December 9 2009 by Jason Fogelson
I've heard this story every spring, and so have you. My riding buddies call to ask for some help -- it's the first nice day of the new season, and time to go for a ride. Except their bikes won't start. Dead battery, or bad fuel, or gunked up oil. Who knows? All I do know is that they didn't take the time to get their bikes ready for the winter, and now it's springtime, and now they're suffering.
So, you know what's coming: My tips for prepping your motorcycle for the winter.
- First and foremost, give your motorcycle a good, thorough cleaning and detailing from top to bottom. Fix the little things that you've been putting off all summer and fall. Tighten those loose fasteners. Lube that chain. Wrap that frayed wire. A little bit of time spent now will save you a ton of heartache later.
- Figure out where your bike is going to spend its winter. The best of all worlds is a heated, enclosed space, but not all of us have that option. You're going to need access to an electric outlet with "always-on" power, as well.
- Change your oil and filter, or have your oil and filter changed. Changing the oil properly will flush contaminants from your system, and will keep some contaminants from damaging your engine during rest.
- If your bike is water-cooled, flush and refill your radiator with winter-rated antifreeze -- especially important if your bike is going to be stored in the cold.
- Fill your gas tank with fresh gasoline, and add a fuel stabilizer like STA-BIL. A full gas tank will be much less likely to rust over the winter. A half-full tank will be subject to a lot of condensation and evaporation, leaving its insides vulnerable.
- If your bike is carbureted, drain the carb (or carbs) of fuel. Start the engine, then turn the petcock to OFF and run the bike until it stops. Draining the carburetor will prevent fuel evaporation, which can leave varnish and gunk up the carb over the winter. This is especially important with older bikes, which are much more prone to carburetor problems than newer ones.
- In the best storage situation, your bike would be supported in the center with both wheels off of the ground and the tires deflated. That's not possible for most of us. The best we can do is make sure that the tires are properly inflated, and take the time to rotate them every week or so during the winter. Tires that sit in one spot for too long can suffer flat spots, which will impair their function and longevity later on.
- Connect your battery to a smart charger like the ones from Battery Tender. Modern chargers are designed to cycle and maintain a battery over long periods of time, and won't cook your battery like in the old days. Don't connect to an old-fashioned trickle charger, which can overcharge and ruin your battery.
- Get a good quality motorcycle cover to match your storage situation -- indoor cover for the garage, weather proof outdoor cover for a carport or other situation. Don't scrimp here -- get a fitted, lockable cover that's sized correctly for your bike, and you'll avoid inadvertent damage and scratching, and you won't have to worry about the cover coming loose during the winter.
Follow these simple steps, and your bike will thank you for it in the spring, when it roars to life on the first day of riding season!