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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What detailing tips or simple cleaning tricks do you know?