What You Need To Know About Road Salt Damage To Motorcycles


There are a handful of you out there that ride your motorcycles during the winter either because you have no choice or because winter riding doesn’t really bother you. Either way, you may run into a dilemma with your motorcycle if you live in a place that gets below freezing and/or snows a lot during the winter: road salt.

Road salt is essential for people who are riding their vehicles in the winter because it melts ice. Motorcyclists have a love/hate relationship with it because it clears the road for them to ride on but also can causes some damage to their motorcycle if not treated quickly enough.

So, what damage does road salt do to motorcycles? If left untreated, road salt has the potential to speed up the rusting process on a motorcycle as well as has the potential of fading and eating away at the paint on a motorcycle gas tank and frame. Road salt can still get on a motorcycle even if the roads seems dry in between winter storms.

If you ride your motorcycle in the winter, you’re at a higher risk of your motorcycle being affected by road salt. If left unchecked, the salt can cause damage that may go unnoticed for a while until it’s too late. Luckily there are several steps you can take to prevent corrosion while still enjoying your winter riding.

What Road Salt Does To Motorcycles

Unfortunately, no vehicle is immune to the damages road salt can potentially do. Road salt is an essential part of society’s function in places that have harsh winters. Without road salt, people would risk constantly driving on icy roads and the amount of accidents would greatly increase.

It’s essential to have road salt. The perks of it far outweigh the negatives of it. But despite how much it helps us travel on our motorcycles in the winter, it’s still problematic with the damages it can cause.

The damages road salt can have on a motorcycle is quite different than the damages of other vehicles. Motorcycles are much less protected and everything on it is exposed to road salt. Salty water can find it’s way in little cracks and crevices on motorcycles that we didn’t even know existed.

Rust on metal is a type of corrosion. It’s a common phenomenon that happens when certain metals are exposed to water and oxygen for a certain length of time. The process of rusting involves electrons moving around which forms the changes in metal. Salt water makes the movement of these electrons much easier, so the process of rusting becomes much faster.

Road salt has the potential to speedily rust any steel parts of your motorcycle, which is what motorcycles are mostly made of. If you have a carburetor with pod filters instead of an air box, you run a higher risk of road salt getting inside your engine (see my article here that discusses the differences between pod filters and air boxes). Rust is not any friendlier to the inside of engines and has every potential of rusting if road salt gets inside.

Road salt can also affect the paint on both your motorcycle frame and the paint on the gas tank in several ways. The first way is if the road salt somehow gets underneath the paint and starts rusting the metal.

A lot of gas tanks aren’t painted underneath because no one sees it. Motorcycle frames usually aren’t 100% covered with paint either. Road salt will find these bare metal parts and creep it’s way up underneath the paint and make the paint bubble.

The road salt can also be potentially corrosive to the paint itself because of the type of salt they use and the additives they mix in with it. On top of that, if salt is left on a motorcycle tank, it has the potential of scratching it up with any little swipe.

How To Get Rid Of Road Salt On Your Motorcycle

Road salt can get on your motorcycle without you even knowing it. You may think the roads are clear between storms because it’s dry with no puddle in sight. The truth is, those roads are probably still completely covered in dry salt and you can’t guarantee you won’t flick some of that salt on to your motorcycle, a passing car flick some on your motorcycle, or run into a puddle full of salt.

It can take several weeks for the salt to be completely cleared from the roads. It usually takes a good rain storm or two to wash it away completely. With that being said, you probably have salt on your motorcycle if you have ridden it anywhere during the winter.

If you suspect your motorcycle has road salt on it, you’ll want to get it washed off as soon as possible. Washing salt off a motorcycle is a little different than simply washing dirt and grime off of it; salt has a tendency to stick and won’t go away until it’s dissolved completely.

You can either go to a self servicing car wash or use a hose at home. But chances are, if it’s winter time for you, your outside hose may be frozen or turned off to prevent freezing. So going to a self servicing car wash will probably be your best bet

With a high pressure washer, use warm water and rinse the motorcycle for several minutes. Do it longer than you think it needs so you can dissolve as much salt as possible. Try to cover up pod filters if you have them as well as any exhaust pipe holes.

Next, use the soap option and get your motorcycle covered with soap. Let it sit for a few minutes. Now use the high pressure washer again to rinse off all the soap. Again, rinse it longer than you think it needs it to get any last piece of salt that may be lingering.

Now is a good time to dry off the motorcycle tank with a microfiber towel. Don’t do this before you wash it because salt sediments could still be on there and you could scratch the tank. Once you rinse it off, it’s a good idea to wax it to ensure all salt is off and that it stays off.

How To Prevent Road Salt Damage

There are several steps you can take to prevent road salt causing damage to your motorcycle if you ride during the winter. All of us probably have a bit of rust going on within our motorcycles, but the key is to keep it from spreading.

The number one thing you can do to prevent road salt damage is washing your motorcycle thoroughly every 2-3 weeks throughout the winter, even if you don’t ride that much. This will wash off any salt that may have gotten on it, especially after the last time you took it to the car wash and rode it home.

You can also try applying ACF-50 which is an anti-corrosion treatment. This treatment sprays a type of film on your motorcycle that prevents corrosion from happening and spreading, whether there is rust already forming or not.

ACF-50 emulsifies moisture, meaning it causes any moisture around the metal to migrate to the outside of the film. This is a perfect way to repel road salt for your motorcycle. It’s easy to spray on and is non flammable nor does it stain, so you don’t have to worry about where it gets. You can literally spray it everywhere on your motorcycle without a worry.

For the best protection on your motorcycle from road salt, you should both wash it and add the ACF-50 solution. You will need to add more ACF-50 solution on to your motorcycle about every other time you wash it to ensure you have a solid layer of it on your motorcycle. If you’re constantly riding in the winter with lots of water getting on your bike, you’ll need to add ACf-50 more frequently.

Winter Riding Safety

If you are planning on riding your motorcycle throughout the winter, there are a few safety precautions you’ll need to consider while doing so. Obviously, wearing the right protective gear in the winter is vital. Motorcycles are more susceptible to hydroplaning and slipping on ice during the winter. For more information on riding in cold weather, click here to see my article.

In addition to the road salt being applied to the roads during the winter, motorcycles are also susceptible to traction issues. Road salt acts similarly to gravel and can be hard to navigate through if it is heavily laid on the road after a big snow storm. It can often be difficult to know how much salt there is on the road because salt will turn ice into slush; the slush can easily hide the amount of salt there is.

Car drivers during the winter are a lot less suspecting of motorcyclists. A lot of people aren’t that great at recognizing motorcycle riders during the summer, and the amount of aware drivers plummets during the winter. You need to be extra aware of the drivers around you while riding in the winter and assume that no driver around you knows you’re there.

It’s always a good idea to wear bright colors during your winter riding so drivers can see you easier; dark or gray colored clothes will make you blend in perfectly with the gloomy clouds that winter brings.

Related Questions

Is road salt also damaging to cars? Road salt is just as damaging to cars as it is to motorcycles. The undercarriage of cars are especially susceptible to damage since that is where the greatest impact of salt water hits. Cars are also used a lot more frequently in the winter and therefore exposed to more road salt.

How do you store a motorcycle for the winter? To store a motorcycle for the winter, you’ll first need to figure out where to store it (shed, garage, friend’s place, etc.). Next, you’ll need to care for the gas, top off your oil and coolant, disconnect the battery, elevate the tires, and cover it properly. Click here to see my article for more info.

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