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How to store your motorcycle over winter

Added January 26, 2021
Someone pushing a motorcycle

Foliage rides are a fading memory and the daylight hours are short. It’s typically the time when three-season motorcycle riders are beginning to consider their options for winter motorcycle storage.

The idea of spending money to not ride your bike may seem backwards, but it’s something you need to consider. The set-it-and-forget-it mentality rarely succeeds. If you park your cycle for the winter without planning ahead, you could be in for a surprise next spring—from a dead battery or clogged fuel system to flat tires or electrical damage from nesting critters. The ravages of winter and months without running the engine can lead you to expensive repairs in the spring that’ll only be more frustrating when you try to schedule service during the busiest season for motorcycle dealers and independent shops.

You can reduce the chances of these frustrations and repair costs by making a small investment—in cost, time, or space—to winterize and store your bike. We developed this how-to guide to help you create your own successful motorcycle storage plan.

Choose an appropriate location to store your motorcycle

If you don’t have a place to store your bike over winter, commercial motorcycle storage options range from $200 to around $750. This may seem pricy for some, but if you’re someone who wants someone else to handle storage for you, this could be a great option. Some motorcycle dealers will even store your bike for free if you have several hundred dollars of service work done as part of the process.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, consider storing your bike yourself. The most ideal situation is a controlled environment that’ll protect your bike from the elements.

If you don’t have access to a garage, you might be wondering if it’s safe to store your ride outside over winter. The answer is yes; however, location and preparation are important. If possible:

  • Choose a place that’s not exposed to winter traffic, snow plowing, or road salting.
  • Try to store your bike under or near a structure that can provide some protection—such as a carport or breezeway.
  • Avoid storing near trash cans, which can make your motorcycle a more likely target for a rodent nest.
  • Park it near lighting to decrease the risks of theft and vandalism.

Take care of your motorcycle’s fuel system

After you’ve determined your storage location, think about winterizing your motorcycle. During the last few refuels before you plan to store your motorcycle, use pure gasoline versus an ethanol blend. Because ethanol gasoline is more likely to absorb water vapor and has a short storage life, getting the ethanol out will reduce problems caused by water in the tank. It’ll take at least two tankfuls to get rid of most of the ethanol.

On the day you plan to store your motorcycle, take a ride that’s long enough to fully warm the engine.  Top off the fuel tank and add fuel stabilizer. Then, ride at least another 10 miles to ensure the stabilized fuel has run through the whole fuel system.

Change the motor oil filter

After caring for the fuel system, change your oil and filter. Even if you’re not due for an oil and filter change, it’s an important part of winter storage prep. The process of internal combustion creates byproducts that contaminate your motor oil. Leaving oil with acidic combustion byproducts sitting in the motor for months is an invitation to damage.

For this oil change, consider switching to the cold-weather grade recommended by your motorcycle’s manufacturer. This is beneficial if you think that you might take your bike out for a ride when the weather is still cold. Early spring can have clear roads and cold mornings—winter grade oil makes starting easier at lower temperatures.

Clean your bike

Once the motorcycle has cooled and the oil is changed, it’s time for a thorough wash and dry. This should be the most detailed cleaning your motorcycle receives each year.

After you wash your bike, remove, clean, and inspect the saddle and any side covers.  You might be surprised to see how much road grime can get into the parts of your motorcycle that you can’t see.  Part of the goal here is to make sure there’s no foreign material that can hold moisture and promote rust over the winter. This is also an opportunity to check for frayed wires or loose components that could cause problems when you start back up in the spring.

Run the motorcycle one more time to warm it to full operating temperature. This will help evaporate any water trapped in nooks, crannies, and the exhaust system. Check the oil one last time and wax your motorcycle to help protect the paint.

Lubricate parts and check motorcycle fluids

Consult the owner’s or service manual for a complete list of all components that need lubrication.  Cables, levers, side stand pivots, and the final drive chain are just a few you should lubricate. For some riders, this will be the only time of the year these components get much attention. Make it a point to inspect them for adjustment and wear.

This is also a good time to check the fluid level and condition of hydraulic systems, like brakes and the clutch. If the transmission and primary drive use separate fluids from the motor oil, check the levels and condition of those as well.

On a shaft drive motorcycle, check the fluid in the final drive gear case. If you’re comfortable with doing so and have the equipment, remove the rear wheel to inspect and grease the splines between the wheel hub and final drive.

Take care of the battery

Dead batteries are the bane of many motorcycle riders on that first perfect spring day. You don’t need to fall victim to this annoying situation.

Before storing your motorcycle:

  • Check your battery terminals for signs of corrosion.
  • Clean and apply dielectric grease, if necessary.
  • If you have a voltmeter, check the charge state of the battery with the motorcycle turned off.  It should be more than 12 volts; around 12.75 volts is ideal.
  • If the battery is low, charge it and retest—a weak battery will likely be short lived in the spring.
  • Perform a load test.

After you’ve checked and cared for your battery, decide how you’re going to care for it over winter—remove it and maintain the charge or leave it in and use a trickle charger. If you’re storing your motorcycle outdoors, removal may be the only realistic method. If you’re storing indoors, leaving the battery in and connecting it to a trickle charger allows you to easily take a spur-of-the-moment ride when the weather is good. Always follow your charger’s instructions and the motorcycle manufacturer’s directions for battery maintenance.

Prep the exhaust and air intake

Mice and other rodents can look at exhaust pipes as ideal places to make a winter nest—especially if you store your motorcycle outside or in a shed where food sources are nearby. You can buy commercially made plugs to seal your exhaust. They’re usually bright red or orange so you remember to remove them in the spring. You can also cover the openings with plastic, but be sure to avoid anything that can hold moisture so you don’t inadvertently cause rust.

Rodents also like to make nests in the intake to the air box. Sealing the air box may take a little more ingenuity than sealing exhaust pipes, but you can use similar methods. However you choose to seal your bike’s intake and exhaust, remember to remove the seal and complete an inspection before starting the motorcycle in the spring.

Inflate the bike’s tires

Make sure you store your motorcycle with the tires inflated to the correct riding pressure. Be sure not to overinflate them. If possible, check the pressure at least once a month during the winter and maintain proper inflation. While you’re prepping the bike for storage, check the tread at the tire wear indictors. If the tires have been on the motorcycle for more than one season, check the sidewalls for age cracking. If your tires are wearing or aging out, replace them when you take the bike out of storage.

Determine the necessity of stand storage

There’s a school of thought that storing your motorcycle on a stand keeps the tires from flat spotting. Concerns about flat spotting have been around for decades, though it typically isn’t an issue for modern motorcycle tires—your tires won’t flat spot if they’re properly inflated. However, using a stand may reduce the amount of space your motorcycle takes up in your storage area and it allows you to easily move it around.

Cover your motorcycle correctly

If you’re storing your motorcycle outside, a high-quality motorcycle cover designed for outdoor use is essential. These covers help reduce condensation and resist rain and snow. Never use a plastic tarp or similar cover—they’ll hold in moisture. If you store your ride in strong winter sunlight, remember to cover the tires to avoid damage from the sun. If available, use a locked cover to help prevent theft or vandalism.

If you’re storing indoors, a cover probably isn’t necessary, but a lightweight cover will help keep dust off your bike. If you do cover it and didn’t complete some of the protective measures we mentioned earlier, be sure to check under the cover from time to time to ensure rodents haven’t moved in.

Conclusion

The effort it takes to prepare your motorcycle for winter storage is well worth the investment. In addition to the peace of mind that comes from knowing your motorcycle is resting safely and will be ready for spring, you help increase its longevity and protect its value. Plus, you give yourself time to budget and schedule repairs if you find anything that needs service.

Remember to check on your motorcycle throughout the winter—it helps reduce surprises in the spring.

Till next time, ride safe!