Updated Dec 15, 2021 ...
Riding Your Motorcycle On Winter Road Salt
It's winter here in Chicagoland. Said season's reputation is just as harsh as our city's industrial response to it. The roads get salted while most of us go about situating our motorcycles for cold storage. It's funny how (perhaps as expected) priority "favorites" get winterized first, followed by the next most important until we reach that ... wait. Maybe I'll keep that one at the ready!
In our house, the sacrificial "meh, whatever" ride is an '88 Honda Hawk GT which, as you might've guessed, I just rode before outlining this article. A brief fluke in our January temps offered up three successive days of 40, then 45 and today 50 degrees with sparse rain. Roads rinsed, carburetors newly re-jetted and an aftermarket exhaust in place, I geared up before easing through every slick/slimy corner between our house and the Fort Sheridan Starbucks.
This blessing has it's curse, however. Once we as riders get even a hint of saddle time, it's all over. We want more and we won't be denied.
Therein lies a problem for me personally since this bike has been cosmetically rebuilt ... twice. First it was rear ended by an SUV while my wife was riding it. Then a buddy backed over it not a month after it was freshly revitalized. Neither parts nor paint work for such an infamously rare bird come cheap. The short of it is that I want to ride whenever winter will allow but I also want to keep my beloved Hawk mechanically (and aesthetically) intact.
This singles out road salt, my motorcycle's most obvious mid-winter enemy. It's corrosive nature comes with a complimentary adhesive behavior. The longer you leave it on, the nastier things get and it only worsens when a fully baked engine cools off with this savory glue embracing it.
What Salt Does To Your Motorcycle
The parts of your motorcycle that are most harshly effected by road salt are those located toward the front. Equally effected are the ones in the middle. Oh, and then there's the stuff on the end.
Salt is mean to your entire frickin' bike.
First off, it accelerates oxidation (rust) many times over. Despite winter's stereotypically dry air, salt extracts whatever moisture it can from wherever it can so if it's jacketing your bike's metallurgy, well ... you can predict the rest. Aluminum isn't Switzerland, either. While it does fight off the better known issues of iron and steel, repeat exposure to salt, water and road spray cause it to become discolored ("Well, so what?") and brittle, sometimes dangerously so ("Oh. Right.")
Then there's the matter of our precious plastics.
On my Hawk, they're painted a custom, pseudo-matched electric blue. Should I completely abandon all effort to save this beautifully reflective speckle work, it too will (say it with me) oxidize. Paint behaves similarly to metal in that colors fade and surfaces crack until the return of any vanity-driven pride requires a reach for that wallet. Compound this with sharpened, marble-size chunks of reject table seasoning deflecting off those polymers that give our motorcycles their character and we arrive at lose-lose. Salt bad!
Save Your Motorcycle From Winter Road Salt Corrosion (Step "Z")
I'm composing these bits of advice assuming that newer riders might read the above before freaking out about the newly dry, over-engineered salt lick that's parked in their garage. I'm guilty of the same, circa 2012 if I remember correctly (that poor XS400RJ Seca of mine took the brunt of my unknowing punishment). It's okay, though. What's done is done. Let's remedy the situation.
Rinse your motorcycle thoroughly in all locations with scrutiny. Hot water (as hot as possible but bare-hand-friendly, not boiling) is our ally in this scenario as it dissolves caked on grit, sometimes with gusto. If you're outside and have constant access to this bucket bath, splashing it over the bike with a large cup or handheld electric water sprayer is the way to go. Have a large towel on standby so that you can wipe away any excess afterward. Don't forget the undercarriage!
Also, don't "blast" water at anything and "think like tires" in terms of where hidden road spray may have found it's mark. Hard to reach areas are just as suspect. For that, we look to the soft-bristle grunge brush. Soak/spray, scrub, rinse and repeat as needed. There's also plenty of opportunity to watch for both maintenance and wish list upgrades ;-)
You may have noticed with the aforementioned bucket "O" hotness that I didn't mention soap. Okay, yes ... you could up the process to warp factor "suds" and hot-rinse after the fact but I personally prefer the post-rinse, chem-bath quickie. Spray cleaner/degreaser for non-painted metals (mind the gaskets), WD-40 for painted metals and plastic cleaner for ... duh.
Step "A" = Ready Your Ride For Winter's Salty Wrath
Now entering "shoulda, woulda, coulda" territory, our big sell is Lear Chem's incredible, amazing and fantastic ACF-50. Available in various applications and sizes, this deterrent is (mostly) non-toxic. It halts any corrosion already in progress while preventing new hate from getting started.
Expanding slightly as it cures, ACF-50 creeps into the very same hard to reach nooks and crannies that prove difficult to rinse, making it less likely that we'll have to. The product is safe for use anywhere but the brakes and human contact points (pegs/seat/grips), meaning each of our metals, rubbers and plastics can receive a coat without worry. I'm considering just filling our neighbors inflatable pool with the stuff before bagging my brakes and going for a little "winter dip".
It's not flammable, either so the motor would appear to be fair game ...
Adding extra shell materials to your bike, meaning less-important, semi-disposable parts is a worthwhile option as well. Hand guards, mesh screens and fork boots are all examples of quick-attach features that make cleaning and treatment less of a chore. Seek out weak spots, hidden or otherwise and consider what simple, problem-solving installs apply.
Second Step Last (Smacks Forehead)
Mind the forecast, folks. I knew it was going to warm up and thought "but salt" before remembering "rain maker salty bye". Because the warmest of the three opportunities was after two days of consistent rainwash, I knew I had little if anything to worry about. After the sun went down, the temperature took a nose dive and out came the trucks, plows raised, only to dump a new layer of sodium onto what had become a glistening speed skater's paradise. Keep track of approaching warm/cold fronts and gauge whether the riding conditions are even manageable, rain or shine.
Street service schedules have their hand in this as well in that routes with heavy traffic will most certainly be addressed first. Maybe that rougher tarmac at the corner of "Industry and Warehouse" doesn't get as much attention. For you dedicated dirt riders, well, you probably haven't made it this deep into my article as you're too busy shredding some remote path (or neighboring lawn).
One final Hail Mary ingredient is to invest in an EBay or Craigslist junker. Not once in all of internet history has that goofy flea market upped their GUI game and yet ... we profit. Find yourself a poorly described but road-ready "cafe rat bobber scrambler street fighter dirt bike" that never stood a chance, sentenced to an eternity fraternizing with some riding mower in back of a leaky shed.
Thoughts On Motorcycles And The Shiny, Briny Saline
The suggestions above are disorganized by design. If the Jackson Five wrote ABC this way, our dancing would be far more awkward but the end truth is that yes ... yes it's okay to ride your motorbike on road salt if you prepare beforehand and respond afterward.
Still, that isn't to suggest that you should subject your newly titled Motus to the elements. We're just providing a sound off in hopes that you'll take appropriate measures should you decide the risk is worth the reward. Remember that if it's not, there are alternatives to motorcycling when the powder hits the lawn.
Having multiple bikes within reach, I find I'm often balancing weather's science against opinion's prophecy. The "want" usually reins victorious and with that, my side stand flies. Well, that is assuming I have enough coffee on hand to conquer the post-ride cleanup.
How Do You Protect Your Motorcycle When Cold Weather Riding?
There are a lot of great winterizing products out there. Which ones do you prefer? What do you like about each and why? Your input is invited. Post An Article!