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How to "Pickle" a bike for storage

Mac Kirkpatrick

Several folks came by the house the other day and perused the bikes in the basement, some of which have not been started for over 22 years. One asked to be told how I pickle a bike for long term storage and this is what I sent them.

I pickle a bike for long term storage by trying to think of everything that will happen to a bike while it is stored, and then think of what will counter any bad effects. A lot depends on how long a bike will be stored. One winter is different than 20 years.

One thing I run into constantly is guys who think that starting a vehicle or bike once in a while is good for it, while in storage. In fact it is very BAD for it since for every gallon of gas that is burned over a gallon of water is generated and pushed into the exhaust system. This is why you see cars in front of you in the morning on the way to work, with water dripping out the tail pipe. Once the vehicle has been run for a good amount of time and the exhaust system has been heated up above 212 degrees, this water will be boiled off. Cars driven for short distances will rust out their exhaust systems versus vehicles driven for long distances will never need to have their exhaust systems replaced at all.

So, if you put your bike up in storage for the winter for instance, do not start it until the spring. (I once rented a Corvette in Hawaii just to try one out, and it had water and oil temperature gauges; the water temp came up within several miles, but the oil temp did not come up completely for 20 miles; thus the admonition to drive a vehicle for about that distance so it is thoroughly warmed up.)

This is what I do for long term storage of a vehicle:

I wax all painted surfaces and reduce the air pressure in the tires to about 20 psi.

I run the bike for about 20 miles to thoroughly warm it up; this gets the oil above 212 degrees and boils off any moisture in the oil, engine and mufflers. Then I fog the running engine by spraying fogging oil into the carb intake(s) until the engine stops. This sends lube through the entire engine, exhaust and carbs.

Then I spray WD-40 (WD = Water Displacing and the 40 refers to the 40th iteration to get a good WD-40 formula) into the mufflers until it dribbles out; normally there is a weep hole in the muffler(s). This gets lube down where any moisture will pool and counters it. Drain the float bowls and re install them. Drain the gas from the gas tank, remove the gas tank and set it aside with an air compressor hose running at low volume into the tank. I do this for several days to completely dry the tank. Then I put the tank back on the bike and put about a quart of rust inhibitor into the tank as this will sit in the lowest and most vulnerable part of the tank where water from condensation will pool in the the tank.

Then I remove the spark plugs and dribble several teaspoons of oil into the cylinder and turn the engine over by hand by putting the bike in 5th gear and rotate the rear tire until the (BMW) pistons are out as far as possible toward the valve covers. Removing the spark plugs allows you to see there the pistons are in their travel. This reduces the volume of air in the cylinder to the least amount possible and helps avoid moisture in the cylinder air.

Do what is necessary to keep the tires from touching the floor; this keeps the tires from "flatting". Put wood under the engine or transmission as appropriate.

A cover over the bike will keep dust out.

Plugs in the ends of the mufflers will help also. You can use rubber or cork stoppers, or crutch tips (the bit on the end of a cane). On bikes other than the R90S (or non-stock ones) you may wish to plug the airbox holes to keep mice out of there.

I am told that moth balls will deter mice/rodents from setting up a home and therefore chewing on electrics.

I store my bikes in a temp and humidity controlled basement so any further concerns are mitigated for me. However if you store bikes in a garage, note that every time the outside temp is greater than the garage temp and the garage door is opened, all that cold air condenses on every surface on the bike! A cover on the bike will help with this.

The other option, which is a bit extreme, is to coat surfaces with Vaseline. Vaseline is acid/PH neutral and and will protect the surfaces from contact with air and the moisture it contains. This is a little extreme but may be called for depending on the value of the bike, where it is stored (think near the shore) and the length of time it will be stored.

Lastly, once a year I bring a charged battery to the bike (remover the spark plugs and *ground them on the engine* to protect any electronic ignition), and attach the battery, then I turn the engine over until the oil pressure light goes out. This insures that oil is circulated throughout the engine. Then I again move the pistons to their most outboard position.

Over any time long term periods of storage, there will be affects that are unavoidable as seals will dry up and have to be replaced, and grease solidifies, so the steering head bearings may need attention, for instance.

This procedure works for me. I recently took a 1984 R100CS Last Edition out of this pickled state, and it started right up and ran fine. It had been in storage for 21 years.

Good luck!

Mac Kirkpatrick
Glenmoore, PA
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