Like it or not, for a lot of us, there comes a time when we must store the bike for the winter.
But, if you follow these five steps, your bike should get through the winter just fine.
1. Treat the fuel system. The first thing you need to do is fill your fuel tank and add a fuel stabilizer, like Sta-Bil. Use the ratio recommended on the stabilizer instructions, usually about one ounce of stabilizer for two gallons of gasoline.
No, more is not better.
It's a good idea to add the stabilizer to your fuel at the gas station. That way, the ride home will mix it up and get it into the carburetors or fuel injection system.
Keeping the tank full reduces air space inside, which greatly reduces the possibility of condensation as temperatures change over the winter. The fuel also prevents rust from forming inside the tank.
The main job of the stabilizer is to maintain the properties of the fuel and reduce deposits and buildup inside your fuel system.
Also, for that last tank of gas, avoid fuel with a high ethanol content, as it will attract moisture. This is especially important if you're keeping your bike in an unheated space.
2. Drain your carburetors. If you have fuel injection, you’re done with the fuel system. But if your bike is carbureted, you need to take some additional steps.
Even if you use stabilizer, standing gas in the carbs can evaporate and leave behind a varnish-like residue that clogs small openings in the carbs or keep the floats from moving freely. Draining it via the float bowls is the best way to prevent this.
3. Change all your bike’s lubricants. Changing everything is the ultimate in care, because changing fluids removes the contaminants they contain.
If you don’t change all the fluids, at least do this: Check the motor oil quality. If it’s not somewhat transparent, change it. This will remove acids that could attack the metal parts of your engine. Change the filter, too. The 10 bucks you save by skipping this step won’t go very far toward the engine rebuild you could eventually have to do.
Check the brake and/or clutch fluids. If they are as dark as new motor oil, they are contaminated and must be changed prior to storage. The fluid color when new is almost perfectly clear. The darker it gets, the more contaminated it is. Contaminated fluid can cause corrosion all winter while the bike sits. In general, these fluids should be changed every two years or sooner.
If your bike has coolant, test it with a “ball checker'” tester, available at any auto parts store. If it looks dirty or won't protect against freezing at the temperatures you expect, change it before storage. This fluid should also be changed about every two years anyway.
Letting dirty coolant sit in your radiator over the winter can allow hard deposits to form and corrode your cooling system. If in doubt, change it.
4. Tend to your battery. If you take care of your battery, you won't have to buy a new one every year.
If your bike will be stored in a place where temperatures will fall well below freezing, remove the battery. An attached garage may stay warm enough for you to leave the battery in the bike.
Either way, the battery must be charged periodically. If your battery has removable caps, top it off with distilled water. If it is maintenance-free, don’t touch that cap.
Either use a charger that maintains the battery by monitoring the voltage level and turning on and off automatically to keep the battery just above 12 volts, or charge your battery weekly, using a very low-amperage trickle charger (1.5 amps or less). Test the battery to be sure you're not overcharging or undercharging it.
5. Clean your bike, lube it, and cover it. Now is the best time to thoroughly clean and lube your bike. A good wash and wax now will go a long way toward protecting your bike’s finish.
If you wish, you can leave the wax and chrome polish on all winter as an extra protective layer. Be aware it may be extremely difficult to get off, or it may come off normally, depending on the condition of your finish and the type of wax and polish you use.
Lubricate everything that moves. Silicone, multi-purpose lube, white lithium grease and a tub of good ol' high-temperature grease will cover everything you need. This should be part of your regular care for the bike from now on. It really doesn’t take that long.
Put a couple extra pounds of air pressure in your tires to avoid flat spots from sitting. Better yet, if you have stands, raise the bike off the tires.
Finally, cover the bike. If it is outside, spend the money and get a high-quality cover. Indoors, a light, breathable layer works best. In a pinch, a big, clean sheet will do, but a real cover protects against damage a lot better.