We’ve already covered what you should be looking for – and looking to avoid – in the substances you use to clean your bike, but getting the right bottles of cleaner is only half the battle.
Here’s how to get the best results from your clean, without causing more harm…
Before you start:
Where you wash your bike is just as important as how you do it. First, make sure you’ve plenty of room to move around, and that it’s parked on firm and level ground. Ideally, it should be on a centre or paddock stand. If it only has a side stand fitted, it’s a good idea to strap the front brake on to stop it rolling off.
Make sure you’re in the shade, as washing in direct sunlight can increase drying time and cause marks/streaks to form. It can also reduce the effectiveness of cleaning products.
Make sure the your bike is switched off and stone cold before you start, adding products to hot surfaces can cause marks and in extreme cases, certain cleaning products can ignite.
Make sure you follow the instructions carefully. Most good bike cleaning solutions require a short period of time ‘sitting’ on your machine, to allow the solution time to soften, dissolve and pick up the contaminants, and power through the stubborn bits.
Make sure you leave it to work for the recommended time, no more, no less, as this can affect how well the cleaner performs: not leaving it on long enough won’t give it chance to deal with the dirt, but leaving it on too long can have a similar effect too. Gel cleaners are the ones to go for, as they stay in contact with dirt longer.
Down and dirty:
Some bits of stubborn dirt and grime might need agitated to help get it off. Use a sponge for this, and make sure it’s clean, as rubbing a dirty one on your bike can cause scratches/damage. Make sure you have access to a supply of fresh, clean water to rinse them with and do it after every session.
Never use brushes as the bristles, and the dirt/grit particles that can are often trapped in them, can cause serious damage to paint, panels, plastic and metals. If you’re worried, re-apply cleaner to the problem area after rinsing, this should shift it.
For really grimy areas, like the drive chain, it’s worth investing in a separate product specifically designed to deal with it. A good chain cleaner will be specifically formulated to get old lube and gunk off, without having to start scrubbing at it. It’s worth spending a little more to make sure the job’s done right.
Rinse and repeat:
Once your solutions have worked their magic, rinse off with clean, cold water. Use a garden hose or bucket/jug and not a power/jet wash, as the pressure from the spray can blast through seals and into wiring, and other components; lift or damage paint; and take some of your cleaning solution with it.
Leave a high PH or Alkali cleaner sitting in the nooks and crannies of your bike, and it’ll slowly eat it’s way through it. If you do use a jet washer keep the nozzle well away from the machine and avoid pointing the jet directly into electrics and seals etc.
If there’s still dirt, don’t be too quick to grab the sponge, re-apply cleaner to the problem area and let it have another go.
The finishing touches:
Once fully rinsed, dry your bike with a chamoix/soft cloth, as air-drying may leave water marks. Don’t rub the cloth across the wet surface, as this can cause scratching. Unfold it, lay it over the surface and allow it to soak up the water. Lift off, ring out and re-apply until your bike is dry.
Polishes, protectants and finishers can be then be applied to specific areas, if needed. Paint and plastic polishes will remove fine scratches and revitalise the colour of body panels, without damaging decals. As with the cleaner, buy something bike-specific, read the ingredients and instructions carefully.
Metal components like the engine block, frame, and forks will also benefit from treatment, as over time they can ‘grey’ and ‘bleach’, as can plastic and rubber parts such as mudguards, mirrors and indicators. Although many separate solutions are available to treat these areas, they can be abrasive on the sensitive surfaces and are fiddly to use. Again, go for a spray on product that requires no rubbing or polishing.
Finally, it’s worth investing a little more time to protect against corrosion, especially during the winter months. A light coating of oil over vulnerable areas will offer some protection, but a proper corrosion inhibitor is the best bet.