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IBMWR Bike Cleaning FAQ

How To Keep Your Beemer Clean
a step-by-step guide for the anal retentive
by Bill Shaw (

1. Tools of the Trade
2. Bath Time!
3. Polish & Wax
4. Clear Plastic
5. Airheads
6. Oilheads
7. K Bikes & F-650's

8. Wheels

Cleaning Tips, Part 1...Tools for the Trade

Ted and Tom suggested some time ago that I put some information together on detailing motorcycles for a FAQ. So I thought I'd break the information down into several cleaning tip posts. If you have any additional input, comments, suggestions or recommendations, please let me know.

Without further eloquence, here's the first installment: Tools of the Trade.

There are many people in Beemerdom who proscribe to the maxim that if it is nice enough to wash their bike, they would rather be riding. There is an unsaid implication in this statement that anyone with a clean motorcycle must not ride much, or would rather clean their bike than ride. Well, I'm here to tell you the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Cleaning your bike should be viewed as part of routine maintenance. I do it with the same commitment and regularity as a 3,000-mile oil change. The advantages to periodically cleaning your bike have been stated many times before, by people much more articulate than I. Suffice it to say that for many BMW owners who tend to be ultra-long distance tourers, identifying problems before they occur should be reason enough.

To begin with, you will need the correct tools to do the job. Purchase, borrow, steal, or otherwise procure a bucket that will be used EXCLUSIVELY for your bike(s). There will be times when harsh chemicals might accidentally be transfered into the bucket, and some of these solvents might inadvertently be transferred into the bucket. If the same bucket is used to clean the beautiful hardwood floors in your estate, and it accidentally strips the finish or stains the floor, you might have to sell your bike to help pay for the divorce. Conversely, you don't want to use a bucket to wash your bike where Top Job ™ ammonia cleaner or Clorox ™ was recently used.

Next, buy the softest car-wash mit available. I like the ones with a thick, plush mat/pile. These are the best since they easily lift and carry dirt and other debris away from the paint surface without scratching it. And for drying, a chamois is very effective (either synthetic or natural…both are good), and if available, buy cloth diapers, these are the best. 100% cotton cloth diapers are literally worth their weight in gold for someone who routinely cares for their vehicles. They are expensive, but are invaluable when it comes to applying wax/polish, removing wax/polish, cleaning glass/plastics, drying your bike, or simply wiping it down.

Also buy several heavy duty cleaning rags and/or sponges for use on those areas of the motorcycle where you don't want to use a mit. And for Airheads, a stiff toothbrush/toiletbowl brush are also valuable tools. Avoid the ones sold in hardware stores with brass/metal bristles as these might scratch or gouge the cases. I try to find the heaviest, stiffest commercial toothbrush available, but a stiff Oral B ™ will also work very well. Scotch-Brite Pads ™ are also helpful on older bikes. In my opinion, these are superior to S.O.S. ™ pads since they don't tend to fall apart and disintegrate leaving miniscule pieces of metal slivers behind.

I usually buy the least expensive car soap when it comes time to wash any vehicle. I recommend against using whatever dishwashing liquid is in the house…unless you plan on waxing your bike after each washing. Dishwashing soaps are not "engineered" for use on a painted surface. Some of these liquid dishwashing soaps have strong detergents that can easily strip the protective finish (wax) on your bike. All wax manufacturers (Meguiars, RainDance, Turtle Wax, Zymol, etc.) sell their own brand of car wash soap, and these can be found at places like Pep Boys, Trak Auto, Wal Mart, and other auto parts outlets.

Now, go out and get your bike dirty and I'll explain how to properly wash the beast in my next post.


Bill Shaw

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