The Cold Shoulder: How to Prepare a Motorcycle for Long Term Storage
October 8, 2013
Preparing a bike for long term storage sounds depressing. Motorcycles are made to be ridden, but that doesn’t mean circumstances won’t arise when you might have to leave your bike in the long term parking section of your garage. Maybe your well-to-do aristocratic Uncle Percival went down for his dirt nap and left you enough inheritance to tour Europe on a brand new KTM 990 Adventure. Maybe you had a slight accident and your spine now protrudes from the top of your head. Or maybe you live in an area that turns into Santa’s Winter Wonderland for five months straight. Whatever the reason, here’s some tips to assure it’s done properly.
FILL ‘ER UP!
THE ETHANOL MAGIC TRICK – TURN CORN INTO GUM!
Gasoline and water mix about as well as, well, oil and water. Parking a motorcycle for an extended period of time with a tank half filled with gas is an invitation for condensation form. The only thing that mixes worse than gas and water is carburetors and water. If you’re a recent arrival to this planet here’s something you should know: Ethanol is the devil’s urine. It actually attracts water, which isn’t a big deal in pressurized fuel systems, but when used in vented systems it will eventually suck moisture out of the air and grow a soy-based mutant plant blob in your tank that has the potential to ingest animals and small children. Yes, I made that last part up, but it will clog every port and orifice in a carburetor. Use Non-Ethanol gasoline treated with some form of fuel stabilizer, run the bike for a while, then run the carb(s) dry. For motorcycles without a fuel shutoff, make sure you get a reputable stabilizer.
TUNE ‘ER UPDon’t get caught with your pants down when the nice weather hits and you want to go for a quick ride. Actually, don’t get caught with your pants down anywhere, except maybe in a motel that has hourly rates – it would make sense there. Servicing your bike before it gets parked helps to ensure that it’ll be ready for action when you want it.
Plus there is something wrong about leaving an engine sit with dirty oil in it for months on end, especially because that same dirty oil is shared with your transmission. As oil breaks down through use, the acid level in it increases and can cause etching on soft metal internal components. Plus oil is not just for lubricating and cooling – it also acts as a cleaner and filter holding dirt in suspension. By leaving dirty oil in your engine for months on end, all the unwanted particulates that have accumulated will settle to the bottom and be harder to flush out next oil change.
Make sure you also clean the air filter so the mice that get into your air box will have nice fresh bedding. Don’t forget to change the spark plug(s); lube the cables and chain.
PULL THE BATTERY
Batteries don’t like to be too cold – just like my wife. Unlike my wife, a battery won’t complain incessantly about it, they’ll just quietly die. To keep a battery fresh make sure its fully charged then pull it out of the bike, wrap it in a Snuggie, and put it under your pillow for the winter. Or put it anywhere warm inside your house, yurt, Quonset hut, or cardboard box on skid row. Try to avoid leaving it on the fireplace mantle. Or forget all that and leave it on the bike hooked up to a battery tender. This will keep it topped off with juice while the bike is sitting idle and accommodate last second impulsive rides without having to reinstall the battery.
TAKE A LOAD OFF Cold weather can cause the air pressure in your tires to drop. Leaving your bike parked with the weight of the machine on low or flat tires for a long time will inevitably ruin perfectly good rubber. Invest in a service stand or create your own using a milk crate, sawed-off bar stool, or a metal range ball basket pilfered from your local golf course. Leaving the bike off the ground not only takes the weight off the tires, it also takes the load off your taxed suspension, which has secretly been hoping you’ll lose at least 10 pounds. Don’t forget to bleed the air out of your front forks.
LONG LONG TERM STORAGE
If you need to store a motorcycle for a really long time (say 3 to 5 years with time off for good behavior) the routine is basically the same with a few variations. Treat your gas and run the carb(s) dry by shutting off the petcock, but then pull your gas tank and drain it completely. Some people pull the spark plugs and pour in a few teaspoons of oil then turn the engine over a few times to make sure the piston and cylinder walls are lubricated. Some people believe strongly in engine fogging. Others believe that doing either of those things is a complete waste of time. I believe that if you live in a damp and humid climate it can’t hurt to have a little insurance. It also can’t hurt to cover your bike with an old blanket to keep the dust off and help absorb moisture. Store a bike for too many years and moisture in the air won’t be your biggest problem – all the oil seals will eventually dry out and crack from lack of inner lubrication.
Probably the single best thing you can do to keep your motorcycle in good working condition is give it some attention periodically. Start it once in a while and ride around in tiny circles in your garage. Yes, you’ll look like a Shriner in a holiday parade but you’ll also be circulating oil around and keeping parts moving. Just make sure you get the engine good and hot. Warming it slightly can actually increase condensation, getting it good and hot will burn off any internal condensation and also circulate the coolant through the system. If your engine is equipped with a fan a good rule of thumb is to run the bike until the fan kicks on. And last but in no way least, don’t forget to promise your bike you’re going to take it for a nice long ride again – someday!