Correctly protecting and storing your motorcycles is one of the biggest challenges facing anyone lucky enough to have what they class as ‘a collection’. Failure to, or incorrectly looking after a mechanical device can have terrible, and often financially crippling, implications. This can cause real heartache to anyone who views their collection as either a future investment or simply a source of personal pride.
An incorrectly stored bike is more susceptible to faults, increasing the chances that when you come to enjoy your investment, instead of a glorious roar of an engine, you simply get a symphony of silence. Or, worse still, you end up losing money instead of making it.
This is a hard battle to win: not only are you taking on unscrupulous characters who may wish to steal your assorted pride and joys, mother nature herself is against you as forces such as rust, corrosion and humidity can all play their part in tarnishing your machines.
But protect them you must and, after ensuring all your bikes are adequately protected by insurance, it is time to consider their physical wellbeing.
Cleanliness is essential
Caring for classics
Most motorcycle collectors are fastidious when it comes to keeping their bikes clean and this is a crucial factor in ensuring your bikes remain in their best possible condition.
We all know how to clean a bike, but classics do require an extra level of care that a modern machine does not. Washing a classic involves time and effort on the owner’s behalf and certainly not a powerful jet wash.
The finish on older machines can be starting to go and a jet wash can get under any loose paint or flaking metal, not only removing it but also potentially causing more damage.
Using a low-powered hose, give the bike a pre-wash to get it nice and damp and then using a good quality soapy cleaning agent, gently agitate the dirt to clean the bike using a soft haired brush and sponge. A good tip here is to have two sets of buckets and sponges, keeping one for the sensitive plastics and one for the gritty areas such as the wheels to prevent any grit potentially scratching the plastics or paint.
Once clean, wash the bike over again with clean water and leave it to dry. To speed up the drying process, you can use a chamois or an air line and compressor to blow away a bit of the excess water, which is a good idea on machines with spoke wheels as water can get trapped where the spokes meet the rims, causing rust spots.
Once dry, spend a few minutes carefully looking over the bike for loose bits. Old machines do tend to shed various parts such as rubbers and the occasional nut or plastic panel and, on classics, replacing these parts can be both tricky and expensive so look for any bits that are wobbly.
This is also a good time to check for any mechanical issues such as oil leaks, worn tyres or a loose drive chain.
Once you are happy and the bike is dry, it’s time to get protecting.
Protecting your investment
Corrosion and prevention
On a classic, corrosion is your biggest enemy and the only way to prevent this is to put some hard work in. There are various anti-corrosion products on the market such as ACF-50 or Scottoiler FS 365 and spraying some on a dry cloth and then wiping it on exposed metal parts works wonders.
Take your time and, if you can, remove any panels or the fairing to get right to the heart of the bike to protect it. And don’t be afraid to be liberal with the anti-corrosion protection, it’s better to be safe than sorry and pay particular attention to areas such as the suspension linkages that are in direct line of fire when it comes to road grime.
Once finished, use a lubricating oil to lubricate moving parts or joints such as:
- the footpegs
- gear linkages
- key barrels
- and sidestand pivot.
Where possible, move the part to work the lubrication in, and always wipe off any excess oil. It goes without saying, but avoid contaminating the brake discs or calipers with any lubricants or polishes.
If you encounter any old oil or chain lube residue that has avoided the washing process, use an old rag and some degreaser to get it off rather than just ignoring it.
Give the chain a lube, check the tyre pressures and once you have got all the dirty work finished, wash your hands and finally give it a good polish using a dedicated motorcycle polish.
Try to avoid spraying a household polish on a bike, often it can be too aggressive, and abrasive polishes such as T-Cut are best used sparingly as they actually cut through surface oxidation and corrosion to cover scratches and restore colour. Old vehicles often don’t have much paint left to be cut through!
A good quality wax should not only make the bike look its best, but also protect its paintwork.
Your bike should now look fantastic, but if the weather is closing in and you are looking at storing it up for a few months, your work isn’t finished just yet.
Preparing your motorcycles for storage
If the bike isn’t going to move for a while, you need to complete a few extra stages after cleaning. Everyone has their own tips for motorcycle storage, but here is what we have found works the best.
Using a penetrating oil such as WD-40, or more anti-corrosion spray, give the bike’s engine and metal parts a good covering to prevent rust and also to ensure there is no trapped water.
While the drive chain is already lubed, squirt a bit of oil on a rag and wipe both sides of the drive chain’s links as these are really susceptible to rust.
If the bike hasn’t already got one, fit a battery charging plug-in point so that you can easily keep the battery topped up.
You should over inflate the tyres of your bikes. The air will leak out of a tyre over time and over-inflating them by about 20psi when storing a bike helps to prevent damage to the carcass – just put a note on the bike reminding you to check and return the pressures to the correct values when you ride it again.
Petrol and the tank
There is much debate over if you should have a full or empty petrol tank. Some argue a full tank helps prevent rust forming within it, others say an empty one is a better solution, it’s a moot point. Whichever way you go, on a bike with carbs it is a good idea to drain the carbs of fuel to prevent them gumming up, which can be done via the carb drain plugs or if you are lazy, just turn the fuel taps off and run the engine until it uses all the fuel up. However, if you do this, run the motor before you apply the anti-corrosion spray or the heat will burn it off.
Another area of debate is the oil within a bike’s motor. Old oil is mildly corrosive due to engine contaminants within it, so some owners swap the old oil and service the bike before putting the bike into storage. It depends on how dedicated you are and when you plan on running the bike again if you follow this method. All done? Now it’s time to put the bike to bed.
Storage of a motorcycle collection
Most collectors will keep their bikes in a garage, so we are assuming this is the case for this feature and the garage has access to power. Ideally, you want to store a motorcycle with its wheels off the ground using paddock stands as this prevents the tyres getting flat-spotted. If this isn’t possible, park the bike on an old bit of carpet so that the tyres aren’t in direct contact with the cold concrete floor and, if possible, rotate them every month.
Even in a well-ventilated garage, condensation can be an issue. This is why it is often best not to cover a bike when the temperature outside drops. In warmer weather a breathable cover helps keep the bike dust free, so is a great addition, but when the temperature starts to get really cold condensation can form on metal parts and this gets trapped under a cover. Trapped water leads to corrosion, even in the cold.
Preventing condensation is tricky. The best way is to have a dehumidifier in the garage and even a small freestanding oil-filled heater, but these can be expensive to run as they suck electricity.
If you are on a budget, there are motorcycle dry storage kits that are effectively large plastic bags with water-absorption packets that cocoon a bike and keep it in a hermetically sealed state. They are extremely effective and very cheap at about £40 if you only have one or two bikes, however getting the bike in the bag is a bit of a fight and, once in, it’s not easy to gain access to it.
There are plenty of images on the internet of mice making homes in motorcycle air boxes, but in reality these are rare occurrences. Don’t shove a rag in the airbox to block its entrance as this just gives the mouse a bit of extra bedding! If you want to block it, cut out some plastic shapes and use small amounts of tape to hold them in place. Mice can eat foam seats, but again this is rare on a garaged bike. If you are worried, a mouse trap is the best solution.
Finally, and again this is an area of debate, it is a good idea to put the bike on a battery charger or conditioner. These can extend the life of a battery and should ensure the bike is ready to go when the weather outside improves. Some consider trickle chargers ineffective and reckon it is better to simply charge the battery every few weeks rather than leaving it on a constant drip.
Safe and secure
Motorcycle locks, cameras and trackers
Even if your collection isn’t that valuable, theft is still a constant worry. As well as ensuring your garage is secure via locks (don’t leave the ignition key in the bike!), use a security approved chain and ground anchor to fix your bikes to the floor and ensure you don’t leave any power tools such as grinders in the same location.
The key is to make it as tricky as possible for a thief, so the more locks the better. Thanks to the low cost of modern electronic technology, you can easily get a camera surveillance system for under £150 that feeds back data to your smartphone for peace of mind.
The ultimate in security is a motorcycle tracking system; these have a tremendously successful recovery rate after a vehicle is stolen, but you will need to sign up for a subscription monitoring service. However, insurance companies often offer a discount that helps off-set this cost.
That said, theft isn’t a huge issue for small collectors as getting a large volume of bikes into a van from a private location is actually quite hard to do without being conspicuous. Classic bikes are far more likely to get stolen when away from home.
Start me up or leave me sleeping?
Running the engine
With your collection all tucked up, the biggest quandary is whether to break them out of storage to run the motors. Again, this is an where opinions differ.
Engines like to be run, it flows the oil around their internals and prevents seals perishing, and getting any coolant circulating also prevents internal corrosion. Getting a motor up to its working temperature regularly is certainly good for it, but do you need to keep dragging your collection out of hibernation to start their motors?
While long periods of inactivity are bad for engines, leaving a motor inactive for a few months isn’t going to harm it that much.
As a general rule, when the weather is cold it is generally best not to start the engine as a warm motor will attract condensation as its cools off. Some engines will turn over without starting, either on the kickstart or the starter motor, and it’s not a bad idea to do this when it is cold outside.
If the weather outside is good, open your garage door and run the motor every few weeks, allowing it to reach operating temperature and stay there for a while. Some say as soon as the radiator fan kicks in that’s enough, but again, it’s up to you.
Two-stroke vs four-stroke
Four-stroke engines tend to be less affected by inactivity than two-strokes, which often suffer from damaged seals, so if you have strokers, give them a good run regularly. Always remember to remove any blockages you may have installed and also to check that the cover is clear of the exhaust before you start a bike up. Once the bike has cooled off, squirt a bit of anti-corrosion spray over the motor to replace any that has burnt off and read the bike a comforting bedtime story about its former glories to allow it to drop back into hibernation again…