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Biker’s Guide to Winter

motorcycle winter preparation - Biker's Guide to Winter

There aren’t many bikers who like winter. Either you have to ride through it because your bike is your main form of transport or you just don’t want to expose your pride and joy to road crud and therefore you miss out on your biking fix over the winter months.

If you’re riding through winter, this guide is designed to help you winterize your bike and yourself, so that you don’t get hammered by the weather nor does your bike let you down when you need it most.

Hibernating your motorcycle involves slightly more than just lobbing it in the garage and shutting the door. Especially if you’re storing it for a longer period of time, say 3 months or more. You’ll need a decent motorcycle battery charger if you’re laying up your bike for a length of time.

Follow our basic steps below and you and your bike will be in tip-top condition for some warmer riding once winter’s done and dusted!

Table of Contents

Preparing Your Bike For Winter Riding

prepare motorcycle winter riding - Biker's Guide to Winter

Winter Motorcycle Maintenance
If you’re not one to put your bike into hibernation over the winter months, there are still a few steps you need to take to make sure your bike is ready for the cold weather. Here are our tips and tricks to help keep your bike in top shape:

1. Start with a good wash

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No, not you. The bike!

First things first, give your bike a really good clean. You want to get rid of all the existing dirt that’ll only help more dirt and salt stick to your bike parts, causing them to corrode even faster.

You only need a bucket, sponge, some shampoo and elbow grease. This motorcycle cleaning kit is a decent starting point. Remember to follow up with a bit of effort on the areas that you can’t see that well (the rear shock, up and under the headstock, etc). 10 minutes with some warm soapy water and a decent brush will make all the difference. 

Properly dry your bike with a microfibre cloth to prevent watermarks but also spray areas like your engine bolts to drive water away and prevent corrosion.

Handy link: Motorcycle cleaning guide

A WORD ABOUT PRESSURE WASHERS: Although it’s tempting, avoid using a pressure washer. You can force water into areas where it then starts to corrode. The pressure of the water can drive grease from bearings and get into electricals. Hand wash only!

2. Coat the bike with corrosion inhibitors

rust preventer motorcycle 305x305 - Biker's Guide to Winter

Once you’ve washed your bike, coat any metalwork (except your discs) with a corrosion inhibitor like this Rust Blocker. It’s magic. You can also use Scottoiler FS365 or ACF-50.

This will protect it against salt from the roads and extra dirt. Come the summertime, you can remove it with a good wash and degreasing session.

Handy link: ACF-50 Review

3. Wax your rims

I know this sounds a bit over the top but you’ll be impressed with the results.

Rims can get damaged from stone chips or when your tyres get changed; it’s hard to avoid. The winter weather will cause any chips to blister and the problem will get far worse.

A good way to sort this is to coat your rims in a wheel wax which helps disperse water, provides a good layer of protection from the elements and makes them so much easier to get clean.

All you have to do is give them a good clean with a proper wheel cleaner like this one and then when you’re done, grab a rag and rube some rim sealer over them. Check out this rim sealer or the one mentioned below.

They prevent chain lube and brake dust from clinging onto the wheels, the rain just slides off and when you come to clean them the next time, they’ll take far less effort to bring them back to new.

Yes, I appreciate this step is not for everyone, so feel free to skip if you think I’m being a bit OCD.

Handy link: Poorboys Wheel Sealant

4. Fit a rear mudguard

motorcycle hugger - Biker's Guide to Winter

If you don’t have a rear mudguard on your bike, your shock will get knackered by all the road crap that gets flung at it.

The shock spring coating will likely get his by stones and other road debris and chip and then rust.

Any adjusters will get furred-up and the preload threads will become caked in grime. Not forgetting the rear of the engine which will also get a pasting.

Spending £70 on a hugger is money well spent.

5. Lubricate anything that moves

Keeping your brake and clutch levers lubricated helps keep them in top shape throughout the cold months.

Use a dab of grease for your side stand pivot joint and spring. Spray a dab of lubricant into your ignition barrel. Get on your knees and properly coat your suspension linkages with chain lube or another thicker lubricant (I use this one as it stays in place longer and doesn’t wash away easily in the wet).

6. Don’t neglect your chain

In wet weather, your chain will wear faster as the rain and road crud will work to dislodge any chain lubrication.  Keeping it lubricated will protect it from wear.

A good idea is to invest in a decent motorcycle chain oiler or manually lubricate it every 100 miles or so throughout winter.

Handy link: Motorcycle chain oilers

7. Check those brakes

No-one likes to be on their hands and knees scrubbing their brakes but a little bit of TLC will help them stay fur-free and operating well.

It’ll cost you around £50 to have a pair of calipers removed and the pistons cleaned by your local bike shop. Well worth it, as your brakes will regain feel and work far better.

Once a week, I give my brakes a once-over with a toothbrush and a bit of brake cleaner spray to remove the built-up salt and brake dust. If you are handy with the tools, then consider removing your brake calipers now and again and clean them with brake cleaner and regrease the pistons. Or do what I do: take it to the local bike shop!

8. Clean your sprockets

Clean your sprockets regularly with degreaser or a chain cleaner to get rid of the grime-laden build-up of chain lube and road crud. 

The nuts and bolts holding your sprocket in place get given a rough time through winter. If you look at other people’s bikes you’ll see this area is often rusty and minging.

When it comes to changing chains, I know local bike shops who hate doing this task as there’s always a risk the front sprocket’s seized on.

Make sure you coat your sprockets with an anti-corrosion spray when you’ve finished to prevent problems further down the road.

Handy link: Motorcycle chain degreasers

9. Protect your forks

Salt on the roads can be a right pain for forks. There are two schools of thought when it comes to winter riding.  Some remove the dust seal then grease up the seal to prevent corrosion – the argument being that the grease helps collect any crud. Others recommend giving the seals a wipe with a cloth once a week to remove the build-up of road crap and preventing it from working its way past the seals.

Either way is better than doing nothing.

10. Fit the best tyres

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In the car world, you can buy winter tyres but in the bike world there isn’t such a thing as a winter tyre.

However, you can buy winter-focused tyres for your bike. A Sports-Touring or Touring motorcycle tyre will have more tread, warm up quicker and work better in cold temperatures compared to a Sports tyre.

Better rubber means you’ll have heaps more confidence in the bike, making the riding experience that bit more enjoyable. You don’t want to spend winter tip-toeing around, wondering when you’re going to run out of grip.

We’ve written some great guides on tyres and this one on the best all season motorcycle tyres should see you on the right track.

Always check your tyre pressure before you ride (the tyres should be cold to get the best reading). Riding on low-pressure tyres will reduce the gaps in the tread, meaning they can’t disperse water as well, increasing your risk of an accident. Don’t be tempted to reduce your tyre pressures.

Additional tips for winter riders

winter storing riding motorcycle - Biker's Guide to Winter

Look after your battery
If you’re a fan of heated clothing during the winter, make sure you keep your battery topped up. If your regulator isn’t up to the job, it might not always be capable of keeping the battery fully charged, meaning the bike might not start when you need it to. Fit a trickle charger (with a quick-release plug) to keep the battery in good shape.

Avoiding punctures
More debris collects on the road during winter and with that comes an increase in puncture hazards like screws and nails. Unfortunately, fewer motorbikes on the road increases your chances of picking up a puncture from a zone where motorcycle wheels tend to go (on the outside of traffic approaching a traffic light, for example). Carrying a motorcycle puncture repair kit can save you a call-out and a lot of hassle.

Keeping the lights on
The darker days bring a whole new hazard, so carrying a spare dipped beam and rear bulbs will help if you’re likely to be out after dark. Got a light that’s blinking or a bit dicky? Now’s the time to get it sorted. Check your lights before you ride – every time!

Engine maintenance
Check your motorcycle’s engine oil regularly. Your bike works harder in the cold weather. If you only have water in your radiator, replace this with antifreeze and keep an eye on your water hoses to make sure none of them are leaking. Fitting a front mudguard extender can protect your engine and radiator from road spray. 

Kit To Keep You Safe & Warm Through Winter

warm winter motorcycle clothing - Biker's Guide to Winter

I like to take my 1198SP out for the odd winter ride to blow off the cobwebs – it’s not the best bike to tackle winter, it’s a bit firm and a bit too eager on greasy roads. However, it’s the kit you ride in that’s important, not the bike.

If you’re cold while riding, you’re going to quickly lose your ability to concentrate. That’s when you make mistakes or even worse, find yourself involved in an accident. Not even the safest bike can prevent that.

You don’t NEED heated motorcycle clothing to stay warm during winter but it makes a bloomin’ huge difference.

As obvious as it sounds, keeping warm on a motorcycle is about stopping the cold air from getting in and keeping as much of the warm air from escaping. So many bikers don’t know how to properly layer their kit.

Get your layers right

We’re written a very good guide (even if we do say so ourselves) on the topic of effective layering to stay warm. This is the best place for any biker to start and get right. So many bikers get this wrong, so check that out first.

Waterproof your gear

If you have a sneaking suspicion that your textile gear won’t keep the rain out, you can vastly improve its waterproofing by using a wash-in or spray-on waterproofing solution. It’s a cheap and effective solution and should repel any water and stop it from seeping through your kit and making you cold.

Grab a neck tube

For winter riding, a long neck tube – like this one – that goes all the way down to your shoulders is a great option. Pull it up around your ears before you put your lid on, then do the lid up over the neck tube to create a decent seal. Check the retention system is nice and secure. Do up your jacket’s storm collar and you’ll be ready to face anything. Check out our guide on the best motorcycle neck warmers here for lots of good choices.

Heated options

Yes, heated grips work but my advice is to get a heated motorcycle vest. It keeps your core warm and with that, your hands don’t get as cold. A heated vest can run on a rechargeable battery or be wired into the bike. You can get all sorts of other heated accessories, from heated gloves to jackets and even heated neck tubes.

Maximise your vision

A clear visor is a must. To prevent it from fogging up, you can fit a Pinlock if your visor is designed to accept one or apply an anti-fog solution. If you still suffer from fogging, you can use a breath guard or a neck tube to cover your mouth and reduce condensation. Or you can open up the chin vent or pop the visor open a few millimeters to allow a bit of air to flow past the visor and reduce the fogging.

If your visor has scratches, these will be annoying in the day but potentially dangerous at night as headlight beams, coupled with rainwater will make it hard to see. If in doubt, grab a new visor. 

Invest in your toes!

Unless you’re lucky enough to ride an air-cooled flat-twin, your foot will be sat exposed to the cold air. Cold, wet and numb feet make the riding experience a real chore. Summer boots will do little to keep your feet warm, so ditch them for a set of waterproof winter boots or, if you can spare the cash, get a decent pair of Gore-Tex motorcycle boots to keep the worst of the weather from chilling your tootsies.

Storing Your Motorcycle Over Winter

storing motorcycle long term - Biker's Guide to Winter

If you’re not one for riding during the winter, storing your bike correctly means it’ll ready to go once the weather improves. Here are our top tips:

Start with a good wash

You want to remove any build-up of salts or other debris which will eat into the bike’s components and ruin the finish. Check out our guide on cleaning and polishing your motorcycle.

No garage, no problem

If you don’t have a garage but you’re lucky enough to have space in your house, you could always stash the bike there over winter.

If the house isn’t an option, make sure your bike is kept away from prying eyes. You could store it in your back garden with an outdoor bike cover to protect it from the weather. Or you could put it into a motorcycle storage facility, where it’ll be safely tucked-up and fully insured.

Use a paddock stand

If you have the option, using paddock stands keeps the weight off the tyres, so they keep their shape. If not, you could always over-inflate your tyres slightly. If you’re storing your bike for more than a few weeks, roll it forward 6-inches every month to keep the tyres from developing flat spots. Check out our guide to paddock stands here.

Disconnect the battery

If you want to keep your battery healthy, you can connect up a smart charger, which will trickle in current when it detects a drop. If you have an alarm, you’ll need to rig the bike up to a charger to keep the battery from going flat and ensure the alarm’s ready to go. The cold weather can help finish off a battery.

However if you’re not using the bike and you’ve not got access to a charger, disconnect the battery and remove it from the bike. Store it somewhere safe in the house, where it won’t experience freezing-cold conditions.

Prevent corrosion

Even when your bike’s at a standstill, corrosion can set in. There are plenty of protectants on the market. Give your engine and moving parts a good coating and apply some to your downpipes and exhaust to keep them from the elements.

Use a fuel stabiliser

This prevents the petrol from going off while your bike’s in storage. Ethanol in modern petrol can also eat away at the coating inside your tank, causing it to leak.

If your bike has carbs then drain the fuel out completely. If you have a fuel-injected bike you can drain the tank or top it right up to prevent any condensation from forming inside. This is a well-rated fuel stabiliser.

Start your engine

Some like to start their engine once a month and run it up until the temperature needle rises. This keeps the engine oil circulating through the upper parts of the engine, ensuring they’re not prone to weathering.

Drain the carbs

As previously mentioned. If your bike is an older model running on carbs, don’t leave them sat with fuel over winter or they’ll be a nightmare to sort a few months down the line.

Change the oil

If you really want to go the extra mile, do this after you’ve had your last run to remove the old oil and put fresh stuff in. This is a good thing to do if you’re storing the bike long term. Check out our guide to the best engine oil for your motorcycle.

Cover it up

Avoid accidentally scratching your bike, dropping something on it or it getting covered in dust by fitting a cover. You don’t need to spend a fortune, a £10 one will do the trick.

Lock it

Whether you have an alarm or not, investing in a decent motorcycle lock and ground anchor will help you rest easy at night. Alarmingly, 80% of motorcycle thefts are from a home location. Check out our top picks to keep your bike safe.

Getting Your Two-Wheel Fix Over Winter

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If you don’t ride over winter but you suffer from SOBS (Summer Only Biker Syndrome), you can still get a two-wheel fix.

You can hire a bike and all the gear at one of the UK’s Adventure motorcycle riding schools. Get wet, muddy, fall off someone else’s bike and laugh a lot.

It’s never a bad time to learn how to wheelie. You can turn up in the car, don your gear and spend the day learning to wheelie a stunt school bike at a motorcycle wheelie school. Warning: motorcycle wheelies are dangerously addictive.

Head to sunnier climes and sample brilliant roads. How? Just get a cheap return flight to Southern Spain or Italy and rent a motorcycle for the weekend. A brand new bike, great roads, loads of sunshine, and cracking food. What’s not to like?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to ride your own bike to ride in winter. Take a different approach!

Winter Motorcycling FAQs

Do I need to warm my engine up before riding?
Absolutely. If you can spare the time to let your engine warm-up, it’ll ensure that oil can flow everywhere it’s needed and as the oil warms up, it’ll flow as required, meaning when you put the engine under load there won’t be a risk of oil starvation which can prematurely wear the engine’s internals.

Fire your bike up and let it tick over while you secure your lid and put your gloves on, then go easy for the first mile.

Will a motorcycle rust in a shed?
This obviously all depends on how weatherproof your shed is. If it lets in wind and rain then the bike will weather more than if it was well sealed. However, even a creaky shed is preferable to leaving your bike outside over winter.

How long can petrol sit in a tank for?
If you’re not using your motorcycle for a couple of months and it’s not exposed to extremes of temperature, the petrol in the tank will be fine. The higher the octane of the fuel, the better.

If you’re laying-up your motorcycle for any period of time, it makes sense to use a fuel stabiliser, which will mean that even after a long period of storage, 6-12 months, the fuel will be good to use.

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