Motorcycle Winterization Manual
For Canadian riders, autumn usually spells the end of another riding season. It also marks the beginning of winter storage.
To help you decide which steps to take this year, we’ve researched as much relevant info as we could find. We also polled the office and added a healthy dose of our own opinions. The end result is this comprehensive guide on packing your baby away for the wintertime.
Step 1: Choose where to store your motorcycle
The first thing to think about is where your motorcycle will live for the winter months. Obviously you’ll want somewhere dry, safe and secure. Someplace warm might help, too. What are your best options?
Home Garage This is the simplest and cheapest solution, under one condition: you have adequate space to store your bike at home! If you do, we highly recommend this cheap and easily-accessible option.
Motorcycle Dealership or Repair Shop Many motorcycle dealerships and repair shops will store motorcycles over the wintertime for a fee. Some facilities will even offer "freebies" - such as a motorcycle cover - which you get to keep once the storage session is over. This is a great option if you want to leave your motorcycle in the hands of a professional and save some space at home. The biggest downside is that you won't have easy access to your bike, so forget about any winter projects you might have had in mind.
General Secure Storage Facility Most cities and towns have general storage facilities where you can rent a space. Some facilities simply offer outdoor lock-ups, while others offer a range of indoor and outdoor spaces priced per square foot. This is the most expensive option and since you are renting the space only, you still need to do all the winterization steps yourself.
Our advice: Store it in your garage, heated or not, whenever possible. If you don't have the space, a motorcycle dealership or repair shop that offers a storage service is the next best option.
Step 2: Go for one last ride
The last ride accomplishes three major tasks: First, it allows you to say goodbye to your baby. Second, it allows you to top-up the gas tank and add that all-important fuel stabilizer. And third, you'll warm up the engine for the upcoming oil and filter change.
Step 3: Top off gas and add fuel stabilizer
Towards the end of your last ride, head to your local gas station and add the fuel stabilizer. Fuel stabilizer works to stop gasoline from degrading, ensuring that your carbs and injectors don’t get gummed up.
Check the label on the stabilizing product to check the required ratio of stabilizer to gas. Add the correct amount for the FULL volume of your tank, and then top it up with gas. As you ride to the storage location, that stabilizer will spread throughout the fuel system and help to keep the gas in your motorcycle nice and fresh.
Another benefit of filling your tank is that you will decrease the free space for condensation to form. This reduces the risk of rust.
Step 4: Change the oil and filter
The dirty work for putting your motorcycle away begins with that all-important oil and filter change.
Yes, we know that you’re not going to be riding again till spring; that’s exactly why we need to get the old oil out. Used oil can turn acidic, causing corrosion from the inside out.
Some riders will change the oil again before riding in the spring. We think this may be overdoing it a little, but would consider riding fewer clicks before making the first springtime oil change.
Make sure you tighten the filter and drain plug properly, so you don’t get any unwanted drips on your floor over the winter. And remember to change out the gasket if you need!
Step 5: Wash and wax
Washing your machine before storage is far more important than you think. Washing a motorcycle ensures that you get rid of all the dirt, bugs and other contaminants that will degrade the finish of metal and plastic parts over time. There are lots of great motorcycle washing liquids out there, like this one from Motul. Once you're done, applying wax will protect from minor scratches.
Step 6: Clean and lube the chain
If you own a chain-driven ride, you need to clean and lube that chain before storing the motorcycle. This is especially important if you have just washed the machine, since moisture leads to rust. It helps to have a warm chain, so run the bike on a centre stand if possible.
Step 7: Wheel and tire care
Sometimes chain lube manages to find its way onto the rear tire, so we suggest leaving wheel and tire cleaning until after the lubing is done. A little kerosene on an old, clean cloth works to clean both the rear and front wheels. If you prefer, wheels shine up nice with a decent wheel cleaner.
Some people suggest deflating tires prior to long-term storage, but we say leave them at spec. Flat spots are rarely an issue with modern tires, especially if you move the bike slightly once in a while. Besides, leaving the correct pressure is probably safest. Imagine if you forgot to re-inflate the tires in your springtime excitement. That could be a very short first ride.
Step 8: Parking and Battery
The colder the climate, the faster a battery will discharge. And if you have a newer bike with a clock or alarm system, this “key off” drain will further contribute to battery drain. Motorcycle batteries are designed to be kept near full charge to enable engine cranking at start up. Ergo, they don't like being discharged.
If you want to keep your motorcycle ready-to-roll, you should ride it periodically. Ideally, ride far enough for the battery to recharge. Of course, this necessitates clear roads and civilized temperatures, both of which are rare in wintertime Canada.
If your motorcycle is definitely out of action for a few months, we suggest taking the battery out. With the battery out, you can ensure that it gets a good clean. Terminals can get that nasty coating of green/blue copper sulfate that, if left too long, will ruin your contact point. You can get the terminals and posts clean with fine sandpaper or a wire brush and a little brake cleaner.
Coat everything with dielectic grease to inhibit further corrosion. You can use brake cleaner on the battery cover too, or try a mix of baking soda and water applied with a non-metallic brush. A quick blast of WD40 and a wipe dry will ensure that the water or cleaner is displaced afterwards.
Now, you need to keep the battery charged. The difference between a trickle charger and a battery tender is that a trickle charger constantly applies a charge, whether the battery is fully charged or not. A battery tender, on the other hand, has circuitry that monitors the battery and charges only when the voltage has dropped below a pre-set level, thus preventing overcharging and damage.
Because battery tenders apply no strain, they can be connected indefinitely. A trickle charger, on the other hand, should be disconnected and reconnected occasionally.
Ideally, you need to store the battery above 32°F (0°C). Depending on the situation in your garage, this may mean moving it inside the house.
Step 9: Muffler and cover
Just two last, easy things and your work is done. The inside of a muffler makes a great winter home for mice, moisture and rust. Cover the end of the mufflers with taped-down plastic bags or balloons. Next, cover the motorcycle with a soft sheet to stop the build-up of dust and the potential for scratching.
And that’s it! Your baby is safe and sound for the winter, and all you have to do is plan some awesome rides for next year.