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The world can always be nicely divided into two. You are either with us or you’re against us. You’re either state-of-the-art or you’re a laggard. You’re either female or male.

Let me try.

You are either the die-hard rider (as I used to be) and ride all year long, or you are seasonal (as I am in my sweet middle age). If you are seasonal, then you’ll probably either winterize your motorcycle (cheaper) or let your mechanic look at it in the spring (from a little to a lot more costly).

If you are keen to winterize your bike, here’s what you need to know.

Do a visual once-over. Check the health of the brakes, the air cleaner and fuel filter. Look for rust in the hidden places, especially in the cables. Lube the cables to protect them from corrosion as they sit through our humid winters. Check all other fluid levels.

Thoroughly clean your motorcycle. Use something as simple as a gentle detergent to remove road grime and insects. Clean and polish all aluminum surfaces; polish and wax all painted and chromed surfaces. Then, completely dry your bike with a high quality chamois.

Treat your seat as well as it has treated you throughout the riding season. (If it hasn’t treated you that well, get it recovered! There’s nothing more uncomfortable than riding with a ripped or split seat!)

If your bike is shaft-driven, know that I envy you and skip to the next paragraph. If you have a chain, clean it using WD40. Spray off all the residues that have built up over the riding season and then re-lube the chain with a high quality chain lube.

Fill your gas tank. As fuel ages, it changes and becomes gummy and sludgy. With just a small amount of fuel in the tank, it will have a greater impact and can wreak havoc on your carburetor and fuel injectors when you start riding again. Stabilize the fuel for the storage season by adding (you guessed it) fuel stabilizer. Then, start the bike and run it for a few minutes to let the stabilized fuel solution get to the carburetor and fuel injector.

Maintain the battery. If unused, batteries will self-discharge. Attach it to a trickle charger, or charge it up once a month. If you don’t charge it periodically, the sulphates on the plates can wreck your battery. And a light coat of Vaseline on the terminal will prevent rust from settling in.

Avoid running your bike for brief periods throughout the storage season as this can cause internal condensation to build up, which will eventually lead to rusting.

Oil your front forks. One year I didn’t do this, and it was a very expensive riding season the next spring. Oil them, then hop on the bike and bounce around for a bit. This will ensure that the seals are also well oiled.

Spray a bit of WD40 inside the tailpipes. Stuff some oily rags inside to further prevent rust.

The next few steps I recommend that you only do if you really know what you are doing. If not, find someone who can.

Change the oil. Take your bike out for a final spin and with the engine still warm (depending on your bike’s recommendations, of course) do a complete oil change. (My bad: I always save that one for the mechanic in the spring.)

If your bike is fuel-injected, skip merrily along to the next paragraph. If not, you will have to drain your carburetor’s float bowls. Turn off the fuel switch and drain the gas from the bowls.

Disconnect the wires from the spark plugs (taking really good care to tuck the plug wires away, else they can arc and OUCH). Using a spark plug wrench, remove the plug. Keeping your face away from the cylinders, and using something like a turkey baster, put about one teaspoon of motor oil into each cylinder. It’s messy work. Oil will squirt out. Gap the spark plugs, clean them, reinsert them, then re-attach the wires.

If your bike has a liquid cooling system, tend to it. Top it up, or every second year drain, flush and replace the antifreeze. Again, something I leave to my mechanic.

To store your bike, ideally you will have a garage. If not, lay a flannel sheet over the bike and then cover it with a high quality motorcycle cover; park it out of the rain. Put it on its centre stand if it has one. And if you’re parked on concrete, put a sheet of plywood, old carpet or cardboard between the bike and the concrete. This will insulate against condensation throughout the long and dark rainy season.

Then, hunker down to wait for the sun to return.

Having said that, we are lucky to live on the West (albeit wet) Coast and year-round riding is for the most part do-able. And who knows. If the sunshine gods are with us, perhaps there are still a few good weekends of riding a head of us.

– Britt Santowski

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council, where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Santowski is also a  keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.


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2 Responses to “Motorcycles and the sacred art of winter storage”

  1. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:07 pmNB

    Response received by email


    Hi Britt,

    One or your long lost fellow instructors here (N.B.). I’m still working with ___ as an instructor and also as the mechanic. Great article on winter maintenance, really enjoyed it as I am enjoying your other articles also. We also started putting on a one night maintenance class a few times per year and the students seem to really enjoy it. There is a little primer on the web site. I had one thing to pass along regards battery maintenance that might be useful. The trickle chargers you mention are good but should come with a caveat. If the battery is a gel type (which most are these days), then the standard cheapo trickle charger should be avoided. If left on for an extended period of time they will cook the battery (dead) because they don’t stop charging, albeit at a low rate of charge. I encourage people to spend a little more and get a charger that shuts itself off when the battery is charged and then comes on again when needed (a battery tender really). You can buy them at places like Canadian Tire and they are not too much money ($50ish).

    Keep up the great work. It’s really nice to see the motorcycle community getting good press.


    PS: Also recommend disconnecting the battery even if it is left in the bike. Many bikes have a constant small draw on them due to aging electrical connectors.

  2. on 11 Feb 2011 at 5:08 pmD

    Response received by email


    Hi Britt,

    Thanks for the great article on storing the m/c for the winter. I was wondering about the battery. I’ve been taking it out and storing it in the house every winter, since my garage is unheated. Would it be ok to just unhook one terminal and leave it in the bike? It’s a maintenance free battery, and in the spring when I put it on the charger, it’s always fully charged.

    Thanks in advance for your advice.


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