Chicago is obviously the greatest city in the world, but maybe not the greatest city for all-season riding. If you’re riding all winter, more power to ‘ya (be careful!), but most of us try to avoid the snow, ice, and ridiculously cold temperatures. Here are some tips to properly prepare your scooter for a few months off the road.
- Thoroughly clean your scooter before putting it away. Dirt and grease attract more dirt and grease, and you don’t want it eating away at your bike all winter.
- Change your oil, especially if you’re due for a change anyway. Fresh oil sitting in the cases all winter is better than dirty oil, and even better, you won’t have to deal with it in the spring.
- Inspect the battery. Add distilled water if needed. Clean the terminals. If you can leave it connected and on a charger, great! If not, remove it (neg cable first), keep it somewhere off the concrete floor, where it won’t freeze, and keep it on a trickle charger. Note that there are different types of chargers, a regular charger just cranks power into your battery all the time, that’s no good! A cheapo trickle charger randomly gives the battery some juice occasionally, which is OK, but the better “float” chargers check the voltage regularly, and add charge as needed. Even a good float charger is still a lot cheaper than buying a new battery every year. Now’s also a good time to add a piggyback lead to the terminals so you can plug your bike into your charger anytime, with zero fuss. (Also note that some vintage scooters use 6V batteries, DO NOT charge a 6V battery with a 12V charger!).
- Fill your tires to spec (but don’t overinflate!). Some folks jack the bike up to get the tires off the ground to avoid ‘flat spots’ but that’s not really an issue with modern tires, especially over the course of a few months. Use the center stand (rather than the side stand), it’s less likely to get knocked over, it takes up less space, and if you buy the ‘flat spot’ argument, it’s at least keeping one wheel in the air, and you can rock the bike to occasionally rotate the other wheel.
- Fill the tank and add fuel stabilizer. An empty tank invites rust and dried-out gaskets. Yes, gas goes bad pretty quickly these days, but the stabilizer will help (ethanol-free gas will, too, but good luck finding it). If you really don’t trust 5-month old gas, drain it in the spring, instead of the winter. Your tank will thank you. That said, if you’re putting the bike away for longer than a few months, or bringing it inside a living space, you should drain the gas.
- If you do nothing else, do this! If your bike is carbureted, disconnect/block the gas flow to the carb and run the gas out of the carburetor. Gummed-up carburetors are the number one cause of trouble with scooters, and if you leave the gas on all winter, as gas evaporates from the float bowl, more gas will run into the carb, and leave more and more residue, which will all get sucked into the carb’s tiny passages and jets. If your float needle leaks, it’ll be even worse. Vintage scooters and motorcycles have a fuel cutoff switch, and vintage scooterists typically kill the fuel and run out the carb every time they’re putting the bike up for more than a couple hours. If your scooter doesn’t have one, consider installing a cutoff switch, but also keep in mind that modern scooters have more complicated evaporation systems, so be sure you’re installing it in the right place. If your bike is injected, there are various tinctures you can add to your gas, but most experts say they’re unnecessary, additives to modern gasoline should be keeping them clean.
- Critter-proof your scooter. Varmints’ll be looking for somewhere to live in the winter, and your exhaust and airbox are two surprisingly hospitable places. Consider rubber-banding a plastic bag around your exhaust pipe, and covering air intakes and any other nooks and crannies that mice or chipmunks or wasps might find attractive. They can nest in very small spaces. (Trigger warning: dead varmint. Photo courtesy of Lee at That Scooter Shop). Definitely remember to remove all your protective prophylactics before starting the bike!
- Find a safe storage spot away from foot traffic and car doors, preferably on a concrete floor. If it’s somewhere that might get wet or snowy, use wood blocks and some sort of moisture barrier to keep it up off the ground. Whatever you do, don’t leave it outside; a Chicago winter will destroy it, fast. Ride it out to your friend’s parent’s garage in the suburbs, or pay for winter storage at one of our fine local dealers, it’s worth it (and they’ll do all this other stuff for you). If you are storing it off-site, check with your insurance company, they might require that you report the storage location. (Also remember that most insurance companies offer a discount for a winter lay-off.)
- Remove any valuables (and anything that could be damaged by cold weather) from the top box, glovebox, and underseat storage.
- Lock the bike, lock it *to* something if possible (even in a garage, it can be stolen). If you’re storing it where others may have access, write down the mileage so Sonic Youth’s original drummer doesn’t take it on a joy ride.
- Cover the scooter with a clean, quality cover that is both waterproof and vented. a tarp or cheap cover can trap moisture inside, which is sometimes worse than no cover at all, and can scratch the finish (especially if the bike–or the cover–is dirty).
Should you fire up the engine occasionally over the winter? If you followed these instructions, no! You’re all set, plus it’ll be a drag to undo and then redo all your careful work. If you didn’t prepare for the winter, or if you occasionally ride in the winter, then yes, it’s a good idea to get it running a few times over the course of the winter, but ONLY if you’re going to take it out and run through the gears and get it fully warmed up. If you do ride it, run the gas out of the carbs again, and clean/dry the bike to get that salt off! Letting it idle in your garage for a few minutes is worse than pointless, it’ll invite condensation and other problems. If you feel the need to fidget with it, and you have a kickstarter, maybe give it a gentle kick (without ignition) occasionally to move that internal gearing around in its oil bath.