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The rules: Cleaning your bike

Published: 22 May 2013

Updated: 20 November 2014

The air is warm again, the tarmac shimmers and the sun strokes the back of every rider’s neck. Leathers hang patiently, helmets seem to buzz in anticipation and garage doors are poised on standby.

At no point in this fantasy is it cool to walk outside in your finest attire and straddle a filthy, gunk-clad bike. Sometimes we tell ourselves a quick dollop of soap and a slap of lube will do, but for those who want to brush up on their cleaning skills, premium motorcycle care brand SDoc100’s Dr Mario Kraft gives MCN his 10 rules for keeping your machine sparkling.

1. Look after your paint
Using wax regularly will keep paintwork in its best condition. Wax protects and preserves the lacquer and stops water spreading into crevices, gaps and holes where metal parts are prone to oxidation.

Polish contains abrasive ingredients while wax doesn’t, so when you have a scratch or a worn hazy look use polish to remove it. You may be able to cover it with wax but this will be temporary. The sequence should be: wash, polish and then wax to seal it all in. 

2. Care for your chain
It is important to remove all kinds of dirt, especially grit that gets stuck in the chain. Dirt can infiltrate links and increase friction, causing a grinding effect.

Some cleaning products need to be immediately scrubbed off because they dry so quickly. This can be tricky, often leaving grime on the chain. It’s also important to lube your chain; doing so will increase the lifetime, stop friction and prevent corrosion.

Clean the chain before lubing otherwise you will seal in dirt and reduce the lube spray’s effectiveness. Hold the spray can in the seven o’clock position to the rear sprocket facing towards the tail end of the bike.

3. Avoid rubber failures
Rubber pipes and hoses crack due to age and it’s not something that can be completely avoided. However, you can try to extend their lifetime. When pipes are cleaned and the dirt is removed, pores open up in the rubber.

These open pores allow flexibilisers in the rubber to diffuse, which simply causes the rubber to harden very quickly.

So a product should be used, like a colour refresher, to seal in the pores and stop any diffusing, keeping the rubber flexible. It’ll save you money and make your bike look better.

4. Beware of metal damage
Metal should be cleaned regularly. Dirt likes to stay moist and moisture is a primary source of corrosion, so drying those parts properly is a must.

Also, keep an eye out for dead insects. They may not cause visual corrosion but they can scar surfaces. This is because they contain a mixture of enzymes and amino acids, which are capable of reacting aggressively and attacking metal and lacquered parts. It is highly recommended to remove them as soon as possible.

5. Know your brake discs
When braking, the pads engage the disc causing metal particles to fling off. These small iron particles are not yet oxidised and can stick to other metal parts and cause flash rust (keep an eye out for early signs).

However, don’t panic about rust on brake discs. Braking causes the natural oxidation layer on the disc to be removed like fine sandpaper, leaving a very plain iron disc which is prone to oxidation.

Overnight a film of rust can build up, but this doesn’t have any negative impact on the motorcycle. The next time you brake the rust will be removed leaving blank iron again. 

6. Don’t cause damage
To formulate a good cleaning agent is not difficult; the difficult part is finding a cleaning agent which is strong enough to remove contamination but mild enough to use on any material.

Some agents can react with the surface too aggressively, dulling paintwork, corroding metal and causing environmental stress cracking. Be careful when degreasing, read the instructions carefully and remove the de-greaser properly after the time specified.

Make sure you thoroughly rinse the machine and remove all dirt and de-greasing agents with water.

Finally, never use any household cleaners because they are not tested on sensitive materials.

7. Be wary of solvents
Some solvent based cleaners are prone to attacking screens. If left on for too long they can cause cracks, especially around points that have been drilled and bolted to the plastic fairing, so do be careful what you use.

To clean the screen use a microfibre cloth; do not use insect sponges as they consist of stiff polymer foam. A gel type cleaning agent is recommended because it can dissolve and soften the dried-on insects preventing scratches when you rub the screen with a cleaning cloth.

8. Get rid of tar spots
Tar can easily flick up from a recently laid surface and be very tricky to remove because it is oil- based. Try not to let tar sit on your bike for long – remove it as soon as possible.

If you are not able to remove it using a common cleaning product, use chain cleaner. Apply to the soiled spot and leave for a few minutes. Rinse with water and use a soft sponge or cloth if necessary.

After removing the tar residue apply wax to preserve the lacquer (if it was on a painted surface).

9. Don’t go mad with protective sprays
Anti-corrosion spray should only be used on metal and especially when storing a motorcycle over winter. It leaves a layer of protective oil on your machine which prevents rusting. Don’t spray it on anything that gets hot otherwise it could burn.

Exhausts and headers should be avoided as the spray will most probably leave a black streak of burnt oil. Screw heads, fasteners and parts likely to rust need most attention.

If you are leaving the machine over winter then you can spray everything, but just make sure you wash it off before using the bike again.

10. Never put your bike away wet
After a ride don’t put a wet and warm motorbike straight into a concrete garage and shut the door. A lot of steam is released when the bike is wet and the engine is hot, causing excessive moisture – these are perfect conditions for corrosion to form.

The warm steam can easily condense in certain areas and create water spots where you wouldn’t normally find them such as fuse boxes and electrical connections.

Dry your bike thoroughly before putting it away and be sure to lubricate the points that need it, such as brake pivots and gear linkages.

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