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Motorcycle Winter Storage Tips and Best Practices

Added October 14, 2020
Black and white image of motorcycles in a garage

Harley-Davidson® motorcycle riders are known for their rituals. Those ritualistic tendencies definitely come out when the riding season draws to a close. Most riders take one last big epic ride before they park their bikes for the winter. 

Any doubts you may have can be answered in the owner's manual that comes with your ride, online, or with the tips below. And after one successful winter, every winter after that will be much easier.

Better yet, Harley-Davidson has almost 700 dealers across the country with the capabilities to winterize your ride and store it safe and sound until spring. You'll be looking at around $319, with optional winter payment plans for those who prefer to pay as time goes by.

“Riders start bringing their bikes in for storage and custom design work right after Labor Day,” says Dave Nagy, assistant service manager for Wolverine Harley-Davidson in Michigan, where they’ve seen an uptick in demand for storage.

Some riders see winter as the ideal time to make bike enhancements that they have been meaning to get done. They drop their bikes off in the winter and pick up their transformed custom pieces in the spring. Nagy says riders appreciate not having to pay until pick-up time. 

If you enjoy the ritual and want to go it alone, however, here are essential tips to prepare your bike for winter storage:

Fluids

Freshen up those fluids. That means all of them: oil, clutch, brake, and coolant. Although, this depends on how long it's been since the last time you've changed your fluids. If the last time you changed your clutch and brake fluid was a month ago, and a few hundred miles driven, stick to changing the oil. 

The reason changing fluids regularly is essential is because they contain contaminants from regular usage, which become corrosive over time and can destroy rubber seals. In addition, DOT4 brake fluid absorbs water and needs to be changed every two years.

Change the oil

The last thing you want is your bike sitting idle all winter filled to the brim with oil that’s contaminated with solvents and sediments. It might not run at all if bearings have been corroded or damaged. Changing the oil is a vital and simple step to take to avoid forking out money down the road.

Tenderize the battery

Some riders recommend starting their bike every week during the winter and let it run.  A much better solution, however, is to clean the battery electrodes, and hook it up to a battery tender (or trickle charger) for the entire duration of the winter. Not only should you use a battery tender during the winter—but one should be used all the time, urges Nagy. It’ll help extend the longevity of the battery. Harley-Davidson tenders start at $39 and go up to $129. Nagy uses one priced in the middle.

Buy a FOB battery to have at the ready

While we are on the subject of batteries, if your bike won’t start in the spring, it may be for one of two reasons: you forgot your pin, or you need to replace your FOB battery.

There’s nothing you can do about it, but your FOB battery is going to attempt to communicate with your bike all winter long. By the time spring rolls around, you’ll invariably need to replace it. You might as well keep one in the drawer next to your bike.

Check your tires

In addition to checking for even wear on your tires, make sure they have enough tread remaining. Make sure the tires are not worn to the extent that the wear bars are exposed. If you have any questions, contact your dealer. Also, check their inflation with an accurate gauge. The proper inflation pressures are listed in your owner’s manual and on your VIN label. You can opt to put your bike on front and rear stands, lifts, or dollies to keep your bike upright the entire winter. This will also relieve pressure on the tires. If you elect not to use a lift, move the motorcycle at least once a month to prevent flat spots on the tires.

Prevent rusting: scrub, wash, dry and wax

Start with the dirtiest part of your bike. That means the chain and brakes. You'll want a grunge brush and an O-ring safe degreaser for your chain. 

For your brakes, you'll want a disc cleaner. Inspect everything while cleaning so that you don't discover any surprises during the spring. After that, wash and dry your bike. You especially want to do this if you're going to cover your motorcycle because any moisture on your bike can cause corrosion and mold.

Lastly, wax and treat your paint and treat any chrome as well. This will add an extra layer of protection for your bike while it's in storage. Plus, when you take your bike out in the spring, it'll be spotless. If you have leather seats or any leather items, treat them as well. 

Wax and lubricate the chain

Every 500 miles of street riding and every 200 miles of adventure/off-road riding should be followed with cleaning and waxing/lubricating of your bike's chain. Follow the guidance in your owner’s manual. Taking care of your chain before storage will extend its life. 

Begin by warming your chain with roughly five miles of riding. This will allow the lube to dissolve more effectively and enter the O-ring chain. Wipe off any unnecessary wax or lube.

Inspect the Belt Drive

Belt drives tend to be cleaner than chain drives and requires minimal inspection and adjustment. Before putting your bike away for the winter, inspect both the inside and outside of the belt, and looks for chips, cuts, fraying, or missing teeth.

As is the case with a chain drive, proper tension is important. Be sure you consult the owner’s or service manual for the slack specification, measuring technique, and point at which to take the measurement.

Prep the exhaust

You're going to want to stuff any openings in your bike so that creatures don't make their homes in them. This is especially important if you're keeping your bike outside or in a barn. 

Some people use plastic bags for this purpose, but spend the money on a muffler cover or any other product designed expressly for this purpose. Just remember to remove these items before your next ride.

Store on centerstand and/or stands if possible

If your bike has a centerstand, use it. But even better would be to get motorcycle stands to keep both wheels off the ground. This way, you don't have to rotate the wheels to avoid flat spots. This also prevents the suspension from working overtime and extends the suspension's lifespan.

Use the correct cover

While often used, a plastic cover is not the best choice for a motorcycle cover. It will trap moisture, cause corrosion, and mold. You can get an affordable, breathable cover instead.

Store in well-ventilated area

The best place to store your bike is somewhere well-ventilated indoors. This way, air will circulate, and moisture won't collect under your cover. Just make sure there's no fertilizer or chemicals around your bike since they can end up corroding your motorcycle.

What are common winterizing and storage mistakes?

Don’t start your bike up every week

Just turning your bike on in the garage isn't a good idea. If your bike is not brought up to the full operating temperature, water may condense and end up in places where it doesn't belong (when you ride your bike, the moisture gets cooked off, and your battery receives a recharge).

Don’t drain your tank

Don't leave your gas tank empty unless you want it to be susceptible to corrosion and dried out seals. Instead, leave it full of gas and 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 finish, and stainless steel. 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 wax before putting your bike away for the winter is an overall good idea.

Don’t use a cheap 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.

If I’m not riding in the winter, should I cancel my insurance?

There are several reasons not to cancel your motorcycle insurance policy during the winter months.

Warm winter days

While the seasons may change, unseasonably warm and clear winter days are perfect for a motorcycle ride. An uninsured ride, however, could expose you to an unforeseen incident and potential legal risk.

Don’t assume motorcycle thieves take the winter off

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that 25% of all bike thefts occur during the winter. Even vandalism could rob you of your motorcycle investment. Without comprehensive insurance coverage, you will not have protection for these potential losses.

Unplanned damage while in storage

A significant winter storm, a fallen tree, or the possibility of fire should all be considered when evaluating the cancelation of your insurance policy. Remember, insurance is designed to protect you from unexpected and unplanned events. Without it, this type of incident may result in a total loss.

State motorcycle registration and insurance laws

Before canceling, it is essential to check with your local DMV regarding their registration law. Many states require continuous insurance coverage. The time and money investment to surrender your license plate and registration, only to renew a few months later, will result in incremental savings - if any.

The bottom line on winterizing

If you live in a climate that has a winter, then you're going to have to store your bike. Luckily, storing your bike for the winter is incredibly easy and something you can do on your own after reading a manual, an article, or just watching a few YouTube videos. 

If you elect to go with a dealer to store your bike, they will take care of all the necessary maintenance to make sure your ride is ready to go when the weather improves.

But, if you want to go it alone, make winterizing your ride a yearly ritual so you can spend less time in the garage and more time on the road. See your motorcycle’s owner’s manual for additional instructions and steps to follow when placing or removing your motorcycle from storage.

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