Tomorrow is the first official day of winter, although for those of us who live in seasonal latitudes, we’re on nearly the sixth week of winter. Regardless of the actual outside temperature, this time of year is scooter hibernation season for many. With that in mind, there are some key things you can do to make sure that come spring, your favorite two wheel ride is ready to go again when things warm up.
Most local scooter shops and dealerships offer winter storage services. This typically includes many or all of the things I’m about to discuss, but for those who aren’t aware, there is often a hands-off option for having your scooter ready to go in the Spring. Call your local shop to see what they offer. For the DIY crowd, read on. We’ll want to take these steps:
- • Wash your scooter
- • Change your oils
- • Stabilize your fuel system
- • Keep your battery charged
- • Protect your tires from dry rot
Start with a good wash
Clean your scooter off from wheel to wheel, top to bottom. With less dirt, you’ll get fewer fine scratches from any scooter cover you use or any incidental brushing up against your scooter’s finish. Be especially careful to remove any bird droppings or other foreign substances on your scooter’s finish as these tend to eat paint over time. This is good practice any time of year, but especially important if the scooter is going to sit for a long period of time.
Refresh your scooter’s various oils and lubricants
It’s ideal to do an engine oil change, with filter, as well as a transmission oil change before putting your scooter into storage. Used oil is slightly acidic, and any particulate matter the oil has captured outside the filter will settle into the low spots in your engine. So it’s a good idea not to leave older oil laying around in the engine for months at a time. Changing engine and transmission oil is the easiest, cheapest way to insure a healthy engine at any time of year. If possible, try to align your scheduled oil changes to coincide with storing your bike.
Take these steps to change your oils:
- • Run your scooter to get it warm, but full operating temp isn’t necessary
- • Empty the engine oil into an appropriate container and replace the drain plug when done
- • Remove and replace the oil filter, taking care to put a generous ring of oil on the o-ring gasket and to tighten sufficiently.
- • Refill, but don’t overfill, the engine oil. Be sure to run your scooter and re-check at the dip stick before finishing to insure a proper oil level.
- • Drain and replace the transmission and/or final drive oil as well
Stabilize your scooter’s fuel system
Today’s gasoline has lots of interesting additives. From detergents to emissions additives, it’s not just straight petrol anymore. In the USA in particular, there tends to be at least 10% ethanol present even in premium gas. Why does that matter? Well, gasoline doesn’t age well on its own when it just sits around. The different additives tend to separate and a certain amount of the fuel will evaporate out of various parts of the fuel system. Over time, this leaves behind a gunky buildup in the fuel systems known by technicians and engineers as “crud.” I’m kidding about the name, but the phenomenon is very real and it will stop your scooter cold. After just a few weeks, old gasoline can start to separate and gum up your fuel system. This is especially a problem for carbureted scooters. In fact, the older your scooter, the more susceptible it is to this clogging. Park for more than a few weeks and your scooter might not run.
Thankfully, preventing the buildup of crud in your scooter’s fuel system is relatively straightforward. Following these steps will also help prevent corrosion inside your fuel tank, should it happen to be metal.
Take these steps to prep your fuel system:
- • Fill up with a full tank of fresh, premium gasoline. “De-oxygenated” or explicitly ethanol-free gasoline is the best.
- • Either as you fill up, or immediately after, add a fuel stabilizer to your tank of fuel per its instructions and make sure it’s thoroughly mixed. (Side note: I’m talking about a stabilizer like Sta-bil. Do not use Seafoam as a storage treatment. It will chew on the rubber in your fuel system and leave a tan slime in its wake. SeaFoam has many great uses. Fuel stabilization is not one of them. I don’t care what it says on the can.
- • With stabilizer in your fuel, run your scooter until it comes up to operating temperature and then shut it off
- • If your scooter has a petcock, turn it to the “off” position.
- • For Fuel-Injected scooters: You’re done.
- • For carbureted scooters: You need to empty the bowl on your carburetor. This is typically a large, brass, flat-head bolt on the underside of your carburetor. Open that bolt until fuel starts to empty, then close it once the flow of fuel stops. You should only get about a 1/4 cup of gasoline. If you’re getting a continuous flow, your fuel petcock needs to be either turned off or replaced.
- • That’s it. Your scooter’s fuel system is now ready to sit for up to a year. If it needs to sit longer, drain and replace the fuel and repeat the above procedure at least every 12 months.
- • Alternatively: If you can’t empty your carburetor’s bowl, an alternative procedure is simply to run the scooter up to operating temperature at least once every two weeks. Make an appointment on your calendar and stick to that schedule.
Keep your battery from failing
Even if your scooter has a “maintenance free” battery, it’s still important to keep it charged while your scooter is in storage. The term “maintenance free” refers to whether or not your battery has unsealed chambers where its electrolyte mixture is kept (battery acid and distilled water). On a maintenance free battery, you don’t have to worry about topping off the battery periodically with distilled water so that it operates properly. However, even maintenance free batteries will fail if their voltage gets too low from just sitting around.
Take these steps to keep your battery healthy:
- • Purchase a battery tender. They’re typically about $30, but they’ll save you thousands in new batteries over the years. You don’t need anything fancy, just a basic tender will do.
- • Ideally, remove your battery from your scooter and place it somewhere inside and warm and hook it up to the battery tender (red to red, black to black). This will keep the water from evaporating or sublimating out of your battery in the dry winter air.
- • If indoors isn’t an option, I recommend installing the battery tender lead terminal that should have come with your battery tender. This will let you keep the battery charged all winter, and year-round for that matter. You can literally plug it in and forget about it. If you have more than one scooter, you can pass the tender around to each bike once a week or so.
- • Come Spring, double check your electrolyte levels and add distilled water as needed.
Defend your tires from dry rot
Cold winter air isn’t just cold, it’s dry. This is especially hard on rubber parts like your scooter’s tires. The colder temperatures make rubber more brittle and drying out makes tires susceptible to cracking, often called “weather checking” but more commonly known as dry rot. Unfortunately, dry rotten tires basically have to be replaced. Having a blow out on a scooter is a situation best avoided. Scooters with tube tires have a little more latitude with tire cracking, but it’s still not a good idea.
Take these steps to help prevent tire dry rot:
- • If possible, store your scooter in a climate-controlled environment above 45ºF
- • Unload your tires. Put your scooter up on its center-stand to get the rear tire off the ground. If possible, get the whole scooter up off its wheels using either a secure platform jack or paddock stands.
- • Let some air out of your tires. Don’t completely deflate them, but drop them to 10-15 psi below normal load. This will help prevent cracking because the rubber will be more relaxed.
- • If your scooter does have to stand on its own two wheels, move it around every couple weeks. Don’t let the tires just sit on one spot the whole time.
- • Wipe your tire sidewalls (not your treads) with a water-based tire protectant. Do not use an oil-based tire shine, as this will rob the rubber of moisture and make it dry out faster.
- • Come Spring, don’t forget to re-inflate your tires to their proper pressure.
With these basics taken care of, your scooter should be good to go when things warm up. Winter is also a great time to take care of any lingering maintenance or upgrades. Need to replace your roller weights or clutch plates? Might as well do it while it’s cold.
Lastly, remember to visit your scooter periodically. If possible, sit on it, twist the throttle and make “vroom! vroom!” noises. Your scooter will appreciate it. It misses you just as much as you miss it. Imagine the open road in front of you and the warm wind rushing past. Then hang in there. Spring will come soon enough.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.
Note: In preparing the proceeding content, I consulted with professional motorcycle and scooter mechanics. This information is presented as a general guideline in good faith, but is my own opinion on scooter maintenance. Please consult your own mechanic before working on your scooter.
Photo credit: Flickr