How do I deal with the cold weather, a semi-idle motorcycle, and the continual desire to be on two-wheels, you ask? I do something I call “Half-A$$ Winterization”.
You guys have heard about “winterization” before. Every fall, I see at least two or three different articles on “winterizing tips”. I scan, laugh, and move on to the article about the new Aprilia, or the latest barrage of insults back and forth between the helmets-r-good and the helmets-r-unconstitutional groups.
One man’s opinion: these winterization lists all suck. They are ridiculously long and involved, and they don’t apply to me or to this area. If you live in So Cal, there’s no reason to winterize. If you live in Wisconsin, buy the video, take the class and get your certification. Me, I live just outside of Seattle. Even if I only ride ten times between late October and late March, there’s no way I’m going to put the bike into full blown hibernation� because if that unseasonably warm, sunny day pops up on January 6 th, I want to get out and ride and my bike has to be ready to go.
So here is the Real World Guide to Winterizing Your Motorcycle in the good old PNW.
EXTREMIST TIP: Fill the fuel tank, add fuel stabilizers, turn off the gas, run the engine dry, and empty the float bowls.
REALITY: If you can remember to keep beer stocked in the fridge, you can remember to start your bike once a week, and ride it around the block once or twice a month. Buy some Sta-bil. Don’t bother draining the float bowls.
Fuel stabilizer is good magic. Why? Gas gets old. It gets funky. And it turns into sticky, ooey, gooey varnish. Untreated fuel left sitting in your gas tank and carburetor will semi-solidify and clog the itty bitty sized openings and channels here and there.
Come springtime, your bike will die suddenly, have difficulty idling, or possibly fart in your general direction and refuse to start at all. And if this happens, plan to fork out a few hundred to a local shop to tear down your carburetor, soak the parts in cleaner, and reassemble. Or, you can do it yourself, enjoying 8 hours of adventure and mystery, wondering if that little spring was really necessary, right up until you thumb the starter. I have personal experience here. I’m cheap and mechanically inclined.
Trust me on this: there is nothing worse than being Charles-Manson-crazy-excited for your first ride of the year, dying to get out there and raise some hell on two wheels, rolling on the throttle, and getting a “ka-PUT-PUT-THUP-[silence]” while you madly stomp a foot down to keep from dumping it at 5 miles an hour at a stop sign and looking like a true squid. Not that I have personal experience here.
Fuel stabilizer can protect you from this embarrassment. Sta-bil is a brand that has a good reputation. It works by protecting the happy little gasoline molecules from the mean nasty oxygen molecules that break them down and change them into ooey-gooey’s. A little bottle of this stuff is well worth the equivalent cost of two or three lattes. It’s cheap, easy-to-use insurance.
The other part of fuel system winterizing that warrants our attention is keeping your gas tank full. There is a scientific reason behind this. And if I were so inclined, I could go into detail to explain the molecular-level interactions between reactive ions in metal materials and their romantic pursuit of the oxygen component of moisture that, over time, causes corrosion and broken homes.
But it would take way too long and nobody really cares about chemistry anyway. Besides, I’ve seen you guys try to calculate fuel efficiency. The details don’t really matter. What matters is this: moisture is bad for metals. If left sitting, the interior walls of your tank will collect moisture. Your tank is metal. You do the math. Or chemistry. Whatever.
The Half-A$$ technique: every time you find the huevos to ride a few winter miles, stop at the gas station on your way home, and top it off. Pay attention to how much fuel you add. And when you get home, dribble some Sta-bil in there, based on the ratios they give you on the container. Or get a friend to read the directions for you.
EXTREMIST TIP: Change your oil and filter at winter’s start and end. Pull the spark plugs and squirt 25cc of oil into the cylinders to coat the walls, piston rings, and valve seats. Rotate the crank by hand to coat the liners and cover the engine parts with oil.
REALITY: Run the engine every now and then, and change the oil based on actual calendar age.
Why? If your engine is left to sit for a long time, our old friend (read, “eternal nemesis”) moisture sneaks in and attacks the internal metal thingies. Like your mother-in-law who just shows up uninvited, and announces that she’s “just visiting for a few days”, and then proceeds to raise your children, re-program your wife’s brain, and generally nose her way into your routine for two months, destroying any semblance of a normal, private life, until finally you have had it up to HERE and� huh? Oh. Right. Moisture.
Water + Metal = Rust = Corrosion sucks a mean old Richard. Let’s all repeat that to ourselves. The “before and after” winter oil and filter swap is intended to coat and protect the innards with a thin coat of fresh engine juice. The half-a$$’er does this the easy (and fun) way� by making sure that your bike doesn’t sit silently for months at a time and keeping the oil fresh.
Just change your oil and filter as often as you usually do. Assuming you aren’t a tightwad or wrench-o-phobe, you should be Jiffy Lubing every 3 to 5 thousand miles, or every 3 to 6 months, whichever comes first. During the winter, go by the calendar-age of the oil instead of the odometer-age. Running the engine degrades the oil, but so do air, moisture, and time.
Engine innards are like girls in bikinis: I am happier when they are covered in oil. No offense, ladies, just picture those guys in the 2003 Seattle Fire Department Calendar, it’s all the same. The critical point is to keep coated in shiny goodness. Run the engine for 15 or 20 minutes at least once a week during the cold season, even if you aren’t riding. This will effectively keep things lubed and protected. And be sure to get on the bike, pull in the clutch, and toe up and down through the gears to lube your transmission as well.
Pulling plugs and the rest of that knuckle-busting is all well and good if you are going to put the bike up for a few months, don’t expect to ride, and are willing to spend a full weekend day both times to prep it for winter and prep it for spring. But if you want the option to ride, just run it. The engine is happier if you run it. It likes oil, gas, and air flowing through it, to keep away the bad, evil, naughty moisture monster. Make it happy.
EXTREMIST TIP: Disconnect your battery from the terminals. Top it off with distilled water (for non-maintenance-free models). Store it in a cool, dry place. Consider purchasing a “smart” trickle-charger.
REALITY: Leave it in the bike. Buy a Battery Tender. Trickle-charge it before your weekly ritual. Run it once a week.
Are you guys picking up on the trend, yet? Don’t winterize it. Just don’t let it get lonely. A few little things, a few times each month, and your bike will be ready to ride when you are.
Modern batteries slowly discharge, all by themselves, just sitting there, doing nothing. The lazy little bastards. When you are riding regularly, you are keeping your battery charged because your motorcycle comes from the factory with (voila!) a charging system.
If you aren’t going to ride at all for 2 or 3 months, disconnect the battery and store it somewhere. But if you want to ride at a moment’s notice, just peel open that tight little wallet and spring for a Battery Tender.
These “smart” trickle-chargers only push a current when it is needed. When the battery is fully charged, the system shuts down and monitors the level. Then it kicks back in as necessary. It’s a lot like the thermostat in your house, only people don’t fight over trickle-chargers.
So fuel, oil, battery� tie it all together and have a weekend ritual. Saturday night, pull the cover and connect the Battery Tender to the battery terminals. Don’t forget to plug in the Battery Tender, as it functions more effectively. I have personal experience with this. Sunday morning, when your neighbors are sleeping in, disconnect the tender and get those exhaust pipe doggies barking. Move the gas and stabilizer through. Move the oil through. Coat the innards. Clean the pipes. Charge the bunny. Getting the common thread here?
EXTREMIST TIP: Drop / Raise the pressure in your tires by 5 / 10 psi, and roll the bike up onto plywood or carpet, or put the bike up on front and rear stands.
REALITY: Get a carpet scrap or a hunk of MDP or plywood and roll your bike up onto it.
This tip is, plain and simple, preventative maintenance and care for your tires. Your tires are rubber, and over time, guess what’s bad for rubber? Yep, that’s right, moisture. If your tires are left to sit motionless on a concrete garage floor, water droplets collect. By doing anything to keep your tires dry, you are extending their life.
The other aspect of this is the fact that cold air shrinks, just like hot air expands. If you don’t believe me, go blow up a balloon and stick it in the freezer. Your tires are just big rubber balloons. During the winter, the air in your garage (and in your tires) gets cold. The tire pressure drops and your tires start calling each other names like “flatty” and “soft boy”. More surface area on the bottom of the tire collects more moisture.
There isn’t much you can do about this, unless you want to install equipment to make your garage a temperature-controlled environment. And I have heard and read people’s advice about increasing the pressure a little, or decreasing it a little, before letting the bike sit, and everyone has an opinion here. The bottom line is, keep them dry, and check the pressure during your weekly ritual. It only takes a minute.
Besides, which would you rather say: “I had to swap my tires because I was lame and didn’t ride for six months and they got wet and flat”� or “I had to swap my tires because I ride like a wicked sixth dimension demon and I like to light them up as often as possible.” It’s your choice, cub scout.
EXTREMIST MISCELLANEOUS TIPS: Change your fork oil. Lube your cables. Flush your radiator and put in fresh coolant/water mixture. Spray your bike with lemon-scented furniture polish. Spray rubber protectant on your fork seals. Polish exposed metal and chrome bits. Stuff a rag with some gas in your exhaust pipe, or wrap it with plastic. Wipe down leather and vinyl with cleaning products.
REALITY: Take care of your ride.
Use common sense. You should be changing your fork oil, replenishing your coolant and water, checking brake fluid, lubing cables, and all of that stuff regardless of what time of year it is. Most of these tips are just space fillers for authors with less verbal diarrhea than yours truly. But I recognize them for what they are: common sense.
Keep your bike looking good, and you will get to know it well. Buy the service manual from your local shop. Pay attention to the “little stuff”. I’m not saying everyone should become a mechanic. If you don’t want to learn to check and adjust valve clearances, that’s fine. But give your ride a good wipe down on a regular basis. Look at all of those little containers of liquid and learn what the little lines all mean� which is usually “too much” or “too little”, by the way, I’m pretty sure.
Some people recommend stuffing something in your exhaust pipe or sliding a bag over it to “keep critters out” during the winter months� listen, if some poor little rodent or bug crawls all the way up and into my canister (no wise cracks or Richard Gere jokes)� well, we all choose our own fate. And if you have rats crawling around in your garage� you might consider cleaning your garage. Just a thought.
Closing statement: If you ride all year, good for you. If you ride twice a year, sell your bike. If you are like the rest of us, just use common sense and follow some of these general guidelines, give the engine what it wants (fresh oil, fresh fuel, and motion), and you can be a little wimpy during the winters.
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