Motorcycle Storage can be a headache. Whether you need to store your bike for winter or are putting a classic bike into storage, its easy to make mistakes. This guide will help to make sure that your pride and joy comes out of storage in as good condition as possible. Best motorcycle storage practices will never be as time consuming as solving the problems caused by poor motorcycle storage.
First, a thank you to Adam Glass who wrote a lot of the information contained in this article.
Copyright © 1998-2010 Adam Glass. All rights reserved.
Important Note On Best Motorcycle Storage Practices
These instructions are intended to be followed in order. The purpose of this order is to minimize the motorcycle’s exposure to corrosive agents and prolong its life & good looks as much as possible. This guide to the best motorcycle storage practices assumes that the vehicle is being stored for more than a month and less than a year.
There may be other motorcycle storage procedures you should follow if you plan to store the vehicle for longer. For storage of less than a month in temperatures that don’t go below freezing, you don’t really need to do anything to the bike. (Unless you have an alarm system that may drain the battery, in which case you need to charge the battery, disconnect the alarm, or prepare to deal with a dead battery.) If it’s going to get below freezing, bring the battery indoors — you don’t want it to freeze.
You may have another way that you handle motorcycle Storage. That’s fine. I’d love to hear any suggestions that you have. Maybe I can use them to make this article better. No one says you have to follow this stuff to the letter, but a fair amount of thought has gone into the order of the steps and the specific things done at each stage. Do please read through this whole thing before you start doing anything. The suggestions in later steps might affect how you go about doing some of the earlier ones.
Find a place to store your motorcycle, get the tools you’ll need
ESTIMATED TIME: 1-2 hours.
It is best to do this as you’re beginning to plan your motorcycle storage. Not at the last minute.
Find a good place to store the motorcycle. This can be a good wooden storage shed in the garden or a secure storage unit. You can now buy specially built motorcycle storage sheds. Keep the bike away from extreme temperatures. This pretty much means keep it inside if possible. Chemical fumes can dry out and attack the bike’s organic (rubber) parts, so don’t use a storage unit where it will be exposed to these. It is also a good idea if the area has ventilation windows or some way of allowing the air to circulate. Likewise, electric motors and heaters generate ozone, which is also bad for rubber. So keep the bike away from ozone sources too.
Don’t put the bike somewhere where it’ll get knocked over. Find a smooth, level storage area that’s out of the way.
It’s bad to store the bike on dirt, moisture rising from the soil can collect under a cover and cause your bike’s tender metal bits some grief. So make sure your motorcycle storage unit is dry.
Very important: go to the local auto-parts place and buy a can of fuel system stabilizer. Virtually any brand will do. It’s not expensive.
You might also want to buy (if you don’t already have) any tools that you will need to take the bike’s fuel tank, bodywork, windscreen, and spark plugs off, but don’t leave them in the storage unit to help any potential thieves.
Run the bike, fill the tank, and stabilize the fuel
ESTIMATED TIME: 1-2 hours
(You’re about to wash the bike, so it’s OK to take it for one final ride on salt-infested roads.)
Take the bike out for a good ride and on the way back, fill the tank up. Now is the best time to add the fuel stabilizer, before you fill the tank, as that will allow the stabilised fuel to run through the whole fuel system before it goes into any storage unit. Make sure the tank is full when you store the bike, so wait until the end of the ride to do it.
Get the bike nice and hot, so make sure you’re out for long enough to get the engine up to operating temperature for a while. Ride around for at least 20 minutes before visiting the Fuel station. Getting the engine nice ‘n hot does two good things: It burns off any condensation that’s formed in the engine and gets the oil hot, which stirs up evil combustion by-products and makes sure more of them are removed when you do the oil change.
If you haven’t already, add the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer to the tank when you return to the storage space. You will need to run the bike for another 5 minutes or so to make sure that stabilized fuel has worked its way through the entire fuel system. Be careful about the build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide fumes if your storage space in an enclosed area.
Stabilise The Fuel
Stabilizing the fuel is probably the most important step for motorcycle Storage. Petrol is a blend of dozens of different compounds. Over time, the more volatile compounds will evaporate, leaving a hard sludge that will block up your carburettors or Fi system and prevent them from working properly. Fuel stabilizer (largely) prevents this from happening. You must stabilize the fuel in your system before storing your bike! This has become even more important as increased amounts of ethanol are used in todays fuel.
Because I get so many questions about draining the float bowls, I wrote a little section on when I do and don’t drain my bikes’ float bowls at the end of this document.
Change the oil
ESTIMATED TIME: 1 hour
Change the oil before you store the bike. Old oil contains combustion by-products and other nasty stuff. So do oil and filter change now while the bike is warm. This is probably the second-most important step for motorcycle storage.
Make sure you dispose of the old oil properly.
Some dangerously misguided guides suggest filling the engine cases with oil. Do not do this under any circumstances. Do a normal oil change and put the normal amount of oil in as listed in your owner’s manual. Given the other things you’ll be doing here, you are taking excellent care of your engine, don’t worry. Filling the cases is both wasteful and dangerous; if you start the engine with oil-filled cases, you stand a decent chance of seriously breaking the engine.
Also, you’re probably going to get rid of this oil fairly early next season, so don’t get the latest, greatest, super expensive synthetic oil. Get cheap oil, as long as it is the correct grade for the bike it will be fine. If you pay too much you are simply wasting it.
After you change the oil, move the bike to a well-ventilated area and start it. Running the engine for a minute or two will distribute the fresh oil throughout the engine, ensuring that the remnants of the old oil are diluted. After a minute or two, kill the engine and, if applicable, move the bike back to the area where it will be stored.
Only do this post-oil-change step if the engine is still warm from step 2. Don’t do this step if the engine has cooled, as running the engine briefly will just form condensation in the engine. (This is the same reason why you don’t want to run the engine during the winter.)
Put the bike on stands
ESTIMATED TIME: 5-10 minutes
If you have a centerstand, you’re all set. Put the bike up on the centerstand and skip to section 5, below. If you don’t have a centerstand, read on…
If you have a pair of bike stands (a swingarm stand and either a fork stand or a front-end stand that holds the bike from the steering stem), great. Put the bike up on the stands and store it that way.
If you don’t have stands, don’t risk dropping the bike by trying to rig up something with boards, jack stands, milk crates, etc. It’s not that critical. Just remember that you may want to take a little more care with tires over the course of the winter. (See below.)
Spray fogging oil in cylinder(s)
ESTIMATED TIME: 10 minutes – 2 hours
You may need to remove the fuel tank to access the spark plugs. On some models (e.g., Yamaha FZR400) you may even need to loosen or remove the radiator or oil cooler. Some spark plugs are very well hidden. BMW and Moto-Guzzi owners are laughing at the rest of us right now.
After clearing out dirt/grit from around the spark plug holes (compressed air is great for this), remove the spark plugs and spray some “fogging oil” (available at motorcycle or marine shops) into the cylinders. If you can’t get some, try harder. But if you still can’t get some, squirt in a little motor oil (or, failing that, some WD40) to lubricate the cylinder walls. (Not more than a teaspoon per cylinder!)
If, for whatever reason, you can’t get the spark plugs out dont panic. Spray WD40 or Duck Oil around the plugs and leave it to penetrate. You can take the carburettors off and spray some oil in via the intakes. Make sure you spin the engine a bit using the rear wheel top gear trick (see next paragraph) to make sure closed intake valves don’t prevent oil from getting into all cylinders.
Lifting The Motorcycle During Storage
If your bike has a centerstand, or you’ve raised it off the ground with a paddock stand, put the bike in top gear and (by hand) rotate the rear wheel to slowly spin the engine. Make sure the ignition is switched off when you do this, and don’t use the starter. Just spin the rear wheel by hand. After about 10-15 revolutions, the cylinder walls will be well coated and you can move on.
If you’re not going to be able to get the rear wheel off the ground to spin it to spread the oil around, make sure you use fogging oil (preferred) or WD40. They’ll distribute themselves a bit better than a little squirt of motor oil.
Don’t bother buying “Marvel Mystery Oil.” You no doubt have some motor oil left over from the oil change you just did. If you don’t have fogging oil, use some of the leftover motor oil. All you’re trying to do is lube the cylinder walls and prevent the rings from sticking. Motor oil will do a marvellous job. This is precisely what it’s engineered to do. No mystery products required.
Use A Little Copper Slip
Reinstall the spark plugs, being careful not to cross-thread them. You may want to dab a little copper slip on them to protect the threads that they screw into. I turn the engine over using the rear wheel a few times before I re-fit the plugs just to make sure there is no excess oil left in the cylinders.
If you were able to put the bike in top gear and rotate the rear wheel, put the bike back in neutral. You may need to spin the rear wheel a bit to help the transmission shift.
Briefly skip ahead to the next section for a quick note on covering the air box’s intakes.
If you had to remove the fuel tank or radiator, make sure they are reinstalled properly.
ESTIMATED TIME: 10 minutes
After the exhaust pipes have cooled but preferably while the engine is still warm, squirt a little WD40 into each exhaust pipe and cover the tip(s) of them with a balloon, a condom or an elastic band around a plastic bag. This will prevent moisture from getting to the engine. Make sure it’s airtight.
Likewise, cover the air box’s intake(s). If you need to remove the gas tank to spray fogging oil into the cylinders (previous step), you can cover the air box’s intake(s) while you have the tank off. (Aren’t you glad you followed my advice and read the whole document before starting?)
You may also want to cover the air box’s drain hose.
Final fuel system checks
ESTIMATED TIME: 5 minutes
If you followed step 2 properly, stabilized fuel has worked its way through the whole fuel system, and you do’nt really need to drain the carburettors’ float bowls unless the motorcycle is going into long term storage. (See below for more info.)
If your fuel petcock has settings like ON/RES/PRI, leave the petcock set to “ON.” If your petcock has settings like ON/RES/OFF, switch the petcock to “OFF.”
If your bike doesn’t have a fuel petcock, possibly because it is fuel injected, you’re a lucky. Skip to the next step.
8) Remove and charge the battery
ESTIMATED TIME: 5-45 minutes
The bike doesn’t need its battery when in storage unless it has an alarm system, and you want to prevent it from freezing. So take out the battery, take it inside, and keep it charged. If it is alarmed, check if the alarm will reset automatically and if not make sure you have any reset code required before you remove the battery.
Batteries contain a lot of water, and water expands slightly when it freezes. If it gets cold enough, the water/acid solution in your battery could freeze, cracking the battery when it expands slightly. (Then, when it warms up, the water/acid solution melts and runs all over your bike!) Freezing = bad.
Keep The Battery Charged
If you’re storing the bike in a place where it won’t be exposed to freezing temperatures, you don’t need to remove the battery from the bike except to do a routine annual cleaning of the battery and the bike’s battery box (as explained below.) Don’t neglect to keep the battery charged, however.
Keeping a lead-acid automotive battery happy means keeping it charged. The best method is to put it on a smart charger, like the “Battery Tender”, that will only charge it as much as it needs to, and won’t boil the battery dry with overcharging. Just put your battery on the smart charger and, with the exception of periodic fluid level checks and other maintenance mentioned below, you can pretty much forget about it all winter.
Cheap Easy Solutions
If you can’t afford or don’t want to buy a smart charger, buy a cheap 12v trickle-charger and hook it up to an automatic timer, so the battery gets about 30 minutes of trickle-charging a day. You may also be able to rig the thing up to your garage door opener, giving the thing a few minutes of charge each time the garage door is opened. A few minutes of trickle-charging a day is probably sufficient to make sure the battery stays charged.
Unless you have a maintenance-free battery, check the battery’s fluid levels regularly to make sure the charger isn’t boiling away the electrolyte. If the levels are low, add distilled water only to bring the levels back up.
Charge the battery in a well-ventilated area. Batteries can emit dangerous gasses while charging.
You’d be pretty grungy if you never took a bath, and the same is true of your battery. “Maintenance free” batteries don’t need any cleaning (except for the terminals, as noted below) unless it looks like battery acid has leaked out of them, in which case you should follow the suggested maintenance for regular batteries.
First clean the outside with a baking soda/water solution to neutralize any acid that’s gotten out unless you’re certain that no acid has escaped. Likewise for the inside of the battery box. Then clean the outside of the battery and the inside of the battery box with a warm soapy water solution. Even those of you with “maintenance free” batteries and those of you who skipped the baking soda step. Make sure to dry things very thoroughly afterwards!
Clean The Terminals
With all batteries, clean the terminals with a wire brush and lube them with dialectric grease before returning the battery to service.
There’s an old wives’ tale about putting batteries on cement floors. As long as the outside of the battery is clean and dry, you have nothing to worry about. Pay no attention to electrical superstitions. Just prevent the battery from freezing, and make sure it stays charged.
Wash, dry, and wax the bike
ESTIMATED TIME: could take hours…
Around wintertime, there’s often a lot of salt on the roads. Clean this stuff off before you store your bike! Mild soap and water is fine (see affiliates page), or use a bike-specific cleaning chemical if you want. Make sure you wash the whole underside of the bike, the wheels, suspension components, etc.
And don’t forget to dry the bike. The engine (which should still be hot from your ride) may be able to evaporate the water off, but you’ll still want to get the water off the wheels, frame, etc. Drying the bike is really important; do a good job.
Wax the bike’s painted parts; it’ll prevent the paint from oxidizing over the winter.
Standard warning that everyone who owns a pressure-washer should be able to recite by heart: the overwhelming pressure that pressure-washers generate can do bad things to motorcycles. Take care not to point the powerful stream of water at bearings, seals, etc. Water under such high pressure can force its way past seals, displacing grease, corroding bearings, etc. Be careful.
Protect the exposed metal during Motorcycle Storage
ESTIMATED TIME: 10-30 minutes.
Do not apply chemicals or lubricants to brake pads, brake rotors, or tires. This section is about protecting the frame, the rims, the chain, etc. Don’t mess with the brakes. If you get chemicals on them, clean them thoroughly with brake cleaner. (Available at any auto parts place.)
To protect metal parts, spray the exposed metal parts of the bike (particularly the underside) with a rust inhibitor like ACF50, WD40, chain wax or duck oil,. (Believe it or not, Chain Wax works very well for this purpose! But personally ACF50 is my choice) these chemicals will prevent rust and corrosion from making any progress while the bike is in storage. You will want to do a good job of removing them come spring.
PJ1 makes a rubber-protecting chemical that seems to keep rubber from dry rotting. Although you shouldn’t spray any chemical on your tires, other rubber parts of your bike might benefit from some of this stuff.
Rusty spots (except on the brake rotors) should probably be attended to over the winter. See the section on stuff to do over the winter, below.
If you get any Chain Wax/ACF50/WD40/ or whatever on the bike’s pretty parts, do a little touch-up washing to prevent these chemicals from staining the bike’s finish over the winter. Diluted Detergent followed by either Spray Cleaner & Polish or Detailers compound should work well.
Lock it up
ESTIMATED TIME: 5 minutes
Depending on where you store your bike, you may want to put a heavy duty lock on it to make sure it stays put. A good, heavy duty floor anchor will give you the most secure way of locking it up. Keep in mind that determined thieves can cut through just about anything, and the best protection against theft is probably insurance.
On that note, you may not be able to insure the bike against theft (“comprehensive”) if you cancel the tax or insurance cover over the winter. Check with your insurance company to make sure you’re getting the cover you need.
Buy a big, heavy duty chain and lock the frame of the bike to something relatively immovable. Cover the motorcycle too, covers are probably better theft protection than any lock.
If possible, do not leave the electricity supply on. If you do all any thief needs is a cheap angle grinder and any locks can be quickly removed.
Cover the Motorcycle During Storage
ESTIMATED TIME: 5 minutes
Print out the section on “Taking the bike out of storage” and tape it to the top triple-clamp with a removable tape like 3M’s Scotch “Magic Tape.”
Make sure the bike has been well-dried after the washing it got in step nine.
Use a breathable cloth cover. You don’t want to trap moisture under the cover, as it’ll cause rust. Likewise, you want to keep water out, particularly if you’re storing the bike outside, where it’ll be subjected to precipitation. Purpose-made Motorcycle Storage covers work well, as does anything made of Gore-Tex.
Jobs to do over the winter
Do not run the engine while the motorcycle is in storage! You just create condensation in the engine and combustion by-products (acids, etc) in the oil. Resist the temptation.
Winter is an excellent time to do other routine maintenance — you’ll miss riding, and it’s a good way to spend time with your bike as you pine away for better weather. Plus, you’ve probably been dragging your feet about some of the scheduled maintenance, haven’t you? That’s OK; we all have. Now is the perfect the time to get on with it.
Read The Manual Thoroughly
Read through your owner’s manual, and perform any service that gets done once a year or more frequently, even if it isn’t quite time yet. At the very least:
lubricate control cables and periodically operate all controls
check (and, if necessary, adjust) chain/belt tension
lubricate chain, or lube driveshaft
check brake pads and rotors
change fluids (brake, clutch, etc)
inspect/replace/clean air filter
check all bolts to make sure nothing is loosening
inspect tires (for cuts, uneven wear, dry-rot, tread depth, images of the Virgin Mary, etc)
inspect swingarm and steering head bearings
lube suspension, pivot points, grease fittings, etc
Extra credit assignments:
Change fork oil
Change coolant (except for you air-cooled types)
Valve adjustment (except for you two-stroke types)
Disassemble/clean/reassemble carburettors (except for you fuel-injected-types)
Mount new tires (if it’s time)
Start With Simple Jobs To Build Your Confidence
A lot of this maintenance will seem intimidating to people who haven’t done much work on their bikes. That’s fine. Start with simple stuff and tackle the more involved tasks when you feel up to it. Or find friends who are more experienced with bike maintenance and bribe them to help you.
If you didn’t have stands to get the tires off the ground, make sure you check the tires every month or so to make sure they’re at normal operating pressure. You may also wish to move the bike slightly every few weeks to prevent flat spots. (Or maybe this is another old wives’ tale.)
Think About Motorcycle Storage Temperature Before Painting Anything
Clean up any rust spots with some very fine grit sand paper (until you get down to bare metal) and repaint the area with a matching colour. (This does not apply to the brake system, of course, as previously noted, leave the brakes alone.) Paint will not cure properly when it’s really cold out, so if you aren’t storing the bike somewhere warm, you might as well skip this step until the ambient temperature is warmer.
To paint the exhaust system, make sure you sand down to bare metal and use extremely high temperature paint such as fireplace/stove paint (available at many hardware stores or specialty fireplace stores.) If you can track down a high-temperature etching primer, that’d be a good thing to use between the sanding and the first coat of paint. (The exhaust system gets so hot that conventional paints will be destroyed.)
Order new spark plugs for your bike’s return to use. (Optional, but usually inexpensive. Follow the maintenance schedule set by your bike’s manufacturer.)
Maybe Sign up for an early-season Advanced Rider Training course.
Taking the motorcycle out of storage
ESTIMATED TIME: 1 afternoon
Remove the cover.
Remove any large locks you might have used to secure the bike.
Make sure the tire pressures are set properly for normal use.
If the bike is up on stands, carefully lower the bike off the stands.
Wash the bike to remove any metal-protecting ACF50/WD40/Chain Wax.
Install the clean, well-charged battery.
If your bike has a fuel petcock, turn the fuel system on. If your fuel petcock has settings like ON/RES/PRI, set it to “PRI” for about 20 seconds, then switch it to “ON.” If your petcock has settings like ON/RES/OFF, set it to “ON.” If your bike has a fuel pump, make sure the kill switch is set to “RUN.”
Remove any plastic/rubber covers that you put on the air box intakes, exhaust pipes, and air box drain.
Move the bike to a well-ventilated area and start it… let it run it for 20 minutes or long enough for the fan to come on twice. (Be careful about the build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide fumes in enclosed spaces.)
Before starting the motorcycle again.
If Motorcycle Storage has been for more than two months, do an oil change. “What, again?!” you say? Yeah, it’s probably a good idea. The cheap oil you stored the bike with probably absorbed a bunch of icky combustion by-products that the pre-storage oil change didn’t remove. That’s why you used cheap stuff. You’re just getting rid of it. Feel free to use better semi or fully synthetic oil this time, or whatever motor oil makes you feel best. You do not need to change the filter this time, but do make sure you recycle the old oil properly.
After burning that full tank that you stored your bike with.
Use a fuel system cleaner additive (e.g., Techron) for a couple of tanks.
Change spark plugs.
Take the Advanced Rider Training course that you signed up for.
Enjoy the start of another season of riding!
For the curious…
Why Things Are In The Order They’re In
Step one is basic preparation. Get the tools for the job.
Step two is critical because the engine needs to be up to temperature for the oil change, the fuel system needs to be stabilized and the tank filled (to prevent rust inside the tank), and a hot engine will burn off any residual condensation or water in the engine/oil. These steps were combined because they can all be done together, as long as they’re done in the proper order.
Steps three is done before step four only because the post-oil-change engine running needs to be done in a well-ventilated area. That means moving the bike. Putting the bike up on stands before the oil change would make the oil change easier, but then you’d just need to take it off the stands when you moved it.
Steps four through eight don’t need to be done in any particular order, but they need to be done after the engine is run and while it’s still fairly hot.
Step nine is where it is because some of the earlier steps may get oil on the bike, and, besides, it’s nice to give the bike a chance to cool down (a little) before you wash it, since otherwise you could burn yourself.
Don’t Seal In Corrosive Agents
You could make a good argument that step ten should go before step nine, since there’s a good chance that overspray will get oil on the bike’s pretty parts. I put ten after step nine because step nine will wash off salt and corrosion, which is precisely what you want to do before you spray metal-protecting chemicals on the bike’s tender metal bits. Otherwise you run the risk of sealing the corrosive agents in.
If you think of a good reason that the order should be different, please send me email and I’ll try to include your suggestions.
Why don’t I always drain the fuel from my bikes’ float bowls?
The fuel stabilizer will prevent the fuel from turning solid. I mean, there are no guarantees in life, but in my experience, the stuff works as advertised. Since you’re stabilizing the fuel, do you also need to drain the float bowls? I don’t know. I don’t bother unless Motorcycle Storage is long term. some friends do, and none of us have had problems provided we stabilize the fuel first.
If you’re not going to stabilize the fuel, yes, absolutely, you must drain all of the gas out of the carbs. The problem with only draining the float bowls is that you haven’t removed all of the gas from the carburettor. capillary action can hold fuel in the small passages inside the carburettor. And that’s the stuff that’s going to clog the carb’s operation, even if you turn the engine over a bit afterwards.
The Insides of the carb can get covered in a jelly-like substance that completely blocks the jets. Complete disassembly and extended soaking in solvents can be required to get it working again. Anyway, your carbs might continue to work fine with this sludgy jelly at the bottom of the float bowls as long as the sludge didn’t interfere with movement of the floats or clog any jets.
Stabilise The Fuel
The float bowls are just little puddles of fuel; they still work just fine as puddles of fuel if there’s a little sludge stuck to the bottom of the puddle. But if the tiny passages get clogged it’s all over. And there’s no good way to get them completely clean short of removing the carbs and cleaning them with carb cleaner and compressed air or soda blasting. So the most important step, by far, is to stabilize the fuel in the first place. After that, I don’t think it makes much difference whether or not you drain the float bowls, since stabilized gas won’t turn into sludge unless left for more than a year.
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