The winter is here and we are all confronted with how to best take care of our motorcycles. Many of us have suffered through cold starts at the beginning of the new season from neglecting proper winterizing or missing a certain step. So here is what you need to know to make sure that when spring rolls around your bike is in the best condition to hit the ground running. This is the way I have taken care of my bikes before putting them up for the last 10 years. The only troubles that I've had starting my bikes in the spring have come from forgetting or missing one of these steps. Some of this might not apply to your particular bike but they're good to have in your back pocket just in case you end up finding yourself in the position of having to take care of your friend's bike or a new bike that you buy.
Prep, Prep, and More Prep
First it's all about the prep. You need to have a few tools, the owner’s manual, and a car so you can travel back and forth to the auto/motorcycle shop. Obviously, if you don't own these tools then you can of course borrow them from a friend, but I highly recommend Investing in these tools. They will serve you season after season. I will give you suggestions about the types of tools and chemicals I've personally used, but talk with your local dealership, mechanic, or motorcycle shop to find the best brands for your particular bike and budget. You're going to need some WD-40/Fogging Oil/Gun-Zilla, a spark plug wrench, rags, chain lube, and your preferred cleaning materials.
One of the most important things about prepping for the winter is to clean your bike before putting it away. Anything you leave on the surface is going to have months to work its way through leather, metal, or rubber. Hopefully this isn't the first time that you've washed your bike but if it is, check out a few Youtube videos on some best practices. If it’s your first time, wash your bike down from a hose and use your preferred soap to scrub everything down the best that you can. I typically use something like S100 Cleaner. You have a much better chance of getting everything sparkling if you have been washing your back throughout the summer. If this is the first time, God help you, but try to focus on the underside where you get the most crud. Finally, make sure to rinse everything from the hose (no pouring the bucket over) and towel dry. I don’t let my bike sit in the sun to dry because those areas that don’t dry quickly are exactly where rust happens first.
Protect Your Fuel or Else
The elements that allow your bike to run are also the elements that you need to protect over the winter months. The main one of course is fuel. You are going to use a product called fuel stabilizer that keeps your gas from turning into sludge and clogging your system from months of sitting. I usually use STA-BIL which has a built in measuring funnel to ensure I use exactly the amount I need. Go with your manual recommended fuel stabilizer if there is one and add it to a full tank of gas. Run your bike until you're certain that the stabilizer has made it to the carburetors and throughout the engine. Once you're sure the fuel has made it to every nook and cranny of your engine, shut off the fuel at the petcock and run it until it's dry. If you have carbs, you're going to want to drain the excess fuel from the float bowls. Check your manual for the prescribed method of completing this. For the record, this is what your manual recommends but I have forgotten once or twice and made out just fine at the start of spring so take that as you will.
Old Oil = Bad Spring
The outside of your bike is protected, and so is your fuel system, but we still have to make sure that the internal mechanics of your engine are clean and protected. Hopefully by now, you've changed your oil before but if you haven’t, then most likely you'll need 4 or 5 quarts of your prescribed oil and preferably a new filter. Make sure you know exactly what oil you need by consulting your manual. Drain the old oil and add the new oil and filter. You don’t always have to change the filter depending on your bike, but it can make a huge difference in the life of your bike for $20-$30. Run your bike for a few minutes to make sure that all the fresh oil hits every inch of your engine so that there are no exposed or dry cylinders. Put the old oil you have drained into the empty containers and immediately take them to your local Auto parts store to recycle them. I say “do it now” because you're going to set them in a corner and forget about them. Next season when you're going to be getting ready to change the oil you, might see a couple of containers of oil sitting somewhere and you might presume that they are fresh. Might as well save yourself the hassle and grief and just take them over right now. This will also prevent the argument from your wife, husband, etc… about “why are there oil jugs just sitting on the floor of the garage”. Thank me later.
Protect the Little Things
This next bit is something that is ESSENTIAL but not everybody knows about it. If you ever owned an older bike, you know how much of a pain in the butt it is to replace seals and rubbers. If you don’t want to have to worry about that until far in the future, then you are going to coat all of your rubber seals, hoses, and carb boots with WD-40 or your oil of choice (I have found that Gunzilla works pretty well in a pinch). This will keep moisture from getting into your rubbers and drying them out. There's no need to be stingy when you are putting your oil on. Make sure to work the seal around making sure that the oil gets to every inch of the outer and inner parts of the seal. You can use this same procedure on carb boots and even your pegs if you're worried about them.
Since you are on a lubing spree, you don’t want to forget about your chain while you are at it. WD-40 makes a specialized chain oil to make sure that all of your surfaces are protected and you will have a smooth ride when spring rolls around.
Spark Your Interest
It's finally time to pull out that spark plug wrench that you've been saving. Be sure to find out your spark plug’s measurements before you pick up the socket. For one of my bikes I ended up buying 4 different spark plug sockets to find one that fit just right. If your bike is stock, it most likely has a spark plug wrench in its tool kit. Remove all of your spark plugs and spray just a little bit of WD-40 in each of the chambers. The goal is of course to coat everything so that no moisture can get in and wreak havoc on your engine. Keep the spark plug wires away from the engine so they don't ark and use the Kickstart or electric start a few times to make sure the oil coats the entire inside of the chambers. Obviously, don't look into the holes while doing this or you will have a face full of oil. Screw your spark plugs back in and that part is done.
Battery Out and Almost Done
You have officially protected your fuel system and engine, now it's time to protect your electrical system. The most essential part of your electrical system is your batter. To protect it from the alkaline buildup that happens when it is left connected to a system without use for a long period of time, you are going to pop it out. I always make sure to hook my battery up to a Battery Tender for the winter months. Really good tenders can trickle charge, recondition, or maintain your battery in peak condition. You'll be tempted to head over to Harbor Freight and pick up the cheapest one possible, but I don't recommend it. Many a battery has suffered a complete and total meltdown as a result of these sometimes faulty battery tenders. Instead, head over to your local auto/motorcycle shop or Amazon and find the best battery tender in your budget with the best ratings for your specific size bike. If you're feeling particularly worried about your electrical system there are spray-on protectants that you can find at your local AutoZone or hardware store, but I haven't really used these products and everything turned out just fine at the end of the winter.
Protect Your Cooling System
This is a step that you might be able to skip depending on the specifics of your bike and it's cooling system. If you have a liquid cooling system you might want to check to make sure that your levels are where they should be. You don't want to have the coolant too low or else you might see it freeze inside the block causing major problems down the line. You can flush your system if you want, but be sure to consult with your owner's manual to see how often you should. Most of my bikes have been air cooled, but I have had to do this for my 92 Kawasaki Ninja Streetfighter Project. It isn’t too hard, just make sure that your particular antifreeze is the right temperature for wherever it is that you're living. Your coolant is like a sleeping bag, it only works if it's rated for the temperatures that you're going to be in.
Fog your Bike and Finishing Up
After you've gotten everything taken care of in the majority of the bike there's only a few steps left. Take your WD-40 or Fogging Oil and spray it inside the muffler to protect it from condensation that will rust your pipe over time. This will make it a little smokey the first time you start your bike up in the spring, but it will save your a few hundred dollars from replacing it in the future. I have also been putting a rag in the end of my tailpipe for a number of years now to keep critters from finding their way inside my motorcycle and just destroying it. I started doing this after my Uncle found a mouse in his tailpipe so you can choose for yourself. There's nothing like the start of spring and the smell of burning fur to get you ready to ride. You also want to make sure that you wipe down your leather with protectant to keep it pristine for as long as possible.
The last thing that you need to decide is how you want your bike to sit over the winter months. If you're going to keep it on its tires, it's best that you put cardboard or plywood underneath it so that you don't warp the tires rot them from being on top of concrete.It might not be enough to completely rot your tires, but it is enough to throw off their balance and give you a terrible first ride. I prefer to lift my bikes up and put them on blocks. The blocks I use are hand made out of typical two by fours to support the frame. If you have a sport bike you might not have the suspension points on the frame necessary to put your bike up this way. You can use a center stand, a lift, or even specialized sport bike support that goes under the tires. Finally, cover your bike and you're ready for the winter.
Now you might get kind of antsy during the winter months and feel like you need to start your bike up periodically or fiddle with it, DON’T. I'm going to ask you to stay hands off until you're ready to ride. All of the oil and coatings that you put on your bike can only stay where they are if the bike isn't run. In fact, if you run the bike, the heat can actually create condensation in places you don't want it to be like the tailpipe. So once your bikes up, it's up for the season. Depending on where you're actually storing your bike you might want to put a tarp or motorcycle cover over it. This will keep dust particulates and the odd chemical spill from doing any more damage than necessary to your bike. You probably spent thousands of dollars on your perfect motorcycle, and these steps will help you make sure that you keep your bike the way you want it to be for as long as possible.
If you have read through this whole article and just got overwhelmed with everything that you need to do in order to get your bike through winter you can very easily take your bike down to your local shop to have it winterized. I don’t do this for a very specific reason. I am a little paranoid that they are going to absolutely nothing to my motorcycle, charge me out the nose, and then charge me again when I can’t get it started in the spring because they did nothing. When you take responsibility for your motorcycle’s maintenance, you can be sure that everything got done at the very least. You know that when your bike starts up, that is because of what you did. Also, if it doesn’t start that is due to your handy work, but at least when you go to the mechanic you can tell them everything that happened to it.