Surviving the Off-Season
To a large portion of our audience, there is an inherent dread for the winter every year. The car meets all slow down or stop completely. The track and autocross events stop. The snow plows (and salt trucks depending on where you live) come out and most of the fun you have as a motoring enthusiast have to go in hibernation.
And like bears, the hibernation seems to take an outrageously long time to slug through - a somewhat impossible length of time to survive without “feeding” yourself in your car or motorcycle hobby. Some years are better than others, but largely it’s a time we all dread every year.
It’s no shock - cars and motorcycles are a tool or a gateway vessel to the various flavors of our hobby. Without anywhere to go drive, a vehicle really doesn’t do much for us in terms of gratification. Unless it’s a project car by nature (as opposed to one purchased to actually drive regularly), they don’t really do much for us parked in the garage.
I am an Off-Season sufferer as much as anyone else, but I have been trying to figure out ways to fight the typical lowly attitude, and I have some ideas to share with you that are already making things go smoother for me this year.
Get Ahead of Your Maintenance
This is more geared to those with either a daily driver or if we are talking about a motorcycle - either way, the idea that the project will be somewhat ongoing. Some of these are not the kind of job or repair that is done in the driveway on a Saturday, but one that will take a large amount of time, effort and some research/investigation in the middle.
Maybe it’s going over and making a checklist for less-frequent maintenance that is either upcoming or due and tackling the list. By the end of the “driving season” I found that a few of my vehicles either had repair(s) that were needed, or scheduled upkeep was necessary. I kind of made a list of importance and am choosing one or two of the items to tackle every “lazy Sunday” for the coming months.
Examples of my list of things I COULD do on my FRS that isn’t necessarily crucial:
Trans/Diff/Brake Fluid change
Inspect/replace what seems like a noisy wheel bearing that started making noise in the fall
If I get bored, I could replace the serpentine belt which isn’t QUITE due in terms of mileage, but might come up mid-summer and I’d rather just do it now.
If I get REALLY bored, I could do an interior detailing - more than just a vacuum and wipe - perhaps shampoo the carpet, do a steam-clean on the interior or something? I’ll ask Paul for ideas here!
Take care of pressing issues
One of my motorcycles has a slight oil leak - a few drips per week. Nothing scary, nothing that stopped me from riding it over the summer and fall, but obviously not ideal. I can see where it’s coming from, and it seems as simple as an oil pan gasket switch. This will require little more than a new gasket, removal of the exhaust and a handful of bolts to take on and off. While I wouldn’t want to “waste” a good weather weekend over the summer, a cold weekend day is the perfect time to tackle a simple but messy job like this and it's on my to-do list.
I also took advantage of one of the last weekends prior to the cold weather coming to replace wheel bearings in my FX45. It’s a known issue on those things, and being 15yrs old it was not surprising that they were in need of replacement. On the Infiniti, the wheel bearings are a known fail point that not only has a primary duty of smooth motion in the wheel, but the included tone ring goes bad and throws off the ABS sensor, making it a non-abs, rwd vehicle with no available stability control when they malfunction. This wasn't that big of a deal when the issue came up in the summer, but It kind of kicked off my winter of upkeep tasks. I also figured that I may as well try out a headlight restoring kit while I was at it which proved to be a few hours well spent.
Tackle/Start a proper project
Another one of my motorcycles (that has yet to be featured to our audience) has had a laundry list of ailments. Some have kept me from being able to ride it for a whole year. I have accumulated so many tasks that I need to address, that it has become something of a mountain of work that I have to take care of now.
Part of the reason this bike sat for so long without being fixed was that the past year I took on a project bike, sold and bought a couple of motorcycles, started riding off-road and just had a ton of new stuff that seemed like more fun than wrenching on this one. I didn’t regret it at the time but by the end of the fall this year, I realized that I really missed riding it and that helped me motivate myself to get started on it.
New tool(s) help build enthusiasm
I have wanted a motorcycle service table/lift for a LONG time. I haven’t always had room for one in my garage, but when I moved into my current house a few years ago I finally had the space to buy one. THEN, I just kept putting it off, never wanting to spend the money while I could get by crawling around on the floor. Knowing that I had accumulated a fairly extensive list of motorcycle repair projects for this winter, it finally became time to do it.
There’s really nothing like a new tool in the garage that helps you get excited about using it. A lift (car or motorcycle) is one of those things that you can usually do without, but the MOMENT you have it you get angry about not having it ages ago. I’m not getting any younger, and I really had begun to dread crawling around on the floor to turn a wrench. Rebuilding an entire motorcycle this way in 2020 made me pretty certain I didn’t want to continue this way. Now I’m EXCITED to start working on a bike instead of dreading it. Not being sore all over for 4 days after helps my motivation a TON.
Find new ways to enjoy your vehicle(s)
I have a fairly high tolerance for the cold, but everybody has their limits. Most of my motorcycle riding buddies hang up their helmets in late September-early October when the weather gets to the mid-50s or so. I try to hold on a lot longer, and my regular stopping point is somewhere in the mid-low 40s (Fahrenheit). But, in efforts to not abstain from riding anything for months on end, I am challenging myself to ride as much as possible over the winter. I am hoping to ride all winter long in some capacity.
My new-to-me Dual-Sport bike I purchased as a trail riding bike is one of the only motorcycles I’ve ever owned that is not designed to be precious. It’s tough, durable, and was made to be dropped and abused. It is street legal, and I intend to ride it as often as I can throughout the winter. Sure, it might not be the most FUN type of riding, but I think it’ll help get through the 4-5 month Off-Season a lot happier if I can ride SOMETHING occasionally than just cold turkey until April.
I went out riding the first weekend of December - our first properly chilly (not yet COLD) weekend. It was mostly cloudy and the warmest part of the day was just above freezing (around 34 deg). I wore some warmer than usual gear, but mostly wanted to not overdo it so I could see what part(s) of me really needed to be addressed if I was going to do this again. I made it an hour, and while I got home in good shape, my hands were cold even though my thicker gloves, and my face was a bit wind-burned.
SO, I installed some heated grips on the little Honda, and found a micro-fleece Balaclava in the closet that I usually use to clear snow from the driveway. I have been back out for around an hour each time in the same near/at freezing temperature and done fairly well with these few minor tweaks to my gear and bike. I want to keep riding it all winter long. I guess time will tell if I stick with it.
Join a driving league
It may not be as good as a proper track day, but there ARE consolation-level alternatives to proper performance driving. A popular one is to join up with a Sim-Racing league. Something with a regular schedule and proper organization/ranking/standings/etc. can be fun. Something to brush up on your skills or at least help feel like it hasn’t been months since you drove “in anger” when the warm weather hits.
I have also joined adult Karting leagues in past winters. A regular routine time to get out, drive hard and really brush up on fundamentals was a great way to feed the urge all winter long. I highly suggest considering this - it was one of the best winter “droughts” I had when I knew I’d be racing wheel to wheel periodically. I also felt WAY less out of practice when the spring came and autoX and track days came up. It's not the same, obviously, but it sure is a lot better for keeping the dust off your skills and reactions than doing nothing for months on end.
All in all, I think the trick is to not just wave the white flag and sit pouting all winter long. There is very little chance you’re going to EQUAL your regular season fun, but you don’t have to be miserable for months on end either. Hopefully these tips will inspire you to pass the time of the Off-Season easier than ever. I sure hope it helps me this winter.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.