4 Essential Tips to Winterize Your Motorcycle

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Yes, I know I’m crazy. Don’t worry; I store the other bike.

Unless you live far enough south, you’re probably not crazy enough to try to ride all year.  I am one of those crazy few who rides through winter, but I only ride one of my motorcycles; I store the other one, as it isn’t suited for riding in the snow.  Storing your motorcycle for winter is easier than you might think.  Here are the basics to ensure your ride is ready to go in the spring, with some common myths you’ll want to avoid.

#1:  Your Tires:  Keep Them Round and Pliable
Tires are round.  Tires are very exactly round.  To ensure a smooth and safe ride, you want your tires to stay round.  However, parking your motorcycle in one place for a long period of time can wear spots on your tires that make your tires less than round.  These are called “flat spots” and they’re bad news.  There is no way to repair a tire that develops a flat spot, except to replace it.

Your first defense against “flatspotting” is proper tire pressure.  Always refer to your owner’s manual for the ideal tire pressure for your specific bike.  And always check and adjust your tire pressure while your tires are still cool (before a ride).  Do this before storing your motorcycle; but, also check it periodically throughout the winter, as air pressure changes with temperature.

stop and go mini air compressor

TIP: A small, portable air compressor (like this one) can allow you to easily check and adjust your tire pressure from the comfort of your own garage for less than $35.

Your second defense is to get the weight of your bike off your tires.  Ideally, a winterized motorcycle should be up off the ground.  There are a variety of motorcycle stand options, depending on what you ride.  For sportbikes and some cruisers, the bike will rest on a set of front and rear motorcycle stands.  For dirt bikes, there is a single stand that rests under the frame in the center of the bike, which the motorcycle will balance on.  Many touring bikes have their own center stand installed on the bike itself to raise the rear tire off the ground and nearly eliminate the weight on the front tire.  Whatever you ride, do what you can to keep the tires off the ground, while insuring the motorcycle is secure.  ”Hack jobs” are not recommended here.  Using improper equipment to elevate your motorcycle can ensure Gravity has a winning hand.

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A pun here would make me a stand up comedian.

There is no need to risk a dented gas tank anyway.  If you are unable to lift your motorcycle with the proper stand setup, the second best thing is to move your motorcycle periodically.  You don’t have to roll it far and you don’t need to start it.  Just go out to the garage once a week or so and move it at least six inches– don’t roll it so far that you end up back on the same spot of the tires.  This keeps the weight of the bike from putting pressure on one spot for an extended period of time.  It’s the second best thing to having your bike on a stand.

Keeping your bike off the ground also prevents another danger inherent with long-term storage:  dry rotting.  Your tires need to stay soft and pliable as much as they need to stay round.  If you leave your bike parked on the cold concrete floor of your garage, the concrete is likely to draw moisture out of your tires.  Tires that dry out will prematurely age and become stiff and brittle.  They are not safe to ride on, as they will not provide good grip.  They will also be more susceptible to poor traction conditions and road hazards.  Like with flatspotting, a dry rotted tire must be replaced, regardless of age.

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Giving my supermoto the green carpet treatment.

And, like with keeping your tires round, your best defense against your tires drying out is to keep them elevated.  However, your second best option is carpet squares.  They’re not just good for story time in preschool; they’re an inexpensive and effective way to insulate your tires from the moisture-sucking vortex that is your garage floor.  (Obviously, move them when you reposition your bike to prevent flatspotting.)

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#2:  Your Gas:  Keep it Stable and Clean
Rust in your gas tank is bad news.  Not only can it cause serious problems throughout your fuel system, it can be a very complicated and expensive issue to address.  Your motorcycle engine requires an unhindered supply of clean gasoline to operate.  Rust and varnish can not only contaminate the gas itself, it can also clog up the fuel system, interrupting the smooth flow of gasoline.  Picture a clogged toilet and you’ve got the idea.  But in this case, the repair is more involved (and often more expensive) than a simple plunger.

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Oxygen causes rust, and rust can form surprisingly quickly during winter storage.  Thankfully, your best defense against rust is also the simplest one:  top off your gas tank with fresh gas before storing your bike.  More gas means less air which means less oxygen.

Now, the gas itself can also be detrimental.  Well, not the gas (technically), but the additives that occur in most all pump gas.  These additives will separate over time, and these separated chemicals are no bueno.  Not only will the separation prevent the gas from burning properly in the spring, the chemicals themselves can be harmful to the fuel system.

The best way to keep these detrimental additives from separating in your gas tank is–ironically– to add an additive.  That is, a stablizing additive.  Startron is a personal favorite among the staff and local customers here at Motorcycle Closeouts, but there are many options out on the market, each with its own merit.

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We don’t sell Startron online, but it is popular in our Smithville, MO retail store.

So, you’ve topped off your gas tank and added a fuel stabilizer.  You’re not done yet!  Obviously, the gas tank isn’t the only component of your fuel system.  The gas needs a way to get from the fuel tank into the engine.  You need to protect the rest of this system as well, not just the tank itself.  The process of winterizing the rest of the fuel system is slightly different whether your motorcycle is carbureted or fuel injected, but the initial next step is the same for both:  Let the engine idle for a couple minutes with the full tank of treated gas.  This ensures it is treated gas (with the added stabilizer) and not untreated gas that is left in the rest of the fuel system.

If your motorcycle is fuel injected, that’s the last step for winterizing your fuel system.  Simply turn it off after you have let it idle.

If your motorcycle is carbureted, there are two schools of thought on the next step.  One method is to simply turn it off, shut off your petcock (if your motorcycle has one) and leave it, like you would with a fuel injected bike.  Though the carburetor(s) float bowl(s) is/are full of gas (think of the “float bowl” as your carburetor’s own mini gas tank, which it will draw from and replenish as you ride), it is full of treated gas, which should prevent both rust/tarnish and should not separate.  However, there is a slight risk of the gas and chemicals damaging or breaking down any of the rubber gaskets or seals inside the carburetor(s) using this method.  These could lead to leaks or clogging up the flow of gas.

The other school of thought is to drain your float bowl and store the motorcycle with the carburetor(s) empty of gas.  The simplest way to do this without any tools is to turn off your petcock (if your motorcycle has one), which will shut off the supply of gas from your fuel tank to your carburetor, and let the engine idle until it “dies.”  In other words, until it uses up the gas in the float bowl.  The slight risk here is that tarnish or rust may build up inside the carburetor from sitting empty all winter.

There are strong opinions on both options with a carbureted motorcycle.  I’ve tried both with success, so I leave the choice up to you, the reader.

NOTE:  If your motorcycle takes race gas, I am assuming you are already more involved in the maintenance of your bike, but it bears mentioning here:  DO NOT STORE YOUR MOTORCYCLE WITH RACE GAS!  Race gas is highly corrosive.

 

#3:  Your Battery:  Keep it Charged and Floating
Batteries don’t like to just sit around.  You might think that not using it would mean you shouldn’t have to do anything to it, but that’s not the case.  A vital part to storing your motorcycle is keeping the battery charged.  If you don’t keep your battery charged, you may find yourself with a dead battery in spring, or a battery that poops out on you halfway through the riding season.

Imagine yourself as an example.  You need to eat to stay alive.  Even if you are bedridden, you will starve to death without the input of food.  Even in a coma, you are burning off energy.  If you didn’t stay nourished during a long period of rest, you would not have the energy to make it through a period of physical excursion.  Your battery is similar.  Even just sitting on a shelf, it is spending energy through its internal chemical reaction.  During the regular riding season, it “nourishes” itself through the motorcycle’s own charging system while you ride.  But, during storage, it will need to stay charged with an external charging system.

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Charge!!

Battery chargers/tenders have come a long way over the years.  Many are now “idiot-proof” and maintenance free, meaning they will not over-charge your battery.  Over-charged batteries can leak acid, or go boom.  This was a serious and potentially dangerous problem that you used to have to watch for with older battery chargers.  However, with many modern chargers, you can simply hook them up to your battery, plug them into the wall, and walk away until spring.  Deltran Battery Tenders and Genius Chargers are two options that you can “set it and forget it.”  Both will automatically switch to a “float charge” once the battery is fully charged.  A “float charge” maintains the battery at a healthy level without over-charging it.  NOTE:  Refer to your battery charger owner’s manual to confirm if it is a maintenance-free charger.  Remember: Over-charging is dangerous.

A Quick Tip:  Whenever you’re hooking something up to your battery, always connect the positive end first, then the negative.  This minimizes the effects and risks of shocks or sparks (both to you and to the battery).  Whenever you are disconnecting something from your battery, you reverse the process:  disconnect the negative first, then the positive.

 

#4:  DO NOT START YOUR BIKE!!
I know you miss the purr of the engine.  I know you probably sneak out to the garage, crack a beer, and simply admire your machine.  I know spring cannot come fast enough.

But, don’t start your bike.

It’s a common misconception to think that starting your motorcycle periodically throughout the winter and letting it idle is a good way to maintain it.

But, it actually does the exact opposite.

You may think periodically letting your bike run for a few minutes– maybe even 15 or 20 minutes– will help maintain the battery.  But, it actually drains your battery.

Starting the engine is harsh and very demanding of your motorcycle’s battery.  It takes a lot of “juice” to get the bike to start, no matter how easily it seems to turn over.  And the vast majority of motorcycle charging systems are nothing like a car’s.  The internal charging system will not produce nearly enough power on idle to gain back the power that the battery spent to start the bike.  Unless you are going out on a decent ride (which does help recharge the battery) , don’t start the bike just to let it idle.  You will lose more in battery power than you would ever gain back.  You will have a weaker battery after letting it idle, not a healthier one.

It would be like deciding you would be healthier through diet and exercise.  But, your plan is to go outside and sprint up and down the street as hard and fast as you can for 10 minutes.  Then, go back inside and eat a couple of saltine crackers.  Your body just lost far more than it gained, you are left winded, and the piddly crackers are not going to be much help at all in building or repairing muscle.  The moral of the story:  Be kind to your battery.  Leave the charging/maintaining up to the battery charger.

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Now, you may also think that periodically letting your bike run for a few minutes– maybe even 15 or 20 minutes– will help keep the fuel system clean and fresh.  But, it actually hurts your fuel system.

If your bike is carbureted, picture a coffee mug.  If you leave the coffee sit at a certain level for a while, it will leave a stain or ring at that level.  If you change the level of coffee in the cup and let it sit again, you will get another ring at that level as well.  Starting the bike and letting it idle repeatedly throughout the winter makes the inside of your carburetor like that coffee mug:  multiple rings and layers of tarnish, film, gunk.  You are actually more likely to clog up your carburetor by this method.

Some think that if their motorcycle is fuel injected, they are immune to this issue and so they start their bike anyway, assuming they are helping the battery (already addressed above).  However, if your bike is fuel injected, repeated starting and idling throughout the winter is harsh on your fuel injectors.  Because it is electronically controlled, your motorcycle automatically runs a “richer” mixture (which means more gas and less air) when it first starts, and then adjusts as the engine warms up.  It does the same thing as a carburetor’s “choke,” but it automatically adjusts based on programming and various sensors.  This richer mixture has a similar “filming” effect on the injectors as would on the carburetor.  Normally, this would be cleared off while riding.  But, if you’re not going to “take it out and open it up,” you’re only gumming up the injectors.

 

Now You Know
These are the 4 basic principles for successfully storing your motorcycle this winter.  It is possible to go much more in depth, including what (and how) to oil preventing rust, what to do with the other fluids (radiator, brakes, front forks) before your first ride in the spring (HINT: change them!), and more… But, what is here are the essentials to ensure your bike will be ready for the next riding season, with minimal risk for extra maintenance or repairs come spring.

And now, here’s a toast to a short winter!  Ride safe.

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