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 adequately look after them 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.
Where to store your motorcycles
You’ve invested time and money into building up your motorcycle collection, so one of the most pressing questions is where you should store your motorcycle. But which is better: indoor or outdoor storage?
This is the best option as it’ll not only help to prevent your motorcycles from being stolen, but it’ll also protect your vehicles from the elements. Storing your motorcycle in a garage is the most secure option as you can easily lock your garage door and install cameras around the area. A garage also allows you to more easily control aspects of the environment, such as temperature.
If your motorcycle collection is so large that you don’t have enough storage space, there are a number of other motorbike storage solutions you can try. For instance, if you have access to a back garden, it might be a good idea to build a storage shed that can store your precious motorbikes.
Storing bikes outside isn’t the best option as it’ll expose your motorcycles to the elements, which can cause rust and corrosion. If you don’t have motorcycle garage storage, a good option is to rent bike storage. This is particularly important in the winter months as otherwise, your bikes will be exposed to rain and moisture, which – for any mechanical vehicle or device – wreaks havoc on your bikes’ parts.
If storing your bike outside is the only option, a motorcycle cover can help protect your motorcycle collection from the rain and the sun.
Preparing your motorcycles for storage
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, so it is time to consider their physical wellbeing.
If the bikes aren’t going to move for a while, you need to complete a few extra stages after you clean them. Everyone has their own tips for motorcycle storage, but here is what we have found works the best.
- Use a penetrating oil (e.g. WD-40) or a rust-proofing spray to give the bike’s engine and metal parts a good covering. This helps prevent rust and ensures 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 you leave some of your motorcycles unused for months on end, it’s important that you care for the batteries to prevent them from dying. Every time a battery is left to lose its charge completely, this causes permanent battery damage and can prevent the battery from charging fully as a result.
If your bikes haven’t already got one, fit a battery charging plug-in point so that you can easily keep the battery topped up. It’s a good idea to put your motorcycles on a battery charger, such as a trickle charger, tender, or conditioner.
These can extend the life of a battery and should ensure the bikes are ready to go when the weather outside improves. Whilst trickle chargers are often the cheapest option, some consider them ineffective and sometimes even bad for your motorcycle as they don’t have built-in protection against overcharging the battery.
In this case, battery tenders are a better option as they are able to gauge when a battery needs charging and when it’s fully charged. This means you can keep your motorcycle battery connected to the tender for as long as you need, making it ideal for motorcycle collectors who might keep some bikes in storage for months or even years.
Of course, if you don’t want to invest in motorcycle battery chargers, you can simply charge the battery every few weeks rather than leaving it on a constant drip.
When storing your motorbikes over long periods, you should over-inflate the tyres. 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 tyre carcass, which is the part of the tyre that sustains load and absorbs shock.
It’s usually best to check your tyres every month or so when your motorcycles are in storage as you might need to inflate them regularly to prevent flat spots. Be sure to put a note on the bike reminding you to check and return the pressures to the correct values before you ride it again.
If you store your collection in the garage, you should ideally store your motorcycles with their wheels off the ground as this will prevent your tyres getting flat spotted. You can achieve this by using paddock stands, or if you can’t get your hands on these, park your bikes on carpet so the tyres aren’t in direct contact with the cold concrete floor.
If you’re working with limited paddock stands or carpet space, try to rotate your motorcycles every month.
Petrol and the tank
There is much debate over whether you should store your bike with a full or empty petrol tank. Some argue a full tank helps prevent rust from forming within the tank, while others say an empty tank is a better solution as fuel can go bad, which can damage the tank. However, when all is said and done, it’s really 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 from gumming up, which can be done via the carb drain plugs. Or if you’re lazy, just turn the fuel taps off and run the engine until it uses all the fuel up. Please note that if you do this, run the motor before you apply the rust-proofing 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. Following this method depends on how dedicated you are and when you plan on running the bike again.
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 a cover will trap the condensation. 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 use electricity.
If you are on a budget, motorcycle dry storage kits are an option. These are effectively large plastic bags with water-absorbing packets that cocoon bikes and keep them in a hermetically sealed state. They are extremely effective and very cheap if you only have a few bikes as they’re about £40 each. However, getting the bike into 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 mousetrap is the best solution.
Cleanliness is essential
Now that your bike is prepared for storage, let’s turn to how you can clean your bike so it remains in good condition.
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 already be worn, and a jet wash will often get under any loose paint or flaking metal. This will not only remove the loose paint, but it could also potentially cause more damage.
Using a low-powered hose, give the bike a pre-wash to get it nice and damp and then use a good quality, soapy cleaning agent to gently agitate the dirt. 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 the other 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 airline and compressor to blow away a bit of the excess water. This is a good idea on machines with spoke wheels as water can get trapped where the spokes meet the rims, which can cause rust spots if left alone.
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. 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 motorcycle, 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. Pay particular attention to areas such as the suspension linkages as these are in the direct line of fire when it comes to road grime.
Once finished, use lubricating oil to lubricate moving parts or joints, such as:
- the footpegs,
- gear linkages,
- key barrels,
- and the 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 callipers 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 instead of just ignoring it.
Wax and polish
Give the chain a lube, check the tyre pressures and once you’ve got all the dirty work finished, wash your hands and give it a good polish using a dedicated motorcycle polish.
Try to avoid spraying a household polish on a bike as often it can be too aggressive. 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.
Safe and secure
The last thing you want after putting so much effort into storing your bikes correctly is them getting stolen. After ensuring all your bikes are adequately protected by multi-bike insurance, it’s time to think about how to deter potential thieves.
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 (it goes without saying, but 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. However, you will need to sign up for a subscription monitoring service. Thankfully, insurance companies like us 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. Read our motorbike security guide for more tips.
Start me up or leave me sleeping?
With your collection all tucked up, the biggest quandary is whether to break them out of storage to run the motors. Again, this is where opinions differ.
Running the engine
Engines like being run; it flows the oil around their internals and prevents seals from perishing. Circulating coolant around the bike also helps prevent 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 it 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.
How often should you start your motorcycle?
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…
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