We’ve owned multiple dirt bikes for over 20 years, which means that winterizing can take a while – unless you have a simplified and proven method!
That’s why I’m going to show you the simples that work for me on how to winterize a dirt bike, whether you want the “5-minute method”, or the more in-depth method.
Both work nearly as well, which is important, because our Minnesota winters can be 6 months long (without riding) and temperatures in the -20s are not uncommon (yes, that’s negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit!)
Do I need to winterize my dirt bike?
You don’t need to winterize your dirt bike if you’re riding at least once a month in most cases. However, you should winterize your dirt bike if you:
- Won’t be riding for at least 1-2 months
- Want your dirt bike to easily start when storing it
- Want to be prepared in case there are any current problems you didn’t notice before
What will happen if you don’t winterize your dirt bike?
You might not have any problems if you just do nothing, but if you store your dirt bike for over 1 month and live in a cold climate like me, you’re much more likely to have these problems if you don’t winterize your dirt bike(s):
- Your dirt bike might not start after sitting in storage for months
- You might have new problems if not properly winterized (leaks/cracked parts from freezing)
- Spend more time doing maintenance and troubleshooting to get your dirt bike running again after it’s been sitting
- A major problem that already existed but went unnoticed until you pulled it out of storage – not allowing you to ride until you get it fixed!
5 Minute Dirt Bike Winterization Method
You can often get away with my quick winterization method if you’re only storing it for 1-2 months at a time. The longer you let your dirt bike sit, the more preparation I recommend doing so that it starts and runs reliably when you pull it out next.
Here’s my “5-minute dirt bike winterizing method”:
- Fill the tank
Use fresh gas that has the correct grade with NO ethanol in it. Ethanol absorbs moisture, which causes the gas to break down and gum up faster, resulting in a dirty carb that’s hard to clean.
- Keep battery charged
If your dirt bike has a battery with an electric start, I recommend plugging in a battery tender (Amazon) so that it stays fully charged, making it last longer and have enough power to start your dirt bike.
And that’s it! Those two are the most important things to make sure your dirt bike starts after storing it, but there is a list of other things that I like to check if I’m storing a bike for more than 2 months – see the steps a few paragraphs down…
Which battery tender should you get for a lithium battery?
Older-style battery chargers will ruin (melt or start a fire) a modern lithium battery, so it’s important to buy a charger or battery tender that works with lithium batteries (Amazon).
How to know if your dirt bike battery is dead after sitting
If you hear a “clicking/buzzing” sound or the engine is very slow to turn over, then the battery is either dead or too weak to start your dirt bike.
You might be able to charge it to have enough power to start the engine, but if it’s over 3 years old or if it does this every time you do a cold start, it’s time to replace the battery – especially if there’s no backup kick-starter!
Winterizing Your Dirt Bike For 6+ Months Method
If you have more than 5 minutes, I recommend following as many steps from this list as possible if you’re storing your dirt bike for more than 2 months – it works when I winterized our bikes for 5-6 months every winter.
Ride bike one last time
Dirt bikes tend to work better when they’re used regularly (at least 1-2 times per month). You’re less likely to have problems in the spring if you can get one last ride in where the engine can get up to full operating temp to burn out the condensation/moisture.
This is why I don’t like to fully winterize our dirt bikes until I know for sure that the dirt bike riding season is officially over. However, it’s not practical for everyone, especially if you live in an apartment and need to store your dirt bike by a certain time.
Clean & inspect your bike
If possible, I recommend washing your dirt bike before storing it for a couple of reasons – it’s MUCH harder to clean a dirt bike that’s been sitting for months with dirt and mud on it.
Also, when washing your dirt bike, you can multi-task and look over everything to make sure there are no broken parts, missing, or loose parts.
Fill the tank and carb
Some people like to drain the gas from their carburetor so that the gas doesn’t sit and “gum” up the jets and passages, but this can cause more harm than good- especially if you live in a dry climate.
When the o-rings and gaskets in the carburetor dry up, they can shrink and crack, so when you turn the gas on in the spring, it starts leaking – doh!
Should you use Stabil or Seafoam in your dirt bike?
I don’t like to use either because they don’t always work. My best method for success is using gas with no ethanol in it (our local gas station has 91 octane non-oxy gas that works well). It lasts longer than regular pump gas with 10-15% ethanol because it doesn’t absorb as much moisture or break down as quickly.
With that said, I know people who say they MUST have sta-bil (Amazon) for all of their machines, so whatever helps you sleep at night…
Oil check – more wear and tear
The first start-up of your dirt bike is the hardest because the oil hasn’t been efficiently pumped to all of the parts – if you leave dirty oil in your dirt bike over the winter months, it can cause a little bit more wear and tear on the engine parts.
Is it going to need a rebuild if you don’t change the oil? No, not from one start-up, but every little thing adds up. Plus, if you change the oil before winterizing your dirt bike then you won’t have to do it in the spring – just go out and ride!
Coolant check – don’t crack your engine open!
If you have a liquid-cooled dirt bike and live in a cold climate like mine where it gets well below freezing (-20F is not uncommon), then it’s important to check the coolant before winterizing.
Checking the coolant level is only important to know that there are no major leaks or problems.
What you need is an inexpensive antifreeze/coolant tester (Amazon). This will tell you the anti-freezing as well as boil protection level. If you don’t have a high enough concentration of antifreeze in the coolant mixture, it could freeze on a really cold night and crack the cylinder or a radiator!
Check tire pressure
While it’s not as important, I like to check tire pressures on my checklist for winterizing for a couple of reasons. One – if there’s a flat, then I know it needs to be replaced before riding next spring.
Two – If your dirt bike is on a kick-stand or side stand and it’s not the proper length, your dirt bike could fall over if one or both tires go flat. While it’s not a common problem, it’s worth checking if you don’t want to damage your bike or other expensive items that it might fall onto.
How to prevent mice from making a nest in your dirt bike over the winter
Field mice suck when they get into your air filter or worse – your electronics and wiring, causing intermittent issues that are dangerous when riding or just a frustrating “no start” issue.
For mufflers and silencers that don’t have a closed-off end cap or spark arrestor screen, you’ll want to insert an exhaust “butt” plug. 4 stroke mufflers (Amazon) usually have a larger opening, so you’ll need a smaller plug (Amazon) if you have a 2 stroke dirt bike.
Covering the air filter with a bag or special cover (Amazon) is one way to help prevent mice from chewing up the foam filter and making it their “home” all winter – and they usually bring other things into the airbox that cause it to not start or run worse with less power.
If you have a KTM, you can get an air filter box cover (Amazon) that also protects against water and dirt when cleaning the box.
The old “soap method”
Mice or rats can also chew threw wiring, causing massive headaches from an “intermittent” problem from a loose or broken wire, but this trick works very well and is very affordable compared to the potential risk…
Buy a box of Irish spring soap (Amazon) and lay the open bars of soap near any areas that you don’t want mice to come near. I have also used this for my street bikes, drag bikes, and cars that I winterize – for some reason they don’t like the smell/taste and tend to stay away.
Other maintenance items to keep your dirt bike reliable & running like new
Here are some other things I like to do to keep my bikes “like new” if I’m bored or have extra time while winterizing:
- Pour an ounce of engine oil down the spark plug hole to keep the top-end lubricated and prevent corrosion
- Clean and lube any cables and pivots, such as clutch/throttle cables, bearings, parts that pivot, etc.
- Clean or replace dirty/crumbling old air filter
- Clean & lubricate the chain to prevent corrosion
How to store a dirt bike for winter
You just learned my practical steps for winterizing your dirt bike, but now you need to know how to physically park and store it. For example, if you leave your bike outside or in a shed that has a lot of moisture, other major problems can happen, such as corrosion to all metal parts and wiring.
The place to store your dirt bike for the winter months is a cool, dry climate. Obviously, if you’re leaving it in a shed or garage that’s not heated, it’s going to be cool, but keeping it dry is the key here.
Garages, sheds or buildings that aren’t properly ventilated or are in a low area with lots of moisture are your dirt bike’s worst enemy (or any machine for that matter).
If there’s always water or moisture on the ground that never dries up, you might want to consider storing your dirt bike elsewhere. A wet barn or poorly ventilated garage is not a great place to park your dirt bike long-term.
Parking your dirt bike on a center stand (Amazon) so that both wheels are off the ground is the best way to store your dirt bike, but it’s not the end of the world if they’re parked on a kickstand.
Reasons to park your dirt bike on a stand with both wheels off the ground:
- No pressure on the suspension components
- No pressure on the tires/rubber
- Less likely to fall over if the tires lose air
We have too many dirt bikes to buy a cover for all of them, but they can help keep the dust off if that’s important to you. I do have one important tip if you’re going to buy a dirt bike cover (Amazon).
Make sure that your entire dirt bike can still get airflow to it. If you use a cover that totally seals it, is too heavy, or isn’t breathable, moisture can build up and cause mold, corrosion, or nasty “creatures” to build a new home on or in your dirt bike – yuck!
How to winterize 2 stroke vs 4 stroke dirt bike
There isn’t any major difference between winterizing a 2 stroke dirt bike compared to a 4 stroke. The main difference is the fuel you use – most 2-strokes require a pre-mix or oil and gas (unless it’s oil-injected).
The bigger difference is air-cooled vs liquid-cooled. If you have an air-cooled engine, then there are no radiators or coolant to deal with – yay!
Carb vs EFI dirt bike winterizing – is there a difference?
One of the biggest reasons why I’m starting to switch our fleet of trail bikes to EFI vs carb is because fuel injection consistently has fewer problems when it comes to winterizing and storage.
I’ve had to clean so many carburetors over the years – usually on dirt bikes that I just bought, and frankly, it’s just getting old. Small carbs have tiny jets and passages that clog up very easily, and for some bikes, it’s a major pain to remove them to do a proper carb cleaning.
As far as winterization goes, I don’t change much between EFI and carbs, but it’s more important to do all the steps on a carbureted dirt bike if you want it to start in the spring.
How to ride a dirt bike in cold weather or snow without freezing
Riding in the snow or cold weather can be fun because it’s different and it extends your riding season, but it can also be your worst experience on a dirt bike if you don’t properly plan ahead.
For example, to ride in cold weather you’ll want to:
- Tune the carb for colder weather
- Wear proper clothing to stay warm
- Add some accessories to your bike so that it handles the cold or slippery conditions
- Use proper riding techniques to prevent crashes
Dirt bike won’t start after sitting over the winter?
Maybe it’s already springtime or for some reason your dirt bike needs a tune up after winterizing. Click here to learn how to troubleshoot and fix your dirt bike that won’t start.