When you wash your bike, you’re not just making it look good, you’re removing dirt, grime, dead bugs, and corrosive crud that’s bad for your bike’s paint, chrome, and metal parts.
To get your bike looking its best you’ll need a sponge, two buckets, a general-purpose car wash or bike-specific cleaner, an old paintbrush or sponge brush for getting in nooks and crannies, and a chamois or a stack of old towels to dry the bike off when you’re done—just make sure they’re clean.
Whether you’re washing the old-fashioned way with soapy water and a sponge or using a modern spray-on/rinse-off cleaner, the bike needs to be cool so the stuff doesn’t just steam off. It’s also a good idea to work in the shade so the sun won’t dry things out and create water spots and streaking.
The first step is the initial spray down, either with a hose or with your bike-specific product, and let the bike soak for a few minutes to soften those exoskeletons and loosen grime. If you’re using something like Bel-Ray’s Bike Wash, then you just need to rinse the bike off with water and the cleaning process is supposedly done, but if you’ve got stubborn grime or if you’re using soapy water, then it’s time to bust out the sponge and your brushes.
As for those two buckets, one is for your soapy water, and the other is just for rinsing out your sponge so it stays clean. Here’s the concern—your bike is dirty, and if you just scrub it down with a dirt-encrusted sponge, you could haze your paint. So clean small sections of the bike at a time, starting at the top and working your way down, rinse your sponge regularly, and rinse off the bike as you go. You can use an old brush to get in around spokes and engine fins and clean other nooks and crannies, and once the bike is good and clean, give it one final, thorough rinse with a hose.
And whenever you put your sponge or cleaning tools down, put them in the rinse bucket. Setting them on the ground is a great way to pick up sand or grit that might scratch your paint.
At this point you’re probably wondering if it isn’t just easier to blast your bike with a pressure washer. It’s tempting for sure, but you need to be careful not to direct the stream of water at your wheel bearings, swingarm pivot, fork seals, chain, and electrical connectors since you could compromise the seals. For a thorough clean, you’re better off doing it by hand.
With your bike all washed and rinsed, it’s time to dry it off. You’ve got a couple of options here, from using compressed air or a leaf blower to just toweling or chamois-ing the bike down. Again, make sure whatever you’re wiping your bike with is clean and grit-free. Once you’ve gotten it blown off or wiped down, It’s a good idea to start the bike and let it run to help evaporate any residual moisture that didn’t flow out of the drain hole in the muffler.
Finally, you’ll want to wipe down and lubricate your chain and maybe even wax your paint. It’ll add extra shine and protect the finish so it’ll stay pretty longer.