How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

How To -


How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

Bike cleaning is different depending on which herd of motorcyclist you talk to. For some, it’s just a quick rinse with the hose. Others, washing a bike is like washing a car, with soap in a bucket and a quick ride to get all the water off. Others yet laugh at the mere idea of cleaning the bike. After all, it’s washed every time they go through a rainstorm. Or perhaps you’re as cripplingly fastidious about paintwork as I am. If you want to get detail-oriented and avoid the mistakes, here is the guide.

Before you start, make sure the engine and exhaust is cool to the touch. Give the bike an initial rinse to clear off major road grime and accumulated bugs. Your basic wash can be done a few different ways. Most people use standard car wash liquid and a sponge, or even just dishwashing soap. This can work, but using a sponge can pick up loose dirt or particulates missed in the initial rinse and cause scratches as they’re pulled over the paintwork. To avoid the guesswork in continually using new sides of the sponge, I use a spray-on, rinse-off wash like S100 Total Cycle Cleaner. This works especially well if you clean your bike semi-regularly, as there is never enough time for the gunk to build up to necessitate a sponge.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

Just before your final rinse, clean the wheels with some wheel specific spray cleaner. Meguiar’s, Mothers, and more all have equally good options. Take note if the cleaner has a warning regarding its use on powder coated, bare aluminum or magnesium wheels. Give one final rinse, and get to drying. If you have access to an air compressor, use it to blow out any water in those hard to reach places. Rolled up microfiber towels work equally well getting into nooks and crannies to absorb water. Get a decent chamois towel, wet it thoroughly, wring it out, and pull the water off the body panels and seat. As you work your way around the bike, notice when the chamois gets dirty. Make a note of it for next time. That’s where you didn’t wash thoroughly enough.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

If you’re feeling really detail oriented, get yourself a clay bar. It’s essentially a way to pull fine impurities and contaminants out of the paint. With judicious use of a detailing spray as lubricant, run the clay bar over the paint without pressure or circular motions. Don’t drop the clay bar and try to use it again, as it will pick up dirt and particles that can scratch the paint. Finish by buffing with a clean microfiber towel.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

Waxing is next. There is an abundance of waxes and finishing creams available for cars and bikes. All do the job fairly well. Dodo Juice Hard Candy Wax tends to have a thicker consistency and stays on longer even after multi-day journeys in rain. When you apply wax, do it out of direct sunlight and preferably between 60 and 80 degrees. Find a good applicator pad or microfiber towel, and use a small amount of wax. There’s a few theories on wax application, but I just make continuous small circles gently on the body work. Try to avoid getting any wax on black plastic, matte finished materials, rubber, wires, or anything that isn’t painted. When the wax dries to a light haze, use a fresh applicator pad to buff the wax in.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

Black plastic coverings, grips, instrument panels, control switch boxes, cabling and wires all get exposed to UV light that tends to turn them grey and eventually can cause pieces to dry out and crack. A few options exist to fix this, but avoid anything intended for car interiors. I’ve tried a dozen different kinds to protect black plastic and rubber and keep it looking clean. In my experience, Wizards Black Renew seems to work the best by far. This also works on parts like brake/clutch fluid reservoirs, rear fenders, undertail sections, and underseat storage. If your engine is exposed, use a light-duty degreaser to remove any foreign material, but otherwise leave it be.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

Exhausts can get fairly gross after a few thousand miles. Various oils and road detritus get flung onto the pipes and burn off creating permanent smudges. Assuming your exhaust is stainless steel, do a quick wet sand starting with a 600 grit, then 1000 grit and finish with a 2000 grit. Alternatively, grab your power drill, a good polish, and a polishing ball and go to town on your headers. Finish up with a exhaust cleaner/polish. For most metal exhaust cans, use a small amount of wd40 and a clean towel for a quick and easy clean up. If you haven’t noticed yet, we’ve been working from the top of the bike down to the bottom. The last step is the wheels. Clean any flung chain lube from the rear wheel with a light-duty degreaser. Use a small amount of detailing spray and a microfiber towel to get in between the spokes and around the rim. To avoid more work in the future, use some wheel wax so that brake dust and road grime rinses off during the next wash.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

Is this all a bit overkill? Absolutely. But the benefits extend beyond merely having a sparkling clean bike. As you meticulously tend to your bike, it reinforces a detail oriented perspective that can go beyond a rigorous T-CLOCS. You begin to notice the smallest escape of oil or coolant, the tiniest chip in the fork legs, the condition of your chain, brake pads and suspension, missing bolts, rusted or corroded pieces, ill fitting cables or hoses, and other pieces of minutiae that would escape a brief glance. It’s a great way to get to know your bike in a level where you can visualize every seam and curve and to know immediately when something is amiss.

How To: Motorcycle Detailing Guide

What detailing tips or simple cleaning tricks do you know?

  • James Jamerson


    • Braden

      *sigh* Every editing change in my last two articles had made them grammatically worse.

      • James Jamerson

        No worries. If it wasn’t in the first line I probably wouldn’t have seen it, and all the content is still there.

  • Justin McClintock

    Step 1: Make sure the chain is clean. Step 2: Ride. Step 3: Repeat.

    • Reid


    • hunkyleepickle

      thank you kindly, glad i’m not the only one. quite frankly i’m a little embarrassed if my street triple is even close to clean. Its a streetfighter after all right?

      • Velocitré

        Yeah, I have a Speed Triple and when I open the garage door I ask; Do I want to wash it or do I want to ride it. In six years washing won once.

    • labradog

      Save a step with a BMW airhead.
      I washed my ’72 R75 the day I bought it. Period.

      • Piglet2010

        I clean the windshield, lights, mirrors, dash gauge cover and nothing else on my Honda Deauville.

        OK, I did clean the seat once before riding after a bird defecated on it.

  • subaruzi

    Seems like a lot of work that could be spent riding. I’m in the “if it’s not reducing performance, I don’t care”

    But I ride a speed triple so the hooligan in me is personified by that bike

    • Braden

      Very true, though I think it can be a great way to still be around your bike if the weather is foul or your schedule doesn’t permit riding. It’s actually kind of a calming, strangely meditative experience for me. Interesting counter to the rush of actually riding.

    • CB

      I tend to agree with you, but I still clean my bikes pretty regularly. I don’t really care about the look, it’s the rust I’m trying to avoid. I live on an island where it’s super salty on the roads from the winter and in the air from the ocean. Also, I tend to ride old bikes, 30 years plus or so, and in turn I’ve become super paranoid about it. So I wash and oil my bike a lot to keep the salt off and prevent rust. On a 30+ bike, a rusted out part might be really hard to replace. Pound of prevention is worth a bunch of old parts I’ll never be able to find. Clean, oiled bikes last longer.

  • Luke Applegate

    “begin to notice the smallest escape of oil or coolant” Is the bike on the sidestand, or is your oil really low?

    • toni796

      its just italian bike marking its territory

      • Braden

        You joke but the bike actually does have a slow oil leak around the oil filter seal :D

    • Braden

      It’s on the sidestand. Good catch.

  • Jonathan Booker

    Even though I have an old 98 VTR, doing a detailed wash on it makes me proud of it and as Braden says, helps to find issues before they become problems.

  • Jesse Friedman

    If its nice enough to wash a bike, it’s nice enough to ride.

  • Thomas Whitener

    I may start really detailing my bike. Just got my wife’s 650 cs back from the BMW place, and they had it detailed for free as a part of their “after-winter service.” Damn thing looks gorgeous.

  • Jesse

    If I cleaned my bike that thoroughly, I’d be accentuating just how rashed up it is.

    I’ve found that cheap Lemon Pledge works really well when doing the post-ride wipedown, though. Works well on the things you want to keep shiny, obviously keep it off the things you wish to keep sticky.

    • Michael Howard

      It’s also a great way to find out if there are any bees in the neighborhood. ;)

  • tincantroubadour

    As someone who’s tried a few products, looking for that ‘easy’ compromise between getting a bike cleaner than it was and inputting minimal effort – I have to say, I think you got your links backwards? The S100 total cycle cleaner aerosol is spray-on, wipe off detailing spray. I’ve never used it, but similar products. I would think that’s what you meant to suggest with the clay bar.

    The “Meguiar’s EZ Clean & Spray Rinse” would be the product for spraying on the bike and then rinsing off. There’s no way you’d want to use that with a clay bar, as it needs to be rinsed off. This one, I have personally tried, as directed. Which brings me to my real impetus for this post. It’s terrible! It may have gotten some things clean, but it’s definitely caustic! I used it as indicated, and it chalked up a gloss black painted headlight bucket, turned some rubber isolators to mush that hardened like rocks, and etched polished aluminum rims. Glad I had only sprayed and rinsed just the front end! I threw that full bottle right in the trash. I guess I learned my lesson on “quick and easy” as I spent a few hours removing and buffing out the headlight bucket. Granted, the bike is a 1999, so be careful.

    • Braden

      You’re right. All of my article links were changed to completely different products (not sure why). There is a S100 Total Cycle Cleaner that is spray-on/rinse off but that is not it. You definitely don’t want to use a clean & spray rinse in conjunction with a clay bar, that’s a terrible idea. A detailing spray should be used with a clay bar. So did the Meguair’s Clean & Spray Rinse do all that stuff you mentioned? That’s awful, what poor product design.

      • Chris Hunter

        Your article links have been changed because they probably didn’t go to Bike Bandit, and RA probably has an affiliate arrangement with Bike Bandit that earns them a few cents on every click. Check to see if Bike Bandit stocks the products you originally mentioned, and if they don’t, that’ll be why.

      • tincantroubadour

        At least on my bike it did. It might work on newer stuff, but on the 15 year old components my bike is comprised of, that’s what happened! I was pretty upset with myself, but I guess I should blame the product.

        • Piglet2010

          I use Plexus if I must clean something – I figure if it is safe on visors it cannot be too bad for anything else on a bike.

  • Justin McClintock

    Just finished reading all the way through it. Missing bolts?! Only a Ducati or a Harley….

    • Braden

      Can’t argue with you there. Though in a weird turn of events I’ve managed not to lose any on my Ducati or Moto Guzzi, but lost several on my Suzuki.

    • Dustin

      Not totally true. I was changing my oil on my R6 a few weeks ago and found one of the frame to engine bolts loose in the fairing. That was a little odd.

    • Generic42

      I lost a header bolt on my Kawasaki, they all vibrate (Except the e-bikes) and stuff comes loose.

    • FalloutNL

      Harley maybe, but Ducati’s have been rock solid for nearly two decades now, time to let it go.

    • Piglet2010

      I have had a couple of bolts loosen on my Deauville, but that may have been dealer prep and not slacking Catalonians.

  • killian101

    I could never wrap my head around the idea of: Today, im going to take a few hours out of day…which i could be riding and wash my bike.

  • das not compute

    My bike is parked out on the street all season, so +1 rainstorms…..

  • Aaron

    I have a black bike and a dirt driveway. I check the chain and ride.

    • Aaron

      I would love to have a clean bike though.

  • Sam Bendall

    This is all great unless you have an adventure bike. Then the dirtier, the better. :)

    • zedro

      Naw i wash after every mud ride, theres a point when perma-dirt bakes in and the bike ages as gracefully as a heroin addict. Plus commuting on a clay bike to work…..

    • labradog

      I had a street bike kept so filthy, people used to think it was an antique.

    • JaitcH

      To minimise the attention of thieves I clean my machine at least twice a month.

      I also changed al the logo stickers that proclaimed the engine size – replacing them with those of the lowest powered engine! No need to tell anyone I have fuel injection.

      Fortunately the stand locks when you lock the handlebars – stops parking lot guys playing Shuffle with your machine.

  • jasinner

    Pro Honda Cleaner and Polish. The end.

    • brian fleenor

      Same here

  • Tom Gabriele

    Kerosene is good for nearly every part of the bike. Lately i have been keeping it away from the paint, but not because of any ill effects, i have just been trying other things.

  • BlackSnake

    If you are polishing your stainless steal exhaust as Barden described in his article you should be aware that you are destroying its natural protective layer of chromium oxides, which gives it its corrosion resistance. In general that’s not serious since it will form again but at ambient conditions this will take a couple of days. During that time it is more sensitive and anything on it (dirt, oil, fingerprints, salt) will lead to a non uniform layer of chromium oxides. Since these oxides are not completely transparent this may result in an even more blotchy surface as before. Actually it’s these oxides which are also responsible for the blue and yellow to brown colors of the exhaust tube at its hot end and you might be disappointed how quickly they form again when the engine is heating up the pipes. Its something that can’t be avoided if you are really using your bike. So you should carefully think if it’s worth spending hours for polishing your exhaust pipes only to find out that the look almost as before after a couple of days of use.

    • Braden

      Is that true across the board for stainless steel exhausts? I do this to pipes on my Duc, Moto Guzzi and Suzuki and they stay clean with a new look for about 4-6 months. That’s as a all weather, year round rider running them constantly.

      • BlackSnake

        Should depend on how hot the parts get. The hotter the faster and thicker the layer of chromium oxide grows and the darker the color. I have a Honda CB 600 F Hornet with a stainless steal silencer and exhaust pipes. The silencer is still shiny after more than a 6000 miles while the part of the exhaust pipes close to the engine where it is hottest got yellow and brown after less than 1000 miles. I don’t know if you do your exhaust any good if you repeatedly remove that layer. Depending on its thickness you will have to remove quite a bit of material to get down to the blank metal thinning down the wall thickness of your exhaust pipes. If you want to avoid that coloring you would need to get exhaust pipes of titania.

        • Braden

          Ah, must be specific to certain bikes then. The color stays consistent throughout on all mine. No yellow or brown off coloring that I can see. I only do about five minutes of polishing twice a year, so I doubt much metal is being taken off. It’s possible your fueling could be causing those issues.

          • BlackSnake

            I have seen this on many bikes sofar mostly nakes where the exhaust pipes close to the engine are not hidden by some cladding. You can see it also quite well on the pic of this bike (not mine). I think you are rather referring to the silencer than the exhaust pipes. The silencer doesn’t get that hot to show the coloring also in my case.

          • Justin McClintock

            It also depends on the construction of the pipes. Pretty sure all sportbikes are single wall. But many cruisers use a double-wall pipe. The inner ends up looking like crap, but nobody sees it. The outer stays much cooler and doesn’t discolor much, if at all.

            • Piglet2010

              The double-wall exhaust helps to increase road-huggin’ weight – the more the better, eh?

  • Luis Fernando Ponce

    i clean mosquitos over front light, mirrors and front fender every time i return from a ride, every time.

  • Jesse James VanderWeide

    Good tips. I tend to go from the bottom up, since that’s where it’s the greasiest and I tend to use harsher chemicals, when necessary.

    • Aaron Cortez

      What I don’t like about this method is that you loosen all the heavy grit and grime on the bottom of your bike and get it into your sponges or rags. Then you’re scrubbing that same grit into your fairings etc. as you work your way up.

      • Jesse James VanderWeide

        I have designated grungy brushes, old rags and tshirts, etc for the nasty bits. And a nice clean sponge for the rest of it.

  • Aaron Cortez

    An electric leaf blower will dry your bike off in about 30 seconds. It also blasts water out of all those small crevices where you’ll never get a rag into anyway.

    All this debate about whether you’re a “washer” or a “rider.” You can do both you know!

  • Rowan

    Great article. I’m into AMMO and Larry’s cleaning tips on YouTube. Good to see something like this for street bikes. Well done.

  • Luke

    I’ve only washed my bike once before, but I’m going to today. After my “first of the season” ride on Saturday, my bike is a total mess thanks to all the grossness put on the roads during all the snows out here in PA.

  • Knifester

    I’d like to find a place that details bikes so I don’t have to do it. Anyone do this?

  • Tyler W Röhren

    My bike has matte black paint, and I have never been able to get water spots off of it. Advice?

    • clemence

      wd40 ?

  • Ryan Liversage

    auto motive cleaning is a art just kind of like all you awesome riders teach us who are keen to learn “HOW” thanks .