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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 6...Cleaning Oilheads

Hello all,

This installment will discuss cleaning the type R-259 (Oilhead/Chromehead) engine: the R850 and R1100 series, as well as the new R12C.

Oilheads are one of the easiest engines to keep detailed. Although the cylinders are just as exposed as those on the Airhead engines, a clear coat has been applied to the Oilhead engine at the factory thus making dirt/grime removal easier. The front "forks" of the Telelever and the rear Paralever have also been treated. A routine cleaning regiment usually requires little more than washing the bike as described in the first articles with warm soap and water. But here are some additional tips I used when I cleaned my RSL:

1. Avoid spraying too much water directly at the spark plug covers. When water is forced in and around the spark plugs and under the plastic spark plug cover, many bikes have experienced rough running engines until all the water has been dispersed/evaporated. A simple garden hose is enough to make a finally tuned engine appear very "sick."

2. If using soap and water does not remove the road grime, here is a trick that I KNOW you never heard before…try WD-40. I have used it to remove paint, tar, encrusted bugs, and a myriad of other organic and inorganic substances from my engine without any adverse affects. I don't advocate spraying down the entire engine with WD-40, but rather, use it as a spot remover. BTW, one item that cannot be removed via conventional methods is gasoline that has stained the engine/jug/transmission housing. If the engine is continuously exposed to gas, from a leaking fuel line for example, the gasoline will stain the clear coat on the engine/paralever to a dull yellowish color, and it cannot be removed without harming the clear coat finish. The gas is essentially "burned" into the clear coat when the engine/drivetrain is repeatedly heated. If you have a yellow discoloration, find the source since you may have a potential problem.

3. Avoid using aluminum or metal polishes…even on the Chromeheads. Once the clear coat has been removed from the engine/telelever/paralever, your time spent on preventative measures to offset aluminum oxidation has just quadrupled. To keep chrome looking new is as easy as washing your bike (being especially careful that your wash mitt is free of moon dust, plum pits and gravel). On the rare occasion when a chrome polish has to be used; i.e., to remove black heel marks from the exhaust, use it very sparingly on a cold engine, and always follow up by applying wax over the affected area.

While these engines do not require the same level of effort to keep looking new as the Airheads, the condition of the clear coat can deteriorate over time if not washed regularly.

Bill Shaw

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