How to Winterize Your Motorcycle

motorcycle in snow

At the first signs of fall, many motorcycle riders begin to prepare themselves for the end of the riding season. Riding in colder temperatures is possible, but if you live in a part of the country that experiences intense winter weather, then you need to learn how to winterize your motorcycle in order to protect it from the elements as you wait for those first signs of spring, higher temperatures, and bright sunny days.

Winter Protection

Winterizing your bike involves some relatively easy to follow steps that can potentially save you a big repair bill come the spring and summer months, once you attempt to take your bike out, only to realize that it’s not able to start.

If you have a bike that you may ride during the winter, then make sure you purchase a jerry can of fuel and keep your bike’s fuel tank topped off with it, each time you ride. This way, if the weather takes a turn for the worse, and you’re no longer able to ride for the season, then you won’t have much to worry about come the spring. Bottom line, you need to keep your bike full of treated fuel. If you’re someone who prefers to drain the tank completely empty during the winter, that’s okay as well, although an empty tank can result in dried-out seals. Both options will be fine, as long as you know the risks.

In terms of fuel treatments, there are several options available. If you’re not sure what type to get, ask some of your riding buddies.

Winterizing Basics

Below, you’ll find some basic care tips that will keep your bike safe, secure, and can prevent damage from improper storage.

  • Consider where you can store your bike
  • Take your motorcycle out for a long last ride
  • Make sure you get fresh gas and top off your tank
  • Use a fuel stabilizer
  • Change the oil filter and oil
  • Check the air filter and replace it or clean it
  • Check the chain, belt, tires, and brake pads for signs of wear
  • Remove the battery and use distilled water and top off the cells. Keep the battery stored at room temperature
  • Check the tire pressure in both tires and fill as needed
  • Give your motorcycle one last good wash in order to remove road grime, dead bugs, and dirt
  • Wax the chrome and paint and leave on a thick coat of wax
  • Add a leather protectant to the seat and any other leather
  • Close off openings on your bike with tape to keep rodents out

To learn more about winter riding and protection, click here to read my guide on Should you cancel your motorcycle insurance in the winter.

Bike Cover Optional

Close-up of vintage

The best place to store a bike is indoors, in a room that’s climate-controlled. In the real world, this may not be an option. Not everyone has a garage that’s heat-treated, especially those who live in an apartment or people who live in the city. Renting a storage unit is actually a smart and affordable way to protect your bike during the winter months, especially if you deal with harsh winters including snow or constant heavy rainfall.

Many riders recommend covering a bike only when it’s kept indoors. This may seem odd, but if a bike is left covered outside and rain strikes, then this can pose a big problem. When water becomes trapped in the cover it can dull or tarnish the chrome, and soften the paint. Other riders recommend using a cover outdoors for the same reason, but as a way to protect the bike from the elements. Indoors, riders will cover the bike to protect it from a dirty or dusty environment, such as an unfinished basement or an unheated garage.

Storage Indoors

Of course, bikes should also be covered indoors to protect them from a rodent problem. Mice and rats will eat everything, including wires and your motorcycle seat, as well as your helmet. If you have the best motorcycle helmet, one that you’ve spent plenty of money on, and a model that’s made by one of the best motorcycle helmet brands, then you’ll want to protect it from exposure to moisture, rodents, and other types of damage by storing your helmet indoors. Never leave your helmet hanging from your bike’s handlebars or on your workbench in the garage, especially during the winter.

However, there are some instances in which the use of a bike cover will be important, especially if you’re trying to protect your bike from theft. I’ll go more in-depth regarding theft protection during the winter, later on in this guide.

The Importance of Protecting Your Bike in the Winter

Once the air becomes cooler and snow begins to fall, most riders are reluctant to store their bikes, as they’re forced to patiently wait for the first signs of spring to appear so they can ride again. However, storing your bike for the winter months isn’t as easy as just putting a cover on it and hoping for the best. To protect your bike from damage and to keep it in top running condition, you need to put in some work to protect it for several weeks.

When a bike is stored correctly during the winter months, it can make getting it to fire up again once the riding season begins much easier and can prevent any bad surprises such as rust spots, corrosion, a dead battery, a rotted saddle, or much worse.

Depending on the type of bike you have, there can be some different things you need to do that must be addressed before freezing temperatures hit. The biggest fear for bikes during winter storage is damage due to moisture exposure. Because of this, the majority of winterizing tasks will be focused on keeping the bike dry and away from moisture. Additionally, I’ll go over tire care, battery care, and what needs to be done to the fuel system prior to storage. With proper prep work, you can save yourself plenty of time and money, and your bike will be fit and ready to go as soon as the sun appears.

Seal Off Your Exhaust Pipe

Mice and rats will even live and breed in exhaust pipes. In order to prevent this, make sure you seal off your exhaust pipes or any other openings.

Battery Storage

Battery care is essential, especially if you plan on keeping your bike outdoors. A battery will not do well when exposed to freezing temperatures and inclement weather. To prepare your battery for the winter, first remove it, then top off the cells using distilled water. The battery should be stored at room temperature in a dry, climate-controlled environment. Some riders suggest using a trickle charger, which can potentially extend the battery’s life.

SAE Lead

If possible, install a SAE lead. Battery maintenance chargers are a must. The SAE lead will make your life a lot easier. You can hook up your battery without the use of a wrench. You can also run all types of devices to your SAE, including cellphone chargers, USB chargers, GPS, and more. These chargers are surprisingly affordable and will be a good investment, one that ensures your bike will be ready to hit the road as soon as spring hits.

Tire Care and Protection

Make sure you take a look a each tire and check the pressure. If the tires are running a little low, then fill them up to the proper level.

Aside from checking the pressure, you must take some extra steps to ensure the tires do not develop flat spots. If the tires remain sitting in the same position, flat spots will develop. The best way to avoid this is to keep the tires off the ground. I recommend purchasing a motorcycle stand. If you don’t have a stand and don’t have any plans to purchase one, then you can at least try to get the rear tire off the ground. Another solution is to rotate the tires. This is done by slightly rolling the bike twice a month. If you have to leave the tires resting on concrete, then you can place a piece of plywood or carpet under the tires, which will prevent moisture from seeping in.

Coolant

If you live in a part of the country that experiences very harsh winter conditions, such as below-freezing temperatures and snow, then make sure your bike has the proper level of coolant. This will be crucial if you run straight water in your coolant system and it ends up freezing. This can result in a cracked head in the springtime.

Lubrication

All the moving parts on a motorcycle must be lubed and stay well-lubricated during the winter months. This will prevent moisture from building up, which can cause binding or rust. Each port of a bike that requires lubrication at any point, must be lubricated before storing it for the winter.

Parts to check include:

  • Pivot points
  • Fork surfaces
  • Controls
  • Cables
  • Chain drive

Starting Your Bike Periodically

Don’t do it. Many riders mistakenly believe that you have to fire up your bike at least once a week. But during the winter, I recommend avoiding this, unless you plan on riding it. Did you know that cold starts are very tough on engines, even in good weather? Even worse, a cold start will end up depleting some of the battery’s charge when you fire up the bike. Additionally, the bike’s system will not restore the battery to a full charge if you don’t go riding it at the usual RPMs. In fact, there are many bikes that are unable to charge at idle. If you’re not able to get the motorcycle up to the full operating temperature, then you’re only introducing your bike to condensation, which can make it’s way to many places that you don’t want it to. Basically, start up your bike and go for a ride, or don’t fire it up at all.

Petcock

If you have a bike with a petcock, make sure it’s switched to the off position. But why? Leaving the fuel tap on can open up the possibility of the fuel leaking past the needles. If this occurs, then the fuel will be able to enter the cylinders. This will strip the crucial lubrication from the cylinder walls. In serious cases, you’ll have fuel pooling in there.

Theft Prevention

If you plan on keeping your bike outdoors, keep in mind that a bike that’s parked unattended for several months will make it a very easy target for thieves. So, in addition to protecting your bike from inclement weather, you can also use a cover to conceal your bike outdoors and use a chain and lock, for further theft prevention. However, your bike will still be vulnerable to theft, even if you use a chain and lock. Your bike will be left in the open for months. If you normally have to deal with snowstorms, and excessive snowfall, then you may not even bother to head outdoors and check on your bike a few times a day. This will give thieves the cover and the opportunity they need to load up your bike.

If possible, to provide further protection from theft, I recommend renting a storage unit or finding a spot in the garage that you can use to store your bike and keep it safe and secure from thieves.

Preparing Your Bike for the Spring

As your bike hibernates for the season, you’ll come to realize that these months spent in storage will give you the perfect opportunity to accomplish your upgrade projects and perform important routine maintenance that you were too busy to do.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to winterize your motorcycle can prevent serious damage, such as exposure to moisture, which will cause rust, or can rot the bike’s saddle, prevents tire damage, rodents from breeding and living in your exhaust pipe, and a dead bike that just won’t start due to bad fuel and oil. As you can see, there are many steps you need to take in order to keep your bike safe from both damage and theft. By following each of the steps in this guide, you can bet that your bike will fire right up on that first sunny day.