We get it. Cold weather riding isn’t everyone’s jam. We also know your bike is your pride and joy and you want it to feel the love, too. You can reduce the chances of frustrations and repair costs in the spring by making a small investment now—in cost, time, or space—to winterize and store your bike.
Here’s what you should consider to protect your bike and save money on potential repairs down the road.
Choose an appropriate location to store your motorcycle
If you don’t have a place to store your bike over winter, commercial motorcycle storage options range from $200 to around $750. This may seem pricey, but if you want someone else to handle storage for you, this could be a great option. Some motorcycle dealers may even store your bike for free if you include several hundred dollars of service work as part of the process.
If you’re looking for a cheaper option, consider storing your bike yourself. The most ideal situation is a covered environment that’ll protect your bike from the elements, like a garage or shed.
Parking your motorcycle outside in the winter
If you don’t have access to a garage, you might wonder if it’s safe to store your ride outside over winter. The answer is yes; however, location and preparation for the elements are important. If possible:
Choose a place that’s not exposed to winter traffic, snow plowing, or road salting.
Try to store your bike under or near a structure that can provide some protection—such as a carport or breezeway.
Use an appropriate motorcycle cover to help keep your bike dry and clean.
Avoid storing it near trash cans, which can make your motorcycle a more likely target for a rodent nest.
Park it in a lighted area to decrease the risks of theft and vandalism.
Add fuel stabilizer to your motorcycle
After you’ve determined your storage location, think about winterizing your motorcycle. During the last few refuels before you plan to store your motorcycle, use pure gasoline versus an ethanol blend. Because ethanol gasoline is more likely to absorb water vapor and has a short storage life, getting the ethanol out will reduce problems caused by water in the tank. It’ll take at least two tankfuls to get rid of most of the ethanol.
On the day you plan to store your motorcycle, take a ride that’s long enough to fully warm the engine. Add fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank and top it off with pure gasoline. Then, ride at least another 10 miles to ensure the stabilized fuel has run through the whole fuel system.
Change the motor oil and filter
After caring for the fuel system, change your motor oil and oil filter. Even if you’re not due for an oil and filter change, it’s an important part of winter storage prep. The process of internal combustion creates byproducts that contaminate your motor oil. Leaving oil with acidic combustion byproducts sitting in the motor for months could cause internal damage.
For this oil change, consider switching to the cold-weather grade oil recommended by your motorcycle’s manufacturer. This is beneficial if you think you might take your bike out for a ride when the weather is still cold. Early spring can have clear roads and cold mornings—winter grade oil makes starting your bike easier at lower temperatures.
Clean your bike
Once your motorcycle has cooled down and has fresh oil, it’s time for a thorough wash and dry. This should be the most detailed cleaning your motorcycle receives each year.
After you wash your bike, remove, clean, and inspect the saddle and any side covers. You might be surprised to see how much road grime can get into the parts of your motorcycle that you can’t see. Part of the goal here is to make sure there’s no foreign material that can hold moisture and promote rust over the winter. This is also an opportunity to check for frayed wires or loose components that could cause problems when you start your bike in the spring.
Run your motorcycle one more time to warm it to full operating temperature. This will help evaporate any water trapped in nooks, crannies, and the exhaust system. Check the oil one last time and wax your motorcycle to help protect the paint.
Lubricate parts and check motorcycle fluids
Consult the owner’s or service manual for a complete list of all components that need lubrication. Cables, levers, side stand pivots, and the final drive chain are just a few items you should lubricate. For some riders, this will be the only time of the year these components get much attention. Make it a point to inspect them for adjustment and wear.
This is also a good time to check the fluid level and condition of hydraulic systems, like brakes and the clutch. If the transmission and primary drive use separate fluids from the motor oil, check the levels and condition of those as well.
On a shaft drive motorcycle, check the fluid in the final drive gear case. If you’re comfortable with doing so and have the equipment, remove the rear wheel to inspect and grease the splines between the wheel hub and final drive.
Take care of the battery
A dead battery is a nuisance to any motorcycle rider on a perfect spring day when you want to go for the first ride of the year. Don’t fall victim to this annoying situation.
Check your battery
Inspect your battery terminals for signs of corrosion.
Clean the terminals and apply dielectric grease, if necessary.
If you have a voltmeter, check the charge state of the battery with the motorcycle turned off. It should be more than 12 volts; around 12.75 volts is ideal.
If the battery is low, charge it and retest—a weak battery will likely be short lived in the spring.
After you’ve checked and cared for your battery, decide how you’re going to care for it over winter—remove it and maintain the charge or leave it on the bike and use a trickle charger.
If you’re storing your motorcycle outdoors, removal may be the only realistic method.
If you’re storing your bike indoors, leaving the battery in and connecting it to a trickle charger allows you to easily take a spur-of-the-moment ride when the weather is good. Always follow the charger manufacturer’s instructions and your motorcycle manufacturer’s directions for battery maintenance.
Prepare the exhaust and air intake
Mice and other rodents can look at exhaust pipes as ideal places to make a winter nest—especially if you store your motorcycle in a shed or outside where food sources are nearby. You can buy commercially made plugs to seal your exhaust. They’re usually bright red or orange so you remember to remove them in the spring. You can also cover the openings with plastic, but be sure to avoid anything that can hold moisture so you don’t inadvertently cause rust.
Rodents also like to make nests in the intake to the air box. Sealing the air box may take a little more ingenuity than sealing exhaust pipes, but you can use similar methods. However you choose to seal your bike’s intake and exhaust, remember to remove the seal and complete an inspection before starting the motorcycle in the spring.
Inflate your motorcycle’s tires
Make sure you store your motorcycle with the tires inflated to the correct riding pressure, but be careful not to overinflate them. If possible, check the pressure at least once a month during the winter and maintain proper inflation. While you’re prepping the bike for storage, check the tread at the tire wear indictors. If the tires have been on the motorcycle for more than one season, check the sidewalls for age cracking. If your tires are wearing or aging out, replace them when you take the bike out of storage in the spring.
Consider storing your motorcycle on a stand
There’s a school of thought that storing your motorcycle on a stand keeps the tires from flat spotting. Concerns about flat spotting have been around for decades, though it typically isn’t an issue for modern motorcycle tires—your tires won’t flat spot if they’re properly inflated. However, using a stand may reduce the amount of space your motorcycle occupies in your storage area and it allows you to easily move it around.
Cover your motorcycle correctly
If you’re storing your motorcycle outside, a high-quality motorcycle cover designed for outdoor use is essential. These covers help reduce condensation and resist rain and snow. Never use a plastic tarp or similar cover—they’ll hold in moisture. If you store your ride in strong winter sunlight, remember to cover the tires to avoid damage from the sun. If possible, use a locked cover to help prevent theft or vandalism.
If you’re storing indoors, a cover probably isn’t necessary, but a lightweight cover will help keep dust off your bike. If you do cover it and didn’t complete some of the protective measures we mentioned earlier, be sure to check under the cover from time to time to ensure rodents haven’t moved in.
Keep your bike in peak condition
The effort it takes to prepare your motorcycle for winter storage is well worth it. In addition to the peace of mind that comes from knowing your motorcycle is resting safely and will be ready for spring, you help increase its longevity and protect its value. Plus, finding any problems during the winterization process allows you time to schedule and budget for repairs if you find anything that needs service.
Remember to check on your motorcycle throughout the winter—it helps reduce surprises in the spring.
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