Riders in southern states can't fathom the idea of storing their dirt bikes or ATVs during the winter but for some where cold reigns supreme - starting just about now - packing it in and waiting for the spring thaw is often the only option.
If that describes where you live, parking your dirt bike or ATV in the garage or shed after the last ride and ending your riding season until the next year might depict the usual routine. Sure, you clean the mud and grime off but leaving the tedious details for another day or another month might sound good. After all, you've been meticulous all summer, even after those long, exhausting days of riding. So, why not get to it when you can get to it, right?
Well, if that's what you've been doing or you just took up the sport and think hibernating your bike for the winter without first performing what amounts to routine general maintenance then let us help you keep your ride running for years to come.
First order of business: If you're not cleaning the bike or don't plan on cleaning the bike - Clean the Bike! Imagine coming home after a long day, caked in mud and sweat, and forgoing a shower until the next morning. You like to be clean, so does your dirt bike or ATV. Therefore, go through the usual post-ride routine along with the layer of Maxima SC1 or whatever you use on the plastic.
Now, it's time for some winter storage prep.
Fresh Oil and Filter
A no brainer, right? Well, it's not uncommon for riders to set their bike aside (after cleaning of course) and change the oil months later prior to the next ride. Unless you've just changed the oil and filter, and your final ride day consisted of only a few laps, this routine leaves dirty oil in the bowels of the engine.
You don't want that.
Drain Gas or Add Fuel Stabilizer
A strange thing happens to gasoline that sits around for a few months, especially in cold climates, it turns gummy. This thick substance can ruin the entire fuel system. It's a pain to remove especially if you've got a full tank. Another problem is moisture accumulation if the tank is left only partially full. This results in metal components rusting.
So there are two schools of thought. Drain the gas tank which can be done by letting the engine idle until the fuel runs out or add a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil to a full tank of gas. The full tank mixed with Sta-bil eliminates any concern over moisture build-up in the tank and the stabilizer prevents gas from gumming. Just be sure to let the engine idle a few minutes to allow the mixture to penetrate the entire fuel system.
If the storage plan is only for a few months, like November to January, gas treatment is generally unnecessary IF you fill the tank with non-ethanol based fuel and run the engine long enough to get the clean fuel throughout the fuel system. Storage intervals longer than three months require a fuel treatment like Sta-bil.
Most modern dirt bikes and ATVs use plastic tanks so rust is not so much of an issue if you go the route of tank draining. Bikes using metal tanks tend to be made of aluminum or titanium which generally don't rust. However, a drained steel tank requires a coat of fogging oil to prevent rust. Which isn't really a bad deal since you have to...
Lube and Grease
Lube and grease everything just like you do for regular maintenance. That includes bearings, the sprockets, chain and cables. This not only offers protection but prevents moisture from attacking the metal.
Don't leave your dirt bike out in the cold this winter!
Change the Coolant/Anti-Freeze
Topping off the coolant might sound like a good idea but it's not too farfetched to assume you're riding coolant, not anti-freeze, in your system and most people don't leave their dirt bikes or ATVs in the guest bedroom where it's warm. Therefore, if it's cold enough to end the riding season then it's probably cold enough in the garage or shed to wreak havoc on your cooling system if it's not filled with fresh anti-freeze.
If your dirt bike doesn't use a battery skip to the next tip. Otherwise, don't expect the engine to fire up in several months if you leave the battery unattended. Some riders remove the battery outright or leave it in place, either way you need a battery tender. This keeps the battery at a full charge without overcharging until you're ready to ride again.
Leave on a Stand
Most riders tend to leave their dirt bike on a stand anyway but this is crucial for long term storage. It's not as crucial for the ATV (some use blocks or jacks regardless) but letting your dirt bike rest in one position over the long term often degrades the tires and can mess with the suspension. If you're diligent you can always move the bike a foot or two every few weeks but it's far easier to let it rest on a stand, something you probably own anyway for regular maintenance. So set it and forget it!
It's a good idea to throw a tarp or some type of cover over your dirt bike for its long winter rest. You also might be tempted to start the bike every few weeks and let it idle. Don't bother. Remember, when it's time to ride again, don't forget the usual pre-ride check.