Motorbike Detailing & Cleaning
27th April 2018
It's important to look after your bike so it looks the best it can but, perhaps more importantly, so it doesn't rust and fall apart. Following the tips below you can remove all the bugs, salt and road grime from it, give it a good clean without ruining the paintwork, make sure there are no nasty detergent residues left on it and then protect the end result:
How to Detail a Motorbike
- The Two Bucket Rule - The sponge goes into the soapy bucket, onto the bike and then into the clean water bucket to avoid dirt going back onto the bike
- Snow Foam - Attach a snow foam lance to a pressure washer or hose to spray a snow of foam onto the bike quickly
- The Rinse - Make sure all the soap is off with a good rinse
- Drying - Micro fibre cloths and a proper bike drier get all the water off
- The Clay Bar - Soft fine clay to remove bonded contaminants like sap
- Waxing - Apply the wax to gloss painted areas and leave to dry
- Polishing - Remove the dried wax using micro fibre clothes and circular motions
- Protection - Various special coatings for the engine, wheels, screen, seat etc.
- Cleaning the Chain - Degrease and clean with a brush then re-lubricate
Don't Do These Things
- Use only one bucket of soapy water
- Deprive the kitchen of Fairy Liquid
- Use an unmodified pressure washer
Heard of the Two Bucket Rule? No, well that's the most important place to start. One has your warm soapy water of choice and the other simply has clean water. Some people get two labelled buckets the same so they stack and others go for different styles/colours so it's really obvious which is which.
The cloth, sponge or Wiggle Wash Mitt goes into the soapy water, on to the bike to dislodge any dirt and then straight into the clean water before repeating. By dipping it into the clean water after washing the bike all the dirt coming off the bike ends up at the bottom of the clean water bucket, leaving your soapy bucket nice and fresh to repeat the process. If you just use one bucket some of the dirt and particles can make their way back onto the bike and cause those annoying circular scratches you often see in bright sunlight.
To make it even easier to avoid dirt making its way back on to the bike consider using a ScratchShield in the bottom of each bucket. They are round mesh structures which sit at the bottom of the bucket and prevent your sponge accidentally making contact with the layer of grime that has sunk to the bottom.
Soapy solutions worth considering include:
Bikes and scooters tend to be dirtier at the bottom for obvious road adjacency reasons so many people start off at the top and end with the back wheel/swingarm. Make sure to pay some attention to the under tail area as well, especially if a rear hugger isn't fitted, as this area can take a lot of abuse.
The top to bottom/front to back general approach keeps the washing towel cleaner for longer and the water dripping down the bike gives you a head start with the worst grime at the bottom. If you don't have a centre stand fitted propping up the side stand a bit to get the bike near vertical can help ensure both sides get equal attention. For the trickier bits special brushes can be bought for really getting into areas such as the wheels or engine details.
The Foam Approach (AKA Jizz, Jizz Everywhere)
Getting a decent covering of soapy water onto the bike might seem like a slow thing to achieve by hand so if you like gadgets and have a suitable outside space you might want to try a Snow Foam Lance on the end of a pressure washer. Simply fill the bottle with foamer of your choice and the pressure washer mixes it with water before letting out a nice gentle covering of foam to thoroughly soak the bike. Leave it to soak for a short while before getting in there with the sponges/brushes and then give the bike a really good rinse.
Next up it's a good idea to give the bike a really good rinse with just clean water from a hose or watering can, just to make sure all the soap has been rinsed off before the next stage. Don't be tempted to use a pressure washer without a suitable attachment because it's too much force over too small an area which can start to damage the exterior finish over time.
It is crucial to get all the soap/detergent off the bike and to dry it thoroughly before applying any wax or coatings. People usually start with a bunch of clean micro fibre clothes to get the worst off. Micro fibre is a great material because loads of tiny fibres all crammed onto the surface give the towel a massive surface area with which to wick up the water droplets. Buy in bulk though because you'll go through a lot!
To finish the job quickly many people then go over the bike, especially the tricky cracks'n'crevices with a bike drier. It's basically a big hair drier/air compressor with a long flexible hose for getting the air to where it's needed, as demonstrated by TheMissendenFlyer here:
The pressure forces its way into the cracks to expel any water back out, so watch where your face is and the heat helps what's left to evaporate more quickly. They come with different power ratings so do some thorough research before splashing any cash on one. Cheaper alternatives include old leaf blowers and even pet driers.
It will depend on the model however the chances are there will be certain bits that collect more water and certain bits it's a good idea to start with first. For instance the screen is generally designed to deflect wind blast around the bike so it can be a good idea to dry that bit first to avoid a cloud of fresh water covering the back of the bike after you've spent ages drying it! Individual bolts, the fuel filler cap and the radiator will also likely collect water as will all the fins on air-cooled motors.
The Clay Bar
Is exactly what it sounds like - a bar of soft clay. It's particularly good at removing bonded surface contaminants like sap, road film, salt, bird droppings and dust which then leaves the paint feeling glassy smooth to the touch. You can work out which areas need it by running your fingers over the paintwork to pick up any rough feeling bits. They come in rough, medium and fine but fine is the easiest to use to begin with because it's less abrasive.
To use the bar first spray some clay bar lubricant on the paint or a little shampoo mixed with water, then rub a small flattened bit of the bar very gently over the rough area. Be careful not to apply any pressure though, just let the clay's surface do the work. You'll see whatever was making the surface rough transfer onto the clay and once that side is dirty you can fold it over for another two clean surfaces to work with. Then simply wipe off any excess lube and you're ready for the waxing stage. An alternative to a clay bar is a Clay Mitt.
Once the bike is clean some people take detailing to the next level with a coat of painstakingly applied wax on any painted gloss bits to protect the clear coat on top. Note that many modern bikes and scooters, particularly in black, have a mix of gloss and matt paint finishes to create what we like to call "The Batman Effect" so take care to only wax the shiny bits!
Wax generally comes as a solid or liquid (shake well). The liquid variety is usually synthetic and tends to be applied with foam applicator pads then wiped off with a handful of micro fibre cloths. Once the appropriate bits of the bike have been waxed leave it to dry thoroughly, which is an important step not to be rushed.
Now to make the dried wax all lovely and shiny. Using a bunch of micro fibre clothes slowly wipe off the dried wax in circular motions. It might take a couple of passes but should give a nice shiny finish.
ACF-50 is kind of short for Active Thin Fluid Film chemistry. It's a bit like a premium aircraft grade WD-40 when used as an anti-corrosion spray and binds to the surface of the material being protected, but like WD-40 it literally gets everywhere so plan well ahead or have some fine art brushes handy! Cost wise it isn't that cheap but over the long term it may well save you some pounds replacing rusted parts and should help to keep the value of the bike on the used market.
The spray (or the spray used as a paint with a brush) is best applied to a really clean bike before Winter to add a base layer of protection from salt and grime and it should last a good 6 months after application however it really is a base layer and should be applied to a bike's non-contact surfaces once in its cleanest state. The engine is a good contender but watch out for a little bit of smoke post-coat as the oil based ACF-50 coating vaporises with the heat.
There are also loads of of other specialist coatings to choose from, specifically designed for parts of the bike like the screen and wheels:
Check out this 2018 test from BikeSocial, comparing all the options ACF-50 and a new product on the block called XCP:
Popping the bike on a rear paddock stand really helps because the wheel and chain can be moved easily by hand. Then use some Kerosene (Paraffin/WD-40) and a stiff hand brush applied to the bottom/top/sides of the chain while it's fully rotated to give a good clean. Next hold a really old duster/rag against both axes of the chain and run it all the way through to wipe off any excess, then lube up and get rid of the excess on both axes as well using another cloth.