Fall heralds the beginning of a lot of work in my life. There’s food to can, wood to be split, and deer to be hunted. I try to break up the drudgery with some bike trips. Fall offers the prettiest riding of the year, in my estimation.
For those of us in a cold climate, fall also means that bikes need some special attention.
Some reasonably easy work now can save you from repair bills later, and you won't be thwarted on that first nice day next spring because you really want to ride but your motorcycle doesn't want to start. At the advent of each new riding season, I make loads of bucks replacing batteries, cleaning rusty gas tanks, and (my favorite!) rebuilding carburetors for those who didn’t winterize their bikes correctly. As I constantly say to deaf ears, "Maintenance is far cheaper than repair."
How to winterize your motorcycle
- Treat the fuel and empty the carburetor bowl if you like
- Change your fluids
- Move the machine to its hibernating spot
- Take steps to deter rodents
- Connect a float charger to your battery
Before we get too deep into things, know that I am writing this based on how I like to mothball a bike. There are lots of ways to skin cats; this is mine. So if you’re an old-timer who has a method that works really well, I’m not shunning your game plan. Rather, I am trying to provide some guidance to the rookie who might not have a routine established yet. This is some stuff that has worked well for me over the years.
Start with a plan
Specifically, what gets “preserved” and where it’s going to live. I usually only winterize running bikes that are not getting major surgery over the winter. This year, I have one Shovel up on the table getting built, and my dresser will be the winter commuter, so that cuts down on the number of bikes that are not being ridden or majorly repaired this winter. There’s not much point in filling the tank if it needs to be drained for a repair, is there?
Good gas is good practice
For a bike you might ride, go pick up a jerry can of fuel, and hit it with fuel treatment. Every time you ride, keep topping it up from the jerry can. That way, if the weather turns ugly and you have to stop riding, you have nothing to fear come spring. I could go on for days about ethanol phase separation and rusty tanks, but I won't. Keep the bike full of treated fuel. If you’re a “tank empty” winterizer, that’s OK, too. There are shortcomings with both plans. (Full tanks place more stress on the petcock, and empty tanks can lead to dried out seals.) Pick whatever makes you comfortable. Just do something. Doing nothing is a surefire way to miss your early April ride.
Cover your bike. Maybe.
Let me be clear about one thing: Indoors in a climate-controlled area is the best spot to store a bike. Anything else is somewhere between a little worse and a lot worse. However, this is the real world. Not everyone has a heated garage at their disposal, especially you cats living in the city, in a college dorm, in your mom's basement, etc. Renting a storage unit can be a surprisingly affordable way to get your motorcycle under shelter for the winter, especially if you round up a coupla buds to split the cost.
I cover every bike that lives indoors, but the times I’ve been forced to store something outside, I leave the machine uncovered. It’s far too easy in the fall and late winter for wetness (or worse, salty water from treated roads!) to be drawn into a bike cover. That water trapped in the cover can soften your paint and dull or tarnish your chrome and polished aluminum bits. Controversial, I know, but that's my approach.
Even if you like rat bikes, do not make a mouse house
Mice eat everything, I swear. And they want to be warm. I have found that mice nibble wires, eat air filters, and sleep (and crap) in exhaust pipes. Do your best to keep them out of your bike by plugging up openings, from exhaust pipes to air intakes.
Do not start your bike periodically
I hear "You gotta run it once a week!" from time to time. Do not start up your bike unless you plan to ride it. Cold starts are hard on engines, even when it's not freezing cold out. Worse, you deplete some of the battery's charge by starting the bike, and if you don’t go ride at normal rpms, the bike charging system won't necessarily restore the battery to a full charge. Many bikes don’t actually charge at idle. If you don’t get the bike up to full operating temp, too, you are inviting condensation in places that you likely don’t want it. Start it and go ride, or don't bother waking it up.
Turn off the petcock if you have one
If you have a carbed bike with a petcock, turn it to the “off” position. If you leave the fuel tap on, the entire weight of the fuel pressure in the tanks is borne by the little tiny rubber-tipped needles in the carbs. They will eventually lose the fight. Leaving the fuel tap on also opens the possibility to fuel leaking past the needles. If that happens, fuel may enter the cylinders. It will strip vital lubrication from the walls of the cylinders. If it gets really bad, you get fuel pooling in there. If you want to see what that leads to, just do a Google image search for “hydrolock.”
Install an SAE lead, if possible
A battery maintenance charger is a must. At the very least, take your battery indoors, and if you can, spring for a small float charger.
An SAE lead makes life so flippin’ easy! I can hook my battery up lickety-split without turning a wrench. I also run all sorts of stuff of my SAE lead: heated gloves, GPS, USB chargers for Mrs. Lemmy’s cell phone, you name it. Nine bucks for that kind of convenience is a bargain.
If this ain’t your first rodeo, you’ll doubtless have other tips to add. Throw them in the comments section below so the rookies and veterans alike have an easier time of putting their bikes away for hibernation. If you think I’m nuts about not covering a bike or filling up the tanks... well, let us know how you do it. My method is certainly not the only game in town! And if you'd like to read a little more on what to do to ensure your bike's long winter nap is a good one, check out our Winterization Hub.