How To Winterize A Motorcycle: The Vital Steps You Can’t Skip


There’s a lot of joys that come with owning a motorcycle. Having to store it for the winter isn’t one of them. When those temperatures start dropping and you need more than just a jacket to keep you warm during a ride, you know it’s almost time to prep your motorcycle for the few months ahead.

Storing a motorcycle for the winter can be a daunting task. In reality it’s quite easy and can be done in a few simple steps but it is vital that all these steps are followed. This article can explain everything you’d want or need to know when it comes to winterizing a motorcycle.

How To Winterize A Motorcycle

I have owned over a dozen motorcycles and lived in places with harsh winters while I owned most of them. Through trial and error, I’ve been able to find the best ways to winterize a motorcycle and see the harmful affects not winterizing can do to your bike. The following is a list of simple yet extremely important steps you need to take if you plan on winterizing your motorcycle.

Clean it: This is a step that most people forget to do when storing their motorcycle for the winter. A lot of people wonder why it’s important to clean their bike before they store it for several months as no one will see it anyway. There’s a lot more to it than looks.

Cleaning a motorcycle before winter storage ensures that you won’t get any dirt or dust caked on parts that would be harder to get off come spring time. Also, if you’ve already ridden your motorcycle a little bit on wintry roads with salt on them, you’ll especially want to get that salt off before storage. Salt can cause a lot of damage to metal when it just sits there. See my article here for more information about road salt damage to motorcycles.

Gas: There are two main options you have when it comes to taking care of the gas in the tank of your motorcycle while you’re winterizing it. The first option you have is to remove the gas completely and take measures to ensure there’s no rust that gets inside.

To do this, you’ll need to run your motorcycle until the fuel runs dry. Coat the inside of your tank with rubbing alcohol so it evaporates any residual fuel and place silicone packs inside the tank to absorb any moisture. Click here to see my article about how to store an empty motorcycle gas tank.

The second option is to keep the gas tank full. You’ll need to fill up the tank as much as possible and add a fuel stabilizer to the gas. Once you add the stabilizer, run the motorcycle for several minutes to ensure the stabilized gas circulates throughout the fuel system. This will prolong the life the fuel.

Oil: The process of winterizing a motorcycle should always include changing the oil right before you do so. This may seem a little pointless to have a motorcycle sitting with fresh oil in it, but it actually does a lot of things for your bike.

Even if you’ve recently changed your oil, it’s still a good idea to either change it again or at least top it off. Because it will just be sitting, it’s okay to use the cheaper brand of oil, just as long as those parts inside the engine aren’t sitting dormant without fresh oil.

Other fluids: Don’t forget about all the other fluids your motorcycle might have! You’ll need to make sure you top off all other fluids to ensure there’s no space for condensation to build up inside. Such fluids may include coolant, crankcase oil, brake fluid, etc.

Battery: Properly caring for your motorcycle battery during winter storage is something a lot of people misunderstand. Unless you want to pay to get a new battery every spring, I suggest you make sure it’s well taken care of. A battery should last you several years even through winter storage.

There are a few options when it comes to battery care. The first option is to simply remove the battery from the motorcycle altogether and store it in a temperature controlled environment. You can store it in your house, just make sure it’s out of reach of children and pets and it’s placed in a container in case it leaks acid.

The second option you have is connecting it to a battery tender like this one found on Motosport.com. This is a contraption you can keep connected to your battery that will charge it when it needs to then turn to float mode when it sense the battery is full.

The third option you have is using a trickle charger. This requires the most work but performs well if you’re on top of it. A trickle charge will charge a battery under your supervision. You cannot leave it charging, however, because it won’t stop once the batter has maximum voltage.

Tires: The tires on your motorcycle can be an expensive fix. And it’s completely possible for tires to get ruined over the course of winter time. Tires are susceptible to getting flat spots when sitting dormant for a long period of time. Because they’re mostly made out of rubber, the lack of usage speeds up the flattening process.

You can either move your motorcycle forward or backwards a few inches every few weeks or you can elevate the tires altogether so you don’t have to remember to move it. You can use motorcycle tire lifts like this front and rear motorcycle stand kit found on Discountramps.com which does an excellent job at keeping those tires sturdily elevated.

Plug openings: Whether you like it or not, mice are always on the prowl no matter what time of year it is. Mice like to find a nice, warm place to to nest for the winter and often times motorcycles are a target.

Plug any openings or holes on your motorcycle including exhaust and air intakes. It works well to plug them with steel wool that has a few dabs of peppermint oil on it (two things that mice hate). This will help keep those pesky rodents out! See my full article here about how to keep mice away from your motorcycle.

Cover it: Last but not least, you’ll need to make sure to put a good, quality cover over your motorcycle whether it’s kept outside or inside. The cover I recommend is the Dowco Guardian found here on Amazon.com. This can prevent dust, dirt, and condensation building up on and inside the motorcycle.

Where You Store Your Motorcycle For The Winter

Aside from prepping your actual motorcycle for the winter months, it’s important you think about where you’ll be storing it during this time. Where you store it has a lot of importance and can also impact how well it starts up come the spring time.

The most ideal place to store a motorcycle for the winter is inside a garage. It gives you unlimited access to your bike and will let you keep a good eye on it. It also keeps it out of the harsh elements.

But storing a motorcycle in a garage isn’t always possible either because there’s not enough room or there’s no garage to begin with. If you’re in this situation, try asking around to close by friends or family members and see if they’d be willing to let you store your bike in their garage or shed. It may help to offer some incentive such as taking them out to dinner or offering to pay them.

If there are no friends or family that have a garage or shed available, you can try renting a storage unit. This is an excellent alternative because it still keeps the motorcycle inside a confined area and you’ll also know it’s safely locked away.

The average national cost of a 5×10 storage unit is about $60-$70 a month. Do keep in mind that most rental units require the motorcycle to be functioning, that it has insurance, and that you provide proof of ownership. Click here to see my article about how to store a motorcycle in a storage unit.

If money is tight and a storage unit is out of the question, it’s completely possible to store your motorcycle outside for the winter. I’ve done this successfully many times myself. You’ll need to follow the same steps stated previously to winterize it in addition to a few other steps.

Elevating the tires may be a little tricky when you have to keep the motorcycle stored outside for the winter whether because you’re afraid someone will knock it over or the motorcycle will be sitting on uneven terrain. Placing some old carpet underneath the motorcycle can really help prevent those flat spots on the tires. You’ll need to move it a few inches forward or backward every few weeks though.

If possible, try to park it in an inconspicuous area. Don’t forget to use some sort of security device, such as a disc lock (click here to see the disc lock I recommend in my list of suggested motorcycle security). In addition, make sure the cover you place over the motorcycle is securely attached to it so wind does not blow it off or rub around and scratch any parts. For more information about how to store you motorcycle outside for the winter, see my other article here.

Common Questions About Winterizing A Motorcycle

These are some common questions I’ve heard and often asked myself during the process of storing my motorcycle for the winter. Even if you haven’t asked yourself these questions before, they’re still good to know as a motorcycle owner.

Should I start up the motorcycle occasionally throughout the winter? You’ll hear a lot of debate about whether or not you should start up your motorcycle during the winter to get all the fluids moving around. The answer to this depends a lot on how you define “starting it up.”

If you plan on starting up the motorcycle for a few minutes and leave it idling, it’s best to just not do that at all. Doing so could cause more condensation build up inside the engine and doesn’t really do anything for the fluids.

However, if you plan on taking the motorcycle for a 10-15 minute spin around the block, then that could greatly benefit your motorcycle as it will not only get the fluids moving around, but also exercise the tires and the gaskets in the engine.

Can I store a motorcycle without oil in it? Unlike storing a motorcycle without gas in it, it’s not a good idea to store a motorcycle without any oil inside the engine. No matter how much preventative care you take, there will be some sort of condensation the builds up in a motorcycle during the winter.

Leaving the engine empty only gives that condensation more of an opportunity to build up and develop rust. See my article here for more information about storing a motorcycle without oil.

What are some helpful ways to start up a motorcycle in freezing temperatures? If you haven’t noticed before, starting a motorcycle in freezing temperatures can be pretty difficult. Like us humans, machines slow down and become sluggish in cold temperatures. Make sure the battery is fully charged because anything less than a full charge won’t work in cold temperatures.

You can try placing a space heater a safe distance away with it blowing directly onto the engine. This will warm up the engine and the oil inside. I’ve done this many times myself and it works like a charm. Click here to learn more about how I start up a motorcycle in freezing temperatures.

Can I store a motorcycle inside my home for the winter? A lot of this depends on what kind of home you have. If you live in a house that is not attached to anyone else’s, then yes it is completely possible to store your motorcycle inside your house for the winter (see my article here to learn how to do so).

If you live in an apartment or a condo, you should not store your motorcycle inside during the cold months. Doing so poses a lot of risks to your neighbors and violates fire codes that could possibly warrant a fine from your landlord or the city.

What Happens To Your Motorcycle When You Don’t Winterize It

To put it into perspective, let’s discuss what will happen to your motorcycle when you don’t properly winterize it. I, unfortunately, have fallen victim to some of these things because I didn’t properly prepare my motorcycle beforehand.

First, if you don’t fully fill up the gas tank and put fuel stabilizer in it, the tank can develop some rust in the empty space and the gas will develop gunk and varnish deposits from lack of usage. The stabilizer prevents that from happening.

Once your gas develops varnish build-up, it settles at the bottom of your tank and will be the first fuel used once you start the motorcycle in the spring. Even if you have a fuel filter, that gunk can still find it’s way through the fuel system and clog up your carburetor or fuel injector which will in turn cause running issues.

Keeping old and used oil inside the engine of your motorcycle could mean faster break down of the parts inside. Used oil has gone through many cycles in your engine and been through some extreme heat which ultimately changes some of it’s chemical compounds.

This can cause it to become more acidic which can be harmful when it just sits inside the engine. Fresh oil isn’t broken down as much and will be much more helpful for the insides of the engine.

The rubber on your tires will also start to break down. Rubber lasts much longer when it is being used. It’s like the muscles in our body; the more we exercise, the more our muscles maintain their mass. Without usage, the rubber becomes brittle and can break down.

Over time, air will start to leak out and with the constant pressure of the weight of the motorcycle, the tires will become flat. If the motorcycle sits on that flat spot long enough, those creases become permanent and the tire is ruined.

Over time, a motorcycle battery will begin to lose its charge especially in cold weather. With regular rides, the stator gives the battery a full charge and in a way maintains the battery. When the motorcycle is sitting during winter storage, the battery isn’t getting that normal charge.

So without hooking up the battery to a charger or completely unhooking it from the bike, parasitic drain begins to occur. This means the voltage is slowly diminished by some sort of electric current that still using it’s power. And once a battery gets low enough on voltage, the cold temperatures have a higher chance of ruining it. For more information about what happens when you don’t properly winterize your motorcycle, see my article here.

Taking Your Motorcycle Out Of Storage When Winter Is Over

Once you’re ready to take your motorcycle out of winter storage, review this check list to make sure your motorcycle is up to par.

First, examine the inside of the gas tank, especially if you kept it empty during the winter months. You’ll want to get any rust out that may have formed. Otherwise, top off your tank with gas.

Next you’ll need to get another oil change. It seems redundant and useless to get rid of perfectly good oil (or at least the oil looks good). Remember, that oil has been sitting in there for a while and oil does have a shelf life. It’s properties have broken down over the last few months so it would be beneficial for your bike to change it.

Top off all other fluids. It may seem weird to have to top off fluids you didn’t even use, but winter has a tendency to make some of those fluid levels drop a little bit. Also make sure to examine your tires and look for any cracks or brittle rubber. Fill up the tires to the correct PSI.

Now you’re ready to take your motorcycle out and see how it did during the winter! You’ve taken good care of your bike, you deserve a much needed ride.

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