Preparing Your Motorcycle for Winter Hibernation

//Preparing Your Motorcycle for Winter Hibernation

Preparing Your Motorcycle for Winter Hibernation

It’s getting colder, no doubt about that, and now we’re faced with the task of putting our rides away for the winter. Today’s blog post provides some suggestions to prepare your bike for storage.

Like everything else, there are at least two schools of thought when it comes to the gasoline in your tank issue. Do you drain it or fill up? There are those who recommend draining the tank, then starting up the bike and running it out of fuel. Others recommend a fuel stabilizer in a full tank. Over the years, I have heard horror stories about fuel stabilizers, but I’ve never personally experienced any problems.

An empty gas tank can rust inside due to condensation, which makes me a firm believer in the full tank argument. However, today’s modern fuels start to deteriorate after three or four weeks. This can lead to oxidation and varnish — stuff that’s harmful to our fuel system. We have to address this. Here at J&P Cycles, we offer the industry standard Sta-bil fuel treatment in a couple of different sizes for your winterization projects. Add the specified amount and run (or ride) the bike to get the fuel all the way through the fuel system.

Something else you’ll need to address is the fact that dirty oil has fuel and contaminates in it. My recommendation is to thoroughly warm up the bike and change the oil — before its long winter nap. Changing oil now gets rid of all the sludge and dirt before it can start to deteriorate.  Here’s another advantage: When it’s time to ride next spring, you just turn the key and go. Oh, one more thing. You might want to consider synthetic oil for added life after the new season starts.

Lead-acid batteries should be kept under a constant charge to prolong service life. Attach a Battery Tender or other specialized charger that will not overcharge your battery. A trickle charger may be used if not left on too long. Once a day for ½ an hour would be fine. An appliance timer or similar device may be used to accomplish this. If your bike will be stored where freezing temperatures are likely, remove the battery and store it in a warm, dry place. Regardless, it should still be charged. A popular old wives’ tale is that placing a battery on a concrete surface will not drain or discharge it. That’s pure fiction. By nature, a lead-acid battery will slowly discharge. Placing it on concrete floor won’t change that fact.

Also, make sure to check out this video on Tech Tip Maintenance: How To Winterize Your Motorcycle.

Clean and lubricate your bike before putting it to sleep. Dirt, sand and road salts have absolutely nothing better to do than corrode the surfaces of your bike if left on during storage. Use a metal protectant spray on the underside of your chassis and exposed surfaces. And you’ve heard this a hundred times, but never, never use WD-40 to do this!

Make sure your tires are properly inflated because low tire pressure can damage motorcycle tires over the winter. And if you’re going to store your bike in an extreme cold situation, try to elevate the bike to minimize the load on the tires. Just make sure the bike is firmly secured because motorcycle lifts with small bottle jacks have been known to fail under prolonged load.

Even if kept indoors, your bike should be covered during storage. Make sure the cover can breathe, and not trap moisture on your bikes metal surfaces. A tarp would not be good for this. And if the bike’s to be stored in a barn or garage, cover the exhaust tips to keep the critters out. Fried rat in the spring smells lousy, and don’t ask me how I know that.

Once stored, resist the impulse to start the bike during its sleep. Unless the bike is thoroughly warmed up, condensation can form inside the engine. This is far harder on the engine than if it’s not started at all.

I’ve heard a lot of other suggestions over the years, but these storage tips have never steered me wrong. Every year when its time to ride again, I’ve hardly had any issues (stupid mice!). So if you decide to take these steps to heart, you should have no troubles at all. See ya next time!

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  1. Rick Crowell December 17, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    i cant seem to find out if IsoHEET works on DYNAS. First Harley and dont want to put wrong stuff in tank. its a gas antifreeze with injector cleaner. i would like some input on this if possible. i plan on riding all winter, but just on sat. and sun. thanks for any help

  2. […] Scott Holton recently went over — in fine detail, I might add — how to prepare your bike for winter lockup, I figured it was time to give you a heads up on a few ways to resist Old Man Winter and keep riding […]

  3. Rocco T December 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve used WD40 for 30 years on my heavily chromed shovel with no ill effects, also use silicone spray on all rubber components. I fill the tank to the top without stabilizer, drain it in the spring and use it in my truck, fresh gas and a new set of plugs and the scooter fires right up. Be careful with the battery tenders, I’ve had batteries boil out.

  4. johnny5 December 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I was reading about WD-40 and agree. I have run a few auto parts stores in the past, and was always given free samples to try out. it was then that I was introduced to a product called Tri-flow. it has PTFE in it. (teflon) I use it on M/C chains, cables, etc. anywhere a light oil or a penetrating oil is needed. It’s hard to find sometimes, but most good hardware stores have it.

  5. Chuck December 7, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Papaboard is right about putting plastic down for unheated areas. he’s also right about how slippery it can be moving a bike around on it.

    Solution: Put a piece of plywood down on top of the plastic. Non-slip surface & level spot for the jiffy stand.

  6. kommandokenny December 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Great info here.
    I do the whole deal with my Road King and Commando. Stabilizer, fog motor [and valves on Cdo
    My wifes new Sporster came with a factory battery tender and I thought why take the battery out and fog the motor?
    I will just leave it in the garage on the tender and ride it around on above freezing days 1 or 2 times a month. I live in Toronto and my concern is will the battery be ok or should I take it out as it can get pretty cold here for weeks at a time.

  7. […] you’ve finished up with the winterizing routine on your bike (see Preparing Your Motorcycle for Winter Hibernation), you might as well get off your duff and take the time to knock some of this summer’s leftover […]

  8. scott November 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

    The best sloution for tires? 2 layers of old carpet and put card board under each tire. That creates a cushion and an absorbent. For chrome i use a liquid chrome polish and leave it on all winter. There goes your corrosion problem. I cover evrything in old bed sheets,tires/wheels,motor,chasis and finnally the cover. If you really have a bad condensation problem, hook up a 40watt bulb under the cover,the heat will dry it out. Just remember the you left the light on! The motor? c`mon guys “AMSOIL” synthetic,can`t and will never be beat over conventional oil ever!! a dab in the cylinders and a quick turnover will be fine. Just put your hand with a rag over the plug hole and you won`t get any on the bike or you jeans!!

  9. Glenn November 4, 2010 at 9:21 am

    I make sure my tank is full in December when I cover it and plug in the battery tender. I use no fuel additive. I check the tire pressure and change the oil in April. Sits on a concrete floor all winter and i’ve never felt any “flat spots” Been riding since 1976 and have never had bad fuel issues. But whatever works for ya I guess.

  10. Nick November 4, 2010 at 8:47 am

    If you live in a state that mixes ethanol in their gasoline (ex. MA), make sure that the fuel treatment that you choose works specifically to combat against seperation of the fuel and ethanol

  11. Ron November 3, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Great info here… thanks to everyone for their comments.

    I used to just ride my bike up into my dining room (when I was single), now… I’ll have to ride it into the basement (I have a basement walkout). That’s okay though, down there… I can sit on it and watch TV! 😉 Gotta kep my Softail Custom warm & happy!

  12. ron troxell November 3, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I sure learned a few things about wd-40. I know people who have put it on their joints and swore it helped. I always thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.

  13. David November 3, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Tips, to whom it may concern. I have several HD’s raging from 1957 to 1985. All have divorce oil tanks. Oil left in tanks have a tendency to seep past the ball check located in the oil pump. Earlier design engines have either a felt breather or a breather tube between crank case and the primary case. Crankcase fills with oil that seeps through the breather and fills the primary case (57FL and Sportster). My 85′ is a 1340 FLH. which around 2 months has enough oil in the crankcase to push through the breather tube in the air cleaner and pour out. So if left unattended be sure to have oil catch pans for the spring start up. Earlier Sportster also vent excess oil through the road draft/breather tube when started. This happens to me and just though this advice can help in some way. Most of my bikes are show motorcycles and sit for long durations until show time “SPRING”.

  14. D.Glover November 3, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for WD-40 info.

  15. Eric J. Gruber November 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I’m a new rider (less than a month, actually) and I’m confused as to what conditions constitute the need to store a bike.

    I’ve read the manual for my Vulcan 750, so I know what I’d need to do. But, I live in Kansas, where temps could get cold, or they could be nice enough to ride from time to time.

    I also have an attached garage. Couldn’t I just fire the thing up a few times a month and take it for a ride when feasible during winter months without having to go through the whole storage procedure?

  16. SK November 3, 2010 at 9:07 am

    If you decide to fog the motor, remove the plugs and shoot some oil in the cylinders. You should rotate engine engine to spread the oil around the cylinders. Put the bike in gear and walk it a few feet, instead of using the starter. This will save you a lot of swearing , while cleaning up all the oil that blows out the plug holes and all over you pre winter clean bike.

  17. Dr. HUD November 3, 2010 at 8:36 am

    If you are bikers you bike don’t get storage you dress for the ride and ride if it’s snow and ice free.

  18. terry rogers November 3, 2010 at 5:52 am

    WD-40 sucks, I wouldn’t put it on the outhouse hinges. It gumes up things, and you dam sure don’t need your bike gumed up. Use a good light anti corossion spray. Its a light lube and it holds down on corrision.

  19. Papaboard November 2, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Lifting the bike entirely off the floor may prevent flat spots on the tires but the HD manual says not to leave the front end fully extended for an extended period of time as this can damage the suspension. Typically customer bikes are stored at dealers during the winter for month after month on their sidestands without being moved until customer pickup.
    If you store your ride in an unheated building with a concrete floor be aware that during a winter warmup and in the early spring the floor is going to sweat and that moisture is going to go right up your bike’s cover, so it better breathe. Parking the bike on heavy sheet plastic and wrapping the plastic up all the sides and then covering the bike works to prevent this BUT IT IS DANGEROUS PARKING AND POSITIONING THE BIKE ON THE PLASTIC AS IT IS SLICK AS ICE AND THE BIKE CAN LITERALLY SLIDE AROUND. Don’t ask how I know. It is better to slit the plastic at the tires to get around them and then duct tape the cuts closed.

  20. G. Walker November 2, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    the red sta-bil is not for ethonal gas, the blue sta-bil or (marine sta-bil) same thing, one is

  21. T.J. Ash November 2, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Ride it or at least warm it up fully every 2 weeks. I always use marvel mystery oil in my gas. It is an upper cylinder lubricant. Do what I say. Been riding since 1969.

  22. Frank Francis November 2, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    On more than one occasion after intentually running my Harley out of fuel thinking it was the best way to prevent dead gas drying up/varnish/gum building up during storage i discovered that the vaccume created fateags the brass metal and collapsed my fuel float so uniformily that if ya didn’t know what it was supposed to look like you would miss it. Take this to the bank cuz it happens. This also happens in tractor carbs. Find another way.

  23. Mike November 2, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    In my experience WD40 actually causes rust. It’s main purpose is a penetrating fluid but it evaporates. when it evaporates it can cause oxidation.
    WD40 would strip off anything that might act as a protectant leaving metal easy to attack.

    Also, I used Sta-bil in my bike last fall and in the spring I had a tank full of lacquer and two carbs to rebuild.

  24. Dan November 2, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    What brand of metal protectant do you reccomend? Also why not use wd-40 what does it do?

  25. Bryan November 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    WD-40 is bad because it’s not actually a lubricant. WD stands for Water Displacement and was originally used to remove ice. Because it’s made of hydro-carbons which tend to evaporate pretty quickly, it’s not good as a lubricant because it will dry out rubber over time and will leave your metal parts more exposed than the oil/dirt was in the first place. Stick with a lithium or a silicone.

  26. zyon November 2, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I live in Pa and expect to put on 1000 miles this winter…I didn’t buy a bike to watch it “sleep.”

  27. Frank November 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I was hoping to paint my tank this winter. Is there a good way to remove the tank and still keep it winterized.

  28. ron Jackson November 2, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    i’m from los angeles so it really doesnt get that cold to have to store your bike and i good for the winter

  29. D.Glover November 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Why do you advise against using WD-40 ?

  30. D.Glover November 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Why the no-no for WD-40 ?

  31. Dewey November 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm


    Here’s my thoughts.

    Stabil would still be a must unless you can use up the fuel each month.

    A battery tender would still be good in between rides.

    A constant environment is a big plus. Condensation is a problem when the temperatures rise and fall around the 32 degree mark. If you can store in a heated environment, then the metal protection and fogging the cylinders are not as big an issue.

    Make sure the ride is long enough to heat the oil and get rid of any condensation that occurred.

    Of course, tire pressure should be a check before every ride, not just a winter storage item.

  32. Jamie November 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    All good info however the bit about fuel iinjected motorcycles not having petcock on the tank is inaccurate. Some older injected biked DO have them.

  33. JON November 2, 2010 at 1:23 pm


  34. T. Stewart November 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm


  35. Louwill Davis November 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Thanks for the information. As a first year Harley owner, I needed the info.

  36. Sumiko November 2, 2010 at 8:51 am

    How often do you have to ride during the winter months to avoid having to put it in storage? Is one good ride (a couple of hours) per month enough?

  37. kathy rabideau November 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I found this most interesting. I’m a single women with a new bike. My mechanic moved to California on me (hes my son). Now I have to put my own bike to bed for the winter.. Not a chore I’m looking forward to. So this was very helpful. Thankyou Kathy

  38. Vince November 2, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Let’s not forget to ‘fog’ the motor innards, too!!!

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