There’s been snow just about everywhere in Canada now, and it’s starting to get serious, so here’s our guide to putting your bike away for the winter. It’s not too late to do it properly.
This guide was written by Founding Editor Rob Harris, finessed with comments and suggestions from readers, and it’s still the best and most complete guide there is. Only three months to go till spring…-Ed.
The days are shorter, the nights longer and the fun of riding has faded after that last ride and the resulting frost-bite and loss of two fingers. Yes, it’s time to put away the bike for another winter.
Like it or not, winter does come once per year*, and the bikes must be put away properly if you want to have a trouble-free spring, and ultimately extend the overall life of your bike. By following these 10 easy steps, your bike will be ready to ride in the spring while others are spending weeks cleaning, repairing and replacing expensive parts (suckers).
BTW, this article is aimed at all of those people who deal with this yearly annoyance and not the lucky bastards who get to ride year-round. Please disregard if there is a palm tree growing outside your house. Also, the tips are aimed at worst condition situations like storing the bike outside or for a long period of time. If you plan to ride as long as possible and/or going for a short ride if the weather gets above freezing one day, then we recommend just doing the first two tips: battery and fuel.
*Statement excludes equatorial regions of the world and other, hotter planets.
1. BATTERY SALVATION
If the battery needs to be removed from the motorcycle, be sure to disconnect the earth cable (black) first to prevent spark-shows. If it’s the old lead-acid type, check your battery’s electrolyte level and top it up if necessary — use only distilled water and never top it up with acid!
Note: Be sure to have a motorcycle-specific smart charger. Do not use the standard 2 amp-hour car trickle charger as it’s too high a rating for smaller motorcycle batteries and will cause them to overheat, get angry and punch your lights out come spring. There are some nifty and relatively cheap motorcycle-specific chargers on the market that you can leave connected all winter long without a worry. Your battery will love you for it.
2. GASOLINE STABILIZATION
Gas has a nominal shelf life of about one month before the more volatile part of the gas evaporates off, and before too long we are left with the all-too-familiar bad gas. To prevent this from occurring, a gas stabilizer should be added.
Following the recommended dosages on the bottle, the stabilizer is added to the tank. Remember to first fill your gas tank (but not quite to the top to allow for any expansion), in order to prevent any water vapour that may be present from condensing on the insides, causing rust.
If your bike has carburettors, then be aware that any gas left in the float bowls will deteriorate relatively quickly over the winter months. When the bike is fired up in the spring you may get away with it and it’ll start eventually, however, the shitty gas may foul the plugs and you’re left with a dead bike.
If the bike is left for longer periods, the float-bowl gas will completely evaporate and leave behind a ‘varnish’ that coats the internal jets, effectively making them smaller or blocking them altogether. If this happens, the carbs need to be stripped, then thoroughly cleaned and reassembled, which will cost you a few bucks/hours.
All this can be avoided by draining the carburetor float bowls and not refilling them (i.e. don’t leave the fuel switch on, or in the PRI bypass position during storage).
Note – The number one reason for bikes failing to start in the spring is bad gas in the float bowls. You crank and you crank, filling the engine with shite gas, quickly fouling the plugs and flattening your battery to boot. If you forget to drain the bowls in the fall, do so in the spring and allow them to fill up with fresher gas from the tank. Trust us, it’s a simple solution to avoiding a painful problem … much like paying attention in sex ed.
3. CYLINDER PRESERVATION
There are two ways to do this, either by using an engine fogging oil (remove the air filter and spray), or by adding a tablespoon of engine oil in each cylinder (distribute it by cranking the motor over a few times). The plugs will have to be removed for access, but leave them in their caps and grounded to prevent damage to the ignition system during cranking.
Note – Although this procedure is being very kind to your motor, it’s only really required for longer term storage or the anally inclined – you know who you are.
4. REACH FOR THE LUBE
Don’t forget to lubricate all of the cables on the bike. Ideally this should be a yearly chore, so you might as well do it now. The chain should also be cleaned and lubricated. If you’re concerned about keeping the bike looking sharp, you may want to wax the bike’s painted areas and apply a thin layer of protectant to all chrome parts — WD-40 works well for this job.
Note – Buy a cable-luber, lube and shop rag. It tightens around the end of the cable and has a hole in it where you can insert the tube of the cable lube can. Simply press on the can’s top and watch with amazement as the lube works its way down the cable and out the other end. Or, as is more likely the case, watch in horror as it sprays all over the place from a non-perfect seal between the luber and the cable. Use the shop rag to clean up mess.
5. OIL CH … CH … CHANGES
Note – Remember to change the oil after warming the engine first (it’s thinner and drains more readily when warm). After the change is complete, you should also rotate the engine a few times to circulate the fresh oil.
And please dispose of the old oil in an environmentally manner … no, that doesn’t mean digging a hole in the garden and pouring it in, then covering it over and wondering why the grass is dead there for the next 10 years.
6. COOLANT LEVEL CHECK
While we’re on the subject of maintenance, if your bike is liquid-cooled, it’s a good time to check the coolant level on the expansion tank. If low, fill it to the full mark with a 50/50 mixture of coolant/water. If you haven’t replaced the coolant in a while, it’s probably a good time to flush out the old coolant and replace it with new stuff.
Note – Coolant smells a bit like cucumber. Beware, it’s not, and it doesn’t work well in sandwiches.
7. TIRE RELAXATION
If your bike has a side stand only, inflate the tires another 10 psi or so above the recommended pressures and move the bike around every now and then, to rotate the tires, thereby preventing flat spots.
Note – If your bike isn’t going to be stored for long, then you can ignore this bit. It’s more for bikes that spend half the year in captivity.
8. POKE THE HOLES
Some exhaust systems have a weep-hole at the lowest part which allows condensation to drain out. Periodically the hole will become plugged and water will remain in the muffler, allowing the exhaust system to rust from the inside.
Poke that hole!
9. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
If possible, store the bike in an indoor, heated environment. Temperature variations and extreme cold can damage the plastic and rubber bits, not to mention allow for rust-forming condensation. Ideally, cover the bike with a cloth cover as plastic does not breathe especially well. Most motorcycle-specific covers are designed to allow for some amount of ventilation.
If you must store it outside, ensure that snow and water cannot get underneath the cover. Do not store in direct sunlight and try to keep it in an area that has a minimal temperature fluctuation (more condensation-forming problems with the heat variations).
Note – If you don’t have a garage, don’t be afraid to ask your friends if you can slap it in theirs.
10. THIEVING BASTARDS
Finally, remember, thieves don’t go away in the winter**. If you do not have a garage or shed to store it in, try to keep the bike well hidden away from prying eyes and locked up at all times. If they don’t know it’s there, they can’t steal it.
** Actually, the more successful thieves probably do. We’re guessing Florida, but it could be the Caribbean if they’re really good.