Winter in locales with real seasons is a tough time for motorcyclists. The weather doesn’t just force them to stop riding – which is a big enough loss. Riders also lose the time they spend with their motorcycle. While absence may make the heart grow fonder, forced moto-abstinence can lead to Parked Motorcycle Syndrome, causing all sorts of unpleasant behavior in the affected rider. Take our word on this.
The only proven way to prevent PMS is to enjoy some quality time with a motorcycle. Since the snow may be piled up outside, that leaves the garage as the best place to get your motorcycle groove on. Some riders start bolting expensive parts to their bike or strip them down for custom paint to give themselves something to do, but even if you have the spare cash to customize your bike, why not start with some basic maintenance? If a bike isn’t in top form before custom parts are added, you’re really just wasting time and money. So, cover the basics then go for the jewelry.
10. Coolant Change
If you did a thorough job of winterizing your motorcycle, you know that its coolant is in good condition and will protect your bike’s engine during the seasonal deep-freeze. If you didn’t or the coolant color wasn’t that lovely Mountain Dew green, why not take the time to freshen up your bike’s coolant? You can milk this chore for as many hours as you feel you need to be intimate with your machine. (Cleaning the engine and the inside of the bodywork you have to remove to access the cooling system is a good way to draw out the fun.) All you need are basic mechanic’s tools, some fresh antifreeze, distilled water (if you’re not using premixed coolant), a catch basin, and a sealed container to transport the used antifreeze to your local hazardous waste recycling center. Music and your favorite beverage are optional. Don’t forget to idle your engine with the radiator fill cap off to make sure that all of the bubbles exit the cooling system before you seal it closed. (You’ll want to open your garage door to do this part, though.) Filling the overflow tank halfway is a good idea, too. Now, your cooling system is set for another year.
9. General Lubrication
When riders think of a moving part on their motorcycle, it’s usually of the grand gestures: the engine, the chain, the wheel bearings. However, there’s a whole slew of lesser players that impact your bike’s performance on a ride. Consider the lowly shifter pivot. How many times do you shift gears on a single ride? Or maybe the brake and clutch lever pivots? While you’re there, lube the clutch and throttle cables before giving their ends a dab of grease, too. Just for yucks, check to see that the steering head bearings allow lock-to-lock operation without grinding, notches, or binding. If you find any of these, a bigger project lies in your future. Then there are the pieces that just show your motorcycle that you care. A quick squirt of WD-40 in the footpeg pivots and a dab of grease on the sidestand (and center stand if you have one) pivot will up your moto-karma significantly.
8. Brake Fluid Change
Hydraulic fluids have a taste for water and will gradually suck moisture past the rubber seals in your calipers. If left inside the system for extended periods, they can cause corrosion that can interfere with the operation of the calipers. Additionally, if your fluid is contaminated with water, heavy use of the brakes will raise the temperature to the point where the water will boil (at a significantly lower level than pure fluid) causing spongy feeling at the lever or pedal and resulting in less effective braking. Despite this, most of us find changing brake fluid to be a tedious task. So, why not do it when it won’t eat into actual riding time and will give you a reason to caress your motorcycle without raising eyebrows. That sounds like a win-win! As you buy the supplies you need, consider a…
7. Brake Pad Swap
Yes, you can wait until bike’s brake pads reach their service limits, but if, after a quick check as you prepare to flush the hydraulic system, you find that they are nearing the end of life, why not be proactive and give your bike some off-season love in new brake pads (if you aren’t changing the pads along with the hydraulic fluid, leaves some room in the master cylinder for the caliper pistons to displace the fluid into when you do decide to replace the pads). By changing the pad compound, you might even improve brake power, feel, or both. For an even more noticeable improvement and a more customized look, you could…
6. Install Braided Steel Hydraulic Lines
Although OE brake lines don’t expand visibly when the brake lever is squeezed (like in the distant past), fitting a set of braided, stainless-steel brake lines to a motorcycle can have a dramatic effect on its stopping power and feel. Since the lines are sheathed in metal (usually with a protective plastic outer coating), you don’t have to worry about stainless lines cracking from age and exposure to the sun. Also, the teflon interior line is less prone to becoming brittle than rubber lines. Most of the major line manufacturers, like Goodridge, have pre-measured kits available for almost every motorcycle manufactured in recent years. So, you shouldn’t have any problem finding one for your bike. However, if you’ve modified your bike by raising or lowering the bars, you’ll probably want to check with the company to see if you need a custom-length kit built. The first ride will reveal a firmer lever and better feedback. Oh, and braided steel lines make your bike look cool.
5. Replace Chain and Sprockets
A motorcycle’s chain has one of the most difficult jobs on the bike. It must transfer power from the engine to the rear wheel as the suspension tracks up and down over the pavement. Then there are the peak loads generated by botched downshifts, burnouts, or wheelies. If a rider cares for a chain, it can last for many thousands of miles. If not, the extra loads created by running either too tight or too loose can wear one out in short order. The off season is a great time to give your chain a good look to see if it’s near the end of its life. One simple check is just simply pulling the chain away from the rear sprocket. If more than half a tooth is exposed, the chain is done. Also, look at the sprocket’s teeth. If they are curved, like waves, it will destroy a chain in short order if it hasn’t done so already.
4. Oil Change
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Changing a motorcycle’s oil is one of the most important – if not the most important – maintenance tasks one can perform for its engine. All those expensive moving parts within the engine won’t last very long without a coating of quality lubricant preventing metal-on-metal violence. Now, consider the corrosive chemicals that can build up in an engine’s oil during regular use. Letting it sit inside the engine for months, potentially eating away at expensive parts, is not a good thing. Leaving your engine full of fresh oil during its long winter’s nap will have your bike ready to ride the moment the snow melts. Besides, you can only go so many months without any oil under your fingernails.
3. Battery Maintenance
Way down near the bottom of the long list of unsexy maintenance duties, you’ll find battery maintenance. Yeah, it’s about as thankless as it gets, but what could be worse than having the first day of the riding season thwarted by the dreaded click-click-click of a dead battery? Remember, batteries don’t store electricity. Instead, batteries store the chemicals necessary to produce electricity. Over time, if left unused, batteries naturally discharge. Both high and low temperatures accelerate this loss of charge, and if it’s allowed to continue, the battery will reach a deeply discharged state that can dramatically shorten its life. Nobody wants to miss their first ride of the season and have to drop $80 for a new battery at the same time.
Before you store your bike for the winter, you’ll want to make sure the electrolytes are topped off if you’re still running an old-school battery. Then just plug it into a smart charger which will constantly monitor the state of a battery, and when the voltage drops, the charging feature kicks in. Once the voltage rises up to the proper level, the charger enters “float” mode, where a neutral charge keeps the voltage from dropping. Buying a smart charger can pay for itself in a year or two of ownership. You don’t even need to remove the battery from your bike. Just plug it in and forget about it. A fused cable tucked safely out of sight will work fine. However, if your bike will be stored in an extended sub-freezing environment, you should let the battery spend the winter indoors – but still hooked to a smart charger.
2. Gas Treatment
Hopefully, your bike began its winter down season with a full fuel load. Inside the the tank’s sealed environment, the air in a partially-filled tank becomes a micro-climate. With temperature changes, the moisture in the air will condense on the inside of the tank and trickle down into the fuel. Today’s oxygenated fuels contain ethanol, which loves to absorb water – until it can’t take up any more. Then it turns into sludge that can wreak all kinds of havoc in a fuel system. From clogged fuel filters to pumps to carburetor jets to the tiny holes of fuel injectors, the costs of repairs can add up quickly. Using a fuel treatment that is certified for modern fuels is a good way to make sure your bike runs in top form at the first turn of the key. Look to name brands like Sea Foam or Sta-Bil. Even if you didn’t put it in at the beginning of storage, the treatment can be mixed into the fuel by sloshing the tank back-and-forth. If the tank wasn’t full to begin with, mix it into fresh gas from the pump, then pour it into the tank. Finish with a liberal dose of sloshing.
1. New Tires
As the snow builds up outside and you’re spending time wrenching on your bike in the garage, take a look at the condition of your tires. If the wear bars are close to showing, now would be a good time to spoon on some new rubber. Yes, you could probably get a few more miles out of them, but losing half of a day changing tires right at the beginning of riding season seems like a fool’s economy. Plus, you’ll get to wrench more on your bike and get to visit your local bike shop to buy the tires and wait while they are mounted on your rims. Even if you change your own tires, you should still visit the shop because you never pass up on the opportunity to spend some time commiserating with fellow PMS sufferers.
When the snow melts and the new grass starts to poke its tender blades above the ground, you can charge into your riding season, knowing that nothing stands between you and amassing as many riding miles as possible while others are just beginning to shake off their winter dust.