This time of year can be damaging to motorcycles but these top tips will help yours escape unscathed
1. Stop the rot
One of the main risks of riding through winter is corrosion and the effect it has on your bike’s appearance, value, performance and longevity. Stop water and the salt/road filth it washes into every corner of your bike by using protective barrier products. Specialist spray/brush-on potions like ACF-50 aren’t cheap but work well. A more utilitarian but equally effective approach is using grease or Waxoyl to coat chassis components, but they’re harder to remove – best left to hacks where image won’t ever be a concern.
2. Loving lubrication
Lubricating your bike is even more important during winter months. Grease and other products not only act as a water barrier, but ensure everything works safely – seized pivot points inhibit control. Make sure all cables run free, lever pivots are cleaned and lightly greased plus any rose joints or pivots on foot controls are oiled up. Going in deeper, chassis bearings are at most risk from winter weather and regular washing. Strip, inspect the seals and bearings themselves, replace where necessary or grease-up to ensure continued service.
3. Connection protection
Modern motorcycle electrics are quite tough, but they’re still not 100% waterproof. Use dielectric grease or a quality water-dispersing spray (MCN rates GT-85 highly) on any connector block, bullet terminal, spade connector or earth point you can access. Don’t forget to protect vulnerable electric components too – switchgear can suffer from water ingress, and sidestand/brake light switches are simple, cheaply made components that can prove to be a serious headache if they go wrong on a cold, dark night.
4. Brake time
You may not brake as hard as you would on a fast summer ride, but it’s just as important to have perfectly functioning, tip-top brakes when there’s less grip and the risk level rises. Neglecting brake fluid, allowing calipers to get dirty, sticky or seized, or putting up with tired pads is just asking for trouble. Modern multi-piston calipers have enough power to lock wheels even when they’re underperforming, and you’ll have less control over mushy, unresponsive brakes. Get them right, and keep them there.
5. Night lights
Adjust your headlight to get the best light spread possible. Drop by your MoT centre and ask the tester nicely to use their gear if you can’t measure it at home. Fit quality bulbs, and check the integrity of wiring and connectors. Checking bulbs is even more important in winter. Tinted lenses, or compact aftermarket tail/indicator light units might look cool, but you’re close to invisible in the grim and dark of winter – don’t reduce your chances of being seen even further. Big, bright lights are free safety, but if you’re feeling flush and the headlamp on your bike is particularly puny, fitting an extra set of auxiliary LED running lights will help your bike appear bigger, helping you stand out more.
6. Vital fluids
Coolant might seem almost redundant when there’s frost on the verges. But tired coolant doesn’t perform its anti-freeze or anti-corrosion tasks as well, risking catastrophic problems. This is also true if you own a racing or trackday motorcycle which runs 100% water within its system; if the water freezes inside the engine you could return to your bike in the spring to find cracked cylinder heads, so always drain the water and replace with coolant if storing your machine over winter. Make sure your oil is good too – most engine wear occurs when the engine is cold – winter warm-up time is usually longer, so wear increases. Add knackered, dirty oil to the equation and the potentially damaging effects multiply.
7. Battery life
Batteries simply hate cold weather, and a sudden icy snap is enough to wipe one out. Keep a close eye on the condition of yours – regular use tends to keep them healthy, but any sluggish starting should be investigated. Even if the voltage is good, the cold-cranking amps can deteriorate to the point of failure. Not fun to find out at 6pm on a Friday night.
8. Right rinsing
Washing salty bikes every day isn’t always possible. But to help your bike stand the best chance of beating winter, you need to do something. A wash down with the hose and cold water is a good interim measure. Don’t use hot water – it makes the corrosive effect worse. Don’t have a hose? Pick up a garden sprayer you can fill from the tap and pressurise.
9. Chain check
Use an oily lube to help stave off corrosion as well as lubricate. Sticky, waxy lubes might fling less but they’re more prone to pick up grit from the road. And if it needs lubricating, it needs cleaning. It doesn’t have to be a full degrease every time, but you don’t want to seal dirt in, making an abrasive paste which damages the chain. Auto oilers are worth considering.