Ugh. Cold weather. It’s bad for cars, worse for motorcycles. Every year, I write to remind you that putting your bike away for the winter is an essential part of motorcycle care. This year is no different. I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but if you don’t care for your bike, your bike won’t be there for you when the weather turns nice again.
There are two basic aspects to long-term motorcycle storage: cosmetic protection and mechanical protection.
Your bike has painted surfaces, chrome-plated surfaces and metal surfaces to deal with, in addition to upholstery (usually vinyl and/or leather) and rubber. The enemy is exposure to the elements: moisture, cold and dust. Even oxygen is an enemy, as it can cause oxidation to surfaces. For most weather conditions, a good coating of two coats of carnauba wax will protect painted surfaces for the off-season. In extreme cases, a thicker coat of Cosmoline or a similar rust preventive over the wax may be required. Vinyl and rubber surfaces require antioxidant protection, like 303. Chrome can be protected with carnauba wax, just like paint, as long as the surface is clean and polished first. Leather seats and saddlebags need a good cleaning and leather treatment before winter storage. If you can bring your leather inside your home in the back of the closet for the winter, they’ll do a lot better than sitting out in the cold garage.
The most important cosmetic protection your bike can get is from a breathable motorcycle cover. It is important that your motorcycle cover is not only soft and pliant, but that it does not trap moisture, which can cause rust and corrosion.
The second aspect to long-term motorcycle storage is mechanical protection. Remove your spark plugs, and squirt two tablespoons of Harley-Davidson Motor Oil or Marvel’s Mystery Oil in each cylinder. Then, reinstall the spark plugs, leaving the plug leads disconnected and crank the engine with the starter for a few revolutions. This will coat and protect the cylinder walls during storage. Leave the plug wires disconnected for the winter.
You’ve got two choices when it comes to your gas tank. One way to handle it is add a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil to the tank, then fill it up to the brim. Don’t leave the tank partly full – your tank may rust above the fuel level line. The other choice is to drain the fuel system completely. (Be sure to dispose of gasoline safely and environmentally.) Then, use a rust preventative like KBS Tank Sealer to protect the inside of your gas tank for the off-season.
Don’t neglect your battery over the winter, either. If you haven’t yet switched over to a sealed, maintenance-free style battery yet, maybe this will be the time. Whichever type of battery you’ve got on your bike, it has to be hooked up to a Battery Tender or similar computer chip-controlled trickle charger over the winter, or you’ll be buying a new battery when the pavement thaws. Consider removing your battery from your motorcycle and storing it where you can easily check on it during the winter months, to be sure that it is getting the right level of charge. I was able to keep my last battery alive for nearly a decade by diligently connecting it to a Battery Tender between each and every ride.
If you can, bring your motorcycle into your garage for the winter. At the very least, provide your bike with cover from the weather. If you don’t have the space in your garage or even any roof over your bike’s head, you might consider buying an army surplus camping tent for your bike to live in during the off-season. For under $100, your bike can live in style in your back yard, protected from the elements and in style.
Even better, get rid of that couch in the guest room, and bring your bike indoors for the winter. You may have to choose between your bike and your spouse – but you really love your bike, don’t you?