Winter Storage – Preparing your motorcycle for a winter’s nap

Those who continue to ride through the winter will still benefit from some of these tips to keep your ride in top shape. While many reading this are already in the grips of winter, it is never too late to prepare your Harley (or other equipment) for that long winter’s nap. Below is a check list for basic winter storage that will help make sure your ride survives until spring.

1. Stabilize the fuel Modern unleaded fuel only has a shelf life of 3-4 weeks before it begins to deteriorate. Some believe that draining the tank and float bowl is all that is needed to prevent the gasoline from turning to sludge. In my opinion there is no way to completely drain every drop of fuel, especially from all the small passages and jets in the carburetor.
Add the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer to a full tank of fuel, then run the engine for at least 15 minutes to work the stabilized fuel throughout the engine. This will prevent the remaining fuel residue from oxidizing and turning to varnish. There are several brands of fuel stabilizer but be sure to purchase a reliable brand.

2. Change your oil Now that your Harley is warmed up after running the stabilizer through the engine, change your oil. Residual fuel and contaminants in the oil can oxidize during prolonged storage or inactivity. Changing your oil now removes all the sludge and dirt that would otherwise start to deteriorate. In addition, changing oil now guarantees fresh lubrication when it comes time to remove the bike from storage. Don’t go cheap on the oil like some sites encourage. Use a quality oil that you would normally drive with. I recommend synthetics which will survive much longer into next year’s riding season, but the choice is up to you. Run the engine a few minutes to disburse the oil through the engine.

3. Prepare the Battery Lead-acid batteries should be kept under a constant charge in order to prolong their life. Attach a Battery Tender or specialized charger that won’t overcharge your battery. A trickle charger may be used but must not be run for more than a half-hour each day. This could be accomplished using an appliance timer. If your motorcycle will be stored where freezing temperatures are likely, remove the battery from the bike and place in a warm dry place. The battery should be kept charged regardless.

Battery storage myth: Placing a battery on a concrete floor will not discharge or drain the battery. Lead acid batteries by nature slowly discharge however, a concrete floor has no effect on this.

4. Clean and Lubricate Dirt, sand, and road salts will begin to corrode and damage metal surfaces if left during storage. Give your bike a good cleaning before putting her to sleep for the winter. Lubricate the chain as discussed in last month’s newsletter. That article should appear shortly on the Tech Tips page or contact me and I’ll send it to you. Lubricate all moving parts such as cables and use a metal protectant spray on the underside of the frame and drivetrain. This will combat any rust on areas exposed from pitting or scratches. As I mentioned last month NEVER use WD-40 on your Harley, ever!

5. Check your Tires Make sure your tires are properly inflated. If you have a compressor then deflate your tires first to expel any moisture, then inflate with clean compressed air. You should repeat this step before riding again in the spring.

If possible, elevate your Harley so both tires are not under load. This is especially important if the bike will be stored in freezing conditions. Make sure your bike is secure. Motorcycle lifts with bottle jacks have been known to fail when left under prolonged load.

6. Cover your Harley Even when stored inside, your bike should be covered while stored. Use a cover that can breath and not a plastic tarp. Moisture should not be allowed to become trapped under the cover on your bike’s metal surfaces. If your storage is in a barn or similar place, cover the exhaust’s to prevent any unwanted creatures from making a winter den. Place plastic bags over the intake to keep moisture out.

That’s basically all there is to storing your bike. There are a hundred more suggestions out there (filling the tires with nitrogen, etc.), but for the most part these steps will ensure your investment gets a safe winter’s rest. Once stored, resist the temptation of periodically starting the engine, or at least until you are ready to drain the stabilized fuel and start riding again. While your beauty is sleeping it is the perfect time to work on those maintenance projects you have been putting off, like changing the fork oil.  
Return to Harley Performance Articles from Winterize your Harley for more tech tips and articles.  Additional tips and advice are shared daily on our Bike Talk Motorcycle Forums .