Riding your bike in winter or storing it
Some say that braving the winter on two wheels makes you a proper biker, others keep their beloved machine on the charger in the garage. Here is some good advice for whatever choice you make.
Risk the rust
If you are dedicated to staying on two wheels during winter, you’ve probably found out the hard way that both man (or woman) and machine need a little help to deal with the inclement conditions. Here are six tips for those willing to risk the rust:
- It’s not just about the bike, the rider is important too.
Keeping warm is crucial for your well-being and safety. If you are freezing cold while riding, this can be distracting and reduce concentration. Moreover, when you’re cold, physically controlling the bike gets more difficult. Numb hands and feet can affect steering, braking, clutch operation and changing gear. Keeping warm is a matter of good insulation (layers of clothes), keeping dry and keeping the wind out.
- Improve your visibility.
Make sure you have a good anti-fog visor. The best way to achieve that is by using double visor systems. As well as making sure you can see, you also need to make sure you can be seen by wearing fluorescent clothing and eventually installing additional LED light kits. The head on view of a motorcyclist is a lot smaller compared to four wheeled vehicles in traffic, making their speed a lot more difficult to estimate; especially in dark, grey circumstances.
- Ride in straight lines, avoid high lean angle and hard braking and acceleration.
Be gentle on the throttle and brakes and use weight transfer to initiate the process – do not be brutal on the levers. ABS and traction control are helpful but no guarantee of a crash free ride.
- Check your tyres.
It’s crucial to keep an eye on the correct tyre pressure, considering the air in the tyres doesn’t heat up as much in the cold as it does in the summer, a slightly higher pressure could be in order. Make sure the tread depth is at least the legal minimum of 1mm or 1.6 mm, depending on the local legislation in place. Tyre tread depth indicators can come in handy – these are small raised areas located inside the grooves of the tyre. The height of these raised areas is set to the minimum legal limit of tread depth. When wear gets close to these, it’s time to change your tyres. You will also want to check for possible uneven tyre wear, damage and age. Even if the tread depth is OK, an older tyre can offer less grip. Many riders change tyres after five years, even if the tread depth is still OK. If you choose to use a tyre for longer, get professional advice on your tyre every year.
- Don’t push it. Avoid riding in snow or on icy roads.
There are no good tips or tricks to keep a 250kg (or more) machine under control with a contact patch as wide as the palm of your hand on snow or ice. If you do have to get home, stick to busy roads which will have been salted and cleared by traffic.
- Be prepared for oxidation/rust.
Aluminum parts (polished or varnished) as well as exhausts and chrome parts suffer most from salt on the roads. If you really want to keep your motorcycle spotless, don’t use it in winter conditions. Clean the salt off after every trip, ensure you grease your chain and sprockets regularly but all other parts will also benefit from extra lubricating and protection with Teflon based penetration oil.
Or take the rest
Based on the numbers of motorcycles on the road during winter, it’s safe to say the vast majority of motorcyclists keep their machine in the garage during the cold season. And that is not a bad idea, although it’s recommended to get your machine out as much as possible! The battery, fuel system, ignition etc will all benefit more from a mild winter ride than from being kept in storage for months. But if you do this, keep the following in mind:
- Keep the battery charged.
Batteries lose their charge after a few weeks sat still. The simplest way to ensure a happy off-season for your battery is to connect a battery charger to it. You don’t need to remove it from the bike unless it gets below freezing in your garage. Don’t forget to clean the terminals and to fill it to the top-level before storage if it is a classic lead battery.
- Beware of E95.
E95 (modern regular unleaded fuel) contains a lot of additives that deteriorate quickly. On some older types of carburetors, this is harmful for the internals and seals and even if it isn’t, it can cause ignition problems. Again, riding occasionally is the best way to prevent your bike from getting into this kind of trouble. However, if you insist on longtime storage it is best to drain carburetors or to fill your tank up with Aspen 4T, which is the purest form of gasoline available on the market. You can drain the carbs by loosening the float-bowl drain screw or bolt or by removing the float bowl from the carb. If you can’t do that, run the bike with the fuel turned off until the engine stops. If your bike is fuel-injected, draining the systems isn’t possible. In that case, be absolutely sure to either fill the tank completely with high quality gasoline (or regular fuel with a fuel stabilizer) or to drain it completely.
- A clean bike is a good bike.
Clean and dry your bike carefully before storing it, and wax it if you have the time. Again, a Teflon based penetration oil is your friend. Be generous with it, especially on chromed parts like exhausts etc. A vented bike cover is also a good idea.
- Fresh oil.
If your bike needs fresh oil, do this before storing the bike. Most modern bikes use fully synthetic oil, which can be stored for long periods of time without issue. It is better to drain the old oil—and the contaminants in it—now and replace it with fresh oil and filter before the acids and other evil compounds can work on your bike’s engine. Don’t forget to run the engine afterwards as this gets the oil hot and allows it to reach every part of the internals.
- Check the tyres.
Try to store your bike with the wheels off the ground. This will prevent the tyres from developing flat spots. If that is not possible, you can inflate the tyres a little bit past the recommended maximum pressure. Roll the bike back and forward from time to time to avoid flat spots.
- Change fluids.
Brake fluid absorbs water, which is why it should be changed every other year—sooner if it has changed from its normal amber hue to a darker color. This also applies to the oil in hydraulically operated clutches. It doesn’t really matter if you do this before or after winter, just don’t forget it.
- Check the Coolant.
If the temperature in your garage drops below freezing, check to see if the coolant is ok to avoid any damage from freezing.
The best way to store your bike is in a dry and warm environment. Avoid humid places or places with extreme temperature variations, and if you can’t, then please keep in mind it’s better to cover your motorcycle with a breathable cover then with plastic. Plastic will hold condensation and water, causing rust, electrical issues and fuel system failures.