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How to Clean a Dirty Bike

Your bike might be covered in everything from pine pollen to goad grime, but now is the time to address the issue. Before long the bikini bike wash will be back on weekends, but sometimes you like to do things yourself and other days you're short on time. Either way, here's how to clean a dirty bike.

*Note: Never spray water on a hot bike. Let your motorcycle cool down after a ride before you wash it. If you hit your hot motor with cold water, the sudden temperature change could crack the engine block. 

**When you're washing your bike, park out of direct sunlight. Otherwise you'll get uneven drying and could end up with water spots. And a sunburn.

Clean a Dirty Bike Fast

Your buddies called, they're going for a ride and you have less than 30 minutes to get on the road, there's only one problem. You walked out to your bike and suddenly the dirt you didn't even see before is glaring at you. It's embarrassing, and you have to do something before anyone sees the state you've let your bike get in.

We always say it's best to keep your bike clean, and it is. But there are times when it just doesn't happen. Maybe you went on a long, cold ride and when you got back you were so frozen you had to take care of yourself before hypothermia set in. Or maybe your bike was clean when you put it away, it just sat for a while and got dusty. No judgment, we've all been there.

Even if you don't have time for a full detail, you can make a big difference by following just a few steps. 

  • If you're going to use a hose to rinse, plastic wrap electronics and everything else you don't want to get wet, including the tailpipe.
  • Generously spray degreaser everywhere it's needed and let it sit.
  • Get a big bucket of very hot, very soapy water and a soft sponge or cloth. 
  • Wipe generously with your hot soapy water. You want grit to run off rather than get swirled around to dull your paint and chrome. Save the dirtiest spots for last.
  • Rinse with the hose, then wipe with a shammy towel/chamois.
  • Re-lubricate your chain if you sprayed it with degreaser.
  • Remove plastic wrap and ride.

Thoroughly Detail a Dirty Motorcycle

The above was written with the idea that if you're in a hurry, you probably want to put every available second into actually getting your bike clean, not reading thorough explanations on how to do it. However, if your goal is to get your bike in showroom shape, to make even the hidden places gleam, this is your guide.

Waterless washes are great. If your bike is only mildly dirty, that might be the best way to get the job done. Just spray it on, wipe it off with a microfiber towel. If your towel starts to look even a little bit dirty, flip it over and use the clean side. If both sides start to look grungy, get a new one. 

However, if your bike has sections with gritty debris, you need to get that off before you start rubbing on soft paint. Plus, we haven't found bike wash sprays are super effective when it comes to removing tar or bug carcasses. Here's what to do when your bike is pretty dirty.

Spray degreaser or WD-40 on your chain, then wipe it with a clean cloth. Then, get out the garden hose and rinse away as much stuck-on dirt and dust as possible. 

Apply bug and tar remover to your headlights, windshield, front fender and everywhere you see stuck-on splotches. Let it sit for the recommended time frame, then address those areas. Repeat as necessary.

Use auto or motorcycle detergent and warm water to work on all the dirty nooks and crannies. Focus first on the non-chrome components. Rinse your sponge or cloth frequently and change out your water if it starts to appear dirty.

When you find spots that don't wipe off, use an old toothbrush to scrub at them gently. A little squirt of degreaser or WD-40 on your brush can help. Grab the hose and rinse frequently.

Use mild soap and tire cleaner to go over aluminum wheels and tires. Use a soft cloth to wash, then another to dry. If you have chrome wheels, use chrome cleaner instead.

Once you've finished, rinse everything thoroughly with a gentle spray. Dry with a soft, clean cloth or chamois. Once your bike is completely clean and dry, you apply wax according to the manufacturer's directions. Try to keep wax off anything that isn't painted.

Apply chrome polish to chrome wheels. Aluminum polish is good for unfinished aluminum. Just dry finished aluminum, then if you want you can hit it with the same wax you used on your motorcycle body. Spray bearing protectant on your bearings and lube your bike chain.

How you care for your seat depends on what it's made of. There are a lot of vinyl products that look like leather but aren't. There are also plenty of leather types that require specific forms of care. If you're not sure what your seat is made of and the best way to care for it, we can help you figure it out, you just have to ask. But every time you clean a dirty bike, it's a good idea to treat seat surfaces as well.

How to Clean a Motorcycle Helmet

Once you get your bike clean, you might suddenly look at your helmet and realize it has lost its like-new luster. Or, when you put it on you realize it smells like last summer's sweat. It happens, and you don't just have to live with it.

If you're really, really lucky your helmet has removable lining. You can pull it out and either hand wash it or throw it in the machine (read the label first and follow care instructions.) 

If you go this route, you only have the outside of your helmet to deal with. Dish soap and water on a clean cloth work great when it comes to wiping things down. Just give the shell a good (gentle) scrub until all the gunk is gone. Rinse with a clean cloth, dry, and you're good to go.

But let's say your cheek guards and lining don't come out. It's a little more involved, but you can still get them clean. Find a big bowl and place it in a deep sink or bathtub. Grab shampoo or baby wash and mix hot soapy water in the bowl. Then, wash the inside of your lid like you would wash your grape. Rinse thoroughly and air dry.

Best Motorcycle Cleaning Products

We have what you need to clean your bike at our Allen Harley®  shop. The products we sell, we can also explain how to use them. If you have questions about the best motorcycle wash products for your bike, feel free to get in touch.