by Victor Wanchena
No one likes winter storage. It’s a sad but necessary task. Many riders overlook the importance of proper storage. They simply roll their bike into a corner of the garage and forget about it for the next few months. These same riders are often very sad come spring when their machine refuses to start or runs like a paint shaker. They also enjoy the extra bonus of getting their bike serviced during the spring rush. But it doesn’t have to be like that. A few simple tasks can save all that hassle and mean you’re on the road while Billy Bad Storage is waiting for his bike to get serviced. A small disclaimer; if any of the following steps are above your mechanical ability, contact your service professional.
The first item on the agenda is to wash and clean the bike. Even though I don’t wash my bike very often during the summer, I try to put it away clean. A good thorough cleaning will help reveal any issues and help prevent corrosion over the winter.
The most important item to take care of is your fuel system. The modern formulation of gasoline does not give it a long shelf life. But there are two things to fight that. First, try and find a station that sells non-oxygenated gasoline. Non-oxy fuel does not contain some of the chemicals in regular pump gas that can cause trouble over the winter. Not sure where to find non-oxy fuel? Check the Minnesota Street Rod Association website. They maintain a list of which stations around the metro that sell non-oxy. A full tank will help prevent condensation in your tank over the winter. Second use a fuel additive that stabilizes the fuel. I have had good luck with both Stabil and Sea Foam. Add the recommended amount of stabilizer to the tank and take the bike for a ride to bring it up to operating temperature.
Now that the bike is warm, you want to drain the carburetors. The easiest way to do this is to shut the petcock off and start the bike, letting it run until it dies. If your bike has a vacuum petcock with no off position, you will have to disconnect the vacuum line running to the petcock to accomplish this. You can store a bike with fuel in the carbs, but I have had fewer problems when I drain the fuel. If your bike is fuel injected, there is nothing you can do. But don’t despair; fuel injection systems seem to fare well over the winter with stabilized fuel.
Next on the list is the battery. Your battery needs two things; proper charging and adequate water. Remove the battery, check the water level, add as necessary. Those with a maintenance free battery can happily skip that step. The easiest way to keep your battery tip-top is to attach an automatic battery charger like the Battery Tender and forget about it. The auto charger takes care of all the charging duties and maintains the battery in perfect health all winter. If you don’t have an auto charger, then you should charge the battery about once a month for 10-12 hours on a 1.5 amp charger or equivalent. There is no need to remove the battery from the bike as long as you charge it monthly.
This is a great time to change the oil, regardless of the number of miles on it. Used oil contains acids that do not help the inside of your motor. So, fresh oil and filter have a double bonus of staying neutral in the motor all winter, and keeping your bike ready to go come spring. If your bike has separate transmission or drive oil, primary or final drive, this is a great time to change them as well.
With all the above items complete it’s time to check the air in the tires and find a corner to store your ride. Years ago it was advised that you put your bike on blocks and deflate the tires. That only applied to older tires that could develop a flat spot over the course of the winter. Modern tires don’t suffer from this. A motorcycle cover can help protect the bike from damage during storage. If mice are an issue in your storage area, a mousetrap or two under the bike is good insurance.
Now that you’ve put the bike to sleep for the winter, resist the urge to wake it up every now and again. Unless you are going to take a mid-winters ride let it be. Starting the motor and letting it idle for several minutes does no good for the bike. Hopefully these few simple steps will keep your bike well preserved and ready for spring.