21st Century Motorcycle Winterization

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - AMS


21st Century Winterization Wisdom

Old school basics still apply – in some cases… but not always

We recently received a newsletter from a personal injury law firm that provided a punch list of things to do to winterize your motorcycle. It went like this:

  • Change the oil
  • Hook up Battery Tender™ while your bike is in storage
  • Check your tires
  • Lube the cables and chains
  • Wash your motorcycle
  • Cover your bike for winter
  • Store your bike somewhere safe
  • Prevent rodents and small animals from nesting in your muffler for winter
  • Verify your insurance coverage

On the surface, it seems like fairly sensible stuff - if it was forty years ago… So let’s look over each point and discuss what’s right, wrong, and missing from this general punch list from days gone by.

Change the oil

Indeed, it’s best to change your oil BEFORE storing your bike for winter. The reason being that as you’ve been riding around the last three seasons, your oil is picking up crud, building up harmful acids, and breaking down. Allowing your motor parts to be resting in dirty oil the next three months isn’t advisable. So yes, change the oil AND THE FILTER. With the quality of today's better grades of oil, you won’t need to change it again in the spring when it’s time to ride because it won’t break down enough to require that.

This is also a good time to change out any other fluids that have reached their useful life, like brake fluids and anti-freeze. Pay close attention to your owner’s manual so you’re replacing those fluids with the manufacturer's suggested grades/blends.

Hook up Battery Tender™ while your bike is in storage

Here’s where 20th century advice goes out the window and it’s time to apply some 21st century chutzpa. Throw your Battery Tender™ in the garbage and invest in a superior charger/trickle charger like the ones built by Optimate. The old school technology in a typical Battery Tender™ will cause the cells in your battery to fail sooner. Better chargers like the Optimate have modern-day smart-charger technology that better allows them to understand the state of the battery and what they need to be doing, such as de-sulfating a lousy cell.

You can also put your charger on a weekly timer so it only charges the battery maybe one day a week. That’s less wear and tear inside the battery which will give it a longer life.

Batteries really don't like to be left out in the cold. If you have some place you can store it indoors where it's warmer, you'll extend it's life a little longer.

Check your tires

Pretty vague statement here. Let’s be a little more specific. Check the tires for overall wear. The penny trick works nicely. Insert a penny into the center tread point with Mr. Lincoln's head slotted in perpendicular to the tread. If the tread doesn’t cover over his head you have less than 2/32s of tread. Not a safe thickness because at that rate you can’t shed water well in a rainstorm and it won’t be long before you reveal the chords or belts on the tire carcass, which could be problematic on your next ride. Replace any tires that show nominal tread.

Some bikes don’t get ridden more than a few hundred miles a year. Over time, say 5 years or more, the rubber becomes harder, providing less traction on the pavement. It can also begin to crack and the tire can fail even without getting a flat. Check the date code on the tires and replace any that are beyond the 5-year point.

Lastly, be sure they are inflated to the manufacturer’s maximum recommended tire pressure when you store the bike and check them every month or so to be sure they’re maintaining that pressure, otherwise give them some air to bring them back to spec.

Rubber doesn’t like cold temperatures, so slip a few pieces of cardboard under each tire to provide insulation and add to longevity.

Lube the cables and chains

Whoa, whoa, whoa … Great advice about the cables if your bike was built in 1970 or earlier. Today's modern motorcycles use cables that are lined on the inside with Teflon. They are designed to be used ‘dry,’ so no lubrication is necessary. Lubrication will only attract dirt and cause grime later that will tear up those Teflon linings, which ultimately leads to a broken cable. Nobody likes a broken cable.

Chains? Had to chuckle when it was stated as plural. The motorcycles I’ve seen with chains utilize only one, unless you count the cam chain.

No doubt, the chain should be cleaned first, with a mild chain-cleaning-specific cleaner. Today’s motorcycle chains for the most part utilize sealed o-rings. But those seals will disintegrate if you apply a strong solvent like kerosene or WD-40. Shop for a modern-day cleaner that specifies it’s safe for ALL chains.

Then lubricate it lightly with something like lithium chain lube just before you store it.

Wash your motorcycle

Yep, not bad advice. Give it a good cleaning. You dual sport/ADV guys aren’t alone in the world of dirt. Even street bikes build up dirt. All dirt needs to come off the bike before storage. Be sure to pay close attention to the underside of the rear fender and inside all the nooks and crannies around the engine.

After that, take another 10 minutes and wax all the painted parts. Then pick up a can of ACF-50, spray some of it onto a shop towel and wipe down all the metal.

Cover your bike for winter

Good advice. Personally, I like to keep all my bikes covered all the time when I’m not out on a ride, even when they are parked in an enclosed garage. I also take the covers out and wash them a few times a year. It’s amazing how much dirt builds up on them.

Store your bike somewhere safe

Define safe? OK, an indoor garage is nice. A spare bedroom is even better. The less weather they are exposed to the better. Bikes stored in a common garage, like at an apartment or condominium can be exposed to high humidity. If you notice that indoor garage floor is moist, it means the bike is capturing moisture under the cover you put over it, so pull the cover and wipe out any access moisture from the cover interior and the bike.

But then there is the other safe. Wherever you park the bike for winter, secure it with a fat cable and sturdy lock. Thieves are shopping all year long.

Prevent rodents and small animals from nesting in your muffler for winter

Mufflers are one place to live if you’re a rodent. Other favorite locations on the bike include inside the airbox and nesting right into the seat. And some rodents love to get into wiring harnesses too. If you’ve got a rodent problem you can’t control, wrap the bike in steel, or consider off-site storage for the winter.

Verify your insurance coverage

If you pay for the coverage every spring, I’m not sure why you’d need to verify it for the winter? But it never hurts to review your policy. You can also contact your insurance company to see if they offer a payment reduction if your bike is stored in the winter.

More considerations

A few things were left off the list

  • Add fuel stabilizer – Today's modern ethanol "enhanced" fuels tend to break down and attract moisture when left still for long periods of time. Pick up a bottle of fuel stabilizer, fill the tank with fuel, and top it off with the recommended amount of stabilizer.
  • Drain the carburetor – Fuel sitting in a carburetor for extended periods of time turns into turpentine. Not good and your bike can’t burn it. If your bike has a carburetor, turn the petcock to off, turn your bike on, and let it burn all the fuel in the carburetor, or with the bike off, just turn the drain screw and drain it out.
  • Maintain the fuel cap seal – Rubber has a way of drying out over time. To prevent this and extend the life of your fuel cap seal, put some silicone on a paper towel and apply a light coating to the rubber seal, removing any excess. You can do the same with the seal on a dipstick, or the rubber seals on hard luggage.
  • Vinegar for felines – In buildings with common garages, outdoor cats like to visit and mark their territory, which can damage your motorcycle. Cat urine on your rims, chain and any other metal means your bike just got a high acid bath. But cats don’t like vinegar. Put some vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it around the ground near your bike to help repel those darn cats. We’ve also tested this on motorcycle covers, but vinegar will stain most covers.

SR!/November 2020

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