How to detail a motorcycle | 12 Things to Know When Detailing a Motorcycle

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Updated on:

July 21, 2023

101 Guide of Motorcycle detailing | How to Detail Harley right

If you are like many riders, you probably hate detailing your bike. The process takes a lot of time and effort, so you start thinking that you’ll just do the job after the next time you’re out in the rain riding it. Even if you give your motorcycle a proper washing, dirt, grime and more will probably continue to remain. Every so often, you need to give your bike a deep detailing that only a commercial steam cleaner can provide. By doing so, you’ll restore it to a showroom finish and prolong its life. When you decide to sell your bike, you’ll also get more money on a trade-in or an outright sale.
Detailing your motorcycle gives you another benefit too. You’ll get up close with all of its parts, allowing you to see if anything is loose, broken or missing. Overall, that means a bike that will operate better. Detailing should only take about two hours and is easier than you think.

Make your bike look like new by following these 12 steps.

Key Takeaways:

  • Preparation is key: Find a shaded and protected area, cover vulnerable components, and remove the seat before starting motorcycle detailing.
  • Gather the necessary materials: Collect microfiber towels, scratch-resistant mitts, detergents, cleaners, wax, and a Fortador steamer for efficient and effective cleaning.
  • Follow a step-by-step process: Remove bugs, Deep clean tires and wheels, Clean dash and controls, Rejuvenate the motor, Detail the seat, Prep the paint with a clay bar, Polish painted elements, and Apply wax or a protective coating.

Table of Contents (Show)

Table of Contents (Hide)

Dirty bike before detailing

1. Preparation

Like many tasks, preparation is key to how well the final job turns out is in the preparation. To detail your bike, find a nice place in the shade that is also protected, which has a two-fold purpose. First, you can work in comfort and let your bike cool down if you had to run it to the location. The engine must be cool to the touch before you begin detailing.

Secondly, you must cover any components that water can damage. Plug or cover the end of the exhaust to prevent water from entering. You should also cover the battery with plastic or even remove it entirely. Cover the dashboard as it has various electrical components that should stay dry. Remove your seat and wash it separately.

2. Gather Your Materials

Before you start the task, gather everything you need to do the job. Here is what you should have on hand to make your bike look like new:
Microfiber towels and applicators
Scratch-resistant mitt
Vehicle detergent
Bug and tar remover
Tire and wheel cleaner
Leather cleaner
Wax and/or Ceramic coating
Fortador steamer and accompanying accessories

A bucket with water is also a good idea to have handy if you want to rinse any of your rags.

washing buckets with grids
Learn more about full detailing kit of tools, equipment and chemicals.

3. Bug Removal

Start by removing bugs first by applying bug and tar remover to your fairing, headlights, triple trees and fork lower. Let the solution sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off with a microfiber cloth. Bug cleaning sponges are also handy for removing stubborn bug gunk.

4. Initial Cleaning

When you use a Fortador steam cleaner, you don’t have to perform an initial pre-wash as the force of the steam will be strong enough to get rid of surface dust and dirt.  Begin first by only using the steamer. The goal of this step is to get rid of surface dust and grime. Use gentle pressure around the wheel hubs so as not to damage the wheel bearings. You can use a mild degreaser on the engine and exhaust and the underside of your bike to help remove oil and grime.

Once you have prepped your bike with the steamer, it’s time to perform an overall washing and scrubbing with the steamer’s wet-dry vacuum attachment. Use a detergent like Fortador’s Blue Magic Wash to gently wash your bike’s hard surfaces. Avoid dishwashing liquid or hard soaps, and instead use a product such a Fortador’s Heavy Degreaser, which is appropriate for the engine, exhaust, the underside and other surfaces that accumulate grease.

As soon as you have prepped and then steamed away all of the dirt, dry your bike. Don’t let any of the surfaces dry on their own to prevent swirling. The steamer won’t leave much moisture, so it’s best to work in small sections, wiping off moisture as you go along with a microfiber towel. Airdrying with a compressor is also a good idea as motorcycles have many nooks and crannies that are difficult to reach.

5. Deep Clean Tires and Wheels

This area of your bike takes a beating on the road. Wheels and spokes are made from different materials than the rest of your bike, so you should clean them separately. Wash your wheels and tires with soap and a mild tire cleaner to remove oils and tire dressings from road film. Spray a good amount of tire and wheel cleaner and apply it to the wheels, letting it sit for a few moments so excess debris will start to melt off and then remove excess product with a microfiber mitt. This is also a good time to give the area an extra scrubbing just in case some caliper dust or road grime remains from the initial cleaning.

Once the wheels are tires are clean, you can polish the rims. Use a good chrome polish on chrome. If you have aluminum wheels, use aluminum polish for uncoated aluminum, while coated aluminum can be treated in the same way as your bike’s paint.

6. Dash and Controls

Be careful when cleaning this area because of the electrical components. Use a gentle cleaner applied to your microfiber cloth and then dry immediately. When finished, you can apply a protectant that has UV protection to prevent fading. After cleaning the dash, give your windshield another round of cleaning with our glass cleaner and then wipe it dry.

dash of motocycle

7. Rejuvenate the Motor

Keep your motor looking like new has advantages that go beyond just looking pretty. A clean engine is a better operating engine. Older motorcycles, especially, have seen their share of sun, grime and debris on their travels. Professional detailers commonly use engine brighteners, and you can too. Even though you have gotten the engine clean with steam, this is another area where you’ll have to do more to complete the detailing. Clean the engine, transmission and driveshaft housing with a spray cleaner and brushes. You may have to use some diluted degreased, too, along with some elbow grease to get everything clean. Note that you should never apply any full-strength solution to your bike’s engine.

moto engine steam cleaning

8. Don’t Forget About the Seat

Your Leather leat needs proper washing and detailing too. The type of leather or high-quality vinyl on motorcycle seats can vary greatly. However, most seats require a good cleaning plus a non-slick protectant that will help them continue to look like new. Fortador’s LeatherVinylTrim Protectant, containing olive oil, performs all of these tasks and also has UVA/UVB inhibitors to restore original colors, hide scratches and protect against sun damage.

9. Use a Clay Bar to prep the paint

The first step of paint protection is removing the imperfections already on the surface of your bike, especially if you haven’t done a thorough detailing. All bikes (and cars, for that matter) have paint imperfections when leaving the factory. For the most part, these imperfections are not noticeable, but if you take the time to remove them, your bike will look even better.

Apply a mild detailing spray to the surface of your bike to act as a lubricant that will make the clay bar slide easily over the surface. Avoid circular movements and slide the clay bar back and forth. After several passes, fold the clay bar over on itself, so you don’t reapply the grit that you remove. After you’ve finished with the clay bar, use a microfiber towel and the detailing spray to remove any residue. You won’t have to perform this detail step much if you protect your paint with wax, or better yet, with a Kevlar coating.

Check complete guide for clay bar treatment

10. Polish all painted elements

polishing of harley

Polishing removes blemishes, scuffs, swirls and abrasions. It’s necessary for damaged areas of the paint, and if you have had your motorcycle for a while, you’re bound to have some. Apply a small amount of polish with a clean microfiber towel in a circular motion. Use moderate pressure, so you don’t damage the finish. Buff the polish with a dry area of your towel and switch out towels, if necessary. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when completing this step as each product is different. If you still see imperfections, you can repeat the process with a more abrasive polish. Afterward, go over the polished area with a clean cloth to ensure that you have removed all product.

Check 101 guide of paint correction

11. Apply Wax and Sealant on painted elements

Keeping the paint on your bike protected after you have done all of this work will make less work the next time around. You can apply a coat of high-quality wax to the paint to protect it, but wax will only keep your bike looking good for a short amount of time.  The best product to protect the finish on your bike is Fortador’s Kevlar Coating Kit. Kevlar is the revolutionary protective coating developed by DuPont in 1965. It gives you added protection beyond what you get from high-quality wax as it will provide paint protection that is much better than wax alone while also making future washing and detailing much easier. Your bike will also be immune to stains and etching and maintain a high glass that you can't get with high-quality wax. The kit gives you everything you need to detail motorcycles and cars.

Learn more about washing microfiber towels after detailing to be ready for next use.

12. Use Fortador's Cleaning Products

Fortador's line of cleaning products make it easy for your to detail your motorcycle. They are ideal for making your motorcycle engine clean with steam cleaning and are kind to the environment too. Our Car Wash Detailing and Starting Set of Supplies gives you all of the detailing chemicals you need to properly clean your bike as well as any cars you own. You'll never have to pay a professional detailer again to do the job! At the same time, you can also buy chemicals separately by visiting our eco-friendly car wash chemicals page.

12.1 PS. Do not forget - never apply Tire Dressing on moto wheels

Commonly asked questions

Question: How long does it take to detail a motorcycle?

Answer: Between two to 8 hours, basic detail takes couple hours, if you will polish chrome, olish and put ceramic coating it will be much longer

Question: How much does it cost to ceramic coat a motorcycle?

Answer:$150-$600, if only ceramic it can be done in a hour, but if your bike needs polish it will take more time and money, Check Fortador Coating for your motorcycle

Question: Is it OK to pressure wash a motorcycle?

Answer: While it is technically safe to use pressure wash for cleaning your motorcycle, you need to avoid water many exposed components such as bearings, seals and electronics. These are water-resistant but pressurized water can still cause damage. Also reapply grease on chain

Question: Can you use wd40 on a motorcycle chain?

Answer: Yes you can, but better to use professional grease for chain

About the Authors

Ugur Sezmis
Renowned in the world of Professional Detailing, Fahrzeugaufbereitung is not only a master in restoring automotive brilliance but also a distinguished Rupes Trainer based in Germany. With a commitment to perfection, he enhances car aesthetics while sharing his expertise through top-notch training.
Sergey "Serg" Paskevich
Panama-based detailing pro, proud owner of Car Care Performance Detailing studio in Panama-City. Specializing in Paint Correction, Ceramic Coating, and comprehensive Car Detailing services

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