Living in a climate that has snowy winters can have it’s perks, but not being able to ride your motorcycle for a time isn’t one of them. Winter can be harsh on us and it can also be pretty harsh on a motorcycle, too.
You hear everyone saying how important it is to winterize your motorcycle if you plan on storing it for the season. But it can also be a nuisance taking all the steps to properly prepare it. It’s easy to start thinking it really may not be that important.
So, what happens if you don’t winterize your motorcycle? If you don’t winterize your motorcycle, a number of possible things could happen to it by the time spring arrives. Such things may include deposits developed in the gas and fuel system, sludged oil, a brittle chain, cracked and flat tires, a frozen and/or dead battery, and deposits developed in the cooling system.
Not winterizing your motorcycle doesn’t mean all of these things will happen when you go to start it in the spring, but you do run a high risk of one or several of them happening. I’ve seen first-hand what a non-winterized motorcycle will do in the spring and can explain in detail why all of these happen during the winter.
Deposits Developed In The Fuel System
When you don’t winterize your motorcycle, the most common and likely problem you’ll run into is issues with the fuel, particularly with the gas tank and carburetor. Fuel obviously is a much needed element for a motorcycle, but it will cause you a huge headache if you don’t take care of it.
Gasoline is a component that can break down quickly, especially when it isn’t being cycled and used regularly. Gas has a characteristic called volatility which means it vaporizes at an efficient rate that’s beneficial for your motorcycle engine. So while your motorcycle is just sitting there for the winter, the gas continues to vaporize. This means that over time the ability for gas to combust will weaken.
Exposure to oxygen also changes the chemical compounds of gas. So in addition to the gas vaporizing, the exposure to oxygen will create gum and varnish deposits within the gas.
Once you get gum and varnish deposits, the deposits will settle on the bottom of the gas tank and your fuel lines as well as your carburetor will become clogged. Using ethanol gas will make the problem worse. You can almost guarantee you’ll have to rebuild your carburetor in the spring if you didn’t properly prepare the gas before you stored it for the winter.
A simple fuel stabilizer mixed in with your gas can prevent this from happening. See my article here for more information about how long gas lasts in a motorcycle.
Changing the oil before winterizing your motorcycle is a basic yet vital part of the process. But it seems pointless to do such a thing since you won’t be using for a while, so what does an oil change even matter?
If you don’t properly winterize your motorcycle and don’t change the oil before you store it, you’re leaving your motorcycle with an engine full of used, somewhat broken down oil because you probably used your motorcycle for a few thousand miles prior. Oil is exposed to extreme heat and oxygen when it’s being cycled throughout your engine, so the chemical compounds of it changes. Partially spent/used oil will break down faster than fresh oil.
When used oil just sits, it turns into a goopy sludge and is really annoying to take care of. I had an old Triumph that wasn’t properly stored for the winter and when I went to go change the oil that spring, the oil had sludged up (pictured above) and required several oil changes within a short amount of time to get all of it out. You don’t want that goop cycling throughout your engine.
The chain of a motorcycle is often overlooked and forgotten during maintenance. Not taking the proper steps to winterize and care for your motorcycle could cause some dangerous consequences.
The chain should be cleaned off and lubed at the end of every riding season (and hopefully done much more than that). The lack of cleaning and lubrication can leave the links of the chain to become crusty and brittle which will increase it’s chances of forming rust.
You may think that you’ll be fine lubing the chain in the spring. While that may be true, lubing the chain in the spring isn’t always going to solve your problems. When dirt and rust just sit on a chain, the rust will start eating away at the metal and the dirt will become caked on the chain. So you may think you’ve done a thorough job of cleaning in the spring, but there’s probably still some dirt deposits on there that will wear down the chain a lot more quickly.
Chain maintenance and issues on a motorcycle should never be ignored. Click here to see my article about what happens when a motorcycle chain breaks.
Cracked And Flat Tires
Yet another underestimated impact winter can have a motorcycle is concerning the tires. This is another thing most people forget to address even when do they try to winterize their motorcycle.
Tires for any vehicle were meant to be used frequently. People often have the misconception that unused tires will last longer. The truth is actually the opposite; tires will break down much faster when they’re not being used.
Tires were made to withstand constant pressure and fluctuation of temperatures. The constant usage of them essentially “exercises” the rubber and keeps it in tact for longer. When a motorcycle just sits, the lack of usage makes the rubber become brittle. Once it becomes brittle, cracks can start forming in random places which then leads to deflation. Once deflation occurs, you’ll likely get flat spots on the tire from where it’s sitting on the floor.
Once you get a flat spot that has been present for longer than a few days, the tire is deemed unusable. Any cracks or flat spots in a tire should be thrown out.
Think of this compared to a rubber band. If you have a rubber band you are constantly using and exercising it’s elasticity, it will last you for a long time. On the other hand, it you just let it sit there with no usage (and keep it in cold temperatures), it will brittle and will break when you go to stretch it.
Dead And/Or Frozen Battery
Next to deposits developing in the fuel system, the second most common issue you’ll run into when you don’t winterize your motorcycle is battery issues. Almost everyone runs into this issue.
Motorcycle batteries can be a bit finicky. When you don’t take care of them just right, it seems like they almost throw a tantrum and won’t work for you. The battery is essentially what gets your motorcycle started and once the motorcycle is running, a mechanism (usually referred to as the stator) provides the electric current the motorcycle needs for the rest of the ride, including charging the battery.
With that being said, regular rides is good maintenance on a battery. But when a motorcycle sits dormant for a while, the battery isn’t getting a normal charge. Due to parasitic drain, age, and cold temperatures, the battery begins to lose power and voltage. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle because once a battery loses it’s charge, it can freeze if the temperature is cold enough. See my article here for more info about motorcycle batteries freezing.
These conditions are rough on a battery. Even if you are able to get the motorcycle started in the spring, it’s likely the battery won’t last you long if you didn’t take proper care of it during the winter.
Deposits Developed In The Cooling System
This point doesn’t apply to every motorcyclist, only those who have a liquid cooled motorcycle. The prevention of this is simple but is, again, often overlooked before winter hits.
Regularly topping off the coolant in a liquid cooled motorcycle is easily done throughout the riding season. However, riders forget that topping off the coolant is also important before winter storage. Without topping it off, you leave a void of space inside the cooling system. Deposits can easily develop in those empty spaces.
Once you start the motorcycle in the spring, the coolant will get sloshed around and mix with those deposits. That means you have those particles running throughout your engine which isn’t great for the engine itself. You risk the chance of the motorcycle not being able to cool itself because the system may become clogged.
Can you keep a motorcycle outside in the winter? You can keep a motorcycle outside in the winter as long it has been properly prepared for the season and it is dressed with a good, reliable cover to prevent any water or moisture from getting in places that could cause damage. Click here to see my article for more information.
Why is ethanol gas bad for a motorcycle? Ethanol is a gasoline additive that boosts the octane of gasoline. But when it’s in small tight places, such as your carburetor, it can gum up a lot faster than gas that has no ethanol in it.