As we look at the daylight beginning to creep back into the days, slowly but surely adding a few minutes on to the hours of useable light every week we also begin to notice the weather making slow but steady progress toward the perfect, well perhaps a little wet, riding weather we all love and crave. No doubt our winter projects are beginning to reach completion, those underactive brake pistons or the replacement heated grips we found at a bargain have been fitted and fixed ready for the months ahead.
Every day we begin to wake up and check out the window to see if there is a glimpse of hope of a salt free road to get the bike out and clear the cobwebs. Almost to the point we become slightly obsessed with local weather reports and their accuracy.
Today is the day I’m off to give my bike a thorough wash and clean after finding an excuse to ride it for 30 or so miles the other day for its MOT. I have a set of new tyres that require scrubbed in (Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT’s, I swayed over the new 5’s but have heard no reports from anyone yet as it’s too early in the year for people to give an honest review) and enough road film from the short journey to hold together a 1980’s Skoda better than it did out the factory. I’ve invested in a large bottle of ACF50 so I can, once cleaned, add a protective “skin” over the bikes components and keep it looking nicer for longer. I have constantly been finding jobs to fettle with on it over the winter months from cleaning to getting rid of that annoying rattle from the double screen when the wind catches it right, a new wheel bearing to stickers on the panniers. I’ve decided to put the baffles in for this season as last year they stayed out most of the time, as nice as it sounds and as little the difference they seem to make the couple of dB they reduce will make a massive difference over the many thousands of miles I have already planned to tour this year.
If you haven’t yet toured on your bike, and by tour I mean, weeks not hours, what are you waiting for? What a perfect time to do some research and just go for it...just be careful, some say it’s as addictive as smoking or gambling is to others. I’m sure my wife will agree when I break the news to her that, yet again, I’ve self enrolled onto another “pointless” tour, when I could just go local and be home for dinner....
We have an unspoken rule that we go on the basis that I don’t ask about how much those new shoes that you’ve “had for ages in the back of the cupboard” really cost and my wife doesn’t concern herself too much with how much the new parts that “I needed” cost for this season. She gets a girlie holiday when she wants and I get a biking one when I want but as long as we manage one together somewhere along the way then all is balanced.
So back to cleaning the bike, it’s fascinating how 30 miles of road can get muck on everything yet once the weather begins to clear and the roads stay dry you can do 0000’s of (S)miles with little to no cleaning required. Here is a little info on bike cleaning, or at least the way I like to do it...
1: Preparation is key.
Remove any tank bags, luggage and any accessories you don’t want to get wet such as a GPS etc. Also, get all your washing and cleaning products ready to go. You’ll need a bucket, soap or liquid detergent, bug and tar remover, degreaser and/or engine cleaner, a toothbrush, WD40, a brush for wheel cleaning, tyre cleaner, paint polish, metal polish, at least two micro fibre rags, 100% cotton sponges, a variety of soft cotton or microfibre towels, abrasive rags and a chamois or blow dryer for drying afterwards.
2: Where and when you wash the bike is also important
Stay away from commercial washing facilities and local £5 car washers and do it yourself. Don’t do it on the street or in a unit driveway as it’s risky with other road traffic and other debris on the road that may get flicked up. Also, never wash straight after a ride. Always give the bike plenty of time to cool down, because you don’t want to spray cold water on a hot engine. Also, avoid washing in the middle of the day or in direct sun as it can dry detergents on the bike’s surface before you can rinse them off, leaving streaks which ruins all your hard work. Contaminants in water, such as mineral deposits, also become much more aggressive when warm and, if water is sprayed on a hot bike, those water spots are more difficult to remove. If you are a bit of a greenie, wash on your lawn to water your grass and prevent precious water, harmful detergents and pollutant grease from running into storm water drains.
3: Wash frequently, but don’t overdo it
This is a bit of a balancing act. Frequent washing will alert you early to any developing problems such as oil or fluid leaks, loose or damaged parts etc. Leaving squashed bugs on your paintwork makes them difficult to remove later and can leave behind a blemish. Also, squashed bugs in your radiator can eventually cause overheating problems if not removed. However, if you wash too often, you can displace lubricants from cables and exposed grease points on old engines. If you’ve come back from the trails and your adventure bike is caked in mud, you will need a full wash straight away. If you’ve just had a short jaunt up to your favourite mountain cafe, then your bike might just need a gentle wipe over with some windscreen or bodywork spray and a soft cloth.
4: Wash with water and suitable cleaning agents
Don’t use a lot of water. Use the right cleaning product for the job. There is a product for every use and they all do different jobs. Be careful of abrasive cleaners or general-purpose household cleaning products as these can damage paint or chrome. Detergents should have a pH balance between six and eight, so it’s neither too acidic nor too alkaline as either could damage your paint. Check it’s safe to use on all paint types. Don’t use vinyl cleaners on the seat as it may look shiny but it will be slippery and you will really notice this the next time you crack the throttle or bang on the brakes. If you are using any harsh compounds to tackle tough jobs you should probably think about wearing latex gloves to save any skin reactions.
5: High-pressure cleaning
It can be effective in removing caked-on mud and tough grime, but it can also force water into electrics and components where it can pool and cause corrosion or, at least, degreasing of vital parts. If using a high-pressure cleaner, keep it away from the instruments, electronics, chain, brakes, bearings and vinyl seats which can be ripped by pressurised water. Concentrate on wheels (away from the bearings) and bodywork. Pressure cleaners will do a good job of cleaning mud off a chain, but you will have to re-grease the chain afterwards and even still if the water has forced its way behind the ring seals on the chain you may drastically shorten the lifespan of that chain. (When applying chain lube use only enough to do the job. Excess lube flings off on to your wheels.) If you do use a pressure cleaner, use a domestic unit like the Karcher K2 that isn’t too powerful. Nothing over 2000psi. It can also be environmental friendly as they often use less water.
6: Make sure you have the right sponges, rags, chamois, brushes etc
Have separate cleaning rags and sponges for different areas. Don’t use a sponge to clean grease off the wheels then attack the seat with the same sponge as you will leave grease on your seat. There is a wide variety of modern cleaning equipment available. Microfibre cloths are particularly effective while also protecting surfaces. However, don’t dismiss the effectiveness of an old toothbrush for getting grit and grime out of hard-to reach areas such as radiators or for cleaning laced wheels. You can also use finest-grade steel wool to remove burnt-on grease and grime from chrome exhaust pipes. Test it first underneath the pipe where it can’t be seen to check whether it leaves fine swirls as some pipes are not well chromed. You can also use plastic scourer as used on kitchen pots, or a brass wire brush as brass is softer metal and won’t scratch, Follow up with metal polish for a deep and intense shine.
7: Attention to detail
This makes the difference between a clean bike and concourse standard. When you’ve finished washing and polishing, spend time going over the bike one more time with a micro fibre cloth. Wipe the cables, clean the engine casings, rub the wheel hubs and lie down on the ground to see if you’ve missed any areas. If you are entering a concours, judges will often wipe their fingers under the bike looking for grease and grime. Only you use tyre shine on the tyre walls if you are entering a show and shine and not riding, otherwise overspray can reach the tread area and adversely affect grip if you don’t clean it off properly.
8: Waxing can make or break a bike
Don’t use cutting compounds as they leave permanent swirls in the paintwork. If you use car wax, make sure it is a soft wax that adds a layer, rather than takes a layer off. Check this for advice on selecting the best car wax. Some modern bikes are actually covered in a layer of plastic or lacquer that can easily be damaged. Trial the product on a discrete area first then look at it in direct sunlight to see if it leaves swirls. Good quality wax will act as a sunscreen, leaving a UV barrier to protect your paint. Wax needs to be reapplied regularly to provide this protection. Put the polish on a clean rag, not directly on the bodywork. When dry, buff off the wax with a lint-free cloth. Sometimes these expensive waxes are no better than cheaper products when you look in depth into the product so don’t just assume the more expensive option is the better option.
WD40 is great for getting rid of excess water as well as gently removing built-up grease. Therefore, you shouldn’t spray it where there is essential grease such as around the wheel axles as it will dilute the grease. WD stands for water displacement which is what it does. However, it’s not a great lubricant, (not to be confused with WD40 lube and chain wax) so buy some silicon or oil and spray the cables, hinges and levers that might have lost some lubrication in the wash. Use wax spray or dedicated chain lube to coat the chain and always follow the instructions on the can.