For some people it's one of the pleasures of owning a motorcycle. For others it's pure drudgery. But for most cruiser owners, the business of finish care is an essential task. Maintaining their bike's finish is a priority because appearance is usually a major reason why they chose a cruiser.
There are a variety of levels of cleaning your cruiser. A full-court clean and detail may involve stripping your bike down almost to the frame to wash, polish and wax every external part. A simpler clean-up may mean removing the saddle and a few other external pieces that get in the way, such as saddlebags, side covers, and windshield. Out on the road, you may just want to go over the visible pieces with a clean-and-wax product.
Several companies offer complete...
Several companies offer complete finish-care kits tailored to motorcycle-finish care.
An essential part of cleaning gear is a large quantity of soft terry-cloth towels. While it's tempting to buy a bag of cheap towels at a discount store, this bargain won't provide you with the softness current finishes require. Although modern clearcoats do a great job of resisting environmental threats, such as acid rain and UV damage, they are also pretty soft physically. Using anything but a very soft towel will scratch them.
These days, many of the test bikes we get already have fine scratches and swirls in the paint. The rags used to clean them were harder than the finish. These scratches can be polished out, but it's better to avoid them. Get a few yards of soft toweling. And remember, any towel or other cleaning, polishing or waxing instrument that gets dropped on the ground should not be used until it is cleaned.
Other implements recommended for a thorough job are a standard kitchen scrub brush, toothbrushes, paintbrushes with soft bristles, sandpaper, cotton swabs and perhaps a scouring pad. Some cleaning systems supply a sponge or other application device, which is probably safe for the types of surfaces the system is designed to clean. A bucket and a hose should round out your tools.
Since you are supposed to...
Since you are supposed to change your toothbrush every month anyway, use the old ones to clean the unpainted nooks and crannies on your bike. The bristles may scratch some soft clearcoats, so use carefully. Our model also should have gotten rid of that watch, which could scratch something too.
Before you start, remove rings, watches and any other metal pieces on your person that might scratch the bike.
We find that having the bike on a lift, such as the Craftsman Motorcycle Jack, which raises it off the ground and allows the wheels to turn, makes the process much easier by giving access to more parts of the bike. Just cleaning your wheels a couple of times will justify one of these devices.
You take soap and water to your bike when it has collected the kind of grunge that justifies it. A thorough prewash hosing rinses away grit and loosens and softens bug carcasses. Add soap to dissolve other substances (grease, sap, stubborn bug parts, etc.) clinging to the surface.
A lot of people use household soaps to clean their vehicles. There are drawbacks to these products. First, they usually take off existing waxwhich isn't a problem if you plan to rewax anyway. Secondly, some dish and other household soaps can corrode aluminum. Finally, dish soap tends to dry out paint. The finish of your good china is probably tougher than that of your motorcycle.
We prefer motorcycle-specific cleaners because they are intended not only for paint but for the various metals, plastics, vinyl and other materials on a motorcycle. They are also formulated to get rid of the dead bugs, road mung and other junk motorcycles typically collect. No matter what kind of soap you use, rinse frequently to keep it from drying on the surface. Avoid getting water in your exhaust pipes.
Wheels may need more frequent...
Wheels may need more frequent cleaning than other components because dust from brake pads, especially metallic ones, can attack them and will cause visible damage if you allow it to stay on the wheels. There are a number of good, easy-to-use products for cleaning wheels. Most motorcycle wheels have a clear coating, so be sure you get a wheel cleaner that won't damage that.
We prefer a good nozzle on a hose to a pressure washer. If you use a pressure washer, do so with care. The pressure can blast water past seals. Bikes that have been pressure-washed usually have rusty axles, for example, because the water has squirted past the wheel-bearing seals. Keep pressure sprays away from hydraulic brake and clutch components to avoid contaminating the fluid. Pressure spray should also be kept off of electrical parts, instruments, gas caps and chains. The list of parts you need to avoid is so long that pressure washers don't really make sense. Some sources even say they damage the paint.
Virtually all detailing operations should be performed out of direct sunlight. Your bike's surfaces should be cool when you apply cleaning solutions to them. Wet down the surface with plain water before using soap. Using a general motorcycle cleaner, such as Showbike Spray Wash, spray it on the grungy areas then wash it away. If the crud is still there, reapply and scrub. For vertical surfaces, S100 makes a wheel-cleaning gel which, because it is thicker than normal washing solutions, doesn't run off so quickly.
For painted, clearcoated and plastic parts that haven't accumulated grease and grime, dab or spray the cleaner on a wash towel or mitt and scrub gently, rinsing the towel or mitt frequently so it doesn't pick up anything that will scratch. For chrome, billet, engine surfaces and other uncoated metal parts, we use a plastic-bristled paintbrush or toothbrush. The soft paintbrush also works safely on vinyl seats, tires and similar surfaces, and can be used to scrub the softer painted and plastic surfaces. The toothbrush is particularly effective on detailed billet items and screw heads, etc.
If this is a major clean-up, take the time to get into all the crevices and under the engine, fuel tank, swingarm, exhaust pipes and fenders. Take out the battery and thoroughly clean its tray and the areas below it. If any of the area has been attacked by battery acid, thoroughly strip and sand away the damaged paint and corrosion, then reprime and paint.
Experiment with different...
Experiment with different motorcycle washes until you find one that works well with the way you clean your bike.
Before you polish, dress or wax, your bike should be completely dry. If this is just a basic clean-up operation, you might want to try a wax-and-dry product, such as Eagle One's Wax As-U-Dry, which applies a light wax while you wipe the bike dry.
You can choose from a variety of drying methods. A chamois does a good job of drying without streaks, but these may strip away some waxes. That soft towel doesn't soak up water quite as aggressively but it is probably gentler on your finish. I recently found some yellow microfiber towels at Costco that are very absorbent and soft and do a great job.
Some people like to use an air compressor to blow water out of the crevices, which is quick and effective. Unfortunately many compressor tanks have oil or dirty moisture in them. Some use a hair dryer.
Some stuff doesn't succumb to normal washing and scrubbing. When your bike is dry, those hold-out stains are the next thing to tackle. Tar and some saps don't melt with water. You can use a tar remover or other mild solvent for these. I like WD-40, which also works well on chain lube and that unidentifiable brown stuff that builds up under bikes. Keep solvents off your tires and plastics.
For stains, scratches and...
For stains, scratches and other defects below the paint's surface, you will probably need an appropriate polish. These work by removing some of the material--so don't get too vigorous and polish right through the clearcoat.
For oil and other stains on cylinder fins and other unfinished and unpolished parts, fine sandpaper or a scouring pad is a good bet. These also brighten the aluminum slightly. Be sure there is no coating to damage.
Melted plastic, from rider clothing or blowing debris like plastic bags, is one of the nastiest things that can befall exhaust pipes. Sometimes a stronger solvent such as MEK or acetone will soften this blob. You might try a radiator shop's dunk tank if this doesn't work. Avoid the temptation to scrape it off with metaleither a blade or a scouring padwhich will mar the chrome. Use heavy-duty gloves when you are handling any of these solvents, including WD-40.
A shot of WD-40 (the WD stands for "water dispersing") in the openings of the handlebar and other electrical switches will keep them dry and working smoothly.
When your bike's painted parts are clean and dry, look them over and run your fingers across them. If you neither see nor feel any blemishes, you can go ahead and apply wax. If the paint has lost its luster or has another defect, you need to polish or apply some other surface treatment before you wax.
Mothers Clay Bar is a unique...
Mothers Clay Bar is a unique above-the-surface cleaner that effectively removes contaminants that cling to paint, leaving a smoother surface. It's also a magnet for grit--if you drop the bar it's ruined.
A variety of products improve the condition and appearance of damaged paint. Some, such as Mothers Clay Bar, work mostly above the paint's surface to remove contaminants. To smooth out defects in the paint itself, you need a polish, which all finish-care companies offer. These range from gentle polishes, like S100 Total Cycle Finish Restorerideal for taking out fine scratches and swirlsto fairly abrasive treatments like rubbing compound. Some companies have multiple grades. Read the labels attentively to select one that addresses your paint's condition. Start with a milder version and progress to more abrasive treatments if it doesn't work.
Polishing the luster and smoothness back into your paint may require some elbow grease, but if you choose and apply the products properly, you can get a finish that is at least as good as new. Those soft towels will be handy here. Cut or fold them into small squares, and switch to a fresh surface whenever the one you are using gets dirty.
If you have a custom paint job, it is worth asking the painter what specific products he or she recommends for the paint on your bike. There will probably be a waiting period before you should apply anything except soap and water.
For a quick touch-up, those...
For a quick touch-up, those quick-detail waxes work well. S100's, shown here, seems to offer a bit more durable film than some others.
Your bike is asking for wax whenever water won't bead into round balls anymore. Apply wax to any visible surface. On hidden surfaces, a protectant (more on this later) offers equal or better protection, though not as much gloss.
You will find a variety of waxes out there. Some are formulated for certain colors or paints, while others are designed to be easier to apply or more durable. Some are combined with polish to save a step, but these aren't likely to be as effective in either capacity.
No matter which wax you choose, the idea is the sameto give your paint a clear layer that adds sheen, protects the paint, and is less likely to let dirt and other elements stick to it.
Removing excess wax can be the bigger part of the job, if it has creeped into crannies and crevices. This is easiest if it is still fresh and hasn't hardened. Excess wax isn't a problem if it's out of sight, though. I know one rider who never buffs the excess wax off the underside of his tank or from other hidden surfaces, figuring it's just a thicker barricade to corrosion.
There are a number of good, one-step detailing solutions out there suitable for light cleaning and waxing or as a follow-up to a wash job. We have been impressed by the products from Honda, Protect All, S100 and Showbike, though there may be other equally effective ones we haven't tried.
Treated with polish, those...
Treated with polish, those spoke-cleaning strips can ease the tedium of cleaning wire wheels, at least a little.
The enemy of chrome is corrosion, even though it helps the metal beneath it resist corroding agents. Rust can be on the chrome itself or it can come up from the surface below. If it's on the chrome, polish it away. If it's on the underlying metal, you have to take more drastic measures. If the bike is still under warranty, we'd expect the part to be replaced by the manufacturer. Before you spring for a new part yourself, consider the Rusteco treatment, which we have found to be very effective.
There are a variety of chrome polishes and cleaners to scour light corrosion away from chrome. Some of these compounds also protect the surface; others suggest following with a wax. Do as your told.
Very fine scratches in chrome, or light corrosion on aluminum or billet can be buffed away with a polish that is just abrasive enough to remove a small amount of metal while enhancing the sheen of the base metal. Simichrome polish is a long-time favorite around here, and the same S100 Finish Restorer for paint will also buff metal. Deeper scratches in chrome can't be removed since the chrome plate is so thin, but aluminum or other metal can be polished down so the scratch disappears.
Bare metal should be polished...
Bare metal should be polished with a specialized product intended for that purpose.
Be sure what you are treating as chrome isn't chromed plastic. Plastic chrome should be cleaned and waxed, but it doesn't like polish.
Wire spokes are a particularly tedious chore, but Lustre Lace sells polish-soaked cloth strips which you can wrap around spokes to cut down on cleaning time. You may be able to approximate these by soaking soft, tough cloth strips with polish.
Damaged screw heads that have lost their finish can be painted with silver or chrome-like paint using a fine brush or cotton swab.
You should put a protectant on bare metal, such as rough-cast pieces, not suitable for chrome polish or wax. I have had great results with S100's Total Cycle Corrosion Protectant. I spray it on all those unseen pieces, both bare metal (like an engine's sump) and painted (like the frame), hidden under the bike or tucked away in the frameincluding the battery box. It can be sprayed into crannies, into holes in exhaust pipes and other areas that aren't accessible for wax. (I also use it on outdoor furniture, my snow blower, off-road bikes, etc.) It is fabulous stuff that doesn't seem to wash off quickly, maintains luster and stops corrosion.
S100 also makes an engine-finish treatment. This is a high-temp, spray-on solution that adds a luster to your engine that won't burn off from the heat. Black surfaces benefit the most.
You can use one of those oversized...
You can use one of those oversized cotton swabs to remove wax from crevices, apply finish-care products precisely or put some silver paint on a corroded allen-bolt head.
Many pieces that appear to be metal actually have a clear, plastic coating. Wheels and fork sliders are typically finished this way. If you use a harsh mag-wheel cleaner designed for bare metal, it will strip the coating off, leaving you with a real mess. You can tell if a surface is coated by appearance and feel. Treat coated pieces like you would a plastic or painted surface. If the plastic coating is damaged, you can remove it completely and polish or chrome the underlying part.
The best solution for a windshield seems to be a specialty product, such as Plexus, which smooths and fills fine scratches while cleaning and clearing the plastic surface. Some of the polishes used for metal also serve to remove fine scratches from windshields and other plastic. You can also use the all-purpose detailer/cleaners, such as Protect-All, to clean and buff your windshield.
Other plastic pieces that may benefit from scratch removal and a bit of gloss include instrument lenses and taillight and turn-signal lenses. In fact, it is worth removing light lenses to clean them inside and out every few years. Painted plastic panels should be treated like other painted parts.
If you plan to put some sort...
If you plan to put some sort of dressing on your tires, spray it on a rag first, so you can be sure that you only get it on sidewalls, not on treads or brake parts.
Tire manufacturers warn that you shouldn't use anything except soap and water on your tires because other products draw away the oils and other chemicals compounded into the rubber to fend off environmental damage. We keep telling them that, since tires are one of the biggest surfaces on a motorcycle, they should offer or endorse something we can apply to keep our rubber looking its best. Some finish-care companies, such as Meguiar's, say they have products that were developed in conjunction with tire companies. Mothers Preserves Protectant also sounds like it might be a solution for tires. The firm doesn't make any extravagant claims, and it recognizes the problems with earlier products. It just says it will keep rubber looking clean and natural. We haven't used it enough to say what our verdict is yet.
Whitewalls are another problem. Whitewalls can pick up some really awful-looking junk, and soap and water can't always get it all off. The standard recommendation from customizers is Westley's Bleche-Wite. Since we haven't held on to any of the bikes or tires we have used this product on, we can't say what long-term effect it has on tire condition. But we can tell you it makes those sidewalls mighty white in short order.
If you choose to use any treatment that makes rubber or vinyl shiny, keep it away from your tire treads, and don't spray any on brake rotors, which may make them slippery or get absorbed by the brake pads. It's also a good idea to keep those plastic and vinyl treatments off of grips and footrestsand a slippery seat certainly isn't desirable. Some of these treatments can cause damage to vinyl in the long run, so care is in order.
If you spray anything, including vinyl dressing, make sure the overspray doesn't get on the painted parts you have already waxed. This is another reason for removing components.
Leather saddlebags or seat covers require special cleaners and conditioners. They should be removed from the bike during washing and cleaned separately. If they get wet from rain, apply a conditioner when they are dry again. We suggest asking the manufacturer for specific product recommendations, especially for the conditioner. Some supply an initial sample with their products. The standard car-care leather conditioners are intended for lightweight interior leathernot leather that is exposed to rain, road salt and other environmental assaults. If no recommendation is available, we suggest a good cleaner like Lexol's followed by a heavy-duty conditioning treatment, such as that sold by Harley-Davidson.
How often you have to give your bike a thorough going-over depends on how much you ride and where you ride. You can also reduce and shorten major finish-care sessions by using protectants, and cleaning and waxing paint before it gets damaged. Some guys may enjoy those hours spent caressing their bikes' curves, but we'd rather be riding ours through some. And there is no lamer excuse for not riding, than "I don't want to get my bike dirty."
You can reduce the need for elbow grease in finish care if you apply some preventive measures early.
Cover up&151carefully: If your bike sits outside, cover it. This will keep off dust, sap and bird droppings, all of which can cause finish damage. Sun will fade paint, damage rubber and plastic, and fade instrument faces. A cover can reduce UV damage to seats and other soft parts, but watch out for problems. A cover pulling on or buffeting against the paint can scuff it. Wind can make it a liability; covering a bike on a pick-up truck or trailer is asking for damage. A soft cover or, in a pinch, a large towel draped over the bike in the driveway, or a soft cover over it in the garage can be enough.
Park smart: If your bike sits outside uncovered, pick a shady spot away from bird perches, traffic that throws up dust and sources of soot and sap. If you park in a garage, avoid sources of ozone (such as appliances with electric motors). Ozone attacks rubber.
Wear wisely: We see a lot of finish damage from rider clothing. Belt or jacket buckles, zippers or zipper pulls scratch paint. Boot buckles damage cases and pipes and can scuff seats and chrome if your throught your leg over carelessly. The drive for that chain-drive wallet can do damage. Watch what you wear and how it comes in contact with the bike. You should also keep your motorcycle key separate fronm others, so you don't have a wad of keys (or a heavy key fob) to damage the area around the ignition switch.
Those slick finish protectants...
Those slick finish protectants can also prevent dirt from sticking to your bike.
Loosen your bike's grip: Spraying a slick product like ArmorAll or S100 Finish Protectant on the underside of your bike can keep dirt, mud, bugs, tar, etc. from sticking as tenaciously. It also workd inside the fenders (but take your wheels off to do it, so you don't get any on tires.
Don't give your paint a brake: Brake fluid will etch paint and clearcoat. Even if you are just unscrewing your master-cylinder cap to have a look, cover all the painted surfaces in the vicinity.
Watch that rainsuit: Plastic rainsuits and other synthetic fabrics will leave a messy blob if they come in contact with an exhaust pipe or other hot part. Keep them clear.
Paint your new pipe: If you are putting on a new pipe without a cosmetic heat shield, consider painting the inside of the header with high-temp paint to prevent or at least defer bluing. Thoroughly wipe off fingerprints and grease before you start the bike up for the first tinme with the pipe on it.
Don't do acid: Make sure the battery vent tube is attached and properly routed. The cable hanging down under the bike may be ugly, but not as ugly as paint peeling from your swingarm or clearcoat bubbling from your rear wheel. Better to have it dangling under the bike where you can see it than a short breather tube that releases acid droplets where they can get on the bike. A sealed battery is the ultimate solution.
If you can't wax: Spray your bike with a corrosion preventative like S100 Total Cycle Corrosion Protectant. It won't look as pretty as a waxed finish but it will stop blemishes and corrosion. This goes double for off- season storage. Spray some inside your mufflers, too.
For more articles on how to maintain and modify your motorcycle, see the Tech section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.