Depending on your perspective, washing your motorcycle is either a great way to spend some quality time with your bike or a chore that prevents you from riding. Either way, the benefits from washing your bike are measurable. First, it’s clean and looks good, providing you with a feeling of pride when you’re out on the road. Second, cleaning your bike protects your bike from the ravages of time. Oxidation never sleeps. Cleaning off harsh road grime and adding protective coatings helps delay its progress. Finally, staying intimately acquainted with your motorcycle can actually help you spot troubles before they develop into something more serious.
As with any activity, there are tips, tricks, and warnings to make the job easier while avoiding things that could damage your bike while you’re trying to protect it. We call that loving your motorcycle to death. So, take a gander at the following tips to see how they could benefit you and your motorcycle during its next bath. If you have any tips of your own, post them in the comments.
Metal parts expand when heated. Dousing them in cold water will cause them to contract quickly, which could damage the parts or their finish. This is especially true of the engine and exhaust. Remember that the fancy finish on your chrome pipes is a thin, relatively fragile layer that is plated onto them. Wait until your bike’s engine is cool enough to touch before washing your motorcycle.
There’s a reason why people use high-pressure washers to clean cement and strip paint. The force of the water can beat many surfaces into submission. Also, high pressure washers can force water into places where it doesn’t belong on a motorcycle. Corrosion is a motorcycle’s biggest enemy. Water in electrical connections can cause intermittent issues. Water in bearings can lead to early failure. The same is true for your bike’s chain. Water forced past the O-rings of the chain will displace the lubricant sealed within the pins – which is a sure way to quickly wear out the chain and require a replacement.
Any dirt you flush off of the bikes with a stream of cool water will not be around to be rubbed against the delicate finish with a soft cloth or sponge. So, rinse off the bike with cool water and let it sit for a few minutes so the water can soak into the grunge. Then rinse the bike again. You’ll be surprised how much dirt flows off in the second rinse cycle. Now, your bike is ready to be washed.
As with most of the tips here, the reasoning is pretty simple. First, hot paint is softer and therefore more prone to scratching. If you don’t want swirls marring the finish of your motorcycle’s shiny parts, heed this tip. Also, if a bike’s finish is hot, soapy water can dry on the paint, leaving streaks that can be hard to remove. One good technique to avoid streaks is to wash and rinse one section of the bike at a time before moving on to the next section.
Motorcycle surfaces may be designed to withstand the elements; however, they may succumb to any number of harsh chemicals in a variety of household cleaners. You’ve already spent thousands of dollars on your bike, why not spend a little extra for motorcycle-focused cleaners and polishes? They will have the strength to cut through the road mung and bug guts without etching or scratching your bike’s painted surfaces.
Never, ever wipe dust off of your motorcycle with a dry cloth. Never. Dust is essentially very fine sand. So, unless you want swirl marks in your paint, always clean your motorcycle with a soft cloth or similar item that has been dampened with a detergent and water solution. Pro tip: When washing your motorcycle, use two buckets. One to rinse the dirt from the cloth, and the other to gather the soapy water for the actual washing. This way, you’re not just redistributing the dirt you removed from the bike.
Use only pure waxes from name-brand vendors. Avoid waxes with abrasives (usually labeled as “cleaner” waxes) unless you have a specific reason for wanting to use them, and then, be sure you know what the hell you’re doing. Carnuba wax is the long-time favorite because of its easy application and tremendous shine. Recently, paint sealants have been making inroads into the wax markets. High-quality sealants can deliver longer-term protection than wax because it chemically seals the paint. Both carnauba wax and sealants come in easy to apply liquids and pastes, so the choice is yours.
Face it, motorcycles have tons of places for water to collect and leave mineral deposits for future corrosion. The best thing you can do with your bike after a washing and waxing session is take it for a ride. After all, isn’t this the payoff for all your hard work? If you don’t have time to do that, idle your engine until the bike reaches operating temperature. You’ll be surprised at how much water drips out from hidden places the moment you start your engine. You may even see a little steam after a few minutes of idling.
If you took a ride after washing your bike, good for you! Now, your chain is warmed up and is ready to accept some lube. Think about all the other places on your bike that water might interfere with lubrication. So, why not place a quick dab of grease on the sidestand pivot and the lever pivots? If you want to be meticulous, lube the cables, too.
Your bike is sparkling clean, now what? Well, you ride it, of course. Unfortunately, your bike will get dirty when you take it for a spin. However, quick touch-ups between washes can lengthen the interval between bucket-and-sponge sessions. Clean bugs as soon as possible after your excursion. While bugs don’t live to see it, they can have the last laugh as their innards etch paint when they are left in place for long periods of time. Spray your favorite motorcycle cleaner/wax on them and let it soak for a few minutes. Don’t have any cleaner, lay a wet, soaped rag on the offending guts and let it soften them, and they’ll wipe right off. If you’re worried about the previous admonition that you not use a dry rag to wipe dust away, remember that, when you spray the cleaner on the bike (never near the brakes) or on the rag itself, you’ve already applied paint-protecting lubricant.
Follow these steps and you’ll have a shiny, clean motorcycle that is the envy of all your riding buddies.