Winter is fast approaching and for many it will soon be time to store away their motorbike and wait for the rain and snow to pass for another year. For others though, this isn’t an option and now is the perfect time to prepare your bike for winter riding.
In this article we will discuss how best to prepare your bike for a winter lay-up to ensure an easy reinstatement next spring, how to prepare your bike for use throughout the winter months and also how to prepare yourself for riding in cold, wet and icy weather.
Some people choice to lay their bikes up over the winter months rather than continue riding in the bad weather. Typically this will be from the end of September/beginning of October, when the weather takes a turn for the worse, through until March or April when the sky is once again blue and the chances of sleet, snow and ice on the roads are much less. This tends to be the domain of the casual/leisure riders; those who don’t consider their bikes to be their main mode of transport and ride for the pleasure of doing so rather than through necessity and commuting.
Even though your bike will not be in use for the next 6 months it will still require some degree of maintenance to keep it in good order and to ensure that it is ready to go when you do want to use it again. Here are some pointers about the best ways to care for your bike when it goes into hibernation:
- Service First: If your bike is due for or close to a scheduled service have this done before you lay up the bike. Not only will this avoid the risk of forgetting to have the service done after the winter (and losing precious riding time in the spring) but it will also highlight any other issues you may not be aware of which can then be dealt with throughout the winter months.
- Put Your Battery On "Trickle Charge": Batteries have a habit of losing performance in cold weather. If you are storing your bike in a building (garage for example) and have access to a power supply it’s wise to invest in a reputable ‘trickle’ charger. These stay fitted to the bike’s battery the whole time the bike is in the garage and keep the battery voltage topped-up. A drop of just 1 or 2 volts can be enough to prevent your bike from starting, come the spring. Alarms, immobilisers and tracker units all drain power from the main battery so where possible these should be disconnected, although this isn’t always possible - in these situations a trickle charger is a necessity! Alternatively simply disconnecting the battery and moving it into the house to keep warm will help but a good charge before its next use would be highly recommended. Remember, batteries don’t last forever and can be considered a consumable to some extent.
- Lubrication: Chain and sprockets should be lubricated on a regular basis during use but a good coat of a heavy duty lubricant when going in to storage will help prevent oxidisation, O-rings perishing and tightening of the chain during this rest period. Cleaning the chain before lubrication is important. There are several inexpensive gadgets available to assist you in this messy task but it’s worth taking the time to do it properly.
- Pump Up Your Tyres: Tyre pressures are often forgotten but should be checked when you place your bike in storage- Adjust the pressures to their proper levels. If you store your bike for a prolonged period with insufficient pressure in the tyres they will sag under the weight of the bike, and this can damage the side walls of the tyre and create flat spots.
- Clean Your Bike: Clean the bike thoroughly before placing the bike into storage. This should be the most intensive and thorough clean of the year. Every nook and cranny needs to be reached and cleaned. All dirt and debris left on the bike gives potential for corrosion or other problems if left for a period of time. This includes all body work (inside and out!), the engine (not just the covers- the whole thing!) the frame and swingarm, wheels, forks, rear shock absorber & spring and tail unit (again, inside and out!) it’s important to dry the bike thoroughly too. If you don’t have access to an airline, dry as much as you can with paper towels and cloths and then leave the bike to air dry before going into storage. A bike cover or old bed sheet over the bike will help preserve your hard work afterwards.
- Drain The Tank: Fuel is a fairly major concern as this will cause the biggest problems over the winter if left for 6 months or more. Fuel not only goes stale but will also cause oxidisation and varnishing in the fuel tank. It can also ‘gum-up’ other parts of the engine if left, causing blockages and potentially leaks in the fuel system. You can either drain all of the fuel from your bike, including the carburetor/throttle bodies if you are technically competent, and leave it dry throughout the winter, or alternatively you can use a fuel stabilising additive. If using an additive you should run the bike for a few minutes after adding the stabiliser to ensure that the stabilised fuel reaches all areas of the fuel system.
- Protect Your Bike: If the bike will be living outdoors during this period a good quality bike cover is essential to protect your bike from the elements. There is nothing to stop you doing any of the other preparations but keeping the bike dry will be a priority and something that should be checked regularly to prevent problems later.
- When Spring Comes: A tip for when you come to use your bike for the first time after a long period in storage- take the time to open the air box on the bike, check inside air ducts and behind large fairings for mice and other small rodents. Air intake ducts, air boxes and storage pockets all make excellent nesting boxes for small mammals and birds seeking refuse during the cold winters. Clusters or trails of seeds and nuts on or around the bike are a tell-tail sign of a hitchhiker. If you suspect something may have been living in your bike over the winter be sure to inspect all wiring thoroughly before staring as looms are prone to being chewed and their wraps turned into bedding!
Regular bike maintenance is an essential part of riding a motorcycle all year round but never more so than during the winter months. Rain, snow and ice offer extra challenges to be overcome if you want to keep your pride and joy running well and ‘rubber side down’ so don’t allow poor maintenance to add to the risks.
All of the above advice for laying-up your bike also applies to winter riding so this is a good place to start. Tyre pressures need to be checked regularly and are likely to require frequent adjustment as air temperatures rise and fall dramatically over night. Likewise, don’t take risks on low tyre tread. Road adhesion will be compromised at the best of times; if you ride with worn tyres you are simply asking for trouble. Specific winter tyres are also now available for bikes as well as cars. Batteries will become weak as a result of the cold weather so keep them topped up and where possible familiarise yourself with the ‘bump start’ procedure for your particular bike just in case! Keeping the bike clean and free from road salt is critical. For older or high mileage bikes consider checking wheel bearing seals and fork seals for early signs of corrosion or water ingress. Bolt heads in key areas can be treated with petroleum jellies such as Vaseline to stop corrosion. Try to avoid mixing nut/thread and bolt materials such as aluminium bolts in steel nuts as they will seize tight with water and temperature change. Use copper or silver grease on bolts to prevent seizing in vulnerable areas such as pinch bolts and caliper bolts.
Antifreeze is also a necessity to prevent coolant freezing in and splitting the water pipes.
Preparing Yourself For Winter Riding
As well as preparing your bike you also need to prepare yourself to face the biting cold winter air. Most modern bike clothing manufactures offer good, year round protection and adaptive clothing lines which give the rider greater control of their protection. Most modern riding jackets and trousers come complete with removable winter linings which come in very handy during the winter, usually zipping straight into your existing suit with no need to purchase an entirely new wardrobe. Combining these with good quality micro fleece and insulating base layers (see our article on motorcycle clothing) will give you the edge on the cold temperatures and keep your core at a comfortable level. Balaclavas and neck gaiters are a great addition to the helmet to keep your head, neck and face comfortable. Winter riding gloves are a must as your fingers will literally freeze in summer gloves, and the addition of glove liners will further protect your extremities from the elements. The same may be said for riding boots and liner socks inside those. Handlebar muffs are a consideration for some styles of bikes as are knuckle guards and leg covers/lap aprons on others. Heated handlebar grips are increasing in popularity although it’s important to choose grips that are the correct thickness for your style of bike to ensure a comfortable grip and that they are wired to the ignition switch and not directly to the battery (so they can’t be left turned on accidently and drain your battery). For those who have chosen to ride larger, modern touring bikes you may find you also have the option for additional wind deflectors and heated seats!