Tips for Getting Your Bike out of Winter Hibernation

This article covers the most basic maintenance points for getting a bike ready for another season of riding. If you’re a smart veteran rider who wants to elaborate, please add your comments below so we can all learn from your wisdom.

Those of us who live where the weather blows cold put our motorcycles under cover until the frosty temps subside. And that time of year is fast approaching.

Before taking your first ride you’ll need to make sure you and your motorcycle are up to the task. Hopefully, you put your motorcycle away so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life after its long winter nap. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.

General Maintenance

With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks I’m about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, you’ll have to consult a moto-smart friend or your dealer’s service department.

Fuel System

Riders who park their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline are in for a heap o’trouble. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected.

If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and store your bike properly next time.

Air Filter

Rodents seem to think that air boxes are the perfect place to build their nests. Look for clues like partial acorn shells or shredded fabric or paper. Even if you don’t see these telltale signs, it’s smart to get eyes on the filter. Unless you replaced the filter within the last year or so, you might want to have a new one on hand and just swap it. If the filter is in tact and doesn’t look too discolored or dirty, you an try to remove it and clean it with compressed air.

Too worn? The tire on the left still looks good, but it was getting old, so new rubber was mounted. Read the code on the sidewall to find the manufacture date.

Tires

Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressures, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators or if the tires are older than 5 years (no matter the tread depth), I’d replace them. Read the date code on the sidewall. Example: 0415 mean the 4th week of 2015.

Drive Train

While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, then check the adjustment and give the chain a good cleaning an lube (this should have been done before you stored it…just sayin’). Then be sure to perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.

Those with shaft drive need to make sure your fluid doesn’t need to be changed or topped off and check for any leaks.

Engine Fluids

Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).

Brakes

Brakes are obviously an important system to maintain. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or in the brake master cylinders to see that brake fluid levels are good. The fluid should be like watered down apple juice. If the fluid is any darker, then plan on replacing it soon.

Grab a flashlight and take a close look at how much brake pad material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, replace the pads. It’s cheap insurance.

Battery

Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully, you kept your battery charged with a Battery Tender. If not, then you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, then a new battery is necessary.

Lights, Cables & Fasteners

Check that all of your lights are operational: front and rear brake light switches, turn signals, tail light and headlights (high and low beam).

Confirm that the throttle and clutch cables (if applicable) operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike putting a wrench on as many fasteners as you can to ensure they are tight.

Awakening the Rider

Now that you’ve taken care of the motorcycle, it’s time to think about preparing for your first ride. Remember that your brain and muscles have deconditioned over the winter.

Some people begin their season by taking a refresher course with their local motorcycle-training program or with an advanced rider training program. But, at the very least, take some time to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, get in the game by practicing some cornering and braking drills like the ones in the RITZ DVD.

Spring Roads

Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Road salt is used extensively in snowy regions to keep roadways ice-free. A dusting of salt can decrease traction, so reduce speed where heavy concentrations of salt are present.

Sand is also widely used to combat slippery conditions and we all know how hazardous sand can be for a two-wheeler. Keep your eyes peeled for sand and avoid it whenever possible.

Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early spring until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.

Inattentive Drivers

Perhaps most important is to remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road. You’ve got to be extra vigilant when riding in traffic by using strategies for being seen.


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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

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