How to Winterize Your Motorcycle

Yamaha XS650 Engine Rebuild

When evening temperatures start dropping and wearing leather is no longer a choice, the first snow fall won’t be far behind. As the riding season ends, don’t just park your bike in the garage and forget about it. Doing that is a sure way to find a few nasty surprises next riding season. Winterizing your classic Japanese motorcycle gets it ready for hibernation so it will come roaring back to life in the spring.

A quick tip: The bike will need to be cleaned before storage, but don’t do that first. There is no use in spending time polishing up your machine only to have a spill make a mess of things. Winterizing a classic bike is a time-consuming job, and it’s always best not to do anything twice.

Invest in fuel treatment

Draining all the fuel out of a gas tank and leaving it to sit over the winter can allow oxidation to occur inside the tank. Filling the tank prevents rust, but it brings its own problem: varnish. Gasoline is made of hydrocarbons, which react with oxygen and alter the fuel’s chemical makeup. It may take months to occur, but even a short winter break is long enough for real damage to happen.

The oxidized gas mixture can gum up the jets and needles in carbs and leave a layer of varnish in the entire fuel system, but fuel stabilizer easily solves the problem. Fuel stabilizer is a chemical treatment that slows the oxidation process in fuel. Be sure to add it to a nearly empty tank so that it mixes well as you fill up. The ride home from the gas station will give the engine time to warm up for the next step. Do not forget turn off the fuel petcocks. After a slight cool down, you can now take a minute and drain the float bowls.

Change the engine oil

Replacing old motor oil prior to winter storage is a preventative action, but it is one you should not skip. If you’re pushing the outer limits of a drain interval, hold off until it’s time to store the bike. The heat in engines causes the oil to break down, while oxidation and condensation can leave solids that settle out of the mixture. These deposits can become tar-like over the course of the winter, and a hard startup is the best possible outcome.

Have the necessary amount of oil for your bike and a brand-new oil filter on hand. As the bike cools from the ride home from filling up, allowing the oil to fully drain. Install the correct type and amount of oil after you exchange the oil filter. Remember to recycle the old oil.

Check or change the spark plugs and air filter

Removing and “reading” the spark plugs can be a great way to determine your engines overall operating condition.  Obviously, finding any oil on a spark plug is bad, but also look for blistered or cracked insulation, discolored or malformed electrodes, or anything else out of the ordinary. Carbon buildup is normal, but consider changing the plugs even if they are only lightly coated.

Inspect the air filter and replace it if necessary as well. Clean its housing inside and out, and do not be shy to do a preventative replacement, especially if the bike operates in dusty conditions. The whole goal so far has been to ensure easy starting in the spring, and an air filter is a cheap insurance policy. After everything is back together, turn the engine over without starting it to coat the cylinders with the lubricant you sprayed in them.

Check all fluids

Inspect the antifreeze and brake fluid levels, and examine the condition of each. Obviously, antifreeze is critical for liquid-cooled bikes kept outdoors. If you are unsure whether the coolant was properly mixed, flush the system and replace the coolant. Any moisture the brake fluid has absorbed can become problematic in freezing temperatures as well, so be sure it is fresh and in good condition. Draining and exchanging brake fluid now would be suggested.

Protect the Battery

Classic Japanese motorcycle batteries may not have a computer or a clock producing a constant drain on them, but they will still gradually lose their charge over a few months of disuse. If you have a battery tender, it is okay to leave the battery hooked up to the bike during storage. Otherwise, pull the battery off the bike and keep it on a shelf. Placing it on an occasional trickle charge during the winter will ensure it has enough juice to cold start your bike, and it will make it far less likely to leave you stranded on one of your first couple of rides.

Pick up the bike

If at all possible, get the tires off of the ground. It’s best to use front and rear stands to get both tires off the pavement, but if the bike has a centerstand, use it to pick up the rear tire at a minimum. The tires may develop flat spots if the wheels stay in the same position the whole winter. Inflate tire pressure to correct specifications. At the very least, roll the bike and park it in different places from time to time to prevent flat spotting.

Wash it, wax it and lube it

The dirt and grime built up on a bike’s surfaces can oxidize as it sits idle for those long winter months. As it does, rust and corrosion develop quickly. Preventing this issue is much easier than fixing it though, so give your bike a thorough washing. Be sure to dry it thoroughly as well. Any water left to linger may cause rust spots later.

Next, apply a light coat of motorcycle-specific wax or a similar product. There is no need to worry about excess product running off like there is when a bike is being ridden regularly, so use protectant products liberally. Pay extra attention to painted parts and chrome — especially the fork tubes. Be certain no grime or bug guts remain to eat at their surfaces.

Use a petroleum lubricant to coat all cables. A cable-lubricating tool will make the job easier. Be sure to oil the pivot points on the levers and pedals as well. Basically, if it turns, rolls or pivots, lube it. When spring time finally rolls around, and everything is operating as it should, you’ll be glad you took the time to do a thorough job.

Cover it

Whether the bike is to be stored in a garage or outdoors, invest in a quality motorcycle cover. It will keep moisture and debris off the bike’s exterior, but it will also prevent the lubricants you used from evaporating. In a garage, the bike cover and additional old blanket underneath the cover will assist keeping the bike safe from accidents. Your classic Japanese motorcycle’s restoration was a labor of love and an investment. Protect it.

Conclusion

You don’t have to neglect your bike just because it’s going to sit idle for a while. The winter months, when snow and salt muck up the roads and it’s too cold to ride safely, are the perfect time to tackle any neglected repairs. So, now you know that stay strapped body panel can finally get it deserved attention. Get your classic Japanese motorcycle looking and running its best while there’s nothing but time. With a fully restored and winterized bike, you’ll be ready for those first crisp rides come spring.

 

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