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Storage trials

(Nov 2022, by Guy 'Guido' Allen, lead pic by Ellen Dewar, Indian pic by Ben Galli)

storing you


Storing your motorcycles...how can you minimise damage when you store or keep a bike?

How do you store a bike? Of all the questions I've been asked over time, this is the one I most dread. There is no correct answer and even the nearly-right ones will vary according to what you intend, for how long and where you are.

The premise is this: reader Bob/Roberta gets in touch and says, "You have lots of bikes, so how do you store them?" Fair question. This assumes I'm an expert, which is up for debate, but here goes...

In my situation, all the motorcycles are kept active – aside from mechanical issues that lay them up for a while. There are 17 in the fleet at the moment (one of which I've had for 30-plus years, a few over 20 and several over 10) and are in roughly four groups:

1. The collectibles that I try to keep as tidy as possible (for example my Triumph Daytona Super III or Norton Commando MkIII);

2. A couple of unrestored toys I keep in survivor shape (for example my Yamaha SR500);

3. A few sports-tourers and tourers that are in very good but not perfect condition (for example my Suzuki Hayabusa and Honda Valkyrie Interstate);

4. And a sacrificial anode, in this case the BMW R1150GS, which is my knock-about option.

Regardless of their condition, the overall aim is to stop or more realistically slow down the inevitable degradation that comes with time.

In my case you can ride only one at a time, which means some can sit for anything up to a few months between outings. So we'll start with short-term storage.

In an ideal world, you'd have a climate-controlled shed with good air-filtration. Nice thought...I don't. I do however have a mix of sheds and shelters.


Short term

Here's what I do:

Nothing is put away dirty – after every ride, the bike is allowed to cool down, given a quick clean-up if it needs it and then covered. If there are areas prone to corrosion (and I remember!), they'll get a spray of WD40/CRC or similar. Ditto for plastics.

Those compounds act as a decent corrosion inhibitor on metal and work well with plastics/vinyl. If the bike has wire-spoked wheels, I'll sometimes go to the trouble of drowning a rag in spray and then wipe each spoke with it.

For paint, believe it or not Mr Sheen wax (yep, the domestic version) is a quick and easy go-to. One proviso: If you ever go to repaint a tank or similar that's been treated with Mr Sheen, extra care needs to be taken when stripping it before respraying, as it can work its way quite deep into the material.

Dust covers on everything – and they need to be able to 'breathe'. The dust itself isn't necessarily harmful, but combined with moisture is bad news as it builds up over time.

When the opportunity comes up, I replace batteries with Lithium. Frankly, lead-acid is a waste of time these days. The performance is ordinary and I certainly won't buy an unsealed battery any more.

I prefer Lithium for the longer ability to hold charge, superior tendency to throw everything at the starter from the first hit and quick recharge times. However AGM is probably better bang for your buck if price is an issue, given it seems to have longevity and charge-holding abilities that go close to its more expensive cousin.

If the bike is still running an earlier sealed type, I'll usually have it on a trickle-charger.

Fuel tanks are kept full, or close – 95 from BP (no sponsorship in case you were wondering) is the preferred juice for pretty much everything. The brand comes on the advice of a long-term automotive fuel systems repairer. Any fuel with an ethanol component is avoided.

Oil is changed yearly (assuming low miles) – strictly mineral for the older machinery and synthetic for those that have it specified. Penrite is my default brand. The company has a pretty good product selector here. (And no, this is not a paid referral.)

Brake/clutch fluid is changed or freshened-up yearly. I have a short-cut I use every second year, which is to use a syringe to empty the reservoir and throw in fresh fluid, rather than a full change – something I keep a log on. (And yes, it's not perfect. But reality says you need to cut down the workload a little...)

When you take them for a run, it needs to be 5-10km as a reasonable stretch. However that inevitably needs to be punctuated every few short runs with a proper longer gallop of an hour or better, preferably including a decent highway section.


Medium Term

What's medium term? I'd say six months to a year-ish without being ridden. In that case, before you park it, fresh fluids all round, which includes hydraulics (brakes/clutch), and make sure the fuel tank is full, with a dose of fuel stabiliser. Drain the carburettors if it has them.

Plan on changing the fluids when you return to it.

Remove the battery, and pump up the tyres to around 40psi. Put it on the centrestand or paddock stand.

Pretty much all the surfaces (avoid the tyres and brake discs!) will benefit from a mist of WD40/CRC or similar, then cover it.


Long Term

Let's say two years-plus. Frankly I wouldn't do it unless it is something that has sentimental value, looks fantastic in the lounge room, or you're confident is going to grow significantly in value. Otherwise, sell it, put the money aside and plan on buying a replacement when you're ready.

If you are keeping it, ditch all the fluids and give it a good clean. Why drop the fluids? They change consistency and can 'eat' your motorcycle from the inside out over time.

When it comes to petrol, here's a quote from our feature on reviving a Yamaha GTS1000 which had been stored for 15 years: "So what happens when you leave unleaded fuel sitting in a complex motorcycle for 15 years or so? It essentially eats everything it can weasel its way into. We ended up having to ditch the fuel tank, the lines, the pump, the injectors…pretty much everything between the filler on the tank and the cylinder head." See the full story here.

A spray of WD40/CRC is worthwhile (assuming you're away for the duration), as is a centrestand, pumped-up tyres etc.

This is where environment is absolutely critical. A shed or under-house space that's out of the rain but has a damp atmosphere will still rot your bike at an appalling rate. It needs to be properly dry.

motorcycle storage - indian motorcycles


Let's say you need to wander off and leave the bike for a while, but it's to be kept as a runner. If you have a friend with the skills, knowledge and time, you might consider leaving it with them for the odd spin around the block. In most cases, a 5-10km ride every few weeks will suffice.

Or, in the case of long-term non-runner, is the bike of interest to a local museum or shop as a static display? If it's very valuable, there are professional vehicle storage companies out there.

Best options?

Clearly there will be variations and subtleties involved in all of this, depending on the motorcycle(s) and your situation.

For some, it may come down to a decision about whether you're keeping the bike as a runner or as a museum piece. That's probably the most important decision of all.

In the latter case, a clean and dry environment with no fluids in the machine will be the way to go. Even that can involve some minimal care to keep the thing tidy.

If it's to be kept as a runner, you will inevitably be making compromises. In that situation, just keep in mind that it is more difficult to slow down the march of time. But that's okay, as you get to enjoy it along the way...

motorcycle storage

Above: Our 2003 Suzuki Hayabusa and 1947 Sunbeam S7

More features here

See the bikes in our shed


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