Preparing Your Bike for Winter Storage

Text: RoadRUNNER Staff • Photography: RoadRUNNER Staff

"A stitch in time saves nine" is the adage to keep in mind when preparing your bike properly for winter storage. It could save you as much as nine times the work - and money - later on. Of course, postponing that work until spring may be an attractive prospect on a chilly fall day; but imagine how you'll feel when that first day of warm spring sunshine beckons you onto the road and your bike won't start...

Like most powered vehicles, motorcycles work best when run regularly, so the ideal winter storage is simply to keep riding. For most of us, the climate prevents that. So, our bikes have to be stored until spring.

It helps to think of a motorcycle as a collection of systems: the mechanical system, fuel system, lubrication system, electrical system, and the braking system, plus the bicycle - the frame and cycle parts. Each has its own storage considerations.

The Bicycle
The first decision to make is where to store your bike.

Unlike cars, motorcycles aren't designed for long-term exposure to the elements. Even with a bike cover, condensation and moisture will quickly wreck exposed metal and even affect coated parts eventually - not to mention the problems this will cause with braking and electrical systems. Neither will carport or under-deck storage do. You need to control (within reason) the temperature and, more importantly, the humidity where your bike is stored, and anywhere exposure to the elements makes this impossible. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, so as temperature drops, moisture condenses. Metals attract moisture because they more easily conduct heat away, offering a colder surface for condensation. Air plus moisture plus ferrous metal - even some "stainless" steels - equals rust.

If you don't have a heated garage, you can still avoid corrosion by preventing air contact with metal surfaces. Coating exposed metal (fork legs, exhaust systems, handlebars, wheels, chains, etc.) with a wax- or oil-based preservative will stop corrosion before it starts.

Electrical system
The first consideration here is the battery. Even if disconnected, the battery will discharge as much as 10 percent per month; so, the best plan is to remove it from the bike and use a trickle charger, like those made by Battery Minder, to keep it charged - but make sure the electrolyte level is correct. Top up with distilled or de-ionized water.

The rest of the electrical system will be fine as long as you prevent moisture from corroding terminals and connectors. Include all exposed wiring and connectors in your moisture-prevention coating program.

Mechanical and lubrication systems
Corrosion can affect the inside of your motorcycle as well. Fresh engine oil contains detergents that absorb and/or emulsify water and acids produced by combustion in the engine, limiting internal corrosion. But these additives have a finite capacity, and will be used up over the course of a normal oil-change interval. So, your storage regimen should include an engine oil change. And while you have the oilcan handy, lubricate control cables and your final drive chain (if your bike has one).

Fuel system
Gasoline contains a number of additives that will leave behind a solid residue when the gas evaporates. For this reason, it's best to drain the gas from fuel lines and carburetors before storage. In days of old, this was as simple as starting the bike, turning the petcock to "off," and running the engine until it stalled. Most modern bikes either have a vacuum petcock or fuel injection, and the gas can't be turned off. So, ideally, the gas should be drained from the float chambers in the carbureted bike. This may not be easy to do, but a gummed-up carburetor is the most common cause of difficult starts or poor running in a bike after long-term storage.

No such action is possible or even necessary on fuel-injected bikes. Fuel injection systems don't store fuel in the same way as carburetors do: gas is fed directly to the injector control system by a high-pressure pump through sealed lines. Therefore, no special storage procedure is required.

But you should top off the gas tank, for two reasons. One, gas also contains additives that absorb moisture. The more gas there is in the tank, the better the likelihood that more residual moisture is absorbed. And this winter-storage fill up means less metal surface is exposed to air, also preventing corrosion.

This holds true even if you have a nylon gas tank: You should top off the tank to limit the amount of air in contact with the gas. Oxygen in the air will degrade the gas over time, which may result in difficult starts when spring arrives. Adding a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil can help too.

Braking system
Most brake fluids (DOT 3 and 4) are ethylene glycol-based and absorb moisture from the air. Eventually, this moisture will cause corrosion problems in hydraulic braking systems, causing calipers to stick or freeze up. The best way to prevent this is to change the brake fluid immediately before storing your bike. Bleeding and refilling a typical motorcycle braking system is not difficult if you have the right equipment. But brakes are important, so if you have any doubts about doing the job properly, leave it to a trained technician. Use only the recommended fluid from a sealed container.

In concert with the brake fluid change, remove the disc pads and check the condition of the calipers to ensure there's no external corrosion on the slave cylinder walls behind the pads. If there is, refer the problem to a qualified technician. Again, this could save a heap of money in the long run.

If you're thinking these aren't worthwhile procedures to undertake, just ask your dealer how much it costs to refurbish or replace your brake calipers after they've seized.

And now that your bike is ready for hibernation, rest easy in hopes for an early spring!