What to Do with a Motorcycle that’s Been Sitting Too Long
Letting a motorcycle sit inactive longer than it should isn’t uncommon. Life gets in the way sometimes and we can’t find time to go riding anymore, so we put the bike away and let it sit too long.
Whatever the reason you let your motorcycle sit dormant for a long period of time — work, travel, illness, loss of interest — don’t be surprised if certain parts are deteriorated and/or don’t work anymore when you dust it off. You might notice some cosmetic issues when you take the motorcycle out of storage, like chipping or bubbling paint on the fuel tank. Paint helps protect the tank and other parts of the motorcycle, but we’ll save cosmetic issues for another post.
A motorcycle that’s been sitting for years will likely be in much worse condition than one that’s been sitting for a few months. Regardless of how long a motorcycle has been inactive, here are some things you should do to get the bike up and running again.
Whether a motorcycle has sat for too long beyond repair depends on what conditions and climate the motorcycle was kept. A motorcycle that hasn’t been properly prepared for long-term storage should never go more than a month without starting it or driving it. So if you put your motorcycle in storage for the offseason and didn’t winterize it properly, you’re going to face some problems.
Recharge or Replace the Battery
If your motorcycle sat for years, be prepared to buy a new battery. Before you do that, check the battery’s expiration date, but know that a long stretch of inactivity means it probably won’t hold a charge, and you really shouldn’t use a battery that’s been dormant for years, even if it’s not expired.
Just because the battery fires up doesn’t mean it’ll charge, so you’ll want to charge and test it first if you don’t want to replace it. If the battery was still connected to the motorcycle while it was in storage, it may have experienced a parasitic drain. However, if the battery was disconnected and stored for just a few months while hooked up to a battery tender, it should be fine, but you should test it anyway.
Change the Engine Oil
Oil can take a few months to break down when it’s not being used, so if your motorcycle sat for a while, you should go ahead and do an oil and filter change.
When the engine oil breaks down, it loses viscosity and the ability to properly lubricate moving parts. If your motorcycle sat inactive for more than a year, the oil and oil filter are likely deteriorated to the point of being useless. And if the motorcycle sat for longer than a few months, you may want to do two oil changes: one to clean out the system and then another after you started the motorcycle, like you would when you’re breaking in an engine.
Change the Other Fluids
Besides the engine oil, you’ll want to drain out and change all of the other fluids that keep your motorcycle running. These include the brake fluid, coolant and transmission fluid that were in the bike if it sat for more than a few months.
Replace the Fuel
When a motorcycle sits for too long, the fuel inside it can foul up over time. If you added fuel stabilizer to the gasoline before storing the bike for a few months, it should be fine.
Fuel inside the tank can start going bad after a month if left untreated and unused. However, if the motorcycle sat for longer than a few months without stabilizer, flush out the tank and replace the fuel. And even if you did treat the fuel with stabilizer but the bike sat for more than 6 months, do the same thing. Bad fuel can clog up and corrode the fuel system, so you’ll likely have to replace the fuel filter and the fuel lines as well.
Another negative affect of letting a motorcycle lie dormant for years is water intrusion into the carb. If you stored the bike in a humid or cold weather environment, water may have gotten into the carb through condensation. If that happens, you’ll have to go through the process of either cleaning, rebuilding or replacing the carburetor.
Clean or Replace the Air Filter
Good airflow is essential to a motorcycle’s performance, so you’ll want to make sure the air filter is up to snuff, especially if you want to revive a bike that was in hibernation.
If your motorcycle sat for a year, the air filter is probably clogged, contaminated, and worn out to the point of ineffectiveness. A high quality reusable foam or fabric air filter may be salvageable with a good cleaning, but a disposable paper air filter in a motorcycle that sat too long should be replaced right away.
Sitting motorcycle tires can not only develop flat spots over time, but also cracks that render them unusable. If the motorcycle sat for a year or longer, go ahead and replace the tires before you ride it again. For an inactivity period of less than a year, the tires might still be good. Nevertheless, check the manual for the correct tire pressure, use a tire gauge to adjust it as needed, and inspect the overall condition of the tires for tread wear and depth.
Clean and Lube the Chain
The chain lube on a motorcycle that sat too long has likely dried dry up and/or collected enough dust and dirt that can seize the chain.
Check Motorcycle for Rust
Moisture buildup on a motorcycle that sat inactive causes rust corrosion on metal parts, and if it sat for many years, that rust can be so severe that the bike may be beyond saving.
Corrosion can affect everything from the handlebars to the brakes and the engine itself, especially if the motorcycle was left uncovered too long. Rust in the fuel tank is one of the most common problems a motorcycle that sat too long can experience, which could corrode the entire fuel system.
If your motorcycle sat dormant for months or years, inspect all parts that may have rusted over time. Some parts like engine cases and wheels can be restored with rust remover or metal polish if the rust isn’t too severe. However, if engine parts like the pistons have rusted out, you may have to completely rebuild or replace the engine. And if you let the motorcycle rust out for too long, you may have to accept the fact that the motorcycle is beyond restoration or repair.
Inspect Seals and Gaskets
The seals and gaskets of a motorcycle that’s been sitting for a long time may have worn out from inactivity, which can cause them to lose elasticity and make them fragile.
Seals and gaskets are designed to work as they heat up to expand and thus create a tighter seal. When these gaskets and seals lack heat expansion, they can become brittle and start to leak. While reviving a dormant bike, inspect all the various gaskets and seals from the engine right down to the brakes and fork seals, as they may have warped or worn out from lack of activity.
Test Ride the Motorcycle
After doing everything mentioned above and cleaning the motorcycle, start it up and take it for a test ride to detect any other problems you didn’t catch during the initial inspection.
If the motorcycle sat for a long time, the engine may need to crank over a few times before it fires up, so be patient. Once the motorcycle is running, give it time to warm up, and observe it for any leaks. Finally, when the motorcycle cools down after the test ride, do an additional inspection for fluid leaks.