How to: Winterize your motorcycle

Just about everywhere in Canada has seen snow at this point. Even if you hope to sneak out for the occasional ride on nice days, it’s time to face grim reality: You need to winterize your motorcycle (unless you’re Ed March and Rachel Lasham, as in the title photo). Otherwise, when you go to start it next spring, it won’t cooperate.

Luckily, CMG is here to once again remind you of the steps you must take to fend off Old Man Winter. As always, you must start with …

The big details

Secure the battery!

Letting your motorcycle battery sit all winter without recharging is a sure way to kill it, and a good battery isn’t cheap. So, take steps to protect it.

The best way to take care of your battery is to install some sort of automated trickle charger harness, one that will keep the battery charge topped up all winter via a pigtail lead that’s plugged in. Battery Tender is the best-known brand here, but Princess Auto, Canadian Tire and other retailers will sell you a cheaper system. Whether it’s worth risking an electrical fire over $20 in savings is up to you—we haven’t heard of any of the lower-priced systems failing.

A Battery Tender will pay for itself over the long haul.

You really should have a trickle charger for your bike anyway, so shelling out the $15-$30 is a sensible expense, and cheaper in the long run than the alternatives. Yeah, you can remove the battery and occasionally top it up with a car charger, but the high-amp charge settings on a car charger can fry a smaller motorcycle battery.

If you’re really skint, you can remove the battery and store it in a safe location, re-installing it occasionally and running the bike for a while to top it up again. This is wayyyyy too much hassle for most people, though, and not realistic if your bike is stored off-site.

Stabilize the fuel!

Over time, gasoline deteriorates and does nasty things. This is especially problematic with carbureted motorcycles, as ethanol and other gasoline ingredients can clog all the fine jets in a carb, requiring a cleaning or even a rebuild in the spring. You don’t hear of it happening as much with EFI bikes, but it’s still a problem; along with clogged injectors, you can also get rotted fuel lines and other issues.

First, it’s a good idea to use non-ethanol fuel in your motorcycle over the winter; check here to find a location near you with ethanol-free fuel.

Top up the tank with ethanol-free fuel if at all possible.

Second, if your bike’s fuel tank is made of metal, you should keep it full of fuel over the winter, so it doesn’t rust. But you don’t want that gas to go bad over the winter, so add fuel stabilizer (buy it at Canadian Tire, Princess Auto, Carquest, etc.).

Third, if you’ve got carburetors, you should disconnect the fuel line from the gas tank (if possible), then open the drain bowls to let the remaining fuel out. As a reader pointed out in a previous winterization article, some riders will leave these bowls open over the winter to drain condensation, then run fuel through them in the spring to clean them out … that sounds extra-fussy to us, but it probably won’t hurt (unless it lets moisture in the carb, and the jets end up tarnished?).

Stuff an oily rag into your bike’s intake, to avoid rodent damage.
Stuff the airbox!

You need oxygen as the third part of the internal combustion magic. What happens is, mice and other nefarious rodents like to sneak into your bike’s airbox over the winter and chew up the air filter, or make a nest. Either way, when you hit the magic button in springtime, the bike will run like crap, or won’t even start, if these nasty varmints have their way.

So, get an oily rag and shove it in the intake, so the animals can’t get in there. Do the same for the exhaust pipe. And make sure you don’t stuff something in there that you can’t get out in the spring.

Other details

With the most important pieces covered, your bike should start in the spring with little difficulty. But, there are other things to look at, especially if you aren’t going to be firing up your motorcycle occasionally over the winter.

Squirt a little lube into those cylinders to keep corrosion at bay.
Safeguard the top end!

You don’t want the rings and cylinder to get rusty, do you? So, spray some lube down the spark plug hole, to make sure everything’s nice and protected. This will disappear quickly next time you fire up the bike, as long as you use a light aerosol or engine oil. Don’t fill it full of Bunker C.

Scrutinize the coolant!

Now’s a good time to make sure you’ve got enough coolant in the bike. Find out if your bike requires some fancy-pants performance antifreeze (it shouldn’t), and top up the reservoir if it’s low. Remember, you’re supposed to drain this every couple of years anyway (who’s got time for that?).

Hopefully, your motorcycle won’t require this many bottles for an oil change. You can also use some engine oil to lube the cylinders.
Switch the engine oil!

You can change the engine oil now, if you haven’t done so in a while. You should change it anyway, in the spring, so wait ’til then, if you want. A fussy owner would definitely change the oil before packing away for the winter, though.

Stand the bike up!

If you’ve got a centrestand, put the bike up to take some weight off the tires, so they don’t get flat spots. If you don’t have a centrestand, use a bike jack or paddock stand to do the same thing. Depending who you ask, this is or isn’t a big deal with modern tires. Make sure they’re aired up, as well.

Stop the cables from seizing!

Er, that title is a bit of a stretch, time to wrap this article soon. The point is, if your bike has throttle and/or clutch cables, you don’t want them rusting over the winter. Get some lube in there; Motion Pro makes a tool for this, and a newer tool for this. Do these tools stop you from making a mess? Not really, but they’re slightly more effective than trying to get WD-40 or whatever into that cable housing without the tool.

Store the bike securely!

If at all possible, you want your bike indoors, and ideally, in a heated location, and safe from thieves.

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