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How to Protect your Motorcycle During Winter Weather Riding

Someone riding a motorcycle on a highway

The winter can be a cold, lonely time for motorcycle riders that don't want to layer up before going out. For those of us that enjoy the challenge of riding through the winter, there are a whole host of challenges that start cropping in the early dark of winter.

Not only do these colder months require significantly more gear to stay comfortable, but the dangers that motorcyclists face dramatically increase.

Riding through these times can feel like a gauntlet with all the potholes, ice patches, and road salt that will eat the bottom of your bike. Yet, even with all these dangers, some of us love nothing more than hopping on our motorcycle in winter to take it on.

There's something that makes you feel alive when you ride this way. We've put together a few winter tips for motorcycle owners, whether you want to store it or ride it.

Our Number One Tip

Even if you plan on storing the bike somewhere, a current motorcycle insurance policy is one of the best ways to ensure that you are covered in case of an accident.

For winter weather riders, it's crucial. Some riders who store their bikes are averse to paying for insurance, but it's not unheard of to return to a bike after a winter off and find lingering damage or a stolen bike.

A basic insurance policy will save you and get you riding faster when the warmer weather does come around. Reach out to our insurance specialists to ensure you have the best policy for your beloved motorcycle.

Riding vs. Storing

This is the biggest choice a rider needs to make for the winter months, and all you need to do is be honest with yourself. Will you ride when it's cold? If so, skip on down to our riding tips for cold weather riding.

If you plan on storing your motorcycle until winter conditions fade, here are a few of our do's and don'ts to make sure your bike is ready to ride as soon as it's warm.

Winter Motorcycle Storage Tips For Cold Weather Months

Tips to put your bike to bed for the winter so that you can save your first spring ride, whether you have a heated garage or a storage unit. For a more in-depth look at winter storage head here.

Don't start your bike up every week

Don't just start your bike to run for a few minutes, the only time to start your bike is when you intend to ride it! Cold starts are hard on an engine and your motorcycle battery.

Just idling the bike (especially if the cold has drained your charge) might not be enough to recharge the battery, run your bike at least until it gets up to normal operating temperature.

So, despite conventional "wisdom" of starting your bike once a week, we thoroughly recommend a trickle charger and only starting it when you want to ride!

Don't drain your fuel tank

An empty tank of fuel can leave you susceptible to corrosion and dried out seals. Instead, leave a full gas tank with a quality fuel stabilizer additive.

This is a vital step.

Without this treatment, the fuel turns into a crystalized, hard product and can clog carburetors and fuel injectors.

Don't store a dirty bike

You're going to want to clean your motorcycle of road grit, grime, and bugs because they'll eat away at any clear coat, anodized, aluminum, polished metal surfaces, and stainless steel. 

It may feel like an unnecessary, extra step, but if you live in an area that has salt or brine on the roads, you'll want to clean your bike as well since that'll do a number on metal and rubber parts.

A final wash and coat of wax before putting your bike away for the winter is an overall good idea. We also recommend plugging your muffler and any open ends to keep out unwanted critters. 

Don't use a cheap motorcycle cover or a tarp

You're going to want proper protection for your bike. A cover that is poorly made may trap water, slip off, or chafe against the paint. The result is that your bike will come out looking worse than when it went in.

Trickle Charge It

We recommend a trickle charger to keep those small motorcycle batteries topped up. Cold temperatures and harsh conditions will drain your battery faster than warm temps.

Before Winter Motorcycle Riding

Elsewhere we've covered how to ride in windy conditions and how to ride in the rain; both are great primers before riding in the winter because both happen more in the winter. 

Riding in the winter is about two things: visibility and traction.

Gear Check

Heated gear is crucial during winter riding; not only do you need to stay warm, but on darker days, you need to be seen. Visibility is almost as key as safe riding practices, so make sure that you have the right reflective trimmings on your body and bike.

When taking a winter ride, the first thing we start with is how to cut out the wind with protective layers. It's not hard to get hypothermic (lose more heat than your body can produce) during freezing temperatures, and you add 60 mph winds to the mix. All warmth is whisked away by the breeze.

As you get colder, you begin to lose dexterity in your hands and feet, and if you stay cold, you will lose concentration. On a motorcycle, this is a recipe for disaster.

We start with our gloves, look for waterproofing, windproofing, and warmth. Similarly, a full helmet will keep your face from icing over.

There is no substitute for heated motorcycle gear for those in extra cold conditions. Some run on 12v batteries; others can plug into an S.A.E. lead on your bike or your battery terminals to power heated vests, gloves, pants, and even socks that could save your life, and at the very least, will make your ride much more pleasant.

Bike Check

This is the time to ensure that you are ready to hit the road on the right bike. Look at your components.

Can they handle the conditions you are about to encounter?

Switch out the slicks for knobbies, and upgrade your lighting system. Maybe now is the time to install the heated grips you've always wanted.

Before you hit the road in the winter (or anytime), it's crucial to check that everything is in working order. Performing your T CLOCS inspection (Tires and Wheels, Controls, Lights and Electrical, Engine Oil and Fluids, Chassis and Sidestand) is extra important when it's cold out.

In particular, your tire's air pressure is of vital importance. Don't air them down; this will decrease your traction. Gasses (or air in tires) expand with heat and shrink in the cold.

This is why MotoGP riders ensure their tires are heated; the more heat in the tire, the more grip on the road. The colder it gets, the more tire pressure you will lose.

Make sure you are aired up to the specifications in your service manual.

Tips For Riding In The Winter Months

Even in good weather, it's important to ride like you are invisible, but riding in the winter can be a real test of skill as well as endurance. The most important thing to know when riding in the winter is your own limits.

Every bit of your skill will come into play when you lose traction in a corner. Not all riders are experienced enough or quick enough to make a save. This is why we focus on practicing our fundamentals at any given opportunity.

Eyes Up

Every ride is a constant scan for danger; some call this method "S.E.E." or Search, Evaluate, Execute. We want to see and be seen at all times. Reflective clothing and bright lights are insurance policies against the dark.

Make A Save

If you get into a situation you aren't comfortable with, slow down and make well-thought-out steering inputs without sudden movements.

Traction, Traction, Traction.

The cold can lead to a quick loss of traction, and the added hours of darkness means that you'll see an obstacle later and be forced to react faster.

Snow is dangerous in a car, much less on a motorcycle, so if you find yourself riding in it, be extra vigilant.

Whether it's wet leaves, an icy patch, a new weather-related pothole, or leftover road salt and gravel that you encounter, it's crucial to know that traction can disappear in a second.

Stay Warm

It is scientifically proven that as your body becomes hypothermic, you lose concentration. Stay layered to stay safe.

Wash Your Bike Regularly

If you are a winter warrior, make sure you are washing your bike regularly to get rid of the nasty road salt that can cause rust and corrode the metal on your motorcycle.

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