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Winter and your new roommate, Mr. Battery

by Lee Meyer

Fall is now upon us. As much as I hate to say it, soon it will be time to put the bikes away for the winter. About the worst thing you can do to a motorcycle short of crashing is to let it sit outside in a snow bank for six months with no more attention than a casual glance. One way to deal with this is to ride your favorite toy to California and stay there until spring. That’s how my bike and I handled the cold last year. Total avoidance works. Since most of us (including me) won’t be able to do the Great Migration this winter, let’s go over some storage ideas that will help you avoid heavy service fees next spring.

First, find a storage spot that is inside a building&emdash;not outside. A heated space is best, but it isn’t totally necessary. If you absolutely have no choice but to store your machine outside, at least get or make a good cover for it. Snow and the pollutants in snow will turn your bike into a rusty, messy, heap-o-junk by spring. Ick.

Next, if you want to avoid a major carb overhaul next spring, you must do something now. The popular, Old School idea of draining the carb float bowls is, in my opinion, a big, messy waste of time. Here’s why. After draining the float bowls, the jets and gas ports will still have the same amount of residual fuel in them. The only way to remove this leftover gas is to disassemble the works and to blow compressed air through the passages and the jets. Failure to do this will result in the gasoline drying and leaving green residue all over these small passages and float needle valves. This may partially obstruct these small holes or cause the float needles to stick. Carburetors are not supposed to be dry. Gaskets and seals dry up and shrink. Metal parts corrode. Moving parts stick in unfavorable positions. By draining those float bowls, you just speed up this whole swell process.

A better idea is to get a good fuel stabilizer from any local bike shop, fill the tank with a good name brand premium gas and add the stabilizer to the tank. Ride around the neighborhood for ten minutes or so to make sure the stabilizer gets into the carbs. Some bikes will run kind of crummy on stabilized gas. This will go away with your first spring-fresh tankful. The full tank will keep rust away, and the stabilizer will prevent gas from turning to green Jell-O.

To make sure your carbs don’t dry up, you might try peeling your eyes off the boob tube, getting off your arse and starting the chilly beast once a month. Warm it up fully. Rev it up a few times to get all the moving parts moving. It’s quite important to warm the engine to full operating temperature if you start the machine. Your engine must get good and hot to burn off any moisture in the crankcase and in the exhaust that can become corrosive.

You may be wondering just how your bike will start every month over the winter when your car wouldn’t be that reliable. It’s not just because cars suck. You’ll have a new roommate, Mr. Battery. Yep, you have to remove that battery and bring it in the house. Think of it as a new pet or a winter-long baby-sitting job. If you keep it warm, put it on a trickle charger (one or two amps) every couple of weeks and maintain water levels, the battery will have plenty of juice to start your bike this winter and next spring. Motorcycle batteries have a tough life here at the coldest spot on earth (A.K.A. Minnesota), but, believe it or not, you don’t have to buy a new battery every spring.

Obviously, almost nothing will run when it is 40° below zero, so wait for a nice heat wave when the temp climbs to a balmy 10° above. If your machine was in good tune when you put it away, it should start fairly easily.

Dirty oil is full of contaminants that can be rough on engine internals. A fresh oil change right before you park it is a good deal.

All right, if all this is too much work for you, there is another way to store your pride and joy safely. Most bike shops offer heated storage for about $100.00 for the winter (usually October 15 to April 15). They’ll maintain your battery and stabilize your fuel for you. You may also be able to get some very nice service discounts on work done over the winter, so be sure to inquire about them.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you do something. Every spring I clean and rebuild hundreds of carburetors. This is not cheap. Wouldn’t you rather be riding next spring instead of waiting a month for me to get to your bike at the shop? I can always use the money, but I’m so busy in the spring. I’d rather you just stopped in to say hello.

That’s it for now. Keep riding till the snow flies. See ya.

-Doc

M.M.M.

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