Tech Tuesday: Winterizing Your Motorcycle
NEWS December 20, 2011
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
There have been many articles written about the importance of winterizing motorcycles, and unfortunately some articles have also conveyed the message that it is ok to not winterize them in any circumstances. Depending on the length and condition of how the motorcycle is stored, winterizing your machine can protect your investment from the damaging effects of moisture and temperature.
Winterization is especially important in the northern parts of the United States and Canada, because motorcycle storage periods are often longer than in other parts of the United States. In the northern United States and Canada, a moderate amount of snow adds condensation to the mix, while temperatures at night can drop below freezing for weeks at a time. The effects of not winterizing motorcycles cannot only reduce riding time at the beginning of the riding season, but can also be devastating to a rider’s finances. Motorcycles that have not been winterized can have piston ring issues, carburetor and fuel tank problems, and the exposure to moisture may hasten the start of corrosion, to name a few of the negative effects.
Proper winterizing begins with filling the tank with fuel and a fuel stabilizing agent. This will reduce the amount of air in the tank, thus reducing the amount of moisture inside the tank and keeping the fuel from varnishing.
Next, check the coolant in the motorcycle for the proper antifreeze mixture. If you have to add fluid, this may be a good time to flush the coolant system, thereby ensuring a clean coolant system with the proper antifreeze mixture level. Most new motorcycles now come equipped with freeze plugs, but there are still some motorcycles out there that don’t have them. The freeze plug is a weakened point of the engine’s coolant journals that is made to expand and give way; if fluids freeze and expand, the freeze plug blows to keep the head and engine block from cracking.
After checking the antifreeze mixture, you should check the oil level and then start the motorcycle, allowing the engine to come up to operating temperature. This will do a few things; First, It will open the thermostat so that antifreeze circulates throughout the engine block and heads. Second, it circulates the fuel stabilizer into the fuel system. Lastly, it will make the motorcycle’s oil less viscous. Turn off the motorcycle and allow a few minutes for the engine to cool slightly. The oil will be easier to change while it is still warm. After changing the oil and installing a new filter, check the oil level to ensure that you have filled it up to the manufacturer’s recommended amount. Start the motorcycle again to allow the new oil to be dispersed throughout the engine’s internal parts. The motorcycle’s engine is now internally oiled and serviced.
When it comes to preparing the exterior of your motorcycle for winter, you are focusing on preventing corrosion and deterioration. The motorcycle would need to first be washed thoroughly to get off road debris. Dry the motorcycle with a soft cloth, and use a motorcycle friendly wax/polish on all painted surfaces. Next, metal surfaces need to have a corrosion control lubricant wiped on them. If there is any chrome or polished aluminum, it should be wiped or even polished.
The drivetrain components of motorcycles that need attention are the shaft drive, belt drive and chain drive. If the motorcycle is shaft drive, check the fluids and wipe it down. Belt driven vehicles should have the belt washed with soap and water, then dried with a soft rag. (This is the best time to inspect the belt to see if it will need replacing in the spring. Check your owner’s manual for tolerances.) Chain driven motorcycles should have their chain lubricated with an OEM-approved lubricant. By periodically rotating the chain, it will keep the chain from getting hard spots.
Other components of the motorcycle that need attention are the exhaust, battery and carburetor. Plug the exhaust to keep critters out. Batteries should be removed, cleaned and put on a battery charge maintainer to keep it at the proper voltage. If the motorcycle has a carburetor, shut off the petcock and drain all the fuel from the bowls of the carburetor(s). (There is a rumor that running a motorcycle with the petcock off will run it out of gas, this is false! Even when the motorcycle runs out of gas, enough fuel remains in the bottom of the bowl to clog the jets).
When the motorcycle is placed in its final storage area, it is a good idea to get it on a stand and off the ground. If it is on a concrete floor, like a garage, the concrete gets very cold and can damage the rubber compound. Leaving tires sitting on the ground can also cause flat spots and cracking of the rubber. Air pressure should also be checked because when temperatures get very cold, tires will often lose pressure.
Finally, you should make notes of all the things that were found while winterizing your motorcycle. This list would be comprised of things that need to be fixed or changed before your first ride in the spring.
Winterizing your motorcycle will save you time and money in the long run. Storing a motorcycle for a few months in an “as is” condition is often a bad idea. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and winterizing your bike means that as soon as you get a chance to get back out and ride, you’ll be able to.
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