Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 19th May 2020

Government advice in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has restricted the use of vehicles to nothing except for ‘essential’ travel or travelling to and from a place of work.

For many of us on two wheels, this means we haven’t been able to go for a ride and there appears to be no immediate changes on the horizon to change these rules.

But while you can’t ride your bike, why not take the time to give it a strip down and a deep clean; the sort of thing that can take a bike off the road for a few days while you take your time to get the job done properly?

There are various levels to this kind of clean and the level to which you are willing and able to achieve will be determined by your mechanical expertise, how good your toolkit is and the age of your motorcycle.

If you have an almost new bike, or a bike that’s barely been out in the wet, a complete strip down is probably not worth the effort as it’s unlikely the bike needs it.

Before you start

Be honest with yourself about your technical abilities. Is a strip down that will include the removal of bodywork, wheels, the radiator and brake calipers something you are comfortable doing? More importantly, are you capable of ensuring it all goes back on safely? If you have a doubt about this, leave the strip down and concentrate on giving the bike a really good clean.

Where to start

A level, firm section of ground is vital and ideally a pair of front and rear wheel stands will make life a lot easier and are vital if you are planning on removing wheels.

Even if you have a centrestand fitted to the bike, a pair of paddock stands – or something more substantial like an Abba frame stand perhaps – makes the whole process safer and more secure.

What tools will you need?

This very much depends on the age and type of your motorcycle, of course, but a decent socket set, screwdrivers, spanners and torque wrenches are the basics you will need. The tool most often missing can be the large socket that releases the rear wheel spindle as these are often much larger than those offered in a normal toolbox, although they can be purchased individually from an automotive store like Halfords.

Torque wrenches are vital to ensure brake caliper bolts, rear wheel spindles and other key components are tightened correctly.

For the cleaning part of the process you will need the usual items but investing in some tar remover, engine degreaser, paraffin, paintbrushes (including a long-handled radiator paint brush), ACF50 corrosion protector and some good polish for the bodywork will be worth the effort and expense. If you’re going to the trouble of a really deep clean, it makes sense not to cut corners.

Paraffin is cheap and works really well to clean chains. The paintbrushes are really handy for cleaning into hard to reach areas and the long-handled brush will be of extra help in areas such as around the shock.

Strip down your motorcycle

The amount of work that will go into a strip down is obviously linked to the type of motorbike. For example, sportsbikes wrapped in fully-enclosing bodywork will take more work that a naked roadster.

Removing bodywork needs careful attention and reading the owner’s manual is highly recommended in order to understand if there’s a recommended sequence of removing and refitting panels to make the job easier.

If you don’t have an owner’s manual you can buy maintenance manuals from the likes of Haynes which give instructional details. There is of course YouTube, which has videos on most subjects detailing the work needed.

Be careful to store and label all the parts that come off the bike in order to make refitting the parts easier. Lost fasteners can keep the bike off the road until they are replaced as they keep the bodywork in place.

Be gentle with electrical connectors as you remove panels that may have cabling for the likes of indicators attached. If the bike is a bit older, those plastic electrical connectors can become brittle with age and can break more easily than you might imagine.

Cleaning your motorbike

Once the panels are off, use a pH neutral bike cleaner to loosen dirt before laying them down on a soft surface to give them a good scrub – inside and outside areas – and a rinse off. Leave to dry somewhere you won’t step on them.

Engine degreaser is helpful in areas like the front chain sprocket which can have lots of accumulated chain oil and road grime. Most have a cover over the top which will need to be removed to gain full access. Don’t forget to clean the cover too! Sometime this can take a while. The paraffin for chain cleaning and a hard brush can help loosen the grease too.

Just remember to lube and adjust the chain once you are all finished cleaning it.

Clean the really dirty bits like the chain and sprockets first. It’s good to get all these bits done first.

Cleaning out brake calipers is a job that must be done by someone who is confident they can get it all back on safely.

Each bike is different but taking off the calipers, removing brake pads and giving the whole lot a good clean; before a tiny bit of coppergrease on the back of the brake pads to stop them sticking can help. Cleaning and a light covering of grease on the caliper pins helps make stripping the brakes down in the future much easier and keeps corrosion at bay.

Radiators and oil-coolers, even on new bikes, fill up with road grime and dead insects very quickly. You must take extreme care not to damage the very delicate cooling vanes or the radiator will need to be repaired or replaced if it starts leaking.

A spray with bike cleaner and a very light brush from the front can work to loosen dirt but washing the radiator from the back will help remove lots more grime. If you’re feeling confident you can get it all back together again, removing the radiator will allow it to be cleaned properly. This will, of course, require the coolant to be drained and replaced. Likewise the oil will need to be topped up if you remove or replace the oil cooler. If your bike is old and you find the radiator or oil cooler are looking worn out, there’s no better time to replace them for new ones. It can prolong the life of a bike and help it run better for years to come.

Jet wash or not to jet wash, that is the question…

The use of jet washers on motorcycles is a divisive subject to which no-one has ever found a definitive answer. One thing is for sure though, as with any tool, incorrect use of a jet wash will cause damage to a motorcycle for sure.

Even some domestic jet washers can deliver water with a fearsome blast, so directing this into wheel bearings, brakes, delicate electrical components or from too close range can cause big issues.

It’s worth remembering professional motorcycle cleaners all use jet washers, but they really know how to use them. Reducing the pressure when near any sensitive areas like wheel bearings will help keep damage from occurring.

Removing wheels

Getting the wheels off a motorcycle can range from the relatively simple through to the intricate, and your ability to do this will be governed by your confidence you can get the wheels (and almost always) the brake calipers back on and done up safely. If you’re in any doubt, leave it to a professional or call in some help. It goes without saying, but having a wheel or brake caliper come loose while you are riding is extremely dangerous!

What removing the wheels does allow is access to areas like the rear suspension, shock linkage, front suspension and inside the swingarm which can often hide a lot of accumulated road grime.

The cleaning process is the same as the rest of the bike but it’s not often these parts get cleaned.

Adding some anti-corrosion protection like ACF50 or XCP to areas like the rear suspension can assist in keeping this clean and in good mechanical order for a long time but be aware this anti-corrosion treatment does need renewing.

Check once you are finished

Once you have put everything back together it’s worth taking some time to check the bike over in a systematic way to ensure everything is tightened up. Safety is critical, so use a torque wrench on bolts with a torque setting, and make sure they are tightened to the correct values, as this is vital to safety.