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Winter is coming

Friday, November 21, 2014 @ 21:34

It is time to discuss something that many of us who live farther from the equator would love to avoid. Yes, I am talking about winters and potential ends of riding season. We might not like them but they come each year nonetheless. So, as I see it, we are better off making the most of the off season.

With this article I will try to discuss several issues that riders encounter each winter:

  • Riding throughout winter
  • Preparing for winter bike storage
  • Comparison between DIY and professional bike care
  • Suggestions for long dark winter evenings

Most of the processes and experiences that I share are based on my own experience and an interview with Ole Kristensen, owner of Special Motorcykler ApS, a local Yamaha dealer in Aalborg, in the North of Denmark.  

Winter riding or how to survive the snow
I used to ride throughout winters on my Suzuki RMX250. Mainly off-road, on country roads and in forests. Here is my shortlist for winter riding:

  • Carburettor alcohol – a fuel additive that prevents condensate from freezing in your engine components. On a related note, letting the engine idle a bit longer than usual helps. This warms the engine oil up which, in turn, cools and lubricates the engine properly.
  • Oil- or silicon-based sprays – do magic against rust both on structural components, external bolts and nuts, and cables.
  • Gloves – I learned to avoid “ski type” gloves. Certified motorcycle products offer full protection and the best performance. Heated models are also available!
  • There is no golden solution as far as winter jackets or trousers go, either way, a good trick is to take on a hikers’ approach – use many layers to ward off the cold.
  • Make sure to check your tyre pressure levels when the temperature drops – air contracts with cold thus lowering the tyre pressure. Under-inflated tyres may cause trouble with steering. Besides that, making sure that your tyres are not worn out is of high importance. Consider getting all-season tyres if changing wheels in between seasons is not something you want to do.
  • Helmets with visors tend to get “fogged up” really quickly in winter. To avoid this, you can buy any of several existent products that prevent the condensation from settling on your visor. Alternatively, leave a tiny gap open when riding at low speeds or standing still.
  • Practising once the first frost comes or after a snowfall is always a good idea. I tend to ride around my block a couple of times before actually hitting the road. Just to wake up, feel the bike better and get accustomed to the conditions at hand.


Winter storage preparation
The procedure of preparing your bike for winter hibernation is a widely discussed topic. But every rider seems to have his own ritual that is of divine importance. Despite whether their procedures are based on experience, theory or advice, most riders whom I have met seem to enjoy getting their hands dirty.
Motorcycle care products

First things first, a regular periodic inspection should be made before storing your bike. I know the feeling when the first thought after finding that the brake pedal feels wobbly or the top box opens with difficulty is: “I’ll fix it when I have more time…” or even “I’ll fix it when spring comes…”.
Well what do you know, as soon as spring comes, you hit the road hard and end up with some lost nuts or a top box that magically does not open at all anymore. I always consult with the bike’s manual just to make sure that I do not forget something important.

Oil and fuel
Changing both the oil and the oil filter before the winter break is always a good idea. Just remember that idling the engine for a couple of minutes with the new oil is as important – the bike loves to stand well oiled. Having the bike stand with old oil is not good for the engine, as the old oil can deposit some impurities inside the engine.
Some riders advise cleaning or even changing the fuel filter as it may have collected a wide range of goodies throughout the season. Furthermore, filling up your tank before hibernation makes sense as well – a full tank prevents water condensation from forming within the tank. However, depending on where you live and what petrol you use, it could be necessary to use a petrol stabiliser, a special liquid that prevents fuel from ageing. After filling, if you do not have fuel injection, do not forget to cut off the fuel supply by turning the fuel valve accordingly. 

Motorcycle workshop and maintenance

On the other hand, others argue that it is better to drain all of the fuel from your bike by firstly emptying the tank and then letting the engine run until all of the leftover fuel is burned. Having the fuel drained, however, usually leads to difficulties with starting the bike in the spring.
Personally, I choose to risk having some fuel varnish forming in my tank rather than dealing with a tank-full of rust. One tip that my father once gave me was to always mix up the fuel in the tank before starting up the bike in spring (easy with a 100kg bike, whereas Harley owners would have to come up with some creative methods). It supposedly “activates” the petrol and your filter does not get three-months’ worth of residue in one gulp.

Engine and brakes
As far as engine components go, I usually clean my carburettor as well (no worries for the advanced fuel injection lovers, though!). Once again, it is done just to get rid of all residues that formed in it throughout the riding season. Whereas liquid cooled machine owners should make sure that they have enough antifreeze in the system (oops, get some antifreeze now if you were running with water throughout the summer!).

Specialists add that besides the regular component check, many tend to forget to check when was the last time they had their brake fluid changed. It is especially important for ABS equipped bikes as old brake fluid may damage the system.

Next, the battery. Ole, our interviewed specialist advises to pay special attention to battery storage. Due to inactivity and possibly low temperatures throughout the storage period, your bike’s battery would greatly appreciate it if you would:

Motorcycle battery storage

  • Charge it fully and check whether it is still OK (does it hold charge; is it still at the recommended liquid level; etc)
  • Store it in a warm and dry place for the winter
  • Check that it does not discharge completely by recharging it once in a while

I keep forgetting this step, hence my battery retains its charge not longer than a couple of hours. But I do not mind it too much - it is a 125cc, I love kicking it!

Cleaning and preservation
Cleaning your bike and checking all external bolts and nuts is highly recommended.

Firstly because the grime that is on it now, will take much more effort to remove 3 months later. That goes for the chain as well.
Secondly, it is important that all bolts are well lubricated, else you might end up finding that our good old friend, the rust, has had a nice winter vacation.
Finally, removing any road oil is vital for the wellbeing of your paint and tyres – the chemicals may eat into paint and rubber with time. However, while cleaning some care needs to be taken to avoid liquids entering the exhaust pipe and potentially even the engine.

After the bike is clean, I usually check the tyre pressures – I do not want to find my bike standing flat with deformed tyres. Should you decide to store the bike outside, considering buying a leather preserver of some sort. Extreme temperatures may have an adverse effect on your seat/saddle bags.

Finding a warm and dry place to store your bike is a matter well worth investing it. Especially to make sure it is safe throughout the winter. Despite the clear disadvantages, I sometimes end up leaving my bike in the parking lot – I simply cover it with two waterproof bike covers, one on the top and one stretching from the bottom. If you are curious, yes, it does look like a double-wrapped tortilla in the end… 

Professional motorcycle storage

I cover from the bottom due to the fact that often humidity rises from the earth beneath the bike and can get trapped under the upper cover. That explains why normally it is important to get quality bike covers – they are usually made of a directionally permeable material.

Bikes do not mind standing in the cold or even the snow, the problem is humidity and water.  Leaving your bike further away from busy streets is also a good idea – you can avoid salt- or some chemical-enriched anti-ice solutions from being sprayed on it. One more fact to notice, closing off your exhaust outlets with exhaust plugs or simple plastic bags may save several insects their lives in spring.

However, from my personal experience, I would advise to cover the bike after a long sunny day to make sure that it is as dry as possible within the two canvases. And before leaving, lock it somehow.

If there is one thing that I always postpone for the spring, it is cleaning the spark plugs simply because after a decent cleansing/sanding they oxidise quite fast. Whereas only fuel soot can reach them inside the engine otherwise.
Motorcycle parts and replacements

Advantages of maintaining your bike on your own:

Benefits of professional care:

  • Get to know your bike and how it works
  • If all goes well, you can save money
  • Professional service and care
  • Saves a lot of time
  • If you have a new bike, maintenance carried out by professionals may extend your warranty period
  • No need to worry about storage space and your bike’s safety
  • Getting replacement parts is a much faster process as shops have many suppliers


How to occupy yourself in winter while the bike is napping?

Honda VTR1000F before winter storageStarting the bike throughout the winter causes never ending discussions among riders. No one will stop you from hearing your beast sing once more. Just if you do choose to start it up, do it responsively – keep the idling for some time until the engine heats up. Otherwise condensation may form in the engine and possibly freeze (if the bike is stored in sub-zero temperatures). It might be a good idea to resist starting the bike and take on a “better safe than sorry” approach.

Alternatively, if your machine is equipped with a kick-starter, turning the “engine” a couple of rounds manually is good for the engine as then all parts stay lubricated.

Besides that, gathering with your riding buddies to plan future trips or watch some races always raises the morale. By the way, remember that Dakar 2015 starts in less than two months!  

To sum up
All in all, there is no need to worry about winter – all of us have at least three options:

  1. Continue riding
  2. Prepare and store it on your own or
  3. Hand it over to professionals.

Each option has its benefits and drawbacks but as I see it, as long as you still have your bike and spring is coming (eventually), all is good! As the ancient proverb claims: the colour of springtime is in the nature awakening, whereas the colour of winter is in the imagination.

Written by Lukas J.


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