Showroom Quality: How to Detail a Motorcycle

Showroom Quality: How to Detail a Motorcycle

As riders, we take a lot of pride in our motorcycles.  They are an extension of who we are.  So why not show everyone else how much you care about your bike by detailing it to perfection?  A properly detailed motorcycle can shine even brighter than when it was first picked up from the dealership.  All that’s needed is a little work and a few detailing supplies.

I know there are plenty of riders who don’t think it’s necessary to put the work into detailing their bikes.  It’ll get washed the next time it rains, right?  Well kind of.  It’ll probably look better than it did before it rained, but it won’t get it all and there will still be plenty of grime, debris and water spots on the bike.  A proper washing is a start in the right direction, but it’s only the first step to showroom quality.  It’s after the detailing process where you the stunning results.

Motorcycle Wash

Though detailing your bike is mainly about bringing it to a showroom finish, there are other benefits to the process as well.  While detailing and cleaning the bike, you are removing the impurities and foreign particles that can break down your bike’s finish over time.  By removing these, you are prolonging the life of your bike and keeping the resale value higher.  The detailing process also forces you to get up close and personal with your machine.  You’ll get to know where everything is and it also gives you the opportunity to check for any loose fasteners or broken/missing components.

Follow the steps below to bring out the best luster in your bike and have it shining like it never has before.


Before you get down to the actual process of washing the bike, you need to prep it.  The products that you will be using during the detailing process will need to be done in the shade, so it will help if you can start the process in such an area.  It is also important that the bike is protected from the wind so that more foreign particles do not accumulate on your freshly washed bike.  After you have the bike in position, you will need to let it cool down.

Another important part of the prep process is to cover up any components that can be damaged by water.  Plug or cover the end of the exhaust to prevent water from entering it.  Cover up the battery with some plastic or just remove it all together.  Remove your seat and any luggage on the bike to prevent them from being damaged by the water.


Start the washing process by giving the bike a decent pre-rinse.  You can use a mild soap or just plain water.  The goal of the pre-rinse is to begin loosening any of the “baked-on” debris and grime and to knock off any of the loose stuff.  A normal garden hose is the best tools for this.  Squeezing out a cloth or sponge over the bike will also work.  Pressure washers will certainly knock off the most gunk, but they can also be hazardous to the bike.  Water can be forced into bearing seals and electrical connections and can also remove paint if care is not taken.  Use a mild degreaser on the engine, exhaust and the underside of the bike to help remove the oil and grime.

Once the bike has been pre-rinsed, you can now start the washing and scrubbing process.  You will need two separate buckets (one with plain water and one with bike shampoo or cleaner), and a couple of microfiber towels or mitts.  Motorcycle-specific cleaners are always a safe bet as they are designed to not harm the finishes on the bike.

Dip your towel into the sudsy soap bucket and start scrubbing away.  When your towel becomes dirty, rinse it off in the bucket with just water first.  That way, you will keep your soap water clean and you will be less likely to add dirt back onto the bike.  Try to not let any soapy areas dry as well.  If your buckets are turning really brown, it’s not a bad idea to get fresh water and soap.

Special wheel and exhaust cleaners can be used to help remove brake dust and discoloration.  If using these cleaners, be sure that they are safe for the finish that you have on those components.  Some chrome parts are actually coated with plastic and can be harmed with certain cleaners that have abrasives in them.

Once you have scrubbed away all of the gunk and grime, give your bike a final rinse with the hose.  Then dry your bike.  For a fast dry, you can use a forced air dryer or air compressor.  A few dry microfiber towels will work just fine too.

An optional step to ensure that your bike is completely clean is to wipe it down using a mild detailing spray and clean microfiber towel.  This will pick up any of the fine dust that may have settled on the bike.  This step is highly encouraged if you decide to use a clay bar during the detailing process.

Clay Bar (Optional)

This is where you can really start to notice the difference in appearance.  All factory paint has some impurities in the finish.  These tiny particles and chemicals will form a slightly imperfect surface.  It’s not the most noticeable, but if you go through the process of removing these imperfections, your painted finishes will shine and feel like glass.

A clay bar is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a soft piece of clay that will pick up the tiniest of particles when it is applied.  You will need a mild detailing spray to act as a lubricant so that the bar will slide nicely without clumping up.  To start, give a little spray to the painted surface that you will be working on.  Then slide the clay bar over the sprayed area in a back and forth motion (avoid circular movements).  Continue this process over all of the painted surfaces to remove all of the impurities.

After several swipes, you can fold the bar over on itself so that you are not reapplying the grit that you are pulling out.  If you drop the bar or contact it with anything unclean, do not use it.  You will end up doing more harm than good with a dirty clay bar.

Once you have finished going over all of the painted areas with the clay bar, use a clean microfiber towel and detailing spray to clean off any residue that may be left over.

As long as you keep your bike decently waxed, you will not need to clay bar your bike very often.  Usually once a year is a safe bet, but it can certainly be stretched longer and still look great with proper care.


Next up is polishing.  The purpose of polishing is to remove blemished areas, scuffs, swirls and abrasions.  This is for the actual damaged areas of the paint finish.  There are different grades of abrasiveness for the level of damage that is present on the bike.  Fine scratches and swirls should use less abrasive polishes.  It’s good to start with the mildest polishes and progressively work your way up.

Apply the polish to a clean microfiber towel and apply it in a circular motion.  Most polishes will spread easily, so start with a small amount.  Use moderate pressure to work the product into the finish.  The goal is to remove the fine abrasions without damaging the rest of the finish.

Next comes buffing.  It’s important to follow your particular product’s instructions while doing this process as it can differ between options.  Some may require you to let the polish dry to a haze, while others need to be buffed off while still wet.  Use a clean towel and buff the polish completely off.  Be sure to switch to dry areas of the towel every so often to prevent the polish from leaving streaks.

If you are still seeing imperfections, you can repeat the polish process, bumping up a grade of abrasiveness if needed.  When you are satisfied with the outcome, go over the painted areas with a clean cloth to ensure that all of the polish has been removed.


The final step for bringing your motorcycle’s painted surfaces to showroom quality is waxing.  The purpose of wax is to add a protective layer to the finish to protect all of the hard work that you just did.  It will also help bead water away.  The best part of wax is that it will add a depth of gloss and luster to the finish to make it all nice and shiny.

Apply the wax in the same manner as the polish, working it in to all visible painted surfaces.  Again, follow the directions of particular wax that you are using.  Once the wax has dried to haze, use a clean microfiber towel to buff the wax off by using small circular motions and moderate pressure.  Be sure to remove any excess wax that finds its way into any crevices or around emblems.

Try hard not to not get any wax on unpainted metal, plastic, rubber & vinyl.  If you do, wipe it off before it dries.  The wax can dry out and end up damaging these parts.

With the wax applied and buffed, your motorcycle’s painted surfaces should now have a luster and shine that is fit for the showroom.

Finishing Up

Now that the painted surfaces of your bike are clean, it’s time to make the rest of it look just as nice.  Special wipes and cleaners are made for all of the plastic, rubber and vinyl pieces of your bike to make them shine.  Matte and satin finishes require special detailers that do not contain silicone or wax.  Leather can be reconditioned to be soft and supple with a classic finish.

With a little elbow grease, you can really surprise yourself by how amazing you can make your bike look.  Having your bike detailed by a specialist can cost hundreds of dollars, but you can accomplish near the same results by yourself and for much less.  The first time you detail your motorcycle, it will require a small investment, but you will be well equipped to do it many times over after the first time.  And the pride that you will have in your bike will be more than worth it.

Find All Your Detailing Supplies to Achieve Showroom Quality


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