Winter is coming—in fact, in some parts of the country, it’s already here! While the cold for some people means hot cocoa and cozy fires, for others, it means saying goodbye to a precious motorcycle until snow stops and ice thaws. Motorcycles are prized possessions, as well as major investments, so riders don’t put their babies away lightly—they winterize and move their hogs to self storage for hibernation.
Peter Hayes, tour manager at EagleRider Motorcycles, explains that winterizing is “a process done by riders who live in cold climates to protect and store their bike over the winter months.” Sonic Patterson, lead technician and shop foreman with Go AZ Motorcycles in Scottsdale, Ariz., adds that it’s important to winterize motorcycles so that they don’t require major work after being taken out of storage.
Of course, winterizing isn’t something that all riders worry about. “If you’re in a ride year-round area, then there’s nothing to do,” explains Tom Kapp, chief builder with Art in Motion, which designs and builds custom motorcycles in Kissimmee, Fla. However, it’s worth noting that the same process can be followed for motorcycles being stored for any reason, whether it’s hot summers, military deployment, or a cross-country move. After all, keeping your bike in riding shape is the rider’s top priority.
So what are the necessary steps you need to take to winterize your motorcycle?
Step 1: Wash Your Motorcycle
The whole winterization process involves a lot of tender loving care for your bike, so Hayes says that treatment should begin with making sure your bike is as clean as possible. “Dirt and insects are much harder to get off six months later,” he adds.
Patterson agrees that a good wash should happen before storing a bike and says you should “warm up the bike to burn away any excess water that may be in hard to reach areas [after washing].” He suggests waxing and buffing to protect the paint and cleaning and conditioning any leather parts after washing, too.
Step 2: Add Fresh Fluids to Your Bike
Oils and other fluids are huge components in the winterization process, and forgetting them can leave you in a world of hurt when spring rolls around. “All the fluids in the bike should be fresh,” says Patterson. “Brake fluid will absorb any excess moisture and start to coagulate and harden inside the brake lines.” Kapp adds that antifreeze should be changed since bad antifreeze can freeze the bike if temperatures get too low.
Hayes and Patterson both recommend an oil change and oil filter service near the beginning of winterization as well. “Old or contaminated oil can become acidic and start to erode internal engine parts,” explains Patterson.
Hayes says that another fluid to be mindful of is the fuel. “Add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank, and run the engine for five minutes to make sure it works its way through the bike’s fuel-delivery system.”
“[Fuel stabilizers] stop any corrosion in the tank and keep the gas fresh. If you don’t do this, you could have bad gas and rust in the spring.”
Tom Kapp, chief builder with Art in Motion
“[Fuel stabilizers] stop any corrosion in the tank and keep the gas fresh,” Kapp agrees. “If you don’t do this, you could have bad gas and rust in the spring.”
If you have a carbureted bike, Kapp says you should ride it for ten miles after adding stabilizer to the fuel tank, turn off the gas, then run it again until it runs out of gas. This helps you avoid a $300 to $600 carburetor cleaning later. Hayes adds that carbureted bikes need float bowls drained, too—a step that’s “unnecessary for more modern bikes with fuel-injection.”
Hayes and Kapp both suggest STA-BIL; Patterson says Seafoam and K100 are also good stabilizers.
Step 3: Deal with the Motorcycle Battery
“The first thing that should be done is to make sure that the battery is good and charged,” says Patterson. “If it’s a conventional battery, make sure that the water level is full (only use distilled water).” Maintenance-free batteries are sealed, and their water levels can’t be adjusted, so you won’t have to worry about those.
It’s a good idea to apply some di-electric grease to battery terminals and cables to discourage corrosion during storage, too. Then, when your battery is prepped, you can choose how you’d like to maintain it for its months in storage.
Hayes and Patterson both suggest Battery Tender, which Patterson says is the “most popular brand of battery maintainer and is very inexpensive.” Hayes explains that “[Battery Tender] will maintain a minimum level of internal charge to make sure the battery doesn’t die during storage.
“The first thing that should be done is to make sure that the battery is good and charged.”
Sonic Patterson, lead technician and shop foreman with Go AZ Motorcycles
Some experts advocate the use of a trickle charger rather than a maintainer like Battery Tender, but others believe them to be more harmful than helpful over an extended period of time. In fact, Kapp doesn’t advocate for the long-term use of trickle chargers or battery maintainers, and instead suggests “[charging the battery] completely and then disconnecting the negative cable.”
Keep in mind that a trickle charger or battery maintainer will need to be plugged into an electrical outlet, so be sure to ask the manager if they can accommodate this need or plan to keep your battery at home.
Step 4: Cover Your Motorcycle
Even in a storage unit that guards your bike from the elements, you’ll want to invest in a good cover. Hayes recommends a Guardian Cover by Dowco, which he even uses one on his own bikes. A cover keeps away dust, dirt, and other debris that may make their way into your unit over time.
“If you can’t do all of the steps above, at least do this last one!” says Hayes, adding that riders should make sure the mufflers are covered so condensation can’t build in the exhaust system.
“If you can’t do all of the steps above, at least [cover your motorcycle].”
Peter Hayes, tour manager at EagleRider Motorcycles
“The main thing you’re trying to overcome when properly putting a bike into storage is moisture, which will cause corrosion on so many different parts of the motorcycle inside and out,” explains Patterson. Placing a cover on your bike is a great line of defense against that moisture, and Patterson says that if riders choose not to utilize a cover, “all that hard work prepping the external parts [for winter] would be wasted.”
In addition to a cover, Patterson suggests covering external engine and parts with silicone dressing, such as SC1 by Maxima, and treating rubber parts with any name-brand rubber dressing. Also, seal the engine with a clean cloth sprayed with WD-40, which acts as a barrier against moisture that tries to enter.
Step 5: Pick Your Storage Unit
As for the actual storage unit you choose, the main consideration for an item as valuable as a motorcycle is security, so choose a storage facility with secure vehicle storage. Also, be sure to keep up your storage unit rental payments. As Kapp says, “You don’t want someone from Storage Wars getting your bike!”
Other amenities aren’t a necessity, though climate-controlled storage regulates temperature and humidity levels inside your unit, which can be beneficial in protecting your bike from rust and other weather-related damages. But don’t assume “climate control” means the same thing at different facilities.
“If it’s actually air-conditioned, then it would be okay to store [your motorcycle] there,” says Patterson. “If it’s swamp-cooled, then it wouldn’t be a safe place to store your bike since they use moisture to cool the air.”
Prepping your motorcycle for winter storage might seem like an involved process, but the time and effort you put in now will be more than worth it when you’re able to ride your bike again with no trouble (or extra expenses!) come time for warmer weather.