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December 2, 2009

Keeping your beauty fresh

Tips on Motorcycle Winter Storage
By John Bayliss

Depending upon where you live in this great country, Mother Nature has been very kind to the motorcycling faithful this fall. Especially in Southern Ontario. Just when we thought the riding season was over, the sun came out and temperatures during the day were high enough to extend our riding season. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but winter is coming and it is time to prepare your bike for its winter hibernation.


“Danger” – that’s Johnny’s middle name! Johnny has experience on all forms of motorcycles, and if you keep reading, some wonderful insight on properly storing your bike.

I have owned plenty of bikes over the years, and each fall, I take the time to store them properly so they are ready to go when spring arrives. I’d like to share some advice and tips for winterizing your bike this year. I am not a mechanic, but I am a backyard enthusiast who loves to tinker. I have yet to experience one of my bikes failing to fire-up in the spring … so I must be doing something right. Here is my list of winter motorcycle storage tips:

1. Fill your gas tank with fresh premium fuel that contains no ethanol (Shell premium contains no ethanol … or so says the sign on the pump). I recommend premium because most regular grade fuels contain ethanol and there are a bunch of folks saying it is not the best for power sports applications … especially if you are not using them everyday. More importantly, add the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer. Make sure the tank is completely full for final storage … it will prevent condensation during winter temperature fluctuations.

2. Either take your bike for a short 5 to 10 minute ride or warm your bike up in the driveway and change your oil and filter (this will also insure that the fuel stabilizer has worked its way through the entire fuel system). Refer to your owner’s manual for oil change info.  Unless you have recently changed your oil (1,000 kms or less), it is a good idea to store your bike with fresh oil … it will also save you from having to do it next spring when you are itching to go riding. A bike should not be stored with old, well used oil … its acidity levels will be elevated and could harm your engine internals. Start your bike after the oil change for a minute or so to get the fresh oil circulating.      

3. Once your bike has completely cooled down, if the float bowl drain screws (on non- fuel-injected bikes) can be accessed, drain the float bowls (it is a bit of extra “insurance”). There is no draining required on fuel injected motorcycles, since it is sealed from the outside air.

4. Wash your motorcycle before storing. A coat of wax on the painted parts is a good idea. Always inspect your bike as you wash it. This is a great time to look for damaged, loose or missing parts. If your bike is being stored in a damp environment, consider using some light oil on the chrome bits … just make sure you remove it prior to starting the bike in the spring.

snow road

Sigh …. opportunities to ride your two wheeler are few and far between now. Unless, of course, you have some studs! (And no, I don’t mean in the Chip ‘n’ Dale sense ….)

5. Lube your chain (if applicable) after you have washed and dried your bike. Once again, it is not a bad idea to adjust your chain at the same time … it will save from you having to do it next spring. Please note, chains are not tightened, they are adjusted to a specific tension spec which will be outlined in your owner’s manual.

6. Find a safe, secure spot to store your bike. If your bike has a centre stand, it is best to put it on this stand in order to get as much weight off the wheels and suspension as possible. If you own a sport bike, there are various types of stands available that can raise the wheels off the ground. If not, the side stand will have to do. Remember to store your bike in a well ventilated area away from open flames, sparks, electric motors, etc. (as high ozone levels will degrade the rubber in tires). While talking of tires, the very soft compounds used for high performance sport bikes become easily damaged when the ambient temperatures get really cold. Even a gentle bump down a curb can crack the surface of the tire.

7. Remove the battery, and if applicable, check the electrolyte level and top it up to the correct level with distilled water. Put the battery on charge and fully charge it. The battery should then be stored in a warm, dry place. Never store your battery directly on a concrete floor … this could damage or permantely kill the battery. You can use a 2×4 to keep it up off the concrete. The battery should be charged every 4 to 6 weeks while in storage. [Note: Some MF (maintenance free) batteries require a special charger. There are some very good chargers that can be left connected to the battery for the whole storage period. Perfect if you want to connect and forget it until spring.]

8. Since you have warmed the bike up to change the oil, double check to see if the gas tank needs to be topped up again. If so, make sure you use stabilized premium fuel … this will help prevent condensation and corrosion in the tank. If your bike has a fuel petcock, make sure it is in the off position during storage.

9. Cover your bike with a breathable cover to help protect it and keep it clean. Careful of using a non-breathable cover (plastic tarp etc.) which could cause condensation and corrosion.

10. Depending on where your bike is being stored, if vermin are a concern, take the time to tape up the intake opening and exhaust outlet and put some moth balls under the cover … this will help keep the critters away. (I have also been told that dryer sheets do the same thing … keep vermin away … but have never tried them.) Make sure you remove them before starting in the spring.

11. Some folks go the extra step and remove spark plugs, put a small amount of oil (about a teaspoon) into each cylinder and then rotate the engine a few times to prevent rusting. I have never done this, but some folks feel it is very important. If you are storing your bike for more than just the winter this could be a good idea. [Note: Be careful … removing spark plugs can be a tough job on the newer high-tech bikes, and do not put too much oil into the cylinders.]

12. If you are storing a race bike that has water or water wetter in the cooling system, (read: road race bikes) make sure you drain the water from the cooling system and replace it with proper coolant to prevent freezing and a very costly engine repair.

Finally, remember that thieves don’t go away in the winter. Keep your bike locked up at all times and out of view if possible.

[Note: Lots of riders get an itch to go for a ride on that beautiful mid winter day … if you do this, remember to go through most of the storage procedure again. Also, be aware that if you ride through a puddle or wet area you may have just sprayed your bike with salty water … do not put it away without thoroughly washing it again. Otherwise you will be in for a surprise when you pull the cover off it in the spring … the salt will not only corrode your chrome but may also pit any aluminum parts too.]

Thanks for reading! If you have some tips of your own, feel free to share!

Johnny B

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14 Responses to “Keeping your beauty fresh”

  1. Robert Nice says:

    One of the best written and explained bits on motorcycle storage I have read in over fifty years of trying to find out how to do it right. My congratulations and thanks!

    Hi Robert,
    Thanks you for endorsement. I have had over 40 motorcycles to date and I know how important it is to get them stored right so they are ready to go in the spring. I am sure I have missed a couple of things …. and if so, readers are welcome to respond.

    Johnny B

  2. Motorcycle Clothing says:

    i agree with the guy above – well written article for a newbie – like me. I just got my bike this summer. But i am always confused about washing the bike before storage – cause water sitting in the parts could cause errosion – no?

    It’s okay to wash your bike before storing. Just be sure to dry it well, and be careful using high pressure washers – they can push water through fittings, gaskets or seals if aimed too close.

  3. mark says:

    Just something else i do with my 03 zx6 rr since it was new is spray the entire bike down with wd-40 other than the painted parts. Its leaves a good coating and is very easy to wash off in the spring.I also fog out the motor by spraying through the air box.This must work because it will take about 20 min to burn off when i start it.I also do everything you listed.Good article

  4. Douglas McLaughlin says:

    Or you could always move to the west coast and ride it all year round! Storage? Winter? Bah-humbug!

  5. Marina says:

    Be sure to use Yamalube oil and lubricants – developed by the same engineers who makes the bikes!

  6. Jacques Forest says:

    Hey Johnny! I like the article too. Another thing I do is take the seat inide in case the little vermin decide make a cozy home for the winter. As for the battery, I have a low amperage trickle charger (put out low amps to battery and doesn’t add big numbers to my electric bill) on my battery all winter season long and yes, a 2 X 4 works well. Thanks again. Have a great winter season.

  7. Virgie says:

    “drain the float bowls”…does one really need to do this if you turn your petcock to “off” and let the bike run until it “runs out of fuel?”

    Hi Virgie,

    There will still be some fuel left over in the float bowl, even after the units runs out of gas. It is best to drain this small amount of remaining gas. If you do decide to leave it, it is even more important that you put a good quality stabilizer in the fuel. I know sometimes the float bowl drain screws can be a pain to get at, but it is a lot more work to have to pull the carb or carbs. Better to be safe than sorry. Careful not to round the screw heads … sometimes they can be seized in place. If this is the case, make sure you put a bit of anti-seize on them before re-installing.

  8. Aaron says:

    Nice write up. Should mention that the front tire should be raised off the ground, if left on the ground it may cause the tire to have a flat spot. A peice of wood under the headers (I4)is Honda’s solution to this.

    Hi Aaron,

    You are right. It is best to try to elevate the wheels off the ground and even better if you can let the suspension “hang” free. However, I steered clear of this issue because the majority of today’s bikes do not come with a centre stand, and the last thing I would want is for somebody’s bike to fall over trying to get the wheels off the ground. If your bike has a centre stand or you use a race type rear stand, it is a good idea to get the both wheels off the ground … but please be careful and make sure the bike is very secure … it has to stay that way all winter. I have few bikes and I have not had an issue with flat spotted tires … but my bikes are kept in a garage that only gets down to about -5 C.

  9. John Hanney says:

    John.. another great article! I have to disagree with one tip though. The myth that leaving a battery on a concrete floor will damage it is scientifically ungrounded ( no pun intended). There is no physical or electrical evidence to support this common belief.

    Hi John,

    I double checked with our motorcycle tech specialist about this issue. He says that the biggest concern is how cold the concrete floor will get. The colder the floor, the more cold will be transferred into the battery. The colder the battery gets, the greater the chance of discharge and in turn this will effect the electrolyte as the internal voltage drops. If the specific gravity of the electrolyte gets too low, the battery could freeze and it will be toast. It seems that a battery left on a warm concrete floor may be OK . The bottom line is keeping a battery warm and charged over the winter. The worst case is a battery freezes and splits … nobody wants acid running onto their pride and joy.

  10. MichaelJ says:

    You didn’t mention heated versus non-heated winter storage for a bike. Do you have an opinion?

    Michael, if you’re fortunate enough to have heated storage available, use it. If not, please be sure to follow advice written here and you’ll be fine. But there isn’t any major cause for concern if your bike isn’t stored in a heated area.

  11. GERRY (Geraldine) says:

    Thanks from a female new owner of a VSTAR 1100. I really didnt know where to start. Can you trust a cruiser
    on a centre stand?

    Hi “Gerry”,

    (I hope it is OK to call you Gerry).

    The V-Star 1100 does not come stock with a centre stand. So I will assume you might be asking about a hydraulic stand / lift often available from Canadian Tire or Costco for about $100.00 . The most important thing with this type of stand is to make sure the bike is sitting flat on the stand and is absolutely stable. Often the motorcycle’s exhaust system will not allow the bike to sit flat on the stand and in turn the bike is quite wobbly. If this is the case, I would not recommend the stand … the last thing you want is your bike to fall over. One solution is to remove the exhaust but that is a fair bit of work. The other is to slip pieces of wood under the bike to make it more stable. Whatever you do, make sure the bike is stable or forget the stand. Many of these stands now feature tie down mounting rings on the side of the stand … if the bike is stable, it is a good idea to tie it down as well. The final comment about these stands is they can be raised by stepping on a pedal that operates a hydraulic ram. If there is a locking device to prevent the stand from “sinking” as the hydraulic pressure slowly releases … use it !! Good luck.

  12. Ron Hammond says:

    I have a better idea, which I do. Bring the baby in the house, she stays warm all year round.

  13. Track Jacket says:

    i will be needing some high power pressure washers to clean our home and our garden :`~

  14. Randy Hetman says:

    Do not use a trickle charger on your battery all winter as it will shorten the battery life. Use a “maintainer” type such as Battery Tender.

    Great point Randy. For those following the thread, let’s look at the differences between a “trickle charger” and a “maintainer”. A low amperage charge being applied to a battery is known as “trickle charging”, and the typical trickle charger just lets that low charge process continue 24/7. This is not an issue for a few days, but not so good for extended periods.

    Chargers like the Battery Tender and Optimate 4 supply their charge at low amperage, and therefore we often refer to them as a trickle charger too, but correctly they should be considered as a separate group. Randy suggests a “maintainer”, but I prefer the term “smart charger”.

    A smart charger will follow an algorithm that checks the battery voltage and if low, supplies a low amperage output and raises the battery voltage. But it monitors the voltage carefully to keep it below the point where the electrolyte is gassing (bubbles) to prevent the possibility of overpressurizing the recombinant valve (found in MF batteries) and losing any fluids.

    In this way, we keep voltage at optimum level, remove the likelihood of sulphation of the plates, the charging process raises the battery temperature (a good thing if the battery is still in your bike in an unheated garage all winter) and as a result, you get the most possible life out of the battery. Battery Tender is just one manufacturer. In my experience, the Optimate III or IV units.

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