Ok, let’s face it. We love to ride and hit the dirt, mud, water, and all other types of terrain, and every bit of it gets our bikes filthy. Grime is caked in places you forgot your bike had. Under the fenders, on the pipe or header, the seat, tank, spokes, rotors, chain…every place you can think of, and no one wants to clean that off. Cleaning your bike is the worst part of riding, hands down. Many even put it off, and this causes more problems than many realize, and that is what this article is about, why and how you should clean your bike after you ride.
Why You Should Clean Your Bike
Many people do not clean their bikes and this will cause as much wear as anything else regarding a dirt bike. Mud is wet, obviously, but leaving it on your bike will help promote rust. Sand, which is used to make sand paper, will wear parts like no other. Dirt acts a great deal like sand, and when you ride in certain areas you have no idea what is in that mud, dirt, or sand.
Personally, at times we have ridden at an abandoned strip mine where heavy equipment was used to strip off layers of earth to recover coal. Coal will stain your bike, and it will also leave a film when it is coupled with water that will eat away at parts. Also, those machines used heavy oils and fuels, and trust us when we say that those heavy chemicals are now in the ground, and then on your bike. Though this machinery made great places to ride, the same place can ruin any bike if we didn’t clean it. Luckily, we know what is going on at most places we ride, but do you always know?
A track has machinery used to build it and maintain it, and trust us, machinery leaks to a point. Trails were made by something, and we are sure that same thing happened there at one point as well, so you never know what is on your bike besides what you see. Also, and let’s face it, there are pollutants in the air, and that will mix with rain, and that rain makes mud, seeps into the ground, etc., and now it is on your bike. So, wash your bikes and often.
Couple this with the fact that when you ride, your air filter gets dirty. If it is dirty, so is your air box, and all of that will eventually get into your engine, and now you have wear internally and externally. You have to wash where you cannot see. Dust can get anywhere, and water will too. You do not ride in pure, clean water, so where it goes it also carries in dirt and grime as well. Best example, a guy brought us his bike once saying it would not start. It had spark, was getting air, had no air leaks, and was getting fuel, but it would not start. Why? There was a stick lodged in the reed cage keeping them open. How did it get there? We have no idea, but the bike was filthy and we can only imagine how long it had gone without being cleaned. We had to clean it for almost an hour before we could work on it, and he was charged for that time too. So if your bike is nasty, clean it before you take it to a shop. It will save you some money if nothing else.
Yet, how is the best way to clean your bike? By hand, pressure washer, a mixture of both? Well, there are pros and cons to each and this is what the second part of this article is about.
How to Clean Your Bike
Truly, the best way to clean your bike is to drop off the fenders and number plate, and the rest of the plastics and go at it with a suitable brush, but no one is going to do that, not even us. We know some that do, but they have severe OCD and need help. We will drop the plastics and do a real first-rate cleaning from time to time, but we also have full time jobs, family, etc. so finding time to perform this task can be difficult. So, how do you wash a bike that gets it clean, and save time? Well, the two main ways are by hand with a water hose with good pressure, a few different size brushes, wash mitten, and some sort of cleaner. The other way is to use a pressure washer type car wash that really gets off that caked on mud, dirt, and grime. Yet, both have drawbacks, and at times can cause issues later on if you are not careful.
We find it to be a good idea to remove certain parts such as your skid plate, pipe guard, bark busters, etc. so that you can reach and clean all your parts and areas of the bike. Dirt, mud, and grime gets in places that can cause issue if left alone. A good rule is that even if you cannot see it, it is probably dirty.
If you decide to wash your bike by hand, you will need a few things and to take a few precautions. You need a good cleaner, a water hose with good pressure, a few different sizes brushes, stiff bristled brush, a plug for your silencer, air box cover, and also some time as this way takes more time than using a pressure washer such as a DIY car wash, which is the main drawback. However, and to us, this is the better way to wash your bike. You actually take your time and see what you are doing, and there is less change for water to get into places where it does not belong.
As always, you need to place your bike on a stand or its kickstand if one is equipped. Plug the silencer and make sure that it is the proper plug for your silencer. If you do not have a plug you can use a latex glove if you use those for mechanic work, or even a sandwich baggie and a good, stout rubberband. Either way you go about it, you need to plug up the silencer as it is a direct link straight to your engine, and the last thing you need is water on top of your piston or in your engine.
Now, and without full, direct spray towards places on your bike such as your air box, carburetor, and your end cap on your silencer, you need to wet down the bike and loosen all the caked on dirt, mud, and grime as best you can. For the more stubborn mud you can use a brush or mud scrape tool, but you need to get the majority of that mud/grime off before you start to wash your bike.
Next up is to get yourself a decent sized bucket, we use a 5 gallon one with dish soap. There are several cleaners on the market that are good, and any of them will work well just make sure they are safe to use on your dirt bike. We tend to use a high grade dish washing soap especially after we have ridden at the abandoned strip mine we mentioned earlier as the dish washing soap will cut through the oily grime that ends up on our bikes. Work up a good lather in your bucket and with your wash mitten or soft bristle brush and start to scrub the bike down, again pay attention when washing and rinsing to ensure you’re not putting water somewhere it’s not suppose to be.
Now, like anything else you wash, lather it up, scrub it down, and hose it off, again keeping water away from the air box, carburetor, and end cap. We like to start at the top and work our way down. Start at the controls/handlebars, front number plate, fuel tank/shrouds, seat, fenders, forks, etc. You may have to take a small brush to get in between your spokes, around your hubs, and other tight areas, but usually you can get rid of the grime without spending too much time doing this. Having a good spray cleaner that’s safe on most all parts is important as you don’t want to discolor or damage any bike parts. We like to take our preferred cleaner and spray the engine and frame, we will then clean these areas with a brush, and this is where a few different sizes of brushes can be handy. Earlier we mentioned a stiff bristle brush; you will need it for cleaning your chain and sprockets. As we said before we lightly spray our preferred cleaner or degreaser onto the chain and sprockets and scrub them completely clean. Try to keep all cleaners away from your brake pads and rotors, if you get over spray on them just rinse completely.
We will be honest and say that we do not like this method of cleaning a bike. Yes, it cuts time and knocks a great deal of grime off the bike with little effort. However, if you are not truly careful you will get water into areas where it does not belong, and quick. If you do decide to use this method, make sure that you stand far enough away so that you can knock off the grime, but you are not using too much pressure placing water in areas that will enter the internal parts of the bike. Another drawback to using a pressure washer is that at times some are strong enough to damage your graphics and plastics, and quickly too. So, if you decide to use a pressure washer to clean your bike, be more than careful or you may cause a great deal of damage. Yet, if you decide to us a pressure washer, please follow the pre-cautions. Do not point the spray nozzle with high pressure at any of the bikes pivots points, wheel bearings, carb or intake area, air box, seat, graphics, controls
Yes. You have to dry the bike to a point as well, especially the metal parts that will rust if they are left with water on them. Yet, be careful as you may have not gotten all of the grease and oil from your bike and you may smear what is left over, and have to clean your bike once again. Also, leaving water to dry on its own in other places will cause issues such as mildew to grow in say you have a cracked seat or such. Any good, cotton or terry cloth will do, but whatever you use make sure it will absorb well, and make sure it is clean prior to use. Getting water out of those hard to reach places is made easy with compressed air. Just about any air compressor will work with proper air nozzle, heck we have even used our leaf blower to dry the bike.
Once you have your bike clean and dry, you need to touch up a few areas concerning maintenance. Lube your chain, make sure no water entered anywhere, and touch back up any other grease areas that may have had the grease washed away. If you removed any parts like skid plates or bark busters, replace those now as well. Once you are done, you should have a bike that is free and clean of dirt and grime, and looks like a new bike, at least to a good degree.
Until next time, keep up the maintenance, ride hard, and stay dirty friends.
The Hammer Crew;
Ryan “The 300 Guy” Hackney