As temperatures drop, dread sets in for East Coast riders who know that the end of riding season is upon us. But don’t worry, we sat down with somebody who actually knows what they’re doing to come up with the comprehensive seven-step plan to protecting your vehicle while it sits out the winter.
Valerie Figarella, owner of Motorgrrl Garage in Brooklyn, has been through this process plenty of times and has solid advice on what you need to do to your machine to store it safely and be ready for riding as soon as the snow thaws in a few months.
“Winterizing your ride properly begins with storing it in a climate-controlled environment,” said Figarella. “I am not just talking about indoors at your parents’ barn upstate. When condensation sets in it can wreak havoc to your tank, chain and any other metal surface. Similarly, freezing temperatures can bring on rodents and if you don’t have antifreeze in your cooling system you may be lucky to not have had cracked your cylinder head.”
If you can’t keep your machine warm inside, you’ll just have to take extra care with the following steps below and hopefully at least get yourself a cover.
Either way, plug any openings so mice can’t make homes in your intake or exhaust. And ideally, put your bike on a stand that gets both wheels off the ground to prevent flat spots from forming on the tires.
Become intimately familiar with every nook and cranny on your motorcycle while simultaneously beautifying and protecting it. (Best Saturday ever!)
Wash the whole bike with soap and water to get dirt, grease and bugs off everything. Hit the painted parts with wax to prevent rust-causing moisture buildup, and spray exposed metal with WD-40 for the same reason. Lubricate all moving parts including cables and controls. If your bike is chain-driven, a fresh layer of lubricant on the chain will help prevent it developing surface rust. Make sure whatever type of oil or lube you use there is compatible with the type of chain on your bike.
Fill your gas tank up about 90 to 95 percent full of gasoline. This is enough to prevent condensation, but still allows for expansion and contraction that can happen as temperatures change.
Gas goes stale over time and can eventually devolve into an inert gel instead of a combustible liquid your spark plugs can easily ignite. But a “stabilizer” available at most auto parts stores can mitigate that process and preserve your fuel for up to a year. (Some brands may even let it last longer.)
If your bike has a carburetor, it is absolutely essential that you drain the float bowls before storage. This is usually done with a little screw at the bottom of the carb, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for the forums are your friend!
Engine oil breaks down over time and as it’s heat-cycled from the engine being run and shut down. Fresh oil will more effectively preserve your engine’s internals than used oil, so it may be worth timing your last oil change of the season to right before you put your bike away.
If your motorcycle is water-cooled, as in: it has a radiator, make sure it’s filled with enough anti-freeze to prevent any water inside the cooling system from turning to ice. That could catastrophically damage not just the coolant plumbing, but the head of the engine.
The most complete winterization process includes changing and top-off brake fluid, clutch fluid and transmission fluid if your motorcycle uses it. All these levels should at least be checked. As with engine oil, new and uncontaminated fluid will do a better job protecting the parts and pipes it flows through than used stuff, and low fluid levels makes it room for moisture to form where you don’t want it.
There are several types of batteries your motorcycle might use: some are conventional lead-acid, some are gel-based, some are lithium. But they’re all compatible with some kind of “tender,” which is a device that plugs in from a standard 120v outlet in your house. This keeps your battery’s power level optimized over a long period of sitting static.
Make sure the tender you pick up is the type with a protection circuit that will prevent ruining the battery by overcharging, and make doubly sure your battery is in good condition before leaving it unattended with power running to it. Most auto parts stores or bike shops should be able to tell you the battery’s state easily.
It’s always good idea to keep a service log of what work you’ve done to any vehicle and when. If you don’t have a journal like this going for your bike already, start with logging this winterizing service so that you remember where you left off when you pull the bike out in spring.
Corinna Mantlo has spent over a decade riding motorcycles and working in the industry. She is the founder and curator of Cine Meccanica, and a published authority on two-wheeled cinema. She is also the founder of The Miss-Fires, The Motorcycle Film Festival and the owner of Via Meccanica, a custom upholstery shop specializing in motorcycle seats.