IBMWR_small_Header.gif (7522 bytes)

IBMWR Bike Cleaning FAQ

How To Keep You 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 3...Polish and Wax

Hello all,

Now that I thoroughly insulted everyone by explaining how to properly wash a bike, the next step is about caring for and protecting your paint. Due to some confusing terms associated with this process, I thought I would continue my condescending diatribe by providing several definitions first.

POLISHES. Polishes (often referred to as cleaners) are designed to clean the paint by removing contaminants and oxidation, restoring the paint to a rich, light-reflecting luster, covering swirl marks, and preparing the paint for wax. While polishes can be in the form of a chemical, the most common types are friction cleaners that contain abrasives. It's almost always best to begin by using a fine abrasive (a glaze), vice starting off by using a coarse abrasive (a rubbing compound or clay).

WAXES. I only know of two types of waxes: organic and polymer-based. Most polymer waxes are chemically manufactured from petroleum distillates and contain silicone or Teflon. I am a traditionalist at heart, and am not convinced polymers are the best wax; i.e., provide the longest- lasting protective finish, so I tend to go "au natural." The most common organic waxes are from tropical plants (Carnauba) or from bee's wax. The proverbial jury is out as to which is best or whether a paste or liquid wax provides the best protection. My personal experience has been that a liquid wax containing Carnauba not only offers a long-lasting protective finish, but is easily applied and removed.

CLEANER WAXES. I suspect these one-step products are being marketed for today's busy executive. However, I think it's counterintuitive to expect one product to perform two diverse functions as cleaning/polishing, while SIMULTANEOUSLY applying a protective coat of wax. These products, IMO, are best suited for a Ural...not a concours R51/3.

Now for a reminder about paint preparation. Always wash the bike thoroughly before starting (this can not be overemphasized), unless you don't mind seeing the image of New York City's transit system permanently etched in your paint. The bike should be cool to the touch, and the wax/polish should be applied and removed in the shade with the softest applicators you can find.

I generally polish my bikes about once a year, and I ALWAYS apply a coat of wax immediately after polishing them. Most, if not all, major wax manufacturers also make polishes. Just remember to buy the least aggressive polish available.

The frequency with which you wax your bike will depend on its use. If the bike is garaged and covered, and only ridden 3,000 miles a year on nice days, then you might only wax it once a year. If it's a daily commuter, then 3-4 times a year might not be unreasonable. Remember, wax was designed to protect your paint against prehistoric flying insects, acid rain, suicidal swans, road kill, and tree secretions.

The real die-hard detailers apply paste wax with their fingertips. This method minimizes the potential for accidentally rubbing in a piece of sand, grit or asteroid that imbedded itself onto your applicator. Another tip is to apply and remove polishes/waxes in the same direction as the wind flows over the bodywork. This prevents you from creating swirl marks in the paint which are more readily seen than perpendicular scratches (scratches are apparent when viewed at a 90 degree angle, that's why swirl marks are so easily spotted from all directions).

I do not encourage the use of Pledge or any other household products to shine motorcycles. The chemicals in some household products might not be compatible with the chemicals in the paint. The reason that you don't apply wax to a painted surface immediately after it's been painted, for instance, is to allow the chemicals within the paint to "outgas"…or, breathe. Therefore, my personal view is not to risk it. Also, household products do not provide a lasting protective finish to the painted surface against UV, acids, salts, etc.

I'll be back with more detailing tips next week. Toodles.

Bill Shaw

Copyright 1998 - ©IBMWR - All rights reserved