One evening, not too long ago, I found myself in an unusual situation; that of cleaning my bike. To be more precise, I spent an hour and a half scrubbing the chrome on my exhaust system with some 0000 steel wool to remove the black marks caused by A) my boots, B) my raingear and C) the luggage straps that I accidentally let dangle over the pipes. It wasn’t the mess on the exhaust that was unusual; that happens pretty much every time I ride the Switchback. It was the fact that I was cleaning the bike at all—certainly something I wouldn’t do voluntarily, but I’d set up a photo shoot the next day for an exhaust product review and it just wouldn’t do to have all that gooey stuff stuck to the surface.
While my repetitive scrubbing motions slowly removed the foreign substances, I glanced at the shelf overhead with its array of cleaning products—spray wash, surface cleaner, engine cleaner, wheel degreaser, waterless wash and wax, polish, windshield scratch repair and cleaner; products to clean, protect and waterproof seats and saddlebags… I even found a can of extra moisturizing lemon Pledge from a long-ago experiment. Products for paint, chrome, leather, plastic, cast aluminum, polished aluminum… you name it. There were various brands of mini cleaning kits. And that was only the front row.
When I got my Sportster, I tried to keep it clean. I really did. But that first ride to Sturgis resulted in dirt and mud in places I couldn’t get to without tearing her down to the frame—or so I told myself. And there was no stopping the rust. In fact, I really didn’t want to; when bolts and mounts and fasteners began to rust was when said bolts and mounts and fasteners stopped vibrating off the bike. So I just let the rest of it go. I’d rather ride than clean anyway. In fact, I’d rather do anything than clean. I remember when the then-president of my motorcycle club said he couldn’t stand looking at my dirty bike anymore and he would detail it for me if I promised to keep it clean. I agreed, he got it looking like new, but I just couldn’t keep up with my end of the bargain. Within a month, crud crept back onto the wheels and the polished aluminum had a dull cast again.
I thought back to the time I was riding upstate in the wintertime and I’d stopped at a rest area to warm up. I struck up a conversation with a couple who’d just pulled in, and the woman said to me, “I wish I knew how to ride.” I answered, “Why don’t you?” And she responded, “I don’t want to spend all that time cleaning my bike.” I looked at the Road King they were riding, and sure enough, it was spotless. I could only imagine how many hours her husband put into keeping that bike pristine. And I could only imagine how he’d hound his wife to do the same.
So why do I have all those cleaning products if I don’t like cleaning my bikes? Well, I’ve fallen victim more than once to the persuasive sales folks hawking their wares, especially if they demonstrate how quickly that stubborn grease comes off the cast aluminum cases. And I’m immediately sold if they convince me I can avoid having to actually wash the bike. And rinse it. And dry it. My wash buckets have spiders living in them and I don’t want to disrupt their family life.
Bike cleaning products are big business, and several Harley dealers in the area have hosted cleaning products workshops. It’s always the same—they get you in a good mood with refreshments and giveaways and before you know it, you’ve walked out the door with another $85 cleaning kit, complete with wash mitt, wheel scrubber and detailing cloth. I think the only time I was able to resist was one year at Sturgis when a guy displaying his new line of products sprayed some chrome cleaner on a set of messed-up pipes, at the same time rubbing steel wool across the goo. I blurted out, “Wait a minute! I get the same effect with just the steel wool!” He mumbled something like, “Yeah, but it makes the job go faster.” And here I was, wishing I had something to make this job go faster. It reminded me why I had exhaust wrap on my FXD.
Funny thing; when I do get around to cleaning one or another of my bikes—and it’s usually when the mud, dirt and grease is so caked on that I just can’t stand it anymore—I use none of the fancy products that I’ve collected over the years. A guy I dated at one time owned a motorcycle and auto body shop, and he clued me in to some inexpensive, effective products: Palmolive dishwashing liquid, 3M Imperial Hand Glaze, Protect All and Scott Shop Towels—all of which can be found at auto parts stores. I oughta just toss all that other stuff and make room for something else… The spider family is growing and they need more space.