Winter Bike Survival

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None of my bikes have left the garage in more than a month now. Single digit temperatures – and lots of gravel on the roads – have seen to that.winter lead

But I do my best to keep them ready to ride – so that when the weather finally does break, I won’t be sidelined for reasons that aren’t weather-related.

* Roll ’em around/keep the tires aired up – 

Bike tires seem to need more TLC than car tires. In my experience, they are more prone to air loss and flat-spotting. It may have something to do with their construction – which is very different from car tires. Bike tires, for one thing, have a rounded rather than flattened contact patch. This is why they get damaged when they lose air – and sit for awhile. You may have had the experience of going out for a ride on a bike that has fairly new tires but had been sitting for a couple of months. You immediately notice it doesn’t feel right; the bike won’t transition smoothly from upright to leaned over in a curve. It’s the tires. And often, there’s no fix but to toss ’em and get a new set.

This can be avoided by checking air pressure every couple of weeks – and walking the bike around the garage to avoid having the bike’s weight pushing down on the same section of tire for months of just sitting.P1060983

Another thing you can do is find a shop that will fill the tires with nitrogen – which leaks less and also (assuming the shop has good equipment) will contain less moisture, which will help reduce internal corrosion – a fairly common problem with bike wheels, which are often chrome-plated steel.

* Keep ’em fueled up –

One way to dodge fuel system problems is to keep the tank as topped off as possible. This reduces the formation of condensation inside the tank. Ethanol-laced gas (which attracts moisture) is particularly prone to this; by keeping the tank full rather than half full or three quarters full, you’ll have taken a big step toward reducing if not eliminating this issue. I also dose the tank with the Marine Grade (green bottle) of Stab-Bil fuel stabilizer.P1060982 This stuff is much stronger than the pinkish-red Stabil and specifically designed to mitigate problems associated with high-moisture environments. It’s not just a gas issue, either. Using the stabilizer (and keeping the tank full) will retard the formation of rust on the inside surfaces of your bike’s fuel tank.

The other thing I do is run the bikes even if I can’t ride them. Ten minutes is enough to fully warm up the engine and purge old gas from the lines and carburetor bowls – and fill both with fresh (or at least, fresher) gas. If your bike has a center stand, you can also run it through the gears, which is good for the transmission/clutch as well as the driveline (including the chain). On the latter (chain): This is another good reason to “walk” the bike around as it moves the chain around, so all the tension isn’t focused on one spot while the bike sits.

If the bike has a fuel shut off valve, turn it to “off” just before you’re ready to shut her down and let the bike run until it runs out of gas. With carbureted bikes especially, this is important as it will keep the fuel bowls from gunking up. If you feel motivated to go one step farther, get a small catch can and remove the drain screw at the bottom/side of each fuel bowl. Let all the gas out, then re-install the drain screw. Dry-storing carbs is preferable to wet storing them. Modern fuels can be very chemically corrosive as they decompose and E10 (ethanol) blends seem to have a much shorter shelf life than straight-up 100 percent gas they used to sell did.

* Keep ’em charged up –

Bike batteries can be startlingly expensive for such little suckers. Not only that, we’re totally dependent on them. Even if your bike has a kick starter, you don’t want to ride it much on a weak or (worse) dead battery – because of the strain it puts on the much more expensive alternator/generator. Some guys disconnect the battery during the off-season months. That’s a good way to eliminate problems (discharge) arising from minor current draws that may not matter when the bike is regularly ridden but which can drain it dead over a month or two of just sitting.P1060979

I take it one step farther by hooking up a battery tender (AKA a trickle charger) to each of my five bikes. The tender feeds a low-amp charge into the battery, keeping it topped off and automatically shutting itself off once the battery is at full charge. Most tenders/trickle chargers come with easy-connect pigtails that make it a snap to hook up. I recommend this method over alligator clamps, which can spark and – if there is gas vapor – lead to a fire. Most bike trickle chargers will have three LED lights to indicate charging status: Green for fully charged, Yellow for charging – and Red for dead. You can buy these handy gizmos at pretty much any bike shop for about $30.

* The Wipe Down –

Even in a garage, there is dust. Also, moisture. Which can lead to that most hateful thing – rust.Honda spray pic

Once a month, at least, I give each bike a wipe down with a good spray cleaner (Honda detailer in a can is great stuff), paying particular attention to chrome parts but not neglecting the saddle (the spray detailer is great because it’s designed for metal and upholstered surfaces; rubber and plastic, too). This will keep things shiny rather than rusty – and will also help forestall cracking/premature aging/uglification of rubber grips and so on. A proper coat of wax on the tank/panels and other painted surfaces is good medicine, too.

Once all the above’s done, I tuck each bike in under an old bedsheet (I like cotton, because it’s pretty much scratch-proof and the material is very soft). This is a less expensive alternative to a custom cover and a good way to make use of sheets you might otherwise just toss or give away to the Salvation Army.

Just another few months now…

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. You guys are using Sta-BIL, but I’ve read there is a better product,… a marine, shit I forget what it’s called.

    I’m suffering from “know too much shit’.\/\

    I heard there’s a product that not only stabilizes the fuel, but it rejuvenates fuel which has gone bad.

    I’ve yet to try it.

    Won’t you guys enlighten me?

    I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, I’ll be damned, I forget the name of it. Psft! Ha@! Why aren’t you telling me what it is?

    Also, according to the boating guys, there’s some marine product you can spray into the combustion chamber that’s better than using oil.
    Think about that!
    Why wouldn’t a spray be better than a teaspoon of liquid? It reaches all the places, everywhere… evenly and thoroughly.

    That;s my thought, for whatever it’s worth.

    One last thought: the photo at the top of the page, it’s a low ball prize. When the snow melts, I’m going to get it, 1/2 off! Ha! Fingers crossed.

    • Hi Panarch,

      Sta-Bil sells a Marine grade formulation; comes in a blue-green bottle. It’s what I use – with good results – which is why I recommend it. There may be other products that are as good – even better. But I have not had personal experience with them, which is why I shy away from saying anything – good or bad – about them. The only time you’ll find me publicly recommending a product by name is if I have personally used it and found it to be as advertised.

      On the spray – yes. Though I suspect that if you start/run the unit (bike or car) once a month or so, it’s not necessary because the residual oil on the cylinder walls ought to still be there. Shooting a protective coating (or oil) into the cylinders is something I personally do only for long-term storage, which I define as more than two months of just sitting (and not running).

      I managed to fire up the entire fleet on Sunday during a temporary heat wave; it got up to 42 degrees (briefly) before descending back into the miserable teens… but the weather clown says it’ll be in the 50s this weekend… fingers crossed!

  2. Hey Eric: Here’s the way I treat the fuel system: Put Sta-BIL in the tank and run it, then shut off the fuel valve, and (most importantly) drain the float bowls on the carburetor. Other tips are to remove the spark plugs and pour about 1 tsp of oil into the cylinders, crank the engine, then reinstall the plugs. That’ll put some oil on the rings so they don’t stick to the cylinder walls. Absent this, the rings would prolly break loose in the Spring when you go to fire her up, but it *would* be a spot of abnormal wear on your cylinder.

    • @Charlie, I wonder if that’s a regional thing similar to ‘soda’, ‘soda pop’, and just plain, ‘pop’?
      I never paid enough attention to it, but I think most everybody around here calls motorcycles, ‘bikes’. Why else would a Harley rider with colors be called a biker?

      For some reason, I don’t think of bikes when I see a motorized bicycle

      I wouldn’t call them, motorbikes, either. But I guess that’s what they are?

      “Many state jurisdictions use limits on top speed and/or engine displacement to determine if ICE motorized bicycles require registration and licensing—sometimes as mopeds, sometimes as motorcycles”

  3. hMmm, one more thing before I call it a night. (And I’m just fucking with you all here, you know that, right? … Sorta.)
    You know there’s a whole bunch of fellas that are just laughing about now, about the notion of us thinking about, ‘Winterizing’ bikes. They’re the guys who put spikes on their tires so’s they can race around on the ice of a frozen lake or river. All. Winter. Long.

    Ha! It’d be funny to see a GSXR or something out there on the ice with ’em.

    And nary a thought about Avila Beach, CA.
    Just blot that sheet outta their minds.
    Don’t Even wanna think about it.
    Besides, they don’t like guns there. The pussies.

  4. I would never put ethanol laced gas in my motorcycle. Luckily, we have three gas stations that sell ethanol free gas in the tiny town nearby. Another thing is that if you own a shaft driven bike, like my 1960 R60/2, chain lube is not an issue. The thing about Honda polish is a very good point. I’ve used this for years to keep my 54 year old motorcycle looking good. There is also a metal polish called Excites……my old friend whose business is restoring and selling parts for BMW vintage motorcycles (his oldest is a 1925) swears by the stuff. YMMV

    • Hi Giuseppe,

      Agreed on the E10. It’s ideal not to use it, but that’s often not an option, unfortunately.

      I can’t say enough in praise of the Honda cleaner. I’ve been a user – and booster – for a long time.

      On shafties: Yep, that’s a big advantage. Of course, it goes without saying that you ought to check the gear lube level at least a couple times a year (many people neglect this and slow/minor leaks can become a problem because the total capacity of most bike shaft drives is minimal to begin with) and also grease the zerk fittings at least once a year.

  5. Great advice Eric. Another item that usually goes unnoticed is the undercarriage. I am restoring an 82 Honda Nighthawk 650 that is all there, but was left out for too long. The center stand and such underneath has a fair amount of rust from lack of attention.

    • Hi Gary,


      I owned one of those once – great bike!

      You could pull the center stand (support the bike using the side stand or a milk crate or whatever works) strip it/repaint it (ideally, powder coat it). I’m pretty finicky – and that’s what I’d do.

    • Hey. Its not global warming. Its climate change now.

      Just kidding, its not climate change anymore either. Now it is, “climate disruption”.

      • On a random note, I was just thinking about the threat level indicators we had after 9/11. Everyone was scared shitless thinking terrorists were hiding in the shadows and around every corner. All the infrastructure to find and monitor the terrorist activity was quickly set in place. Now we come to find out the only boogieman being found and monitored is us! Greatest deception in human history! Ha, and clovers are still begging for more.

        • Not everyone. I am sure like many here I thought it was total BS from the get go.

          Climate change is just the old environmental scam rulers have been running for thousands of years in a new package. If we don’t sacrifice so they can live well we’ll all die! fear based, state terrorism of the people it rules over.

          But what is terrorism? It is using violence to put fear into people and cause economic suffering so they force the government that rules them to change its policies. What is US foreign policy? It is to use violence to put fear into people and cause economic suffering so they force the government that rules them to change its policies.

          But of course it never works because it’s back to what’s his name’s dot video.

          I must be an alien soul stuck on this rock for punishment or something 😉

          • Hi Brent,

            As a kid back in the ’70s I remember lots of talk about “global cooling” – the imminent return of an ice age. That morphed into “global warming” and now that has morphed into the more defensible (because hey, it could be anything) “climate change.”

            They just won’t let it go.

            Even the upmarket journals I used to enjoy – Scientific American, for example – relentlessly propagandize.

            The Enviro-Con has been spectacularly effective as a pretext for more control, less liberty.

          • Somewhere I have a small collection late 1970s editions of “Foreign Affairs” you know, the publication of the CFR. Besides the ads for selling nuclear power technology to Iran there was a story in there on how global cooling could disrupt the world and what should be done about it. I vaguely remember it discussing things like preparations made by the CIA and/or other government three letter agencies…. or at the very least what they should be doing. I should go find it some time.

            If the next ice age stuff made it to foreign affairs it was something the power elite considered worth talking about for one reason or another.

          • @BrentP – Lookup the reports out of the Club of Rome near that time period. That was where “climate” was chosen over other tactics as the preferred method they would use to generate income and the power grab we are experiencing.

        • @Dom – The same outfit has given us the great and secure technology wonder called the Affordable Care sign-up web site. And all the billions spent on looking/ tracking us can’t find the Target & Neiman Marcus credit card number thief’s. But if you were to ask they know Bin Laden is hiding in your shoes when you go near an airport.

          • Hi Gary,

            It’s examples of egregious government incompetence that help keep my chin up. They’re evil, yes. But it’s also to a great extent the Laurel & Hardy Show, too.

          • Ya Eric, It is amazing how weak and easily thwarted the system really is. But the problem is like a 500lb person trying to run, it is all the things they damage and break in the process.

        • It works every time. This quote from Herman Goring – the former head of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s main crony – is a gem of cynical Realpolitik:

          Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

          Questioner: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

          Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

  6. Flat spot on a tire. I bet that happens to bicycle tries as well. I had not thought about that.

    I didn’t know about Honda detailer, either.

    Thanks for all that info.

    My garage has no more room. I have been contemplating that if I do manage to buy a motorcycle this year, would I park it outside in the Winter and what would be the biggest obstacles or problems. …I might have more of a justification for getting a greenhouse now, use it in the off season to store a motorcycle.

  7. Great advice Eric. I picked battery tenders up for both of bikes and intended to install them this weekend, but… I bought Powerlet heated glove liners to extend my riding season and need to install the sockets. So…I discovered that I can use SAE to DIN patch cables and run the battery tenders through the Powerlet sockets. That means only one clean connection point for both devices, so I can wait a week or so to hook up the trickle chargers.

    The other thing I do before storage is make sure the chains are adjusted and hit them top and bottom with a thorough coat of Bel-Ray dry chain lube. It really helps prevent surface rust from forming over the winter. And it prevents dirt and grit from adhering to the chain when you ride, unlike the old school sticky oil based chain lubes.

    I’ve become a big fan of Meguiars Ultimate Protectant for all things vinyl and Ultimate Spray Wax for the shiny stuff. I haven’t tried the Honda detailer yet, but I since I only have two bikes and I’m slightly OCD, I don’t mind a few extra steps (truth be known I actually enjoy really babying my Zed).

    We’ve been blessed with temperatures in the mid 50s to low 60s the last two Sundays, so I was able to take my bikes out for a spin. It’s supposed be in the mid 50s again this Sunday. Yee-haw! What that means for all you clovers out there is this: You won’t see me coming, but if look quickly enough, you may see me pass you. After that all you’ll see is a fat tire and a tail light disapearing into the distance…briefly, very briefly. 😉

    • Thanks, Boothe – and, good call on the chain lube. That’s an important item for sure.

      It’s been an awful winter here. Preposterous cold – for SW Virginia. High today, 16 degrees. Single digits at night. Sub-freezing temps for at least the next week, or are as far as the weather shaman will predict.

      Global warming, my left nut!

      If this pattern holds, it could be the one thing that forces me to move. I hate being effectively under house arrest for 3-4 months of the year. I can deal with moderate winters (which is what we’re supposed to have here) meaning typical daytime temps well into the high 30s and often in the 40s and 50s. But months of single digits/teens and highs in the low-mid ’20s?

      Screw that.

      Maybe my parents did the right thing moving to AZ….

      • It’s a comfortable 7 degrees degrees here right now. I’ve always thought that survivalists in the southern states would have a huge advantage over their northern brethren. My decision to ultimately migrate was made a couple of years ago.

        • It sucks. And for the first time, serious thoughts about moving cross my mind. This is insufferable. 3 degrees here right now. Daytime high is expected to be 22. This pattern holds for the foreseeable future (next week-ten days). The month of January was wretched – and February looks to be more of the same. December sucked, too. That’s three months down the toilet. And it is entirely possible that March will be miserable; even April. (We had snow on the ground in late April last year).

          My psychological limit is two or so months a year of shit weather. Once it crosses to three, I begin to get progressively more and more annoyed at the theft of my life it entails. At four months, it’s a third of the year that’s wasted. Too much.

          I don’t ski. I don’t like the cold. Chilly I can handle. But not cold.

          AZ begins to look like a possible. My parents moved there about 15 years ago and I have been all over the state. Phoenix is not the ticket, but Flagstaff is very nice. Other areas, too.

          • I visited AZ last year and loved it. There are some concerns I have about AZ, namely water. While we freeze back east, they’re drying out and burning out west.

            Strangely, when we visited Tucson last March, it was chilly and rainy quite often.

          • When I lived in Florida, there was nothing that excited me more than snow when I got to go out of state and we got some. Now that I live in NY, its more annoying. I still don’t mind too much but I don’t usually drive either, if I was driving all the time it would probably be really annoying. We got like a foot of snow the other day, shoveling that out took an hour and a half out of the day.

            You guys had snow in late April? In Virginia? Wow. Even on Long Island we don’t ever get snow that late. I’ve seen snow in early April, I’ve seen it stick in late March, but late April is pretty much always spring for us.

            I’m with you on the chilly but not cold distinction. I can even deal with the 20’s sometimes, but once it gets into the teens its really ridiculous. It was 15 degrees yesterday on Long Island and just going from building to building on my campus was a chore. Normally its a nice little walk. In 15 degrees its a chore.

          • Eric, your whole comment and your “Winter” article really hits close to home. Being robbed of your life by the elements is extremely annoying. The gray slush/snow/gravel/mud/salt/ice shit that’s caked onto the roads, sidewalks, fender arches of all the cars and your shoes is just a gross and infuriating experience. Even more so because, as you note, we’re dead in the middle of it. I recall the snowfall of April last year, and of 2011. Is that the new norm!? I hate winter, and the people who like it.
            (Pitch black at 6pm, winter depression, icy roads, poor fuel economy, frostbite, headaches, sore throats, dry mouth, runny noses, congestion, whooping cough and post-nasal drip. Gotta love all the fun diseases and viral outbreaks that winter helps makes possible. Who wouldn’t love it?!?)
            Couple of years ago I made the connection that I never get sick in the summer time, and that’s when the decision was made. Florida for me.
            Moving one more time wouldn’t be such a bad thing, in my opinion. Arizona has its attributes, but I couldn’t see myself leaving the east side.

            I lived in Florida too. I developed from a human larva to a preteen there, so I think my temperature tolerances are forever assimilated to that environment. All us Florida kids really wanted it to snow, as we’d never seen it, touched it. I’d gladly never see it again now. Once I have the financial ability to do so, I’ll be going right back down to the Peninsula. 🙂

          • Ha! I can’t take it anymore! You guys complaining about 16′ need to STFU. …That’s a heat wave.
            We had one of those days today and everyone was wearing sweatshirts and light coats. I even saw one idiot in shorts.

            Anyway, doing donuts in the snow is a blast. Don’t you guys enjoy that kind of fun? …Maybe it’s a 4×4 thing?

            Not too mention the memories of being with a hot chick under a warm something or other. Add a dash of peppermint schnapps, instant forget about the cold.

            And, I take it you guys are not hunters? I have very fond memories of being out hunting when everything is covered in a sparkling coat of snow. …If you’re warm, things ain’t that bad.

            Not that I don’t miss Florida.
            However; I did read a comment from an expat from Minnesota in Panama who said she was sick of the HEAT! And, she complained of bugs, everywhere.
            She looked forward to a visit back to Minnesota.
            Imagine that?

            Reminds me of a poem I read once:

            Why I like Winter.
            The flies,
            They all dies.

            • My sister lives in San Diego… two blocks from the beach…

              But she pays for the privilege. Dearly. Imagine being in hock for half a million in order to own a 1940s-era cinder block house of about 800 sq. feet with one bathroom and a very small yard adjacent to a railroad track….

          • I can’t get over even after the crash how expensive many properties are.

            There was a large run down house I used to go by occasionally. Next to the railroad tracks and a swamp. Had multiple garages. It looked interesting. Big for sale sign. I called… $1,000,000 that was -before- the bubble really got going, before 2001. they were looking to sell it to a retailer. But in this case the house and garages got torn down and the property was still vacant when I last went by there a year or more ago.

            • A lot depends on the area.

              I have a friend who is a realtor up in the DC area; prices are snapping back to unrealistic/pre-2008 levels there (e.g., $350k for a standard-type townhouse in Sterling, a mixed neighborhood an hour’s drive in shitty traffic from downtown DC).

              In my area (SW Va.) the market is flat.

              The typical house is worth about what it was worth in ’08, after the bubble popped. Prices have not recovered. If we put our place on the market today, we’d probably get about what we paid back in ’04. Despite having spent a large amount of money on improvements. Which means we’d lose our shirts.

              On the other hand, there are places where your dollar will go far. Upper Peninsula Michigan, for instance. Someone turned me on to that – onto the fact that you can buy a really nice house (with land) for $150k or less. Sometimes a lot less. I’ve looked around and found some decent-looking little houses – with land – going for $60k or less.

          • @Eric – I have biked through to the “Youper” peninsula from the Mackinaw to Munsing to Wisconsin. It is an incredibly beautiful 250 miles of woods with little civilization visible. I thought about going there myself, but only if I could winter in AZ. 🙂

            Property values will always be higher in areas of high government/ military/ contractor presence. Paychecks are guaranteed and they always get the cost of living bump.

            • Hi Gary,

              I’ve been through the area by car – and can only imagine the experience on two wheels. It is a beautiful area. But, as you point out, the one negative is … the winter. I suppose what we’re dealing with here in SW Va. this year is typical for the Upper Peninsula – and I don’t think I could handle that. Or rather, that I’d want to. I can put up with a lot – but if I have a choice….

              It’s too bad CA has been ruined. Living there 40 or so years ago must have been heavenly.

              Northern CA is still magnificent – but it’s for the rich only (and even the rich have to deal with all the CA Crap, too).

              The area around Flagstaff, AZ is a possibility. I did a cursory look around the listings and there appears to be affordable (and decent) real estate in the vicinity.

              Bottom line: Screw four months of winter. I’m over it.

          • @Eric – Northern CA gets a bad rap because of the San Francisco Bay alien lifeforms that reside there. Happily they rarely exit their crime ridden progressive camera’d surveillance utopia to visit us rubes in the real world. The closer to Oregon (north of Sacramento) you get the more rational and cheaper the place gets. I have seen many homes on 1/4 to 5 acres below 200K if you are willing to put some labor into it. A few of the northern counties are full of libertarians screaming ‘uncle” and want to be their own state But sadly no tax base for such a move.

            From what I have seen of AZ you would not be winter happy in snowy Flastaff. Williams, Sedona (bring $$$), and Prescott are real possibilities too.

            • Ditto that. I’ve been through Napa and the Russian River area. Incredible. But the CA laws in re firearms are a huge stumbing block for me. Also their emissions rigmarole as regards older vehicles.

              My folks live in Scottsdale so I am hip to the surrounding areas. Too hot – the reverse of the problem I’ve got now! They have four-five months of insufferable heat – and there’s almost no greenery anywhere. Bleak.

              I’m just hoping I won’t have to seriously consider relocating; that this winter is an extreme aberration and we’ll be back to normal next year.

      • Dear Eric,

        Cold weather! It is so difficult to maintain any level of physical activity when the weather is so frigid.

        But we are complaining about the very thing we can all do something about. It is caused, after all by all the SUV’s we drive………you know. It is the dreaded Global Warming.

        Oh, you weren’t aware that Global Warming causes heavy snow pack and icy conditions? Well, that is what the govt school teachers will tell you anyway.


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