To clean or not

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Photo by Joe Berk,

Every motorcycle gets categorized in some manner. There is displacement, brand, horsepower, riding position, intended use, number of gadgets on board… The distinctions are endless and taken very seriously by some… If you don’t ride “X” then you can’t run with the crew…In effect, the rider gets lumped in with the bike category.

But I like to draw the lines in a different fashion. We all fall somewhere between the extremes of show-bike polishers (bikes that never get dirty), and hard-ridden bikes that never get cleaned!

Whether we like it or not, we all fit somewhere along the “Bell Curve of Clean” when it comes to our rides. And there are many, many shades of grey between those who make a fetish of polishing and those who prefer to let nature take its course.

I envy those special few who have bikes that will never see the rain. Bikes with the chrome so brilliant that it hurts in sunlight. (But we mustn’t leave them in the sun too long – might fade the paint you know…)  I love those machines that take centre stage at big bike shows… and oh the paint, the chrome and the sparkle! Bikes as Art. Granted these show-stoppers are at the extreme end of the Bell Curve. In fact, many of them are right off the end of the chart as they have never seen pavement, much less a raindrop.

At the other end is the chap in his weathered, oiled-cotton Belstaff, cheerfully waving to all as the clock ticks over 200,000+ miles. His bike is not new, and the colour is now only vaguely distinguishable thru the coating of travel grime over sun-faded paint. But the motor is tight, the tires are new and the bearings are good … and he rides, and rides. And how! But, cleaning, polishing, detailing, more cleaning, and wiping, — not on the agenda. The only water that his bike has seen for years has been either rain or road spray. The bike is his or her ticket to the world.  No high tech, fragile gadgets here; just a reliable ride that racks up the miles while the rest of the motorcycle world looks on in astonishment. Function, not looks, is the order of the day.

And the rest of us? Well, we fall somewhere between the two extremes. We would like our bike to look showroom perfect, but it doesn’t. So we wipe the bugs off the windshield and the dust off the top of the mufflers. We clean the top and sides of the tank and give the obvious bits of chrome a quick wipe, and we hope the tankbag doesn’t scratch the paint. And then we ride. Occasionally, in a fit of enthusiasm, we spend part of a day with some soapy water and a bottle of Armor-All and maybe even a bit of chrome cleaner. But the bike still doesn’t look new, so we put the cleaning stuff away for another few weeks or months, and then we ride some more.  

Maybe the answer lies in multiple bikes. One can be kept sparkling clean and polished to be used for ceremonial Sunday rides. The other bike can be ridden whenever, where-ever, and in whatever weather and road conditions the rider can tolerate.  The more I think about it, the better I like the idea. Only problem is the budget!  But I’m sure there is a perfectly logical reason (somewhere) for buying that dream machine and for keeping it safely in the garage and forever sparkling.

I’d rather be riding! (I guess that tells you where I fit along the curve!) — Alison Green

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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