Off-road riding means getting dirty, not just the rider but also our machines…and while we take a quick shower and we’re ready for a night out, our motorcycles don’t have it as easy!
There are many different schools of thought when it comes to how to properly wash your dirty/muddy/sandy motorcycle after riding, so we took a look at some of the popular techniques and did some investigation into “what’s right and what’s wrong” when it comes to cleaning your ride.
Although most of our readers are pretty sharp, most of us aren’t detailing experts so we reached out to some industry experts for their insight and advice and they are quoted here.
#1: YOU’RE HARMING THE EXPENSIVE FINISHES ON YOUR BIKE
Modern motocross bikes (and even older more exotic machines) can have a myriad of different types of metals and plastics that can present a problem when you want to quickly wash your bike after a day in the dirt. Materials like titanium, aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber and hard/soft rubber may have different requirements when it comes to cleaning.
We spoke first to Boris Mahlich at Motorex who stated “Certain cleaning chemicals are harsh on the finishes, glossy and matte finishes in particular and metal surfaces. Aluminum, magnesium and titanium in particular are susceptible to staining, etching and corrosion from harsh cleaning agents not suitable for such metals. Another thing to consider (is that) rubber seals which can dry and crack when continuously cleaned with harsh cleaning products or solvents.”
“Solvents and cleaners that are overly acidic or alkaline (high and low pH values) are not good. Stay away from extremely alkaline cleaners and extremely acidic cleaners typically used for industrial and household applications.”
Andrew Hodges at Bel-Ray offered this insight: “Highly caustic chemicals can damage certain surfaces if left on for too long, so it is a good idea to either spot check a cleaner before applying it, or checking with the chemical’s manufacturer for their usage guidelines. Solvent based cleaners can also have a negative effect on some painted and plastic surfaces.”
Brian Wilkinson of Slick Products said: “Any cleaning product that does not have a neutral or low pH of 7-8 should be used with caution. High alkaline products are very corrosive and will etch soft aluminum and will discolor those expensive anodized parts on your bike.”
In talking to these experts, it seems a safe way to go is to use cleaners that have a neutral PH not too high or low, and stay away from your rubber components where possible.
#2: YOU AREN’T USING THE RIGHT PRODUCTS ON YOUR MOTORCYCLE
Walk down the automotive aisle at any big-box or automotive store and you see many offerings in the vehicle washing section. They are cheap and have great marketing…in fact I use them on my power equipment, but not on my motorcycles.
What are the pros and cons of using some of these more popular mainstream “general purpose” products such as Power Purple and Simple Green? We asked our experts their honest opinions and here’s what they said.
Hodges: “General purpose cleaners usually fall into that highly caustic group I mentioned before so using them should be done with care. They are generally very good at cutting through grease and soils, but they don’t stop there. So if they are left on a surface for too long it will eventually start affecting the surface. If a part such as a plastic guard has any surface defects in the clear-coat, those highly caustic cleaners can get under the clear coat at the damaged area and spread the damage. So, they can be used, but there is more generally more risk in doing so compared to a buffered, surfactant based cleaner.”
Wilkinson agreed and added: “The simple answer is that (these products) are not designed to be used on motorcycles. Industrial and household cleaners often have higher pH making them more corrosive on soft aluminum. In some cases etching and discoloring will occur in seconds while other cases corrosion tends to slowly occur after every wash.”
“In addition, do not overlook the fact that a motorcycle needs lubrication (and) using a degreaser as an overall bike wash will strip lubrication from bearings and pivots points. Unless you’re a professional mechanic who takes their bike apart every week to re-grease you should be using a product like our Off-Road Wash that removes heavy dirt and mud without stripping lubrication.”
Other industry experts mentioned they were concerned with not only potential harm to the end-user of these more aggressive cleaning products, but also the effects on the environment as a whole. As with all off-road chemical products, it’s important to not only remember proper application and usage, but also think about where these products may end up, so always observe proper containment and disposal requirements.
#3: YOU AREN’T PROPERLY WASHING YOUR MACHINE
Is there a right and wrong way to clean your bike? We’ve always felt as long as it looks clean at the end that what matter, right? Well, we’ve heard a lot of different advice when it comes to washing your bike.
Use pressure washer, don’t use pressure washers, stay away from all seals, never wash o-ring chain, etc.
Some of these tips seem to make sense and some may be based on old-school habits that die hard so we asked the panel their thoughts on this topic.
Eddie Cole from Matrix / 1.7 Cleaning Solutions offered some tips on washing your motorcycle correctly:
“It's best to let the motorcycle cool down before washing it and lube the things right away that need to be lubed after washing. (Don’t) get water into the exhaust system and into the air filtration system, there are exhaust plugs and air filter covers on the market (that are) designed to keep water out of those areas, and use a Spray and Shine with rust preventing agent.”
Cole continued: “We think it's (also) important to dry the motorcycle properly and make sure everything is dry and in working order and we recommend cleaning the air filter right away before restarting (making sure to) remove the exhaust plug before starting the bike. Check that that the controls, brakes and the throttle are in good smooth functioning order before starting and/or riding the bike again.”
Hodges from Bel-Ray elaborated on mistakes they see riders make when cleaning their machines and this includes:
“Not spot checking cleaners on aftermarket parts before coating the entire bike in cleaner. If the parts utilize a unique or uncommon surface finish, this can be problematic for cleaners that are designed for the more typical surface finishes. These parts may need some more individual attention for cleaning. Using a pressure washer to rinse the bike - the pressure washer risks pushing water and displacing lubricant or flooding into places you don’t want water.”
He continued: “Thinking that a bio-based cleaner is fine to just drain into the soil or a drain. Just because it is bio-based doesn’t mean it isn’t detrimental to the environment. Water based, biodegradable cleaners are generally safe for that practice, but any solvent based cleaner (bio or not) should be disposed of properly.”
Wilkinson from Slick added: “The worst mistake is a permanent one. Since being at Slick Products we have so many customers who used a product that (has) caused damage and want to know how to fix it. You can't un-corrode metal, so when you spend $8-$10K on your dirtbike don't spray a $2 cleaner on it.”
#4: YOU MAY NOT BE USING A MOTORCYCLE-SPECIFIC CLEANER
Some products made “for motorcycles” can be expensive when compare to their automotive counterparts, so we’ve been somewhat reluctant to buy them as frequently and figure many of our readers feel the same.
We asked the experts what makes their off-road products “motorcycle specific” so we could gain some insight into what products to buy and why.
Hodges from Bel-Ray went first: “Bike Wash is a water-based, buffered, and the cleaning power is based on surfactant technology. It penetrates and lifts grease and soil from surfaces allowing for easy rinse off. A short time on the surface is all it takes for the dirt to be loosened, so by the time you spray the last area of the bike or ATV, you can begin rinsing the first area and work your way around. Unless the machine is extremely dirty, it usually requires no scrubbing or physical cleaning.”
Hodges also mentioned the Bel-Ray Foam Filter Cleaner & Degreaser is designed specifically to remove dirt and the high tack filter oils common in motorcycle and ATV applications.
Mahlich from Motorex explained: “Motorex products are engineered and designed by our in-house laboratory in Switzerland specifically for motorcycle applications. That means they are not industrial products that may just work on a motorcycle. The sole purpose for these products is for the care and maintenance of your motorcycle and that is what they are designed to do.”
Cole from 1.7 Cleaning Solutions offered: “1.7 Cleaning Solutions were developed specifically for motorcycles, we spent months interviewing and testing with the top mechanics in professional racing to develop a product line to meet their professionals needs and expectations.”
“We needed a multi-purpose cleaning product that would attack the dirt, oil, grease grime quickly but leave a bright finish when dry. The wash needed to work and be compatible with plastic, aluminum, steel, magnesium and titanium without harming or attacking powder coated finishes, anodized finishes or chrome, (so) we developed motorcycle specific products for specific purpose that include our Formula 1 Wash Degreaser for motorcycle finishes, our Formula 2 Spray and Shine for the complete motorcycle (plastics, motor, suspension and components) that gives a factory "new look shine" and light silicone lubricant finish.
Wilkinson of Slick added: “We have worked very hard to create specially formulated non-corrosive cleaning products designed for motorcycle riders, by motorcycle riders to offer a faster, safer, and easier cleaning experience. Each one of our cleaners serves a unique purpose in the cleaning process to help maintain the life, look, and value of your bike.”
#5: YOU AREN’T DETAILING YOUR MOTORCYCLE BEFORE STORAGE
Many riders wash their bikes and stick them in the garage…don’t. Putting a motorcycle away for any length of time makes them susceptible to oxidation and corrosion and that’s not good. This is more of a problem for riders in colder climates with shorter riding seasons like the Northeast and there is more than one school of thought on how to put your bike away.
So we asked the experts why and how to clean your motorcycle before storage.
Hodges from Bel-Ray offered: “A thorough cleaning is always a good idea, but more importantly it’s what you put on rather than what you clean off when storing a bike. Cleaning the chain and applying fresh chain lube with strong anti-rust properties is the first and easiest thing to do.”
“A rubber preservative for any external hoses or seals is a good idea for long term storage (and) cleaning grease and grime from electrical contacts and applying a non-conductive protectant or grease to electrical terminals is advisable. Any protective surface coatings for plastic, metal, rubber or vinyl surfaces can only help in preserving the condition of the bike.”
Mahlich from Motorex added: “To keep metal finishes from oxidizing while a motorcycle is stored, cover the surfaces with a protective spray. Motorex Moto Protect is formulated to protect all painted and metal surfaces from corrosion and oxidation. Simply spray the surfaces leaving a thin protective film that will ensure your motorcycle comes out of storage looking as good as it did when it went into storage.”
In conclusion, by observing some simple protocols and using common sense when cleaning your motorcycle, you can keep that factory look and that not only makes you feel good but also preserves your hard-earned investment for future resale. Today’s motorcycles are expensive and use exotic materials that are important to the overall look and function of the machine, but there are products available that can not only clean your ride properly, but help preserve these materials so they can perform as they were originally designed.
Have a though to share? Hit us up in the comments section below!