you and your bike will make it through the time apart just fine.
NOTE: For an added step for those of you who do choose to live in extremely frigid areas of the world: make sure that your anti-freeze is topped off, as 99% of bikes do not have freeze plugs. Doing this simple check with a readily-available hydrometer will save you a lot of worry and possibly a lot of repair money from a cracked cylinder head.
Do you think we missed something? Is there a ritual you do every year when you store your bike for the winter? Let us know in the comments below!