Properly Storing Motorcycles for Winter
Let’s face it – winter absolutely sucks for motorcyclists. And some more than others, like those on the East Coast where winter is inevitable. Either move or deal with it.
I learned to deal with it, though I keep one bike available for year-long riding, a winterized Suzuki V-Strom DL1000 (winter riding tips here).
The others (Ducati 1198, Honda VFR800) go into hibernation, usually from November through March, contingent on weather. And as man who performs all maintenance except for tire changes, I’ve learned the importance of properly storing motorcycles.
I have a simple motorcycle-storage checklist that I’ve used for over a decade, and every spring riding season begins without issues. While prepping the VFR for winter storage this week, I once again relied on the checklist, which I share here to make things easier for my fellow riders.
By following these winter motorcycle storage tips, the spring riding season will throttle into action without issue. Simply uncover the bike, give the it a once-over, check tire pressures, start and ride. The tips are also in order to make things flow as easily as possible.
1. Go for a Long Ride:
It’s the last time you will this season. Make it fun, even if it means being a hooligan (safe and within the law, of course…).
2. Fresh Fluids (Oil, Clutch, Brake, Coolant):
Many of riders don’t follow this, but I do. I change all fluids – oil (with filter), clutch, brake and coolant – before every winter storage. And this all depends on how long ago you’ve changed your fluids. Example: If it’s been a month and a few hundred miles after a clutch/brake fluid change, I would only change the oil.
But for most, this isn’t the case. And considering I change my brake and clutch fluid twice a year, this saves a step in the beginning of the riding season.
Simply put – changing the fluids keeps things fresh. All fluids, especially used oil, contain contaminants from normal operation, quickly becoming a corrosive bath of fluids. This can destroy rubber seals rather quickly.
Also, when changing brake and clutch fluid, I bleed two full reservoirs before topping it off. This makes sure all the old, nasty fluid is out. And remember to use correct coolant; if your bike is stored in extremely cold temperatures, radiators/lines can bust, ruining not only the riding season, but spraying corrosive material all over your soon-to-be clean motorcycle.
On the subject of fluids, if the bike is going to be in storage for more than four months, it’s not a bad idea to remove the spark plugs and spray the inside of the cylinder walls with oil. Remember to also bump the ignition to spread the oil on the cylinder walls for preservation.
Throughout my years of riding, I’ve never encountered any mechanical breakdowns, and I continue to beat my engines daily. I blame this on normal maintenance, and using fresh fluids ahead of storage.
3. Scrub, Wash, Dry & Wax:
Begin with the dirty parts, such as the chain and brakes. I use a grunge brush and an O-ring safe degreaser for the chain, and disc cleaner for the brakes. While cleaning save yourself some steps for the spring season and inspect everything.
Next, wash and thoroughly dry the motorcycle, especially if you’re doing this before covering it. Water create moisture, and moisture becomes the Beelzebub of problems, causing corrosion and mold.
Next, wax or treat the paint however you usually do, and don’t forget to treat chrome if it’s there. This allows further protection while put away, and also provides a spotless platform to feed your hunger for riding come spring. Some also treat their leather seats and/or other leather items before storage. I respect my seats, and store them inside for the winter. This keeps them fresh for next season.
4. Wax/Lubricate Chain:
Besides cleaning and waxing/lubricating your chain throughout the season (rule of thumb: every 500 miles for street; 200 miles for adventure/off-road), you can also extend the life of your chain by treating it before storage.
As mentioned in Tip #3 above, make sure you clean the chain. And remember to get the chain warm (five miles or so of riding) before lubing/waxing; this allows the lube to dissolve quicker and enter the O-Ring chain for proper lubrication. Then, wipe off all excess wax/lubricant.
For those with a final-belt drive, well, forget this step…you’re lucky.
5. Gas Treatment:
For fuel injection systems, I simple fill the tank with fuel, add fuel stabilizer, run it for a few minutes, and shut it off. This allows the stabilizer to get throughout the fuel-injection components. This simple process has worked for over a decade, and every summer when I rip things apart for cleaning the fuel system, all parts have remained relatively gunk free.
For carburetors, shut the petcock off and either drain the fuel float bowls, or run engine until its starved for gas. Fill up fuel tank and add stabilizer to keep the inside of the tank moisture-free.
This is the reason we top off the tank – to keep moisture from building inside, which causes rust. As for the fuel stabilizer, it does just what it says – stabilizes fuel so it doesn’t go bad. Bad fuel can ruin a motorcycle’s induction components quickly.
5. Exhaust Prep:
Once the exhaust is clean, I spray a very small amount of WD-40 into the end of the pipes, making sure no excess gets outside of the outlets. The “WD” stands for “Water Displacement,” and this helps further protect the inner exhaust/engine from moisture, which can turn into rust.
Once this process is complete. I use a plastic bag, such as a grocery bag, to insert into the pipe and then wrap the access around the outside of the pipe, securing it to the tip with a rubber band. This keeps varmints out, which like to nest inside the exhaust during the winter months.
6. Battery Maintenance:
Storage charges such as a Battery Tender Junior are cheap nowadays, and can make your battery last for years. My father has the record for longest battery life on his 2002 Heritage Softail Classic – eight years. He uses a Battery Tender Junior, and he will try to get nine years out of the same battery next season.
Either remove the battery, and keep it on a trickle charger, or insert a pigtail on the battery. I use the pigtail on everything; sometimes we’ll test new motorcycles for weeks at a time, and the pigtails on my personal bikes allow for a simple hookup to a trickle charger.
7. Inflate Tires to Correct Pressure:
This is simple; if you want your tires to retain their proper shape, inflate them to the correct pressure before storage. Also, if you are storing the bike on the tires, rotate each wheel once a month to prevent flat spots. And grab yourself a good gauge; you’d be surprised at how off some cheaper gauges are.
8. Store on Centerstand and/or Stands if Possible:
If your bike has a centerstand, use it during storage. If you can get both wheels off the ground, this would provide the most optimal situation for storage.
These techniques keep the tires off the ground, preventing the need to rotate to reduce flat spots (though still inflate to proper pressure to retain shape). It also keeps the suspension unloaded, which helps suspension longevity.
9. Use the Correct Cover:
Never use plastic to cover your motorcycle during storage; it traps moisture, causing corrosion and mold issues. Many companies make breathable covers that are affordable. And if you’re very serious about corrosion, and want to go that extra step, there are innovate covers such as the Zerust Motorcycle Cover I began using last winter.
10. Store in Well-Ventilated Area with No Open Contaminants Present:
The most ideal situation is a well-ventilated area anywhere indoors. This keeps air circulating, and no moisture from building up inside the cover. Also, make sure there are no open fertilizers or other chemicals around the bike. If present, these chemicals can speed up corrosion.
11. Forget These Storage Tips:
Yep, simply forget these storage tips, and convince the significant other that the bike needs to reside in the living room. If you’re one of the few luck ones, this is the most ideal situation for any beloved motorcycle…
Have any tips? We’d love to hear them; simply share them in the comment section below.