Cold caller: MCN’s guide to buying a winter motorbike

Buying a second motorbike to use as a winter hack is a sensible and practical way to keep riding through the colder months without adding hard miles to your pride and joy.

There are a number of benefits that come with running a winter hack. Your ‘proper’ bike stays safe tucked up in the garage, away from salty roads, corrosive rain and the possibility of a costly icy low-side – so it remains in good condition with a lower mileage, holding its value and saving you money.

A winter hack can also be a lot of fun. It takes the pressure off winter riding as you’re less worried about any damage which may be caused, letting you concentrate on keeping warm – heated grips, gloves and jackets can help keep off the wind chill – and enjoying the ride.

Read on for our advice on how to go about buying the most suited winter hack for yourself.

If you’re interested in a particular model of motorcycle, check the bike reviews to learn of any weak points on the motorcycle before viewing it. That way, when you go to look at it, you’ll know what to look out for. Other questions to ask the seller: Have the bike’s weak points been addressed? How long ago this work was done? If you’re not 100% happy with the bike walk away.

The simpler the better

The more modern and complex a used bike is, the more there is to potentially go wrong. For a winter ride what you need is old-school simplicity, which is why single-cylinder trailies make such good commuters and hacks. Since you’ll probably be looking at bikes that have already seen a few winters, sturdy build quality also becomes a pretty big plus. Hondas are good for this, but bear in mind replacement parts can be costly.

Look for high value, not low price

One mistake some people might make is going out and buying literally the cheapest bike they can get their hands on. This might seem like a good idea in the short term, but just because a bike is initially cheap to buy doesn’t mean it will be a bargain for you in the long run, especially when it refuses to start one cold winter morning and you have to spend more money on repairs.

Service history

Be prepared to look uncool…

Some bikes are perfectly capable machines that for some reason or other are totally undesirable. They never struck a chord with the bike-buying public, never quite found their niche or simply fell out of the ugly tree and hit every single branch on the way down. Fortunately for us, that makes them bargains on the used market and therefore perfect winter hack material.

Check the consumables

Make sure that the tyres, brake pads and chain & sprockets still have life left in them. The bike might not be such a bargain if you wind up having to replace some of these parts. However, if you spot faults and have the skills to fix them yourself, point them out to drive down the price.

Naked all the way

The ideal hack is definitely a naked bike. Faired bikes have a number of disadvantages. The plastics are a hassle to take on and off if any maintenance is required. They’ll also be damaged in a spill. The ideal winter hack should brush off a low speed low side with ease. Go naked and consider crash mushrooms and handguards to protect engine and levers. If you need wind protection for motorway miles, you can always fit a screen.

Check bike documents carefully

Common as muck

Don’t be tempted by rare imports or anything with suspect reliability. The more common the better. Look for something that’s been around for a while and has been produced in decent numbers, then parts will be cheaper and easier to find.

Check the motorbike’s service history

Check for a motorcycles’ service history when buying a used bike. It’s the most effective way to get a rough idea of the bike’s past, and also if it’s been well looked after. Don’t be too put off if a cheap machine doesn’t have a glistening log book full of dealer service stamps – it’s always good, but if an owner has carried out the work and has receipts as proof of parts purchase then this can be a good indication that the bike has been well looked after.

MOT checker

As well as the service history, it’s a good idea to check if there is a comprehensive MOT history for the bike you’re looking to purchase. With just the registration of the bike, it will help verify the mileage and also show if the bike has failed a test and why. It’ll also give a good indication if anything is looking like it might need replacing soon.

MoT history

HPI check the motorbike

If you’re buying a bike that seems to be a bit too much of a bargain then make sure you carry out a HPI check and check the registration documents carefully before you commit to parting with your cash. Other questions to ask yourself or the seller: Does the engine and frame identification numbers match those that are on the V5 registration document of the bike? This will give you an indication if the engine or frame have been swapped. If they have, ask why and if the owner can’t answer, then steer well clear.

Get out the fine-tooth comb

At this point, you decide that the bike is the one. You’ve parted with your cash and now own your new bike for winter. This now means one thing: it’s time to get your new two-wheeled friend prepped to battle the salt and crud of the winter roads.

Remove the fairings (if you decided to go for a faired bike) and give the bike a really good clean. If there’s loads of old road crud on the engine then use a parts degreaser on the metal areas to help get it as clean as possible. This will give you a better base on which you can protect the bike from the elements and also make it a lot easier to clean and maintain regularly throughout the winter.

After the clean when your new shiny machine is gleaming against the dull winter skies, give it a thorough check over. Use this opportunity to check the chain, check the fasteners on the engine to make sure they’re all tightened up.

It’s a good idea to use this opportunity to clean, lube and adjust the chain. This is one of the hardest working areas on a motorcycle and can take an absolute hammering in winter. A dirty chain can create a grinding paste that will damage the X or O rings and greatly reduce its life. A tight or slack chain will also promote premature wear on the chain, so make sure it’s adjusted to within its tolerance, which you can often find on the bike or in the manual. Finally, give it a good lube and it’s ready to go. Of course, this is irrelevant if your bike has a shaft drive.

Chain adjustment

Protect your motorbike

Don’t forget it’s really important to apply a protective coat to ensure that your machine doesn’t deteriorate to a rusty nail come the end of winter. It will also help the parts last longer.

If you’re only planning to use the bike through one winter then come spring, a properly looked after hack could even be worth more than what you originally paid for it.

With a clean engine, get yourself a can of ACF-50 (or an equivalent spray) and protect the exposed metal surfaces. Most sprays use an anti-corrosion formula to keep the metal parts and fasteners of the bike rust-free. They’ll also help reduce the spread of any existing corrosion, reducing the chance of any future problems from developing.

Apply a spray grease to any hard to reach joints or movement areas. The sidestand, clutch and brake lever pivot points and any hinges will be much better protected with an application of grease. It’ll keep the grime out and ensure that the areas feel like new for longer. A thin lube such as WD-40 or GT-85 will help protect and lubricate some areas, but won’t cut it where any friction is involved.


Now go, go and enjoy your new ride. By the end of winter you’ll have gained more riding skills and will appreciate when the better weather comes back in.

Don’t forget to sign up to our #ride5000miles Facebook group and let us know how you’re getting on.

A82, Scotland

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James Archibald

By James Archibald

Former MCN Junior Web Producer