How to deep clean your motorcycle's wheels and get them looking like new with MCN's expert mechanic

You motorbike’s wheels can be one of the trickiest areas to clean, but they’re also prone to getting absolutely filthy.

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A combination of brake dust, chain lube, road grime, salt and whatever else they manage to pick up, coupled with the fact they have so many hard-to-reach nooks and crannies can lead to an unsightly build-up of crud that’s hard to shift.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to get your wheels gleaming again with a proper deep clean. Maybe if you’re whipping them out to change your tyres anyway, you should give it a go.

Remove the wheels

Dirty motorcycle wheel in need of cleaning

To get your wheels looking as good as new you need to remove them from the bike. Get your bike on paddock stands and remove the wheels. Make a note what side the spacers are located, including the sprocket carrier.

Scrub spindles, spacers and sprocket

Rear spacer from motorcycle wheel

Before turning your attention to the wheels themselves, check the condition of the spindles and spacers. Quite often you’ll find that these accumulate quite a bit of road dirt and grease, so be sure to give them the deep clean treatment as well. It’s quite common for the sprocket carrier to be really manky thanks to sticky chain lube attracting grime.

Detach the discs

Undoing Torx bolts on rear brake disc

It’s the brake discs that make it most difficult to gain access to the hub. Undo the bolts that retain the disc carrier to the hub, making sure that you use the correct size tool. If the bolts refuse to budge do not use excessive force, as it’s common for these bolts to be secured with a threadlock compound which could result in you rounding off the bolt heads.

Bruce’s tip: Avoid impact guns, these will damage the bolt heads.

Turn up the heat

Using a heat gun to free brake disc bolts

If you are struggling with a reluctant disc bolt or two then it’s time to deploy the heat gun. Apply heat directly to the head of any stubborn bolts – it can take a while for sufficient heat to build up, so be patient. Once the bolts are out, remove the disc and make a note which side of the wheel each was fitted, including the location of the ABS sensor ring if fitted.

Spray on the suds

Rock Oil motorbike cleaner

Spray the wheel with water, then liberally squirt on a bike cleaner – Rock Oil’s Dirt Blaster is one of our favourites for this job. Leave it for a couple of minutes to allow the formula to work on the dirt, then agitate with a soft brush in the areas where the dirt is thickest.

One of Bruce's favourite bike cleaners for stubborn dirt and grime.

Spot clean tricky bits

Naked Bikes spot cleaner

Rinse with water and gauge how effective the first stage of cleaning has been. You can either call it a job well done or take the cleaning up a notch with a dedicated wheel cleaner to shift some of the more difficult dirt. You can follow this up with a bit of spot cleaning.

Sprocket to ‘em

Tru-Tension chain cleaner used to clean rear sprocket

Turn your attention to the sprocket and carrier. Working over a tray, generously apply chain cleaner all over. This type of cleaner makes easy work of dirt encrusted with chain lube. Use a nylon brush to agitate the cleaner, and remember to rinse well with water.

Bruce’s tip: Giving the sprocket the deep clean treatment can make it look like new.

Time to shine

Auto Glym polish used to clean motorbike wheel

Rinse away all traces of cleaner then dry with a soft cloth. Apply a layer of polish to your wheels and buff to a deep shine. Pay attention to the hub and spoke areas that extend to the rim, as when the discs are refitted it will be difficult to re-apply.

Bruce’s tip: Don’t allow any polish to come into contact with the disc or carrier.

Don’t forget the ABS ring

Oxford Mint Bike Wash used to clean ABS ring

Before refitting the discs, flip them over and clean the rear side of the carrier. Do the same for the serrated ABS sensor ring; use a stiff nylon brush and reapply the cleaner as necessary. Finally, rinse off thoroughly with fresh water then dry with a soft cloth.

Decontaminate discs

Cleaning a brake disc with brake cleaner

Before re-fitting the discs it’s wise to wipe them over with brake cleaner. Use a completely clean cloth or workshop paper towel and spray the disc, then wipe away any dirt. Repeat again and turn the cloth. Refit the discs, installing the bolts in a criss-cross pattern. 

Bruce’s tip: Check your manual to see if threadlock needs applying to disc bolts.


A secret weapon

We are in a bit of a golden age of cleaning products as there seems to be something for everything: wheel cleaner, bike cleaner, tar remover, brake cleaner, carb cleaner, pre-wash, post-wash, wax wash, the list goes on. 

But every now and then I discover something new, this time it’s Elbow Grease – a spray-on household degreaser that costs just a few quid but it’s brilliant for bikes and has now got its place in my armoury of cleaning products in the garage.

Price: $17.59
Bruce's secret weapon in the fight against grime is this inexpensive household degreaser.

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