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Old Wizard
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Corrosion Protection

The major issue of concern is that moisture condenses on cold motorcycle parts when the surrounding air is humid, the exact condition you have in an unheated garage during a winter day when the sun warms the air and there’s melting snow adding moisture to the surrounding air. Picture the moisture from the warm air condensing on the outside of a cold drink on a summer’s day. Moisture that condenses on metal accelerates rusting and promotes galvanic corrosion between dissimilar materials. Most of the fasteners on the bike have a sacrificial plating of cadmium that protects adjacent metal parts but over time (exposed to moisture) corrodes to an unattractive state. If you live near the ocean salt air, be doubly concerned with this issue.

So it’s not just the engine’s interior components that’s of concern here. You need to store a motorcycle in a dry heated space. Rent one if you have to. But also make sure it is not stored near any electric motor (i.e. freezer, furnace, pump, etc.). Running motors generate sparks that create ozone that attacks nearby rubber components.

The second issue is that starting the engine produces water vapor in the exhaust, a by-product of the combustion process. When you see water dripping out of your exhaust on a cold morning it’s because the water vapor is condensing on the still-cold exhaust pipes and mufflers. If you do not get the engine hot enough, and for a long enough period, this water will not evaporate away completely, causing corrosion on exhaust valves, exhaust valve seats and piston crowns.

Further, when you start a cold engine there’s blow-by of combustion gases and water vapor past the rings that ends up in the sump. This contaminates the lubrication oil, often giving the oil a brown foamy appearance. Over time, the engine heat drives off this water from the oil, but again, only if you ride long enough and the engine gets up to a high enough temperature. Of course, this is hard to do in cooler winter temperatures without covering the radiator to block-off the air flow.

You should consider using a fogging oil in your engine cylinders, especially if your storage area is likely to be somewhat damp and/or you’ll be storing the bike for a long time, not just a few months. Fogging oils can be purchased at snowmobile and marine stores.

One fogging method is to remove the spark plugs and spray the oil into the combustion chamber, turn the engine over a few times with the starter and then replace the plugs. Or, while the engine is idling, spray the fogging oil directly into the bell mouths until the engine stalls.

Another way is via the emission hoses which feed the side of the intake manifolds. While the engine is idling, break into the tee and spray fogging oil into both hoses until the engine stalls. Then replace the hoses. Don’t run your motor again after fogging until you’re ready to return it to service.

Since there’s really no benefit in operating the bike during the off-season (i. e. seals, wheel bearings and tires don’t need it) you often encounter advice to just let it sit till spring. But I say that if you get a nice warm winter’s day take it out and ride it. But ride it long enough to purge the moisture in the crankcase and exhaust. Block-off a part of the radiator air flow to get it up to summer-like coolant temperatures. Reconsider however if the roads still have any salt residue on them. It gets into everything, causing corrosion - Big Time.

So here’s the deal: You need to keep moist air away from the interior and exterior parts during winter storage to protect against corrosion.

You can use wax, WD-40 or silicone spray to prevent moisture from reaching metal parts. Do not spray it on tires or brakes. Remember, moisture condenses on cold motorcycle parts in a humid storage environment. It's a good idea to seal the exhaust outlets with plastic sheet and rubber bands. Don't use Armor All or products containing silicone on the tires. It removes a protectant that protects the rubber against cracking. If you want to coat the tire-wall, use Pledge wax.

Some classic bike owners seal their bike in a air-tight sheet plastic mini-shed and place a silica gel desiccant inside to store the bike in a dry condition.

Winter Storage

Storing your motorcycle for a few weeks doesn't really require any extra work. Here's the basics:

Change the Oil. Time your oil change interval to coincide within a couple of hundred miles of the winter lay-up. With the engine up to temperature, drain the oil and change the filter. This removes acids and condensation that has built-up in the engine oil. Restart the engine to circulate the fresh oil. This is the time to move the bike to its winter storage location. This should be the last time that you run the engine till spring.

Check the Coolant. If your bike is liquid cooled, be sure that your anti-freeze is rated for the lowest expected temperature during storage. If there is any question, drain your radiator, and always drain racebike radiators that contain Water-Wetter solutions if you anticipate below o°F storage temperatures.

Fill the Tank. According to Sunoco, the fuel in your gas tank has a shelf life of about a year if you have a gas cap that seals tight enough to prevent evaporation. Stabil is simply not needed during winter storage but you can add it if you wish. Top-off the fuel in the tank to remove room for moisture in the air to condense inside the tank. Water will pollute the fuel and rust the inside of the tank.

On carbureted bikes, shut off the fuel valve. Drain the carbs by loosening the bolt or screw which is located on the bottom (or side) of each float bowl. Tighten the bolt (or screw) again.

Charge the Battery. Use a smart charger like the Optimate or Battery Tender brands that vary the charging voltage to keep current constant and charge a battery much more quickly. The appropriate charger is one rated for 1/10 of the amp-hr rating of the battery. When the battery is fully charged, the charger cycles off.

Protect It. Cover the bike to keep it clean. If your storage location is outside then use a waterproof covering material. An outdoor storage location or unheated garage, combined with a rainy, salt air or a humid melting snow environment will produce water condensation on cold motorcycle parts. So apply a coating of wax, light oil (WD-40) or silicone spray to protect against corrosion. Seal the exhaust outlets with plastic sheet and rubber bands. Mice and other rodents like motorcycles so to help deter them, cover the end of the mufflers and the intake snorkels on the airbox. Some owners put mothballs under the dust covers.

Place the bike on service stands if you have them. Again, don't use Armor All or products containing silicone on the tires. It dissolves the tire manufacturers wax-based sacrificial protectant that they add to the rubber to protect against ozone damage and premature cracking. Take any additional precautions necessary to immobilize and secure the bike. Make sure the bike is locked up and the registration and other papers are removed in case the bike is stolen.

Don't Worry. You've probably heard that certain parts like seals benefit from not drying out, meaning that you should periodically crank or start the engine so they will remain soaked in oil. This in truth was once a problem for natural rubber parts, but it’s no longer an issue with the synthetic materials used today. Other parts like wheel bearings, tires and suspension seals really don’t benefit from being operated during winter storage. That may be a concern for bikes that are stored for decades, but not weeks.

Store It or Ride It. Water is a by-product of the combustion process (vis. the water dripping out of your exhaust on a cold morning). If you do not get the engine hot enough, and LONG enough, the combustion product water will not evaporate out of the engine and oil. So, just starting and running the engine awhile will cause acids and moisture to build up in the oil and engine parts, particularly the exhaust system.

If you get a break in the weather and are able to take it out for a long enough ride, then OK. If the weather is still cold, you should block-off a part of the radiator air flow to bring the engine to a temperature hot enough to drive-off any moisture created at start-up. Reconsider if the roads still have any salt residue on them. It gets into everything: corrosion problems, big time.

Long-Term Storage

If the storage interval exceeds one year, further precautions against fuel deterioration and corrosion of internal engine parts should be taken. In particular:

Fuel Stabilizer. Add the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer such as Stabil to a full tank of gasoline. Run the engine or ride it a several miles to assure that stabilized fuel fills the fuel lines all the way to the injectors.

This makes sure that the fuel will not break down, and leave a varnish-like residue. You’ll need to run the bike for five or ten minutes after adding stabilizer to your tank to be sure it is in your carbs. (Fuel injected bikes need to be run a couple of minutes.)

If the length of the storage period is uncertain, drain the fuel and run the engine dry. Then spray marine fogging oil to the insides of steel gas tanks to prevent corrosion. Review the fuel system details in the service manual to assure that all residual fuel is drained, or exposed and evaporated away.

You also need to drain carburetor float bowls. Any fuel left in the bowls for an extended period of time will turn into a jet-clogging sludge that will necessitate a carb overhaul.

Oil the Piston Rings & Walls. Squirt 1-2 cc of engine oil into the combustion chamber through the spark plug holes. Then rotate the engine by hand or with the starter a few revolutions (without spark plugs to avoid firing it up.) This will use the pistons to spread the oil evenly on the cylinder walls. Re-gap or replace the spark plugs and tighten.

Also try to get the tires off the ground if the bike is inside, if it is outside, try to move it every few weeks to keep the tires from flat spotting.

Cold Weather Maintenance Work

The winter storage period is a good time to perform inspections and maintenance.

Filters: Clean or replace the air and fuel filters

Fluids: Change hydraulic fluids every 18 months, top-off clutch, front and rear brake master cylinder reservoirs, leaks. Change the coolant every two years to replenish the corrosion inhibitors. Change the fork oil every three years. Check for leaks in these systems.

Consumables: Check brake pads, chain and sprockets, tires, brake disks, clutch disks for wear.

Lubrication: Grease the wheel bearings, steering head bearings, swing arm pivot, throttle linkage and chain.

Electrical: Run a battery load test, test lights, horn and directional signals. Inspect the stator to regulator wiring for heat damaged insulation and connectors. Re-gap or replace the spark plugs.

Restoration to Service

First, disconnect the spark plug wires and crank the engine to pre-lubricate engine parts. Reconnect, turn on your fuel valve if required, start the engine, and run at a low rpm until the temperature gauge starts to move. You will have some engine smoking for a brief time after startup from the fogging oil but don't worry about it. You do not have to change your motor oil again.
 

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Great post as always. Question: with the newer plastic tanks, wouldn't it be better to store the bike over the winter with as little fuel as possible?
 

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I know you grease the steering stem bearings but didn't realize you should grease the wheel bearings? I assume you change the seals?
 

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I know you grease the steering stem bearings but didn't realize you should grease the wheel bearings? I assume you change the seals?
I would assume he meant the bearings on the rear hub of SSSA bikes. Those are supposed to be serviced. If the hub bearings fail, Ducati will only sell you the whole hub, not just the bearings. You can buy the bearings in the aftermarket, but the sprocket side double angular-contact bearing is expensive and hard to get, so yes, maintain it. The sealed bearings on the front wheel and on rear wheel of DSSA bikes could be regreased, but you’d have to pop off the seals to do it. Probably more chance of damaging the seals creating a problem for later than there is benefit gained by regreasing. They last longer than most people will own their bike. I replaced mine at 26K miles, and only because I had the bike apart anyway. The bearings I took out were perfect. The sealed bearings, I wouldn’t mess with.
 

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Of coarse Shazaam doesn't have to worry about storing his bikes in the winter because he lives in sunny San Diego and gets to ride 'year round, and I'm just a little jealous about that! Thanks for the info!
 

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Now where do I find DIY instruction on how to get it done. How do you grease the bearings, steering and sa pivot point? From outside?
From outside, you wouldn't. The stuff has to come apart. Not a big deal on the steering head. The swing arm pivot, depending on the bike, is a little more work. On the 916 series you have to drop the engine to get the swing arm off. Not sure of the other SSSA Ducs.

Also, is it better to store bike in a shed as opposed to unheated garage to avoid moisture issues?
Interesting question. I have always done the unheated garage. As you know, this week we saw temps in the 60s in CT. The garage was still pretty cold inside. I did have moisture gather on the tank and bodywork of a bike I'm working on when I opened the door to set up my freaking generator (again)... The Other bike, an ST4s, is stored under several moving blankets and a cover. I think covering it well solves some of the problem with condensation. I don't like the idea of an out building, like a shed, mostly because of mice. The few times you would see some moisture would probably be nothing compared to finding a family of critters taking up residence in your air box or exhaust pipes... I never see them in the house or garage (I have a dog and two cats), but I do have a problem with them in the shed.
 

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From outside, you wouldn't. The stuff has to come apart. Not a big deal on the steering head. The swing arm pivot, depending on the bike, is a little more work. On the 916 series you have to drop the engine to get the swing arm off. Not sure of the other SSSA Ducs.



Interesting question. I have always done the unheated garage. As you know, this week we saw temps in the 60s in CT. The garage was still pretty cold inside. I did have moisture gather on the tank and bodywork of a bike I'm working on when I opened the door to set up my freaking generator (again)... The Other bike, an ST4s, is stored under several moving blankets and a cover. I think covering it well solves some of the problem with condensation. I don't like the idea of an out building, like a shed, mostly because of mice. The few times you would see some moisture would probably be nothing compared to finding a family of critters taking up residence in your air box or exhaust pipes... I never see them in the house or garage (I have a dog and two cats), but I do have a problem with them in the shed.

Mice are not the only problem: Sheds tend to thermal-cycle a lot more than a permanent garage. This daily temp. cycling raises heck with carburetors, if petrol is left in them (or worse, if there's no shut-off, like on my 1st generator...it totally hosed the carb. R&R, cleaning the jets recovered it. now it has a shut-off!!).

That said, I find that the basement is the best place to store items that might be temp-cycle-sensitive. Probably not the best (legal) place to store gasoline, but it won't go rotten for a long(er) period of time.
 
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