Washing your motorcycle isn’t just about vanity (although who wants to be seen with a dirty bike?) it’s also a very important part of motorcycle maintenance. How to wash your motorcycle and the process of washing your motorcycle will help you get to know it better. You’ll have greater familiarity with the parts of your bike which will be valuable when you start on other maintenance tasks. Many of the things that can go wrong with your motorcycle can be detected and prevented during a wash – if you are observant to early warning signs.
When washing your motorcycle you will notice the appearance of a tell-tale fluid leak or absence of a fastener or bolt. On a dirty bike a fluid leak can go un-noticed until the lack of fluid causes a failure that is potentially catastrophic. By washing your bike regularly you will learn to distinguish what is ‘normal’ dirt (road grime, flung chain lube, dead bugs etc.) from what is ‘bad’ dirt – seepage around a gasket, a localized spray of fluid, oil somewhere it shouldn’t be. Careful washing will also help you spot loose fittings before parts fall off. You’ll get to know if there are parts or bolts that need to be tightened occasionally.
What you need:
- Water – A garden hose and a bucket (or two) of hot water
- Soap – dish soap, laundry soap
- An assortment of cloths, sponges, old towels
- Chamois (particularly if you have chrome)
- Car-wash mitten
- Sprayer attachment for the hose
If you can not get your bike to your hose or a hose to your bike, you can manage with a second bucket for rinse-water, but you’ll be hauling a few extra bucketfuls of water.
Soap choices will vary widely between riders, but start with the stuff you probably already have. If your bike isn’t all that greasy, a gentle soap like shampoo works fine on dirt and bugs; dish soap and laundry soap are ‘soapier’ household options. Depending on where your wash water will drain to, you might want to consider a biodegradable product. Try out a few things and you will find something that works just the way you want it to.
What to do
Prepare to wash – park your motorcycle where you can get around it with the hose (on the centre stand if you have one, it makes rear wheel and chain cleaning easier). Get all your wash supplies organised, a bucket of hot soapy water, and prepare to get wet.
Pre-wash preparations – some riders cover the tail end of their exhaust pipes, or tape over their ignition key slot, but most ignitions are pretty waterproof these days, and you can probably manage to avoid spraying water up your tailpipes by aiming the hose carefully.
Rinse your bike thoroughly first. With the soapy water, and a wet rag, sponge or wash mitt, start with the delicate painted surfaces like your gas tank and bodywork while your rags and soapy water are clean. Rinse again and move to the front of your bike where the bugs are hopefully soggy by now and easier to get off your windscreen, headlight, and front-facing body work. Rinse again and then clean the front wheel, making sure to get all the brake dust out of any nooks and crannies around the brake callipers and the wheel rim. Rinse again and, if your soapy water isn’t too dirty, you can do your rear wheel, the underside of your bike, and your drive chain last. Cleaning and lubricating your chain is the subject of the next maintenance article. If you have a shaft or belt drive bike, you’re done one step sooner.
You want to work out an order-of-operations for your bike that lets you work your way from the less dirty areas to the most dirty areas, which might (if your bike isn’t too dirty) let you clean the whole bike with one bucket of soapy water. You also want to remember to wash everything, so develop a system that works for you; the first few times you wash your bike you’ll almost certainly find some spots you missed.
Once you’ve washed and rinsed your bike, you may have some final detailing to do. If you have chrome I highly recommend a real hide chamois – soak it thoroughly before use, squeeze (don’t wring or twist) it dry, and wipe the water off all of your chrome, paint and shiny parts, it saves time detailing and polishing after your bike dries. There are lots of automotive polishes for painted, chromed and vinyl surfaces. Be cautious with your seat – if you like a slippery seat, there are lots of vinyl care products that will help – but if you don’t want your seat (or grips or pegs) to be slippery, don’t clean them with products with silicone. Do NOT clean your tires with anything except soapy water.
Now that you’ve got it clean, don’t worry too much about polishing it – instead, take it out for a ride, and show off your shiny clean bike!
Andrea Goodman Dirty Girl Racing for MOTORESS – updated and edited by Vicki Gray / April 2020