It’s a fact—motorcycles get dirty. While wearing mud may be a badge of honor on a dirt bike, a dirty street bike puts us on the on-ramp for the road to ruin. Dried mud and excess dirt can conceal mechanical and electrical problems, which can lead to unexpected time broken down on the side of the road.
Even if your motorcycle gets a periodic surface wash and dry, it requires at least one annual deep cleaning to help maintain its highest operative level. If you elect to only deep clean your motorcycle once a year, it’s best to do so before you put your bike into winter storage. Ultimately, knowing how to properly deep clean your motorcycle is one of the first steps in learning basic motorcycle maintenance.
Items you’ll need to deep clean your motorcycle
Soft terrycloth rags and/or towels
Cleaning products: Regardless of the products you use, it’s important to read the labels to be sure that your cleaners are safe for the surfaces you’re treating
How to approach washing your motorcycle
Washing your motorcycle is different than washing your car. Virtually all of your motorcycle’s mechanical running gear is exposed, including the switchgear and controls. You’ll want to clean everything from the engine to wheels, saddle to brakes, and the colorful paint and chrome that makes your motorcycle beautiful. In short, your bike has many different surfaces that require special care, and many nooks and crannies to clean.
Before getting out the hose and bucket filled with suds, there are some things to do to prep your motorcycle for a wash. Get some cling wrap from your kitchen and gently cover the following areas on your motorcycle so they don’t get damaged by water exposure or flooding:
Exhaust and air intake
Exposed permanent air filter
You can remove accumulated dirt, depending on its type and location, more easily by pre-soaking.
Paint and fairings: Dried bugs are a culprit here. Cover this area with a water-dampened-terrycloth towel to soften the debris so you can wipe it away without too much work after the soak.
Wheels and engine cases: Brake dust, chain lube, oil, and road tar on these areas can be pre-soaked with cleaners like Simple Green or moto-specific bike cleaners.
Chains: If you have a chain drive motorcycle, pre-soak time is a great time to apply chain cleaner on your chain.
Bottom to top
Your wash will be faster and kinder to the paint if you wash your bike from the bottom and work your way up. Start by using motorcycle-detailing brushes to scrub your bike’s wheels, engine, and chain (if your bike is chain drive). Scrubbing loose the dirt and contaminants that you’ve soaked can help you eliminate cleaning the tank and fenders twice.
Depending on the season, water temperature can be a critical factor to maintain your bike. During the winter and early spring months, your bike gets covered by road salt. Salt combined with water causes corrosion—and heated water can speed up the corrosion process. So, use colder water during cooler seasons to help protect your bike from damage.
Once you’ve scrubbed the grime off the wheels and engine, it’s time for the pre-rinse. Remove any terrycloth pre-soak towels and start rinsing the wheels and engine. Give the whole motorcycle a thorough rinse to remove any abrasive material before the wash.
Go easy on the paint
Your pre-soak and pre-rinse should’ve removed dirt that can cause scratches. When you wash the painted areas of the motorcycle, rinse your wash mitt or rag often. Dark paint tends to show swirl marks the most, so avoid hard circular scrubbing. Consider washing gently in line with the way the wind crosses your bike from front to rear. After washing, rinse and make sure the paint is clean. Then take a moment to scrub off any remaining dirt on the engine and wheels.
Remember, the type of cleaner you use is important because harsh household cleaners can strip wax or mar painted surfaces; motorcycle or car-wash products are the best choice.
Using forced air to dry your bike is better than drying with towels. Avoid using high-pressure air that can force water past seals and gaskets. You’ll want to get as much water off the motorcycle as possible. If your bike has been on a side-stand, pay attention to pockets of collected water on its right side. Once your bike is dry enough, remove any kitchen cling wrap and towels you used to protect it from water.
Uncover the exhaust, and intake if needed, and start your motorcycle. Allowing it to warm to normal-operating temperature will evaporate hidden water on the motor. The motorcycle needs to cool before deeper cleaning, polishing, and waxing. Some riders will park the bike in a clean garage and use a fan to speed cooling and evaporate any remaining moisture.
Under the covers
The next step is to remove any side covers, the saddle, and other bodywork to reveal the normally hidden parts of the motorcycle. Using soft, slightly damp rags or automotive cleaning wipes, carefully and thoroughly clean the frame and components. This is the time to look for corrosion on internal areas and electrical connections. Use care around the battery area if there are any signs of leakage, as the acid will burn you. Also, check the terminals for corrosion. With everything exposed and cleaned, it’s a perfect time to perform a full inspection and start creating a service check list.
Polish, wax, and preserve
Before you close everything up, consider waxing the exposed frame and painted surfaces, like the rear fender or tank covered by the seat. Polishing and waxing side panels while everything is more exposed also allows for better coverage. Once you complete the waxing, treat or preserve leather seats or bags you’ve removed and replace them once cleaned.
The deeper you clean, the more you’ll understand the true condition and beauty of your motorcycle. It’s well worth the effort!
As you’re cleaning or maintaining your bike, it’s important to see what you’re doing so you don’t cause damage.
For more information on topics like motorcycle maintenance, safety and insurance, make sure to check out our On the Road articles.
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