Motorcycle Cleaning from Z to A

There are riders who swear a drop of water from a hose has never and will never touch their bikes. Then there are those who pay detailers big bucks to be sure their bikes are as spotless as humanly possible. The majority of us are probably someplace between those two extremes and the following is for us, riders who enjoy an hour or two of quality time with our bikes, a sponge and, as you'll soon learn, a leaf blower.

Most of the following was originally posted on home of other motorcycling tips, events calendars and a forum for discussion of motorcycle related issues.

To the true motorcycle enthusiast your bike is more then mere transportation, it's a part of who you are, not to mention a substantial investment. That's why keeping it looking good is just as important to you as keeping it running good.

Even with the best intentions, you can actually damage your motorcycle if you don't clean it correctly. Dirty rags, harsh detergents and neglected areas can cause scratching, dulling and, yes, corrosion.


Before you soap-up and wash your bike, remember to take a few simple precautions that can make a huge difference and help you avoid dreaded scratching:

  • Remove rings, jewelry, watches and anything else that might scratch your bike as you clean. Motorcycle jackets and other clothing with metal buckles, zippers and studs can be especially hazardous to paint.
  • Make sure your bike is cool to the touch. A engine and pipes can not only burn you, but they can permanently damage the finish on your motorcycle by making waxes and cleaners act differently.
  • If your bike is caked with mud or heavy soil, rinse it off several times before attempting to scrub it. Sponging over hard dirt, soil and road debris can scratch your paint.
  • Do NOT use an old sponge or may have dirt trapped inside that will scratch your finish. We recommend using a soft wash mitt available from most auto parts stores.
  • Do not wash your bike in the direct sun. This will make it harder to get the spots off when drying it.


The Wash

We recommend using cleaners made specifically for motorcycles which can be found at your dealer or motorcycle accessory store. Cleaners that make your dishes clean or toaster shine, don't work as well on your bike.

  • Dilute the wash concentrate according to instructions on bottle and wash your bike. Be sure to pay attention to the underside of the bike where dirt deposit can build up an cause corrosion.
  • Clean your wheels. During normal use, particles of brake dust get on your wheels. If neglected, these non-compatible metals can react to one another, creating galvanic corrosion, and produce pitting on your wheels. This type of dirt cannot be easily remove with normal cleaners and you should use a tire and wheel cleaner available at most motorcycle dealers and auto parts stores.
    Caution: Never clean your brake discs or any brake component with anything other then soap and water or a cleaner made specifically for brake pads and discs. Be sure to thoroughly rinse all soap residue from the brake pads and discs.
  • Rinse the bike thoroughly from the top down, paying careful attention to complete removal of cleaner, especially from nooks and crannies.
  • All cleaner MUST be completely removed from the bike to avoid spots that will be hard to remove. During rinsing, you may splatter cleaner from one part of the bike to another, so go back and rinse the bike several times.
  • In drying your bike, pay close attention to areas where water tends to puddle.


Drying Your Bike

  • Completely drying your bike IMMEDIATELY after washing will make it much easier to shine the finish without have to work on removing the water spots.
  • Do NOT ride the bike around the block to air dry it. Chances are the engine and exhaust will heat up before all the water has blown off causing "baked on" spots that will be really hard to clean.
  • Leaf blowers make excellent bike dryers. Make sure the blower is clean and free from debris that can damage the finish. On some leaf blowers the long shroud on the front make them a little bulky to use around the bike and spread the air so much that it's hard to dry the tight spaces. If the shroud is removable we recommend removing the shroud and making a custom shroud by cutting the bottom of a plastic two liter soda bottle and attaching the bottle to the front of the leaf blower. This will make the leaf blower much easier to maneuver and provide a more direct air stream.
  • Pay special attention to the places water can hide, e.g. under the fenders, under the floorboards and around the hand controls. This water will blow out during your first ride, spotting that nice clean bike.
  • If you do not have a leaf blower, dry your bike completely with a chamois or other very soft cloth. Then take your bike for a VERY SHORT ride down the block to blow the water out of the hidden spaces and dry the bike again.


The Final Touch

While cleaning and rinsing your bike, pay attention to how the water reacts. This will give you an indication of what to do next.

  • If the water beads into small round droplets, you probably don't need to wax your bike at this time.
  • If the water sheets or forms oblong droplets, it's time for a wax job.

If your bike requires waxing, use a high quality wax available from your dealer or favorite auto parts store. Most waxes are designed specifically for the painted portions of the bike, not the chrome, so be sure to wax only these parts and polish the chrome separately.

Even if your bike doesn't need waxing at this time, you still want to add the finishing touches to give it the best look possible.

  • If you are not waxing your bike, you may want to still improve the shine by using a spray finish (sometimes called instant detail). Simply spray a small section of the bikes painted surface and wipe dry to a shiny finish.
  • Polish all of the chrome with a chrome polish or glass cleaner. If you are using a spray cleaner, be very careful not to get any overspray on any of the painted surfaces. These cleaners will normally remove the wax from these surfaces, dulling the finish.
  • Dress all of your rubber, non-painted plastic and vinyl parts using a cleaner/protectant such as Amor All®.
    Caution: Never use any protectant on the hand controls, feet controls, seat or the treaded portion of your tires. This could result in serious injury or death!
  • Leather seats can be cared for by treating them with a leather cleaner/protectant available at your favorite auto parts store. Once or twice a year you should treat your leather seat with saddle soap or mink wax, available where quality boots and leather products are sold, to keep your seat waterproof. Water seeping through the leather will damage the interior cushion of the seat.

You're ready to hit the road with your bike looking it's best. One final suggestion is to carry a soft rag with you on your first rag after washing your bike. There is certain to be a little hidden water blowing out on your painted surfaces, simply buff out these spots at your first stop.

Caution: Your tires and brakes may be wet and may not immediately obtain their maximum traction or grip. Be sure to ride very slowly at first and test your brakes several times before you NEED to stop.


Other Cleaning/Drying/Waxing Aids

There's no substitute for a good soft sponge and a pile of rags for cleaning and washing but there are some things that'll make reaching into those nooks and crannies simpler and cleaning products that help reduce the amount of elbow grease needed to remove grime from your bike.

In addition to the simple modification of a leaf blower shown above I've found a small

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vacuum cleaner/blower sold by Harbor Freight is very handy. It comes with a bunch of extra hose and attachments designed, if not for motorcycle drying, then at least cleaning small objects in tight spots. It isn't quite as powerful as some purpose built vacuum/blower units but they usually cost a couple of hundred bucks. This one is under $40. The vacuum looks like the photo at right and is frequently on sale. Check Harbor Freights' website for more information.

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For reaching areas between frame and engine, between spokes down into the swingarm and between cylinders it's sure hard to beat the Bike Brush. Dip it in a bucket of soapy water and the brush will slip easily into almost any crevasse even between cooling fins. You'll find a more complete review of the Bike Brush on this Gadget page.

Spoke Cleaning Strips
For cleaning spokes (wadda pain) there's nothing better than spoke cleaning strips. These are available commercially (check your local bike shop) or you can make your own from strips of cotton cloth that you've dipped in polish. Just wrap the strip around the spoke and pull the strip back and forth until the spoke is nice and shiny then move on to the next spoke. This exercise is one of the best reasons ever created for making sure your next bike has cast wheels.

Finally waxes and cleaner. This is kind of a trial and error process that sometimes depends on the way you prefer to clean/wax your machine but it's hard to beat products made specifically for the purpose and never use soaps made for washing dishes, hair or even babies. I've found Meguiars soaps, polishes and waxes are hard to beat but a lot of people have their favorites. Plexus is the bar none finest product for cleaning plastic like windshields.

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