We all love our bikes. And perhaps our proudest moment is when the bike is new and looks its best. A motorcycle, however, is not like a painting in a museum which serves its purpose in a controlled and safe environment. Bikes are subjected to all sorts of abuses including the sun, dirt, acid rain and smog, all of which can affect the best motorcycle. But you can keep your bike in new condition just like a priceless artwork, protected in a museum.
Note: Wear safety glasses! Sure, you’ll look stupid, the neighborhood kids will laugh and if any of your riding buds see you, It will take a while for the abuse to stop. But, one tiny little speck of road grit encased in dirty engine oil in your eye really can put a funk on you. It hurts and then you can’t ride because your eye won’t stop watering. This is bad.
Bike Detailing Rule Number One.
We’ll start with scratches. Why? Because they are the biggest enemy to your bike’s finish. And avoiding scratches is the secret to keeping your bike looking good. Dirt and grime, rubbed in while washing or drying, will act like sandpaper and dull your bike’s paint. There several rules which will guide you whenever you touch the surface of your motorcycle:
- Anything that comes in contact with your bike’s finish should be soft. Harsh or rough surfaces should be avoided. Watch out for zippers!
- Use only clean, freshly washed cotton cloths or towels to dry or to apply materials to the surface of your bike.
Rinse thoroughly the sponges or wash mitts and the wash bucket before and after you wash your bike.
- Many detailers separate the areas being washed into normal and rough areas. The painted surfaces of the bike are the normal areas and tires, the engine, inner fenders and so on are designated as the rough areas. They then use only certain wash mitts or sponges for each area, keeping scratch generating dirt and grime away from sensitive areas.
- Use a gentle stream of water when rinsing. Using high water pressure from the hose will cause dirt to grind into the paint, causing scratches along with other problems that can wreak havoc… NEVER use a motorized pressure washer. They do all sorts of bad things like drive the grease out of your steering head bearings an mess with your electronics.
- Use generous amounts of water when rinsing. Scratch causing dirt particles will tend to float away if enough water is used.
Washing your bike
- Start by THOROUGHLY rinsing the bike. As we said in rule #1, use lots of water and a gentle stream to avoid scratches. Excessive water pressure will cause the dirt to grind at the surface. Some detailers prefer to let the water flow freely out of the hose without the benefit of a nozzle. Again, we do not recommend using pressure washers!
- Use a detergent designed specifically for bike washing. Don’t use common dishwashing detergent, as it is too strong and will remove the wax you want to keep.
- There really isn’t a lot to washing a bike; simply mix detergent according to the manufacturers’ directions, dip your sponge or mitt into the bucket and have at it. There are a few guidelines to follow however:
- Use generous amounts of water/detergent. On a Honda shadow, for example, which is a relatively small bike, use 2 or 3 buckets. On a sized bike, such as a Honda Gold Wing or a Road King, 4 or 5 buckets will do the job.
When you wash a bike, do it in sections. Start with the tank or windscreen if you have one, which will make rinsing easier. Then do other sections, such as the front fender, motor, rear fender and so on, rinsing thoroughly in between. Always rinse soon after applying so a soap film does not develop. Do not suds up the entire bike and then rinse; some of the soap will dry and a film like substance will remain. It’s difficult to get rid of!
- After washing, rinse the entire bike just to be sure all the soap is cleared away. Don’t forget the nooks, crannies and crevices where soap can hide.
- If the bike is particularly dirty, wash it twice. The first washing will take care of the majority of the dirt and the second will complete the job. Some bike enthusiasts will wash twice as part of their routine.
- Bike washing will go a lot quicker if 2 people are on the job… One will do the washing, while the other follows close behind with the rinsing hose.
- Beer always helps!
Drying your bike
Dry thoroughly, using a generous supply of the softest towels you can find. Fold the towel into a manageable square and turn it over or unfold it frequently to take advantage of its entire surface. Used towels seem to work best, probably because repeated washings have softened them. Bath towels work well, although it may be more practical to cut them in half.
Drying is best accomplished as a two part process. The first time you will get rid of most of the water and the second pass will complete the job. As with rinsing, do not forget the various nooks and crannies which can trap water.
- We do not recommend using a chamois, since they can trap dirt and cause scratches.
- If possible, do not wash a bike in bright sunlight. Soap suds can dry, which will leave a film. “Water spotting” also can occur when drops of water act like miniature magnifying glasses in bright sunlight (remember burning ants). If a shaded area is not available, try washing in the late afternoon or early morning hours when the sun is not strong.
- Don’t forget to wash under the fenders.
- Do not wash under a tree, as the sap can damage the paint.
- I sometimes remove my seat before washing. You don’t need to but I do it. water won’t harm it. Just a personal preference.
Waxing your bike
Once you are comfortable with the condition of the paint, it is time to think of a coating of wax. Wax functions as a paint preserver by helping it to retain certain oils which reduce oxidation. It also serves to protect from environmental hazards such as bird droppings, tree sap, smog and the sun’s ultraviolet rays. And it gives paint the depth, gloss and richness that can make all those detailing hours worthwhile.
Wax is available in three forms: liquid, paste and spray. As a general rule, liquid wax goes on easier, but commercial automotive liquid wax does not last as long as the automotive paste products. Which one you use is your choice. Our only recommendation is that you choose one with a high Carnauba content. Unfortunately, there really isn’t any way to determine Carnauba content other than to say that if it is prominent on the label, it’s a safe bet. Avoid spray waxes as they are too thin to be of any real use. We recommend two medium applications of wax rather than a single heavy one. You can use the round applicators that come with some waxes or are available separately. A damp rectangular kitchen sponge makes a good applicator, as its shape seems to be able to handle the detail areas of a bike. I also like to use a small foam paint brush for getting up close to edges. An extra application is a good idea on the leading edge of the front fender and on the front of the tank, where the wind will quickly wear off the wax.
What Goes On, Must Come Off
When the wax is dry, remove the residue using only a very soft cloth. As soon as the cloth movement feel has resistance, find a fresh surface. Using an orbital buffer you risk “burning” the paint. For that reason, we recommend our fellow non-professionals stick with hand waxing instead of an electric buffer (you should see what happen when you get a throttle cable caught up in a spinning polishing bonnet). Always keep an eye on the surface of the cloth you are using, since any dirt or foreign objects can cause scratches.
The hardest part is removing the powdery wax residue from the various creases and edges. Emblems and fender tips for example. Some detailers use a soft bristled toothbrush. This approach works, although we urge caution as scratches can occur if you are not careful. A toothpick can be effective sometimes. It might even be worthwhile to remove some items (badges, side marker lamps, for example) before applying the wax.
We recommend that you wax your bike once every three months – more if the bike is exposed to harsh conditions. When it comes to deciding if it’s time for a new coat of wax, the time-honored water beading test can’t be topped. While you are doing the wash pre-rinse, notice how the water drops bead up. If the drops are more than one-half inch diameter, or if the water tends to form “sheets”, then a new wax job is a good idea.
Neat Trick Department
I like to use a 2″ bristle paintbrush to remove old, dry wax from hard to reach areas. I cut the bristles down to about 1.5″ and I wrap the metal band of the brush with duct tape to avoid scratches.