Detailing a motorcycle is a little more complicated than detailing a car. Whereas detailing a car is probably 90% paint correction and 10% rubber & plastic dressing and wheels, detailing a motorcycle involves working on many different types of surface, each requiring a different technique.
In common with a cars though, motorcycle detailing requires patience and attention to detail. If any details are missed in the preparation, then what will be noticed and what the eye will jump straight to will be the bits you missed. The overall impression will not be of a clean motorcycle but of a motorcycle with a dirty engine or dirty wheels etc.
There are no before photos unfortunately, only afters below. All of the motorcycles pictured are over 10 years old and came to me filthy with dull swirled paintwork and all in all looking worse for wear. It’s amazing what a little effort can accomplish on a bike.
First, here are the methods I use to detail motorcycles:
Motorcycle paint is thinner and softer than car paint. This makes it easier to remove defects and give the machine a better than showroom shine. I never use clay to prepare painted surfaces as it isn’t needed. Any surface contaminants are removed anyway during the polishing process. Honda and Yamaha paint in my experience is of very high quality; smooth and glossy with no orange peel. Suzuki comes next, with Kawasaki at the bottom of the list with often quite noticeable orange peel.
The polishing process I use is simple:
1) Wash paintwork with sponge and car shampoo
2) On fully faired bikes, the bottom of the side fairings and the front of the belly pan will most likely be covered in caked-on road tar, chain oil and dirt. Remove this by spraying on Muc-Off or Gunk, wait 10 minutes and then carefully wipe off with a microfiber cloth, turning it frequently. When finished, throw the cloth away or wash it – don’t use again as-is for cleaning or polishing.
3) Polish using a G220 DA machine with Meguiars yellow polishing pad and either #80 or #83 polish. Start with the petrol tank and upper fairings then work your way down. As bike paint is soft, this step is enough to remove swirl marks and light scratches and leaves the bodywork as smooth as glass with an excellent shine
4) Finish with Black Magic Wet Shine, applied and buffed by hand with microfiber cloths. This polish is the best I have ever used on a car or bike. It does give an amazing wet look and is also quite durable.
Plastics and Switchgear
The first rule about detailing non-painted plastics such as fairing inner panels, airbox covers etc is not to get any polish or wax on them as it is very difficult to get off. For safety reasons, never treat the seat with anything other than soap and water. Any kind of plastic or rubber dressing will have your backside sliding off the seat whenever you accelerate/brake/corner while riding. Where possible it is best to remove the seat after cleaning the bike and to not put it back on until all detailing is complete.
I use Armor All for dressing all plastics including the windscreen, clocks and switchgear. Spray the product onto a sponge and then apply liberally to the plastics. Wait 10 minutes for the product to penetrate and then wipe off and polish with a clean microfiber cloth. To get a streak free finish on the clocks and windscreen it is necessary to use a perfectly dry piece of cloth to polish with. It seems that windscreens on bikes are made from the softest plastic known to man – even mf cloths can scratch them. If the screen is scratched, I remove it and correct with Megs #80 on a G220 with polishing pad.
The rear sprocket, wheel hub and, to a lesser degree, the rear wheel rim will almost certainly be covered in a thick caked on layer of filthy black oily sludge. This is a mixture of chain oil and dirt and is quite difficult to remove. The absolute best way to cut through the sludge and remove it is with petrol. It is also much cheaper than commercial degreasers like Gunk, costing around £1.20 a litre vs. £5 per litre. However, using petrol as a cleaner is obviously not environmentally sound if not used carefully and care should be taken not to spill any on the ground. The process for cleaning the rear wheel is:
1) Put plastic sheeting under the motorcycle to catch any spilled petrol or degreaser
2) Pour some petrol or degreaser into an old jam jar or similar glass container
3) Dip a toothbrush into the petrol/degreaser and then work into the sludge
on the sprocket and wheel hub, doing a small (5cm x 5cm) area at a time. The petrol/degreaser will break up the sludge, which you can then wipe off with a rag. When finished, the hub and sprocket will be clean and grease free.
4) To clean the rim and spokes of the wheel, start by trying a less aggressive degreaser such as Muc-Off or Gunk. The paint on the rim of the wheel is very thin - using petrol on this part of the wheel will strip the paint back to metal if you're not careful. If Muc-Off or Gunk don't remove the dirt from the wheel then use petrol sparingly and rub gently with a rag or soft brush.
5) Once the wheels are dirt and grease free then polish the hub, spokes and rim with a microfibre cloth and a light cutting polish. I use T-Cut for this because it's cheap. Stone chips on black alloy wheels can be masked with a permanent marker pen, available from Office Depot and the like. Although the match will not be exact, dabbing the marker over small stone chips will be good enough to make them near enough invisible when you stand by the bike. Finish with srp.
The front wheel is shielded from flying chain oil and should not be covered in greasy muck. Usually it is sufficient to polish the wheel with a light cutting polish, touch in any stone chips as above, and finish with srp.
Brake Discs and Calipers
The braking surface of the disc itself should not need cleaning due to the action of the brake pads against it. Indeed, it is not recommended to clean the braking surface of the brake disc so as not to decrease braking performance. The painted/polished inner part of the disc, however, should be degreased, cut and polished as described above for wheels.
Calipers should not be cleaned with any petroleum products as these can decompose the piston seals inside. Calipers can be cleaned with detergent or with brake fluid.
These often become rusty quickly if the bike is not garaged. Rusty fairing fasteners can be quite noticeable but are easy to sort out:
1) Remove fastener from bike
2) Fold up a microfiber cloth in four and lay on your table or work surface
3) Wet a sheet of 1500 - 2000 grit wet and dry paper and lay on the cloth. The cloth helps mould the paper into the shape of the fastener you are polishing and makes it easier than just laying the paper straight onto a hard surface.
4) Holding the paper down to prevent it from moving, rub the head of the fastener back and forth across the paper. Tilt the fastener as you rub so that the entire head of the fastener is sanded. You need to apply pressure when rubbing and rub quite quickly to remove the layer of rust and oxidation on the fastener head
5) Remove the paper from the microfibre cloth. Put a small pea sized bead of Autosol in the middle of the cloth. Hold the cloth down to prevent it from moving and rub the head of the fastener back and forth across the cloth. Tilt the fastener to ensure that all of the head is polished. Do this until the head of the fastener has a mirror shine.
Levers and Other Alloys
Gently rubbing with wet steel wool or 2000 grit wet and dry paper will remove the top layer of oxidisation from brake and clutch levers, shin guards etc. For finishing, Autosol is the best product I have found. Polishing by hand is possible but is quite hard work, so I use a Dremel 300 tool. This tool can be used with Dremel felt wheels but these don’t last very long and soon break up. However, the 300 comes with a sanding drum attachment. To make my own polishing wheel I cut mf cloth into 2cm by 10cm strips. I then wrap a strip around the sanding drum attachment. I then wrap a couple of short lengths of sewing thread around the strips on the drum and tie to secure them. I then have a mf cloth attachment which can rotate at 30,000 rpm to make short work of alloy polishing. Take great care if you choose to use this method though, as the mf strips can suddenly fly off the drum if not tied on securely.
Exhaust Cans and other Chrome
High speed polishing with a Dremel is not recommended for chrome polishing i.e. exhaust end cans as it will mark the chrome. Instead I use a 4 inch Megs cutting pad with Autosol for this. Don’t use any kind of cutting compound on black painted exhaust end cans as the paint is very thin and it will wear away very quickly. If a painted end can is scratched or marked, the best you can do is polish with a mild product like super resin polish.
For getting rust off chrome shock absorber springs, use either Autosol or very carefully rub gently with wet steel wool.
Swing Arm and Monoshock
These components are also likely to be coated in oily chain oil / road dirt muck. Cleaning is carried out as described above for the rear wheel. Use a toothbrush or other long brush to reach the monoshock.
Unlike wheel rims, swing arms are not supposed to be shiny, so care is needed when polishing so that scratches and marks are removed but not too much of a shine is given. A quick polish with a cheap cutting polish like T-Cut should do the trick, followed by srp.
Alloy frames and steel frames that are painted to look like alloy frames are not supposed to be shiny either. They should have a soft”glow “to them when reflecting light, but definitely not a high definition shine. Again, take care when polishing not to bring out too much of a shine. Machines with tubular steel frames however are meant to look shiny (CB500, Bandits, Fazers etc) so polishing with cutting polish can be done a little more enthusiastically. All frames, high shine or low shine, can be finished with srp.
These are mostly coated either in lacquer or in high gloss engine paint and as such should not be polished with Autosol or other metal polishes. They should first be degreased with Gunk or Muc-Off, then polished carefully with a mild cutting compound, and then finished with a polish.
Radiator Hoses, Fuel Hoses, Brake Lines & Cables
Unlike a car, many of the fluid hoses and control cables on a bike are exposed. Detailing them is important to the overall quality of the detailing job. Hoses, lines and cables should first be degreased with Gunk or Muc-Off. Then liberally apply Armor-All or similar with a small sponge. Wait 10 minutes for the product to penetrate and then polish off with mf cloth.
The fork uppers should be polished either with a cutting polish like T-Cut or with a paste like Autosol. It is common to find minor spots of surface rust on fork uppers which can often be removed by slicing your thumbnail over the surface. Fork lowers are usually finished with lacquer or paint and should be treated like paintwork i.e. cut with T-Cut and then polished with SRP or similar.
Muc off motorcycle cleaning kit
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LINK TO UK MOTORCYCLE DETAILER