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Winterizing your motorcycle

Note: this article was originally written for a good friend of mine at the end of her first season of motorcycling. This is just friendly advice from a rider who's stored her own bikes for a years to a new rider planning to 'do-it-herself'.

WARNING: I am NOT a professional mechanic. DO NOT substitute this information for the advice of a professional! Consult your mechanic, your shop manual, your owners manual and as many other resources as you can find, and make your own informed decisions.

Preparing your motorcycle for winter storage

Preparing your bike for it's 'long winter's sleep' is definitely not a part of the motorcycling season that riders look forward to, but you may find that time invested in the fall will save you time in the spring, when you'd really rather be riding than wrenching.

There are many things you can take care of in the fall that will make your bike much easier to start in the spring, and other things you can do that will help prolong the life of your bike.

Before you store it

Lube cables - you might want to do this first… I usually have to wash off all the cable lube I inevitably spray on everything, but I've never mastered that nasty little gadget for lubing cables.

Clean and lube the drive chain. If you have a shaft you can check your owners manual to see the maintenance interval for shaft-oil change. If you have a belt, you can inspect it for wear, but you probably don't need to do anything more than smile at it; so it knows you care.

Lube pivot points in levers, pegs, side-stand, centre-stand, etc.

Do any of the other maintenance things that might require washing after. Things like topping up brake fluid (that's nasty stuff, any spillage should be cleaned up immediately) check/test/top up the anti-freeze level. Top up your gas tank. If you've been running distilled water or a track-suitable non-anti-freeze coolant, remember to put antifreeze in your rad (and overflow bottle) for winter storage.

Notes: Just about all the expensive/nasty/toxic fluids you put in your bike should be washed off the outside of your bike. Brake fluid, gasoline, coolant, oil, lube, etc. can all damage various surfaces of your bike, particularly tires, painted surfaces, chrome, rubber, plastic, aluminum… it's really only the glass faces of your gauges and sight-glasses that are impervious to most of the chemistry that goes into your bike. Cleaning your bike after you do most of your maintenance work in the fall will prevent nasty surprises in the spring.

When you get it ready for storage

Once your pre-storage maintenance is done, and your bike is clean you can consider the order of operations for your final steps before storage.

Gas tank you have two options to store your tank, and the one you choose will partly determine your order of operations. The objective is to prevent condensation/moisture from forming in the gas tank and causing rust. Treat the carbs appropriately so they don't become gummed up.

RECOMMENDED: Full tank, stabilized gasoline this is probably the best option keeping the tank full prevents corrosion by preventing air and moisture from entering the tank, and stabilizing the fuel (and running the motor to make sure the carbs have stabilized fuel in them). Stabilized gas will be useable in the spring, and prevent the carbs from gumming up etc.

IF NECESSARY: Empty tank, stored open, carbs drained. If you need to bring your bike into the house to store it, or take your tank off to have it painted (or display it in your living room, etc.) you can empty all the gas out of the tank (dispose of it safely). Make sure the vent hoses are clean/clear, and leave the tank lid propped open. This will allow air circulation and prevent moisture/condensation from collecting in the tank. Room temperature storage is best if using this method. Your bike will be harder to start in the spring too, you'll need to be patient while the carbs fill before it will fire up.

Ideally, you want to change the oil very last thing, after you've fired up the motor for the last time. If you're filling the tank to store it, fill it, stabilize it, run it for a while to circulate stabilized gas through the carbs, then drain the oil while it's still warm, fill it with fresh oil and it's off for the winter.

If you're draining the tank, you can do that after the last time you've run the bike, so the order of operations for the oil change isn't as critical. If you're also changing the coolant, remember you'll have to run it through a heat cycle for that procedure too. If you don't have a compressor to top up your tire pressures, you'll want to ride to your local gas station to do that before you shut your bike down for the winter too.

Your bike will be happier stored with nice fresh oil the chemistry of motor oil changes with use/time and old oil is not ideal for storage. If you're addicted to expensive synthetic motor oil, and you're reluctant to 'waste' it on storage, you can use the cheap oil for winter storage and change your oil again in the spring.

After the last time you run the bike, you can remove the battery, top up the electrolyte levels with distilled water if necessary, (clean the battery with baking soda if necessary), and store somewhere safe, dry, non-conductive and well ventilated. You may want to use a special device to maintain the charge in the battery one that will deliver small amounts of power and monitor the state of the battery is ideal. Don't use a car-battery-charger.

Let it put it's feet up for the winter. If possible, take the bike's weight off it's tires with front and rear wheel stands, or use the centre stand if you have one. If your only option is to side-stand the bike, consider rolling it around occasionally. You can put your tire pressure up a few pounds to keep the pressure correct as the ambient temperature drops. If your tire pressures tend to drop in the summer, try to keep an eye on them over the winter.

Where to store it

Indoors is cool, if you have the option. If you want to store it inside the house, but don't want a full gas tank inside, store the gas tank completely empty of fuel, and propped open. Remove the battery and store it somewhere safely ventilated. If your bike doesn't leak oil or coolant, it's wonderful to have it in the house. I kept my first bike in the living room the first winter I had it. Be careful pushing it into the house, linoleum, tile and carpet have unexpected traction properties.

If you're storing your bike in a garage, where the temperatures fluctuate more with the weather out doors, the full-stabilized-gas-tank storage is probably best. If you can't get your bike off it's tires, consider a carpet-runner or rubber mat, and roll it around frozen concrete is a harsh surface for the tires. If you are also putting your car in the garage, tracking in salt/sand/slush, be sure to protect your bike from those elements, check the drainage in your garage floor. Park your bike on 'higher ground' if possible (ya, I know, that's where you put your workbench, right?).

If you have to store it outside, have no other option, give it as much protection from the elements as possible. Cover it carefully a flapping tarp can damage the finish of most surfaces, including metal. Oil as much of the metal as possible 3 in 1 oil wiped on metal surfaces should help retard rust/corrosion, but don't oil rubber or plastic it can be protected with special products like 'Armor All' or 'Simonize' except for your tires don't treat them with anything, ever. Many motorcycle dealerships and service shops offer winter storage, consider that option before storing your bike out in the elements.

Notes: Avoid running your bike over the winter, sub-zero-starts are hard work for the motor, condensation will form as it heats and cools; besides, unless you can go for a ride, what's the point? I know you miss the sound of it's 'voice' but just be patient, spring will come.

That first winter after you get your first bike seems eternal, but it gets easier and you learn ways to cope. Personally I recommend indoor go-kart racing or downhill skiing, some would say ice racing or snowmobiles, but I'm a city-slicker. You'll have to find your own way cope with winter. Just remember, spring will come.

Dirty Girl

ps - you'll be dirty after all this too!

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