Winter Storage

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by Costa Mouzouris
October 31 2023

Follow a few simple guidelines for a trouble-free spring start

For many across the country, the time is coming to put the motorcycle away for the winter season. If you want a trouble-free start (literally) to the next riding season, there are steps you should take before putting your bike in storage.

The first thing to do is to give your bike a thorough wash. Things like bird droppings, for instance, will etch their way into the paint with time, and cause irreparable damage. It’s also a good idea to put the bike away with fresh oil. Oil with a lot of mileage contains harmful chemicals and possibly water from condensation. With time, these things can corrode the inside of the engine, which is not good. Another benefit of changing the oil and filter before storage is that your bike will be ready to ride next season. If your bike has a chain, adjust and lube it.

How you treat the fuel depends on whether your bike is carbureted or fuel-injected. For decades, I have owned motorcycles with carburetors, and my winter-prep procedure has proven foolproof. I recommend turning off the petcock — or pinching the fuel line if the petcock doesn’t have an “off” position (some vacuum operated petcocks have a “prime” position, and no “off”) — and running the bike until it stalls. Alternately, if the carburetor drain screws are easily accessible, use them to drain the fuel, but do so responsibly; don’t just spill the fuel on the ground.

On older bikes, carburetor O-rings and gaskets can dry out over time without fuel in the float bowl, which can cause them to leak when you put gas back into the bike in the spring. One trick I have used successfully for years is to unplug the fuel line and shoot liberal amounts of WD-40 or silicone spray into it, and subsequently into the float bowl. This fluid keeps the O-rings and gaskets moist, and washes easily into the engine once it mixes with fuel. Also, once the fuel tank is empty, coat the inside liberally with WD-40 or fogging oil to prevent corrosion. I have been doing this on my 2008 KLR650 since I bought it in 2010, and the gas tank looks like new inside (can’t say the same for the outside…).

Since a fuel-injected bike’s fuel system is sealed and not exposed to air after the fuel tank, it takes longer for fuel in the lines and injectors to go bad. It’s also impractical to drain the system, so I prefer to leave gas in the bike. It takes a long time for a large volume of gasoline to go stale, so I suggest filling the fuel tank, and adding the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer to further preserve the fuel. Also add some fuel line antifreeze, as it eliminates any water in the fuel. Run the bike for a few minutes to work the stabilizer all the way to the injectors. This will give your bike the best chance of firing up without a hitch in the spring.

When it comes to coating the cylinders, it depends on two things: how long you will be storing the bike, and if the bike will be stored outdoors. If your bike will spend just a few months in a heated garage, there’s no need to coat the cylinders with fluids like oil, WD-40 or fogging oil. If, however, your bike will be stored indefinitely, or outdoors, remove the spark plugs and use any of the aforementioned products to protect the cylinder walls and piston rings. Also, if your bike must be stored outdoors, coat the entire bike (except the brake discs) with WD-40, and use a good-quality outdoor motorcycle cover to protect it from corrosion. Just wash the bike in the spring for a grease-free, rust-free ride.

You can prop up your bike on stands with the wheels in the air, but this is not necessary. I’ve been storing my bikes either on their side stands or centre stands, and have never ridden away in the spring with flat spots in the tires. I do, however, pump the tires to their maximum recommended pressures so they don’t go flat.

When it comes to the battery, it must be disconnected. If your bike is outside, take the battery indoors. I’ve learned over the years that smart chargers are not that smart. I’ve left batteries on battery tenders that are designed to preserve the battery over the winter, only to discover the battery was killed by the charger. A once-a-month overnight charge on a trickle charger will maintain your battery sufficiently; the battery in my KLR gave out only last summer, after 11 years of service.

Follow these guidelines, and your bike should fire up and be ready to ride (recheck tire pressures!) next spring.


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