How to Winterize a Motorcycle (And Protect It in the Cold)

motorcycle driving in snow

For those of us living in the parts of the country where winter comes to visit, bringing with it cold, ice, and snow, storing your motorcycle for winter is part of the life of being a biker.

Knowing how to protect your motorcycle during the winter months will ensure an easy and fun start to next year's riding season and avoid damage to your pride and joy from prolonged storage.

Let's take a look at what you can do to winterize your motorcycle for the upcoming cold season.

Motorcycle Gas Tank

In a fight to protect your gas tank through the winter, you're faced with two foes-moisture and field additives in your gasoline, such as ethanol. Storing your motorcycle for as little as a week will result in changes to the composition of the fuel in the tank and the accumulation of moisture.

Moisture will rust the surfaces of the tank and fuel lines coming out from it, and fuel stratifying (separating into components) will affect its combustibility. Fuel deterioration is the most common reason for trouble starting motorcycles after prolonged storage.

For rust to start developing, you need tow things-moisture and oxygen. There is moisture in your gasoline, and the longer it sits, the more it will separate itself from fuel—nothing can be done about that. You can, however, prevent oxygen from reaching the surfaces in your gas tank by filling it with gasoline to the top and keeping oxygen from accessing the side of the tank.

To prevent fuel from deteriorating over winter, you should add a stabilizer adaptive. That will extend the usable life of gasoline in the tank to over two years and ensure an easy start come spring.

If you're reluctant to store your bike with a tank full of fuel (or just want to add another layer to your anti-theft strategy), you can drain your gas tank and coat the insides with car oil by pouring a couple of ounces of oil in and turning the tank over a few times. That will also help to get rid of the crud accumulated in the tank over the riding season. Make sure to close the fuel petcock and tank filler cap before adding oil.

person maintaining motorcycle

Motorcycle Battery

Batteries discharge continuously. If left unused and not periodically recharged through riding or a battery charger, the battery voltage will drop below 12.5 volts, and your bike will not start. Each time that happens, the lifespan of your battery gets shorter.

Both hot and cold temperatures accelerate the speed with which batteries drain voltage, and storing a motorcycle in a cold garage will leave you with a drained battery within a couple of weeks.

To keep your battery in good shape, you have two options-riding the motorcycle for 15-20 minutes at speeds above 25 mph (most motorcycles' charging systems are not efficient enough to charge at lower speeds) or hooking the battery up to a charger.

Since taking your bike for a ride in bellow freezing weather is not conducive to keeping all your appendages intact, the charger is your best bet. A regular charger will do the trick, but letting the battery discharge and charging it back to shape is hard on the battery and will shorten its life span.

Most of the chargers on the market today are smart chargers, able to sense the state of discharge that the battery is in and apply just enough charge to recuperate the battery without damaging it. With a battery in storage, a smart charger will provide what's called a trickle charge, flowing just enough charge into the battery to keep it full without overcharging it.

Your other option is a dedicated trickle charger, built with the single purpose of mind-maintaining a car or motorcycle battery while it's in storage. Trickle chargers are cheaper, but a smart charger can also work with your car, recharge a discharged battery or even recuperate a damaged battery that will no longer hold a charge.

If your motorcycle is using a non-sealed battery (not very common nowadays but still around), make sure to top off its cells with distilled water. The instructions on how to do that and how much empty space to leave will be right on the top of the battery. Be careful-you are working with acid.

It's fine to leave the battery in your bike as you're charging it, but if the motorcycle is stored in an area that stays below freezing, it's best to pull the battery out and overwinter it in a more comfortable place.

gloved hand holding motorcycle battery

Motorcycle Tires

The best way to store your tires would be off the bike in a temperature-controlled, dark room. That will protect the rubber and avoid developing flat spots or dry rot. Taking the wheels of your motorcycle, however, is a pretty time-consuming job, and it's easy to misalign them when reinstalling.

Let's look at a couple of more realistic options.

The easiest and most common way to store a motorcycle is simply sitting on the tires in the garage. Lower the tire pressure to 20 psi, and don't forget to move the bike every few weeks or so to avoid tires developing a flat spot from supporting the weight of the bike on the same area of the tire for a long time.

After all, most non-offroad motorcycles weigh in at a minimum of 500 lbs, and quite a few touring bikes are close to 1000 lbs, and all that is resting on about 12 inches of your tires.

The other option is to lift your motorcycle on a bike stand to take the pressure off the tires and prolong their life. Keeping the bike on a lift will also come in handy when you'll be doing spring fluid changes before the start of the riding season.

Either way, you choose to store your motorcycle, make sure to keep it out of the sun hitting rubber will, in time, end with dry rot and cracked tires. Don't store it in places where tires might be exposed to ozone( generated by generators, compressors, furnaces, etc.) which will, in short order, destroy them.

All tires age, with most having a lifespan of five to eight years, and keeping motorcycle tires in pristine shape is a lot more critical than tires on your car. A blown tire on a car is usually just a trip to the tire shop to be fixed and forgotten, but a blown tire on a motorcycle while riding will often result in severe consequences to you and your machine.

motorcycle tire mounted near bike body

Motorcycle Engine

When it comes to getting your engine through the colder months, the main foe you're facing is the same one as when you were winterizing the gas tank- water. Anything made out of steel will rust, and just about everything that makes up your engine is made of steel.

Even the parts made of aluminum get affected by exposure to water and oxygen by oxidizing.

A motorcycle engine is designed to withstand extreme temperatures, extreme pressure, and metal-on-metal contact with thousands of an inch of oil in between. You are literally sitting a foot away from hundreds of explosions going off every minute you're on your bike.

On the other hand, water condensation accumulating as the bike sits will rust the walls of the cylinders and other internal parts in no time. Rust inside an engine is a killer. Another problem an engine faces after being packed away for winter is contaminants in the oil. Exhaust gasses trapped in oil turn to acid, and acid and steel do not do well together at all.

To prevent condensation and contaminants going to town on your engine, change the oil before tacking your bike away. Run the bike for a few minutes on your last ride for the year, take it home, and drain the oil while it's still hot, and contaminants and anything else that should not be in your engine are trapped in the oil and not sitting on the metal itself.

Watch your hands-that oil will be pretty warm. If you feel up to going a step further, you can take out the sparkplugs and spray coating oil into the cylinders to ensure there is no moisture getting to the metal.

Ok, now that we've gotten the inside of the engine protected, let's work on the outside. Pressure wash or take soap, water, and a brush to the cooling fins on the exterior of the engine. Grime stuck to it will hold moisture right next to the metal and corrode it over winter.

Find the air intake - on most motorcycles, it'll be a very obvious lump on the right side of the engine, or if its' not to be found there, follow the airline from the engine, and you'll run into it sooner or later, most often under the seat or the gas tank. Stuff a shop rag into the intake.

Mice absolutely love making nests in air filter boxes -it's enclosed, protected from the rain, and the materials for their nests are already there-they'll just rip apart your air filter. While you at it-staff another rag in the exhaust for the same reasons, you don't want to be evicting a family of mice from your exhaust in the spring.

If you're riding an older Harley or a Triumph-your're done messing with the engine. If your bike, on the other hand, has a water cooling system, it's time to check the coolant. Coolant deteriorates with time, the same as oil or brake fluid, and you're supposed to drain and change it every five years or 30000 miles.

The problem is-few of us do, and even if you are on top of it, there is a chance it'll deteriorate sooner. You never know how many years it's been sitting in a warehouse before you bought it. Coolant without the right amount of quality antifreeze in it is basically water. Water can generate amazing amounts of pressure as it freezes, and you have coolant passages running all through the engine block filled with coolant.

A bike stored in below-freezing temperatures with water/crappy coolant in the engine is very likely to welcome you in the spring with a cracked engine block. Check the quality of the coolant with a coolant tester, or if you haven't changed it in a while, take the time to change it before you forget about it for another year.

hands repairing motorcycle engine

Motorcycle Carburator/Injection System

This is one of the areas where fuel injection reigns supreme -you don't need to do anything to prepare it for winter. Running a fuel injector cleaner like Seafoam or B-12 through the last tank of gas is a great idea to clean the injection system before storage.

On motorcycles with a carburetor, things are a bit more complicated. The gasoline we use has a number of compounds that evaporate in storage. As it evaporates, it forms a thin layer of varnish.

A carburetor, in its basics, is a vacuum chamber with a number of tiny holes. Fuel and air mix and flow through those tiny holes in the right ratio (optimally, 15 parts air to 1 part gasoline). Varnish generated by evaporating fuel plugs those holes, ensuring an embarrassing no-start come spring.

To avoid dealing with rebuilding a carburetor in the spring, unscrew the float bowl (it'll be the lowerest part of the carburetor, and it looks exactly like a soup bowl, with a single screw through the center), attach a hose to the drain screw and drain the gasoline accumulated in the carburetor.

Some carburetors don't have a drain, and you'll end up taking the float bowl off to drain it. That will also allow you to clear out the gunk that accumulates there.

Another option is to simply shut off your fuel coming up to the carburetor using a fuel petcock while the bike is running and let it run until the engine shuts off. That will drain the carburetor of fuel, but you still might want to take the float bowl off every year or two for more thorough cleaning.

Motorcycle Chassis and Body

Making sure the chassis and tins (everything made out of sheet metal on your bike-gas tank, fenders, etc.) are ready for winter is a pretty straightforward process.

Clean everything really well to remove dirt and grime that will keep moisture next to the metal of your bike and rust it. Wax the tins to keep water away from the paint. Spray the engine with a corrosion protectant. Keep the bike covered if outside and away from direct sunlight.

Preparing your motorcycle for winter might seem like a lot of work, and with the riding season over, there is no instant gratification to be had, but it will save you hours of repair work and aggravation come spring. It's worth the time, and combined with some good tunes, it can be a fun way to round out your riding season.