It’s the saddest time of the year. The leaves are down, the birds have flown, and the bike is in storage. A part of us goes into hibernation, only to reawaken when crocuses push through the last of the melting snow.
I love living in this part of the world. The ability to experience all four seasons is actually restricted to relatively few people living in a narrow geographical band circling the earth, and I happen to be one of those lucky few. When it’s stinking hot in the summer, we long for the days of sweaters, tobogganing, outdoor ice hockey, and skiing. When the wind-chill factor makes snot freeze and there’s two feet of snow to clear from the driveway, we think of summer soccer, swimming at the cottage, and lounging with a good book in the backyard. There’s little that’s more spectacular than the natural beauty of autumn in a boreal forest (maybe the aurora borealis?), and you’d have to be a zombie not to have your heart quicken a beat in spring when everything comes back to life, including your sex life. Maybe even zombies come back to life in the spring; I’m not an expert.
I’m thinking of the seasons of the Canadian south because, as much as I like all four in their own particular ways, I wouldn’t mind being able to ride year-round. Winters in Europe, or most of Europe anyway, are like early spring here: cold, grey, drizzly. Okay, not very enjoyable but you can ride in that. And if I lived in southern United States, I could ride through the winter. In fact, some bikers migrate south for the winter, taking their tours in late fall and riding towards the heat, then shipping their bikes back in the spring. That’s not an option for a teacher so, this weekend, the bike went into storage.
Another thing I long for? A heated garage. My house is a converted summer cottage so no basement and no garage. It would be so, so nice simply to pull into a garage after the final ride and park the bike, pull down the door. Then everything I’m about to say I did with numb fingers on my driveway in the cold of late autumn I could do in a warm garage, plus more. I could putz and play, do those big maintenance jobs over the winter instead of cutting into valuable riding time during the summer.
The main purpose of winterizing the bike is to protect it from the effects of time and humidity. I change the oil so the engine is not sitting in dirty oil all winter. For my bike, which has a dry sump system, that’s a full afternoon job. I start by removing all the bodywork which allows me access to the upper oil tank, which is located where a “normal” bike’s gas tank is. There’s also a plug at the bottom of the engine on the oil pan, and that sump plug is covered by the engine guard. So the engine guard has to be removed as well as the bodywork. So I’m basically stripping down my bike just to change the oil.
But here’s where it gets interesting. I need to heat the oil before draining. Do I remove that stuff after the ride or before? I’ve become pretty quick at doing it but it still takes me long enough that I decided to remove it first, ride the bike, then drain the oil. Yeah, I could have just idled the bike on the driveway to heat the oil, and I’ve done that before, but the chain also has to be cleaned and lubed before storage, and I wanted to heat the chain too so the new lube works into the 0-ring seals. It’s these seals that must be prevented from drying and cracking, thus shortening the life of the chain. So with both the oil and the chain to be heated, I stripped the bike and went for a ride. Anyone seeing me riding along the 20 Ouest with no bodywork on the bike must have thought I had either lost my mind or my fairing.
Next I removed the battery, which cannot freeze, and brought it into my house. Then I removed a spark plug, squirted a little oil (about a tablespoon) into the cylinder, and rotated the engine a few times to coat the piston rings and cylinder lining. This prevents the rings from drying and the cylinder from rusting through the winter. Actually, I lie. I started to rotate the engine—putting the bike in top gear and rotating the back wheel by hand—but realized this way is too much work so put the battery back in and used the starter to rotate the engine. (Note to self for next year.) Since my bike has a kill-switch on the kickstand, a safety feature so I don’t ride off with it accidentally down, I used that to prevent the engine from firing.
Next I clean the engine. This year I discovered a fantastic new product called S100. Since I had the crash and engine guards off, I decided now was the time to give the underside of the bike a thorough cleaning. I was going to use an auto engine cleaner to cut through that grease and grime but was worried it might be too strong and would damage some of the components. I asked at my local shop and was told about S100. It’s amazing! You just spray it on and hose it off with a strong jet of water. For the real tough stuff, I used a soft-bristle brush, but really even that is not necessary with this product.
With the engine clean, I coated a rag with light motor oil and wiped it down, again as a rust-inhibitor. Last year I used another great product called ACF-50 that my cousin Mark told me about. It was tough to find here in Canada and I had to mail order it and didn’t get ahead of that this year, so used the light motor oil instead. ACF-50 though is much better. It stops corrosion on contact and coats and prevents future corrosion. It was designed for use in the aerospace industry and is safe for electronics, so you can spray it on indiscriminately without worry. It’s good for 12 months so I really should just apply it each year as part of my winterization. Ironically, ACF-50 is made in Canada, so you’d think it would be easier to find here. Last year as part of my effort to track some down I drove to some remote abandoned building east of Montreal on the promise that someone there had some. I tell you, it’s that good. Yes, this is like a hard drug for bikers and you have to speak easy to the right people to get some. When I got to the building I knocked and looked in the windows but no one answered the door. Then I saw the blinds in an upstairs window move and noticed bullet holes in said window and decided maybe it was best to buy online. This is the honest-to-God truth. ACF-50. It’s good stuff, man! The light motor oil pales in comparison.
I paid particular attention to the exposed steel of the front forks. I even squirted a drop of oil on the fork rings, then compressed the forks a few times to work the oil into the seals. This prevents them from drying during the winter. Next I replaced all the bodywork and gave it the full clean and wax treatment. I know, most of my panelling is plastic, but I still feel the wax helps protect against acidification and oxidation, especially since I live near an airport and it rains jet fuel around here. The last step in protecting against moisture was to spray a little WD-40 (why do all these products have some cryptic combination of letters and numbers, like an internet password?) in the exhaust pipes and cover each with a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band. I plugged the air intake ports too, preventing critters from making those cavities their winter home.
Finally I backed the bike into the shed, put it on the centre-stand, then used my new motorcycle jack to lift the front tire off the floor of the shed so both tires are suspended. This prevents flat spots from developing. I also dropped the air pressure in the tires a few pounds. I covered the bike to protect it from getting scratched should one of the garden tools fall on it. Then I hummed it a little lullaby but there was no kissing, and no tears. It’s a lot to remember, and I found this wikiHow document helpful to review so I didn’t forget something.
I won’t be posting as much through the off-season but watch for sporadic posts on book reviews, trip planning, and my current gear wish list.