The lazy biker's guide to cleaning

Can the dreaded weekly (ok, monthly) chore be made quick and easy?

IN a perfect world, we'd all have half a sunny Sunday every week to spend patiently and painstakingly cleaning every inch of our beloved bikes, a garage to store all our equipment, a backyard to work in... What, you already do? Perhaps you should go read a different Visordown feature.

This one is for the rest of us, who live in that sadly imperfect world where we have neither the time nor the facilities, or indeed, often, the inclination, to get all the accumulated muck, grit and grime off our bikes.

Many cleaning products promise to solve your dilemmas with a spray-on, wipe or wash-off swipe of their magic wands. Do these really work? How little equipment do you need to be able to clean your bike to a good standard? How quickly and easily can you be done, dusted and on the road, astride a sparkly, shiny bike?

We borrowed three filthy bikes, and sought to find out.

If your bike only ever gets clean once or twice a year when you give it in for a dealer service, read on...

The kit

We armed ourselves with a selection of cleaning products that promised to be quick and easy, and tried out these:

ACTIV8 chain cleaner: light spray along the chain from a few inches away, allow to dissolve grime, then respray heavily. Chain lube: use after the cleaner; spray from a few inches away and allow to dry.

AUTOGLYM motorcycle cleaner spray: rinse with water, spray on liberally, agitate with brush or sponge, do not let dry, rinse off. 

CASTROL Greentec cleaner spray: spray, leave for 5-10 minutes (not more than 20), rinse with fresh water.

MUC-OFF Fast-Action Bike Cleaner spray: pre-wet, spray on, leave for 3-5 minutes, agitate and rinse off. (chain) Degreaser spray - dry: spray, agitate. Bike Spray shine and protect: after washing, spray to disperse moisture, wipe excess, leave to dry.

FUCHS SILKOLENE spray on wash off cleaner: hose with water, spray, agitate if necessary, do not let dry, hose down.

SDOC100 Total Cleaner power gel spray: spray complete dry bike, leave for 5-30 mins, rinse with strong water jet. 

We also armed ourselves with a Muc-Off brush kit, and some household bits and bobs from the local Poundland - medium plastic buckets, latex and rubber gloves, and soft cloths and mitts for wiping down. Our work site: the corner of the office parking lot, on a balmy 7-degrees-C March day. No paddock stands, bike hoists, heated garages, warm water or interns here...

Rich's GSX-R600

RICH Meese loves his K8 Gixxer, but that didn't stop him bringing it to us with a healthy dose of muck on it. "She's a little dirty right now," he said, pointing at his helpfully white bike. The swingarm, rear shock and exhaust all boasted plenty of dried mud, as did the forks, radiator and exhaust downtubes; both wheels were coated with baked-on grime; the bodywork sported dust and water stains, and the rusty chain was gunky.

After suitably wetting the every inch of the GSX-R, I sprayed one side of the bike and the front wheel with Autoglym cleaner spray, and let it sit for a few minutes while I sprayed the other side of the bike and the rear wheel with Muc-Off Fast Action Bike Cleaner Spray. I half expected to see the dirt begin dissolving as if by magic, but it now merely looked like a wet and dirty bike, with the added presence of a few bubbles.

So I scrubbed the whole bike vigorously with a medium-sized Muc-Off brush, getting it all sudsy. This is not the easiest process in the world, seeing as motorcycles have so many contoured surfaces – you really have to get in there and make sure you agitate the dirt. Once the whole bike was suitably soaped-up, I rinsed it off. There was still some lingering soapiness, more so on the Autoglym side, so I rinsed it off again. The Muc-Off spray side on the other hand needed a couple more blasts and a scrub in some of the crannier nooks. Both wheels needed a double dose of spray-and-scrub as well.

On the whole, after half an hour, the Gixxer was looking healthy again, like an overenthusiastic labrador that's just been hosed off. I then liberally doused the bike's bodywork, plastics and engine in Muc-Off Bike Spray, said to dispel moisture as well as make it shiny and protect surfaces. A few minutes of hard polishing with my soft cloth and the bike indeed had a newfound glow to it, though swiping a finger down the tank revealed a slightly greasy film. Perhaps I had sprayed too much on. Anyway, by now the GSX-R was looking pretty good.

The last step was to spray the chain with Activ8 chain cleaner. I could really have done with a centre stand here, but I settled for moving it a couple of feet forward and back. I emptied a good quarter of the can onto the rather sorry-lookiing chain, and after a few minutes' rest, gave the whole thing another good blast. As the liquefying gunk dripped off, there was a noticeable improvement in the appearance of the chain; I could see more bare metal than grease. A second spraying, this time with Activ8 chain lube, and I was done with the bike.

I spent an hour on the Gixxer, and it certainly felt like it, but the end result was pretty good.

Glenn's Speed Triple

GLENN Nattrass rolled in with a Speed Triple that also ticked off all the boxes: a white bike, a few weeks of winter riding with no cleaning in between, plenty of mud, grit and grime and a few insects to boot. The naked bike also meant less protective bodywork and more splashy stuff on the engine, which, by the way Triumph, is well fiddly from a cleaning point of view. 

For this bike, I decided to try out the Castrol Greentec and Fuchs-Silkolene cleaner sprays. Again, one per side and one wheel each. Following the same process, I wet the bike, sprayed on the cleaners - again, one per side and one wheel each - did my scrub-a-dub-dub routine with the brush (this took a fair while as there are lots of surfaces to cover on the Speed Triple) and then rinsed off with lots of water. Both cleaners proved broadly effective, though I needed a second spray of the Fuchs product to tackle some stubborn grit on the lower triple-tree. There was a little streaking from the Greentec, but a bit more rinsing with water took care of that.

Again, I blasted pretty much the entire bike with the Muc-Off Shine & Protect spray... I was growing quite partial to the product and what it did. Some vigorous rubbing all over with the cloth (and the sleeve of my hoodie, which actually proved better than the soft cloth at shining it up rather than smearing the shine) and getting my mittened fingers into the Triumph's intimate bits, and the bike looked ready to roll.

For the chain, which appeared stale and dry, I used Muc-Off's Degreaser Dry spray, which however didn't really seem to do much. So I fell back on the proven Activ8 chain cleaner spray, followed by a spritz of Activ8 lube

The entire process took me about an hour.

Paul's Trekker

PAUL Dowsett's Peugeot Trekker scooter had been lying in his yard for seven years, and was, not suprisingly, in a bit of a state. Late last year, Paul decided to begin commuting on it, and after a service and couple of new bits including an exhaust, was back on the road.

As a workhorse, the little scoot has seen more than its fair share of urban winter miles and predictably, not much cleaning. The rear shock and underside were encrusted in mud, the transmission cover, wheels and forks were grimy, the exhaust pipe was splattered, the rear mudguard looked like it had hosted a pigeon conference, and the bodywork was dusty. 

I tried out the Sdoc100 Power Gel Spray, which is unusual in that you need to spray it onto a dry bike. 

After attaching the provided nozzle to the bottle and spraying (more like spurting) the gel all over the bike, I spread it about with the provided sponge - and, now a driven man, also attacked some of the grimier parts with my handy Muc-Off brush. I then left it be for 10 minutes before hosing off (buckets won't do here, as Sdoc100's usage instructions specify a strong jet of water). 

Despite my skepticsm about the lack of water, it actually works: the bike came away clean, as you can see in the photos, though traces of metal corrosion from its yard years were all the more visible.

After the now customary sprucing up with Muc-Off Shine & Protect spray to round off a swift 30 minute job, the Trekker was despatched back to a pleased Paul, ready to face some more winter abuse. 


So what have I concluded from this exercise? Well, you really don't need a great deal of kit to get your bike decently clean: one spray to clean, a good quality brush, one spray to shine, and you're set.

I'd choose the Sdoc100 Power Gel spray purely because it allows you to save time on the pre-wetting process, though if you don't have access  to a hose, the Autoglym or Muc-Off cleaning sprays are fine. For afters, Muc-Off's Shine & Protect spray really does give the whole bike a lift. For motorcycles (not shafties of course), some chain cleaner spray and lube are definitely a good idea, and the Activ8 spray performed well.

While every one of the cleaning products we tried out will give you a sufficiently good end result - remember we're aiming to clean up, not valet the bike or get it to final-assembly-line condition - unless you clean your bike regularly and merely have to deal with a little fresh dirt each time, they are not quite as easy as the instructions would have you believe.

Cleaning is 10% kit and 90% perspiration. Regardless of the product you use, you've got to give it enough elbow grease, and take the time to get into the hard-to-reach places. You may also need to give it a second spraying if the dirt is built-up. Ultimately, more than anything, it's about getting off your arse and making the effort to give your bike some TLC. Depending on the bike you have and the state it's in, you'll spend anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, but it's totally worth it: you will end up with a satisfactorily clean and shiny bike that will not only stay healthier in the long run but make you feel proud to be riding it. And isn't that what it's all about?

Got the cleaning bug? Check out Visordown's Ten tips for keeping your bike and kit clean; eight more tips for that perfect clean motorcycle, and for the obsessives, our Ultimate Bike Cleaning and Polishing Guide