Minimizing Winter Motorcycle Rust Risk With Proper Cover & Other Precautions
Motorcycles are meant to be ridden hard. Still, smart owners take care to baby them a bit during the winter. November through March, whether your bike is regularly revved up or staying stationary, the risk of winter motorcycle rust is real.
AAA estimates motorists across the U.S. spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 billion every year on rust mitigation and rust-related repairs. Of course, that figure isn’t solely fixed on bikers. However, motorcycles are arguably more vulnerable to rust than other types of vehicles because so much of the functional parts are exposed.
By taking a few basic precautions, motorcyclists can ensure their bike is rust-free and ride-ready – whether that’s spring or this Saturday.
How Great is the Risk of Winter Motorcycle Rust?
A motorcycle can rust in any season. However, depending on where you live, it’s often worse in winter.
Rust is a specific type of corrosion that involves iron (and its metal alloys) that come in contact with oxygen and water. The chemical process is called oxidation, and the result is that metal is converted to an unrefined state of reddish-brown flaking and deterioration (AKA rust). Other types of metals can also be damaged by exposure to these elements, but the precise term for those forms of corrosion isn’t rust. The point is whether your motorcycle is made of iron alloys like steel or another metal, like aluminum or titanium, corrosion isn’t an issue you can afford to ignore.
Although the air is typically drier during winter, the greater damage is often thanks (or no thanks) to salt exposure and liquid de-icers. Salt itself is corrosive, and can accelerate the chemical reaction that gives rise to rust. This can pose problems even when the weather starts to warm. If temperatures rise above freezing but there’s precipitation, you’re going to get salty rain wash that can do a lot of damage. In particular, fuel tanks, brake lines, exhaust systems and other central components can be compromised when exposed to moisture, salt, de-icers, and other damaging materials.
Protecting Your Ride From Rust
Among some of the precautionary measures you can take to prevent rust and corrosion from taking hold during the colder months:
- Thoroughly clean your motorcycle after every ride. This is especially true if it’s been exposed to any dirt or salt. If you’re putting it in longer-term storage, take some extra time with this step.
- Lubricate your chains. After you’ve removed the grime from the chain, apply grease for added protection and water-repellant.
- Change the oil and oil filter regularly. This is especially important to do for seasonal storage, as it will clear corrosive dirt and sludge from damaging the internal chambers.
- Fill your fuel tank – and don’t forget the fuel stabilizer! If you’re keeping your motorcycle in storage for a bit, know that an empty tank can rust due to the formation of condensation inside. However, if you don’t mix in some fuel stabilizer, this can also lead to oxidation of internal components – sometimes in as little as three weeks. That’s because ethanol gasoline is both volatile and hygroscopic, meaning it will start to naturally evaporate at the same time water gets absorbed. If the fuel sits in the tank too long without stabilizer, its octane rating dips. This not only increases the risk of rust, but could result in engine detonation or malfunction.
- Make sure to fill up on the anti-freeze. Refilling your coolant system helps protect the engine from cracking when the temperatures drop below freezing. In turn, this also reduces winter motorcycle rust risk because cracked components may be more likely to corrode.
- Charge the battery. Most motorcycle batteries can last about two years, assuming you take care of them. If you regularly ride through the winter, you may not need to worry about this. However, if your motorcycle is idle in storage for weeks or months, the battery is going to begin slowly discharging. Cold weather can accelerate this. Put it on a trickle charger, which keeps the battery in good condition while avoiding overcharging.
- Use a high-quality motorcycle cover – ideally one specifically designed to protect against rust and corrosion. If you simply toss a tarp over your ride, you aren’t doing your bike any favors. In fact, even with indoor storage, moisture can get trapped underneath a covering like that, which can accelerate the damage. Zerust motorcycle covers are made with vapor corrosion inhibitors, which cover the surface area inside an enclosure with a molecule-thin layer of protection against corrosion. Open the cover back up, and those molecules float harmlessly into the air. Zerust motorcycle covers are especially ideal in winter, when you’re storing your bike for at least a few weeks, if not months.
Take Special Care of Older Motorcycles in Particular
It’s especially important with an older bike to be proactive about how it’s stored, whether it’s only overnight or for months on end.
The number of on-road motorcycles registered in the U.S. over the last 20 years has doubled – from 4.3 million in 2002 to 8.6 million in 2021, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
More than half of all bikes currently on the road have more than a dozen years under their engine belts, with the average age of registered motorcycles increasing from 9 years in 2002 to 13 years in 2021. Whereas in the early 2000s, about 40 percent of motorcycles on the road were at least 10-years-old, now it’s nearly 63 percent. What does this have to do with winter motorcycle rust? First of all, the older a motorcycle is, the more exposure its metal components have had to the elements – particularly the water, dust, salt, and sand that can accelerate corrosion. Secondly, older bikes are more likely to be made with rust-resistant materials and coating. Even if they were, that protection could be fading. Further, the durability of certain motorcycle parts can be compromised with age.
The IIHS data also underscores the fact that we have a sizable crop of newer riders operating older bikes that may be more susceptible to rust and corrosion – possibly without realizing this is something about which they should even be concerned.
If you have questions about motorcycle rust prevention and how our motorcycle covers can help, our experts are happy to provide information and point you to the right product.
Contact Zerust for information on rust protection for motorcycles by emailing us or calling (330) 405-1965.
Riding a Motorcycle in Winter, Progressive.com
More Blog Entries:
The Best Motorcycle Covers to Keep Your Bike Safe from Rust and Corrosion, Sept. 26, 2022, Zerust Motorcycle Rust Prevention Blog