The first thing you need to do before you start washing your motorcycle is play it cool, “it” being the bike. Park it in the shade, or wait until the heat of the day gives way to cooler evening temps. Most cleaners and polishes are made to work best on cool surfaces; they dry out quickly when hot. Let the engine and exhaust cool down, too.
While you’re waiting for things to chill, prep the bike by putting plastic bags secured with rubber bands over the brake master cylinder reservoirs, and remove any dashboard-mounted accessories like radar detectors and other electronic devices that aren’t guaranteed waterproof. Cover the exposed ends of any power leads with plastic bags.
There are two ways to get the majority of the dirt off. The first is the two-bucket method. Start with two buckets of water, one with a bike-specific cleaning solution (not dishwashing liquid, which can damage paint) and the other with plain water for rinsing the wash mitt. Fleece or microfiber mitts lift the dirt off and trap it in the nap, away from chrome and painted surfaces; sponges, rags and old T-shirts just drag the grit all over the place, leaving scratches and paint swirls.
Dip the mitt in the wash solution and clean one section of the bike at a time, starting at the top of the bike and working your way down. Rinse off the clean areas with a stream of water from the hose—sprayers leave spots when the water dries—and then rinse the mitt in the clean water to remove trapped dirt.
The two-bucket wash works well enough, but it’s faster and easier to use an all-in-one cleaning product. Just spray it on, then rinse it off. Again, avoid rinsing with a sprayer, which not only spots the finish but also can blow water into electrical components, past wheel-bearing seals and into brake reservoir vent holes. Either wash method can leave grease or caked-on chain lube behind, however. Use a toothbrush or soft-bristled paintbrush and some emulsifying cleaner to loosen it, and touch up that area with a spot wash afterward.
Dry the bike with a chamois or let it air dry. Apply rubber and plastic treatments to the appropriate areas. Don’t spray these treatments onto the bike, but only on the cloth you’re using to apply them. Overspray onto painted surfaces means you’ll have to wash that area again. The same goes for chrome polishes. Finish up with a corrosion-fighting spray, especially if your bike is kept outside.
Fairings and windscreens collect bugs that harden and won’t come off with just water. Loosen them by wetting a towel and laying it flat over the buggy spot for 10 minutes. Make sure whatever you use to clean clear plastic is approved for that purpose. Cleaners with ammonia or solvents can damage the plastic.
The final step is waxing the painted surfaces. Use cotton swabs to clear excess wax out of tank badges and emblems. Use spray wax between washes, too, to put down a protective layer between your clean bike and the dirty outside world. This will also make the next wash go a lot easier.