It’s that time again: How to store your motorcycle for winter

Yeah, it’s back. The story we run every year around this time, telling you how to get your motorcycle ready for winter. Most of the country has seen snow, and if you’re out west, there’s a good chance you’ve already had a significant accumulation of the nasty white stuff.

The really keen riders already have their bike winterized, or are planning to ride well into the freezing temps. For the rest of us, here’s our guide on how to put your bike away for the winter, making sure it’s easy to get started in the spring, with no unpleasant surprises.


The days are shorter, the nights longer and the fun of riding has faded as the cold air now grips you in a matter of minutes when you’re out on two wheels. For almost every Canadian rider outside of Vancouver and Victoria, it’s time to put away the bike for another winter.

Your bikes must be put away properly if you want to have a trouble-free spring, and extend the overall life of your bike. By following these easy steps, your bike will be ready to ride in the spring while others are spending weeks cleaning, repairing and replacing expensive parts. A little work now can save a lot of work later.

Of course, this article is aimed at the people who deal with this yearly annoyance, not the lucky ones who ride year-round, which is doable in certain regions of Canada. 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, or you expect to go for a short ride if the weather is suitable, then we recommend just taking care of the first two tips: battery and fuel.


1. BATTERY SALVATION

Keep your battery on a tender to make startup easy in spring.

Smart riders have a cable connected to their battery with an access plug. Connect to a smart charger and voila! you’re done. These systems have come down in price, and if they extend the life of your battery, they’re well worth it. In fact, some modern motorcycles have so many electrical systems scavenging off the battery that a smart charger is a good idea anyway.

If the battery needs to be removed from the motorcycle, be sure to disconnect the negative/earth cable (with the “-” sign, usually 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 handy, affordable 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

Fuel stabilizer makes startup a lot easier in the spring as well, and can protect your carburetors from serious damage.

Gas has a shelf life of about one month before the more volatile part of the fuel evaporates off; after this goes on for a while, we are left with bad gas (not the kind you get a diner); at best, this requires you to drain the fuel tank. At worst, you’ll have to do reconstructive surgery on your fuel system. To prevent this from occurring, add a fuel stabilizer to the gas 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 carburetors, 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 gas may foul the plugs, leaving you with a dead bike.

If the bike is left for longer periods, the gas in the float-bowl 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 prime 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 fresh 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

CMG Honda CRF250L project bike accessories Zac Kurylyk Photo
It’s a good idea to add a little lubricant to your bike’s top end to keep the piston and rings free in the bore.

If you plan to keep the bike in storage for a longer period of time, then you may want to add some oil into the cylinders directly to prevent corrosion.

There are two ways to do this. Either use an engine fogging oil (remove the air filter and spray), or add 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

If you don’t have a cable lube tool, now’s the time to buy one and put it to good use.

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, but it does evaporate over time. Fluid Film isn’t as well-known, but might be a better choice.

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

Make sure your engine oil is topped up, and don’t forget to check the gearbox, if it has a separate oil supply. If you haven’t changed the oil all season, now is a good time to do so.

If you haven’t done an oil change this year, then winterization time is likely a good time for this: acidic by-products collect in the oil, which will corrode the internals of the bike over time.

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

Make sure your coolant fluids are in good shape and topped up for winter.

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 you have a centrestand, use it to avoid distorting your tires.

If your bike has a centrestand, put the motorcycle on it and support the front wheel with a jack stand or block of wood. The key is taking the weight off the tires to prevent flat spots.

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/FILL THE HOLES

Make sure your exhaust doesn’t hold any water, and when you’re done, plug it to keep out rodents.

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!

As well, more than one motorcycle owner has been stymied come spring start-up time when their bike won’t run, despite a clean air filter, fresh gas, and plenty of spark. The culprit? A mouse nest in the exhaust. Stuff something like an oily rag into the end of that exhaust to keep critters out, but make sure it’s easily removable in the spring. You can buy exhaust plugs that are used to keep water out while pressure-washing your bike, and this is a good use for these.


9. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

If you can, keep the bike inside in a heated space.

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). Also make sure that rain or temperature changes (freeze-thaw cycles, etc.)  won’t leave your bike lying on its side after the ground becomes too soggy to support its weight. A block of wood under the kickstand or some plywood under the centrestand helps here, but really, you’re better off finding a way to get it under a roof.

Note – If you don’t have a garage, don’t be afraid to ask your friends if you can slap it in theirs. You can also pay to keep it on a storage location; many dealerships offer this option, as well as motorcycle collectives like Toronto’s Moto Revere. If you’re flat broke and have no garage space, but determined to keep the machine indoors, we’ve heard of more than one owner who’s dismantled the bike and taken it into their apartment or home in pieces. Most of these owners were single men, with a lot of time on their hands.


10. THIEVING BASTARDS

Make sure you’ve secured the bike against theft in the wintertime.

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.

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