Updated Aug 16, 2016
Beyond the use of a few well known commercial products, cleaning a motorcycle is far different from washing a car. Motorcycles have significantly more exposed parts that are often obfuscated by others. When bath time comes, patiently distinguishing between what is rigid vs. what is fragile insures that we avoid causing undue harm.
These instructions aim to provide a uniform perspective on how to judge which part of a motorcycle gets what kind of treatment. Having received and compared a lot of advice over the years, this order of operation is nothing more than a filtered comparison of the results. Feel free to alter or rearrange things to suit the individual needs of your motorbike.
For simplicity’s sake, the entire process is divided into three stages: washing, degreasing and detailing. Washing rids us of visible dirt and grime, degreasing eliminates residue buildup and detailing brings out a shine. Breaking things up this away also allows for separate scheduling.
- garden hose
- spray nozzle
- water bucket
- organic dish soap
- large automotive sponges (x2)
- large drying towels (x2)
- disposable respirators
- protective eyewear
- pvc gloves
- generic rags
- soft bristle toothbrush
- Honda cleaner
- microfiber towels
Stage One: Washing Your Motorcycle
The debate continues as to wether or not it’s okay to use a “pay-and-spray” car wash. I’m of the opinion that it’s fine so long as you avoid pointing the pressure hose directly at the bike (especially the gaskets, battery and exhaust). These establishments can be pretty useful during longer trips, though the bike usually requires a more complete effort upon return.
These instructions aim to provide a uniform perspective regarding which part of a motorcycle gets what kind of treatment so as to avoid causing undue harm.
With the below instructions in mind, however, a self-serve car wash is more hassle than it’s worth. You’ll find yourself in transit with a bucket full of sponges and chemical solvents strapped to the pillion. Most of what we intend to clean can be targeted using less water pressure, so if you have to incorporate a quarter system, just be careful to mist the bike from further away.
Assuming we’re at home and using lower water pressures with a spray nozzle attachment, let’s gather the following items from the above list and get started:
- tap-connected garden hose with spray nozzle in place
- a bucket full of warm, overly soapy water, using organic dish soap for suds
- two large automotive sponges, one for plastics and painted parts and the other for grime
- two large drying towels, one for plastics and painted parts and the other for what was grimy
Note: By painted parts, what I mean are the parts you’d use to describe the color of your motorcycle.
- If you have an air compressor, bring it to a full charge, open/remove your seat and from a distance, blast air over the entire chassis so as to loosen and expel any floating debris including leaves, sand, gravel etc.
- Gently spray the bike directly with water using minimal pressure and extremely short grazes (flip the sprayer back and forth). We’re not trying to loosen anything up. We just want the bike to be wet before we sponge on a layer of soap.
- Using a well sudsed sponge, absorb a formidable amount of soapy water before ringing it over top of the bike from front to back. Then, suds again and “sling” the sponge’s contents at various, non-electrical sections of your bike’s wheels, engine, gauges, fenders and subframe.
- Absorb more soapy water into your sponge and begin directly wiping down all of the plastics and painted parts with mild pressure.
- With the bike lathered and aesthetics wiped down, it’s time to put the second sponge to use on the nastier bits. Get sponge number two soaped up and full of water.
- Wipe around the rims, spinning the rear wheel in neutral for easier cleaning. Don’t be afraid to get your chain coated as well.
- Be careful while sponge cleaning your engine. Yes, you want to wipe away grime but there are electrical connections that are better left undisturbed.
- Using step two as an example, rinse the bike until all signs of soapy water are grounded.
- Just as you used two separate sponges, one towel gently dries off the painted parts while the other touch-dries the engine components.
- Take a break(?)
Stage Two: Degreasing Your Motorcycle
Even after washing your motorcycle, you may find that certain deposits and residues build up over prolonged use. Oils and other general road grime can make their way into hard-to-reach locations, some of them close to sensitive materials. To restate from the writings above, we want to avoid impatient, aggressive cleaning or else unseen damage might come back to bite us.
Degreasers are made of some pretty harsh stuff. One semi-obvious purpose for which they’re designed is to break down grease on single-piece metallics such as a motorcycle’s front or rear axle. Whenever I replace my tires, I set the axle aside on a paper towel, spray it down with degreaser, count to thirty and wipe it dry.
Used with caution, degreasers can be included while cleaning a motorcycle as well. Below is the process that I use. Gather the following items mentioned above before getting started:
Steps to complete:
- In a well ventilated area that’s devoid of open flames, put on a disposable respirator, protective eyewear and pvc gloves. If at any point during this stage of the cleaning process one of these should break, rinse yourself off and replace the compromised item at once.
- Set aside two or three rags, a toothbrush and a bottle of degreaser.
- Looking underneath your motorcycle, seek out UNPAINTED, solid metal parts where sludge may be building up. Consider what can be cleaned safely and sensibly without harm.
- Spraying an excess of degreaser directly onto your rag (away from the bike), begin applying it to largely open sections of dirtier individual parts. DO NOT APPLY DEGREASER TO gaskets, rubber, plastics, paints or electrical components. It’ll likely eat these things up, causing leaks, corrosion and/or malfunction.
- Rub carefully in an outward spiral motion.
- For every part you’ve honed in on, use an alternate rag to dry the target area after between fifteen and thirty seconds depending on the degree of accumulated road sludge.
- Repeat steps 4 through 6 until all obvious, uncomplicated areas are clean.
- With some knowledge of what’s where, be it through your manual or prior maintenance, spray degreaser onto a toothbrush and use it to get into hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dry the hard-to-reach locations using another rag. What I like to do is heavily wrap a screwdriver into said rag before gently pressing it into such locations for a brief moment.
- Repeat steps 8 and 9 accordingly but without becoming too particular. Degreaser being toxic, over-involving it will do more harm than good.
Stage Three: Detailing Your Motorcycle
Oddly enough, the detailing of a motorcycle can also be looked at independently as a “cave man shower” of sorts. If you’ve just come back from a long riding trip, didn’t experience any notably bad weather and are satisfied with the overall cleanliness of your motorbike, there’s no shame in putting this practice to use without touching on the previous two stages. This is even more true if you’ll be riding again in the near future.
The reasons for detailing your motorcycle go well beyond visual appeal. For starters, the mirrors and instrument cluster are cleaned, making for safer operation. It also incorporates a visual schematic, focusing on mechanical symmetry from front to back, top to bottom and left to right. Did I mention that it looks good, too? While that shine certainly reminds us how great these bikes are, detailing also jackets your motorbike in a protective coating.
Before you begin, be sure you have the following items on hand:
Steps to complete:
- Spray a moderate amount of Honda cleaner over individual painted and plastic parts, wiping them off with a microfiber towel as you would a window with window cleaner. It’s best to think of each part as a single piece to the puzzle, finishing one before moving on to another. Short of electronics or anything that becomes hot to the touch during operation, you can safely use Honda cleaner on just about any part of your motorcycle.
- Apply a heavy mist of WD-40 to a generic rag before rubbing it onto less accessible painted metals. One specific example I’ll take from my own bike is the engine, which is painted black. Exhaust pipes, framework and bracings are also good candidates. DO NOT SPRAY WD-40 DIRECTLY onto whatever you’re cleaning and be sure not to use it near gaskets, rubber or wiring as they’ll immediately begin to deteriorate.
- Apply a fabric treatment to your seat that’s recommended for it’s material. ArmorAll is typically good for vinyl. Spray it on directly before wiping it evenly across the entire surface.
Congratulations! Your motorbike’s clean. Now, get out there and dirty it up again or, if you’re preparing for winter storage, continue with our complete guide to motorcycle winterization.
How Do You Go About Cleaning Your Motorcycle?
With so many makes and models rolling around out there, instructions for cleaning a motorcycle can’t easily be combined into a single page. What methods do you prefer? How did you compile this system? What are it’s key benefits? Your input is invited. Post an article!