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How to Care for and Clean Chrome on Your Motorcycle

How to Care for and Clean Chrome on Your Motorcycle
Motorcycle Chrome Care Dos and Don’ts
Dos ✔ Don’ts ❌
✔ Wash With Water   ❌ Touching the Chrome Parts
✔ Use a Shampoo ❌ Using Abrasives
✔ Use Wax for Protection ❌ Scrubbing Rigorously
✔ Be Regular with Cleaning ❌ Using Metal Brush or Steel Wool for Cleaning
✔ Dry the Bike Thoroughly After Washing ❌Ignoring Dirt Build Up
✔ Prevent Dirt Buildup ❌Dry Cleaning
✔ Use Soft Buffing Clothes ❌Scrubbing Water Spots
✔ Wash in Cool Shade ❌Using Metal Polish for Protection
✔ Apply Oil-Based Maintenance Spray  

Motorcycles are one of the most stylish means of transportation, boasting multiple decorative elements such as high-gloss paint, powder-coated parts, and glistening chrome plating. Even in the age of black-treated motorcycle components, chrome parts maintain their allure due to their unique reflective nature, which also enhances visibility. In the realm of motorcycle customization, chrome parts are renowned for bringing out a timeless classic appeal in a motorcycle, giving it an almost vintage guise.

However, motorcycle chrome parts are not restricted to aesthetic purposes, as they help prevent corrosion, enhance the durability of metal parts, and offer heat resistance when used in exhaust pipes. While motorcycle chrome offers protection, the decorative plating itself requires maintenance to protect against damaging elements, including moisture, dust, debris, grease, grime, and rust. Since prolonged use and harsh riding conditions can diminish its shine and spoil its appearance, it is necessary to clean and care for the chrome on your motorcycle as diligently as you maintain the mechanical components of your two-wheeler. In this article, get all your questions answered about how to properly clean and care for chrome-plated motorcycle parts. 

1. What is Motorcycle Chrome Plating?

Motorcycle chrome plating involves electronically transferring a layer of chromium onto a metal motorcycle part. The component that is chrome-plated is usually crafted from industrial-grade steel; however, ABS plastic motorcycle parts can also be chrome-plated. For aesthetic and durability enhancements, nickel-chrome or copper-chrome plating is the most common plating used in the motorcycle industry, meaning nickel is layered onto the steel motorcycle part. Then a fine layer of chrome is applied over it. Upon close inspection, the chrome motorcycle part has a shiny appearance imparted by nickel deposition, while the bluish hue is due to the chrome coating.

2. The History of Motorcycle Chrome Parts

Motorcycle chrome parts are linked to the trends of the mid-20th century when chrome plating emerged as a new movement in the automotive industry, including motorcycles. Since motorcycles proved to be a cheap mode of transportation in the recession-stricken economies of the world, motorcycle manufacturing companies began using chrome plating to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the otherwise drab engine-driven two-wheelers.

The concept of chrome-plated motorcycle parts eventually made its way to the catalogs of emerging motorcycle manufacturing giants. For example, Harley Davidson introduced chrome-plated accessories and components in the early 1930s. Similarly, Triumph Motorcycles, a popular British motorcycle manufacturer, equipped its 1937 Triumph Speed Twin with an intricately detailed chrome-plated fuel tank.

The 1950s and the 1960s saw a great spike in the use of chrome-plated motorcycle parts, especially in the United States, where the styling of the Harley Davidson classic cruisers was heavily focused on shiny chrome highlights. Eventually, cafe racers of the 1960s also adopted the shiny and decorative metal layers. In other words, chrome plating became synonymous to the biker culture of these decades. From fuel tanks to exhaust pipes, handlebars, motorcycle luggage racks, crash bars, headlight cowling, sissy bars, fenders, and even rims, various motorcycle parts proudly boasted the chrome deposition, symbolizing the ever-increasing prosperity of the global motorcycle market.

Over the years, the movement towards black-treated motorcycle parts and dark-themed bikes has given tough competition to chrome parts in the sphere of motorcycle customization, chrome motorcycle parts remain an admired selection due to the rust-resistance and resilience they offer, provided they are maintained properly. Therefore, finding OEM or aftermarket motorcycle chrome parts is not a challenge, despite new options emerging and invading the market. The real challenge, however, lies in the care and maintenance of the chrome motorcycle parts.

3. What is the Difference Between Motorcycle Chrome Cleaning and Care?

Often used interchangeably, motorcycle chrome cleaning and caring methods involve different aspects altogether. Just because you are wiping the dust off your motorcycle’s chrome parts does not necessarily mean that you are caring for their chrome finish. However, when it comes to the underlying purpose, both chrome cleaning and chrome care serve similar purposes as they help maintain the aesthetics of the bike, prevent rust and grime buildup, ensure longevity of the chrome-plated metal parts, alleviate the need for replacements, and also contribute heavily towards bike’s resale value. To understand the primary differences between motorcycle chrome care and cleaning, see the chart below.

Motorcycle Chrome Care vs Chrome Cleaning
  Chrome Care Chrome Cleaning
Nature of the Action Protective measure Restoration and removal of damaging elements
Order  Performed after chrome cleaning methods Performed before chrome care methods
Objective  Main objective of chrome care is to prevent degradation, peeling, rusting, and other similar damaging effects altogether. Cleaning on the other hand involves removal of the damaging elements. For example, removal of rust, dust, moisture, insects, boot marks, etc
Procedure Cleaning is just one part of chrome care.
The chrome care methods also involve properly drying the chrome parts after cleaning.
Using wax or a sealant as a  protective layer.
Applying oil-based maintenance sprays to maintain the luster of the motorcycle's chrome parts.
Use of a buffing cloth to create an even wax coverage
Chrome cleaning procedures usually involve wiping or washing the chrome surface using soapy water and a soft cloth or sponge.
Using a shampoo for lubrication required during the cleaning process.
Spraying non-abrasive motorcycle chrome cleaners to clean grime and grease, and enhance shine.
Frequency  Less frequent than cleaning; however, over-exposure to damaging elements, rough riding conditions, and harsh weather may require care methods to be performed more frequently.
Can be done as part of regular maintenance.
For less active riders, once a week schedule is often adequate.
High frequency task; advisable to performed daily, especially after riding in salty, wet, or dusty conditions to prevent accumulation of salt or dirt

With these differences established, let's explore different ways you can clean and care for your motorcycle chrome parts at home.

4. How to Clean Motorcycle Chrome Parts?

Cleaning motorcycle chrome parts is not as complicated a task as many make it out to be. You will be suggested to use baking soda, vinegar, aluminum foil, steel wool, and mild abrasives. While these cleaning materials certainly work, it is best to keep the chrome cleaning regimen simple as you can easily achieve your desired gleaming chrome finish by washing it with water and a mild soap or shampoo. Since cleaning chrome parts is part of the overall motorcycle chrome care and maintenance, read this section to learn the right method of cleaning motorcycle chrome parts without using abrasives.

5. What is Motorcycle Chrome Care and How to Do It Correctly?

Motorcycle chrome care, in its essence, is quite similar to motorcycle paint care and maintenance, yet many people struggle with it no matter how many trial-and-error sessions they have performed. Here are some tips for you to understand the concept of chrome care that you should adopt and follow if you want to care for your motorcycle's chrome properly and increase its lifespan.

5.1. Never Use Water for Motorcycle Chrome Care - Fact or Myth?

The biggest myth around motorcycle chrome care is that owners should never let their motorcycles come in contact with water. Now this is practically impossible because no matter how hard you try, you will experience unexpected rain now and then, leaving your motorcycle and its chrome parts exposed to moisture.

While there is no denying that water accelerates corrosion, it is also a readily available, cheap solvent, and cleaner. Plus, it serves as a lubricant when you have to wipe the dirt and grime off your motorcycle chrome parts with little friction and abrasion. The corrosive nature of water is only a concern when you do not dry your motorcycle thoroughly after cleaning it. To ensure that your motorcycle is properly dried and free from moisture, you can use an electric motorcycle dryer, or air blower, or simply follow the instructions provided in the owner’s manual.

In case you are towel drying your motorcycle, run the bike for several minutes or until it heats up to evaporate the water trapped in the nooks, joints, and other hard-to-reach areas.

Next, you can simply use an oil-based motorcycle maintenance spray or water-dispersant as it acts as an effective rust inhibiting layer. These simple steps allow you to wash the bike with water to clean all the dirt off the gleaming chrome parts without compromising its longevity and strength. 

5.2. Why is Dry Cleaning Motorcycle Chrome a Bad Idea?

Contrary to popular belief, road grime is not just dirt or dust, but a mixture of tiny particles of clay, mud, grit, metal, and acidic toxins that cause corrosion. Furthermore, road grime absorbs and retains moisture. Therefore, allowing road grime to build up on your motorcycle not only damages the chrome plating and paintwork but also creates the perfect circumstances for rusting.

Furthermore, when you dry clean your motorcycle using a cloth or paper, the grime gets transferred and clings to the cloth or any other cleaning material you are using, turning it into an abrasive tool that further spreads grime all over the motorcycle parts. With every wipe, you create micro scratches on the chrome parts, and each time you repeat, you further wear away and hasten the destruction of delicate chrome plating, also shortening the life of the metal parts.

5.3. Avoid Touching the Chrome Parts

The next time you feel like admiring the chrome parts on your motorcycle, try to do it from a distance. Micro scratches are the most common cause of corrosion development on chrome parts. No matter how gently you touch the chrome parts, your fingertips are enough to cause the inevitable micro scratches. The only way to avoid this is to touch chrome as little as possible, especially if the bike is dirty. 

5.4. Motorcycle Chrome Essential Care Regime

Proper chrome plating is a money-intensive procedure; that is why the quality of chrome plating over the years has gone downhill. From acid baths to polishing and cleaning processes, each procedure increases the collective cost of the process. For high-quality chrome plating, motorcycle steel parts should be first plated with copper to a certain degree of thickness – approximately 30 microns. This should be followed by nickel plating to a thickness of 45 microns, which should then be covered with a 3-micron-thick decorative layer of chrome. Unfortunately, adhering to these motorcycle chrome plating standards increases production costs, causing a hike in motorcycle prices.

Back in the 1960s, Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, whose main aim was to provide a cheap mode of transportation, discovered that by reducing the thickness of nickel plating or eliminating it from the chrome plating process, they could cut down the production costs significantly. Their practices were soon adopted by other motorcycle manufacturing companies as well, leading to a continuous decrease in the quality of the chrome parts. Therefore, to increase the life of your chrome parts, it is important that you first consider their quality and curate a care regime accordingly to make it last for years. Here is a motorcycle chrome care routine that you can follow to increase the life of even the most dubious quality motorcycle chrome parts:

Clean Motorcycle Chrome Parts

  1. Ensure that all the cleaning and maintenance tools you are using on your motorcycle’s chrome parts are squeaky clean.
  2. When using a container or water bucket for the cleaning process, thoroughly scrub it to ensure there are no grit or dirt particles inside that can cause scratches on the chrome during cleaning.
  3. Thoroughly wash all the cleaning cloths in the washing machine using a good quality detergent. Even if you are using a new cloth, wash it first and do not use fabric conditioner or softener.
  4. Wash the bike using a hose pipe as it helps dampen and loosen the layer of grime before you get to hand cleaning it. This step also helps remove the dead bugs clinging to the chrome parts allowing you to remove them easily without smearing them over the chrome surface.
  5. Leave the water on the motorcycle for some time to let it soak in the dirt layers. To make the dampening effect of water more effective, it is best to perform this chrome care regimen in a cool shade. Wetting the bike in hot and dry conditions leads to uncontrollable evaporation that tends to leave water spots on the bike even after cleaning and drying.
  6. A mild spray-on motorcycle-specific cleaner can be added to this motorcycle chrome cleaning and maintenance routine. 
  7. If you only want to clean the chrome parts on your motorcycle, simply wet the parts using a bottle with a misting system.
  8. Always hand clean the chrome parts even if you use spray cleaners.
  9. To properly remove all the grime use a salt-free motorcycle or automotive shampoo as water alone might not be able to remove all the pollutants clinging to the chrome surface. Automotive/motorcycle shampoos also help reduce friction during the cleaning process due to their slippery texture, reducing the risk of micro scratches.
  10. Use the water/shampoo solution and a clean microfiber cloth and gently remove the pollutants and contaminants from the motorcycle chrome part.
  11. If you find any difficult or stubborn sections of dirt on the chrome part, do not use abrasive tools to scrub it off. Just rinse those sections multiple times until all the dirt comes loose. This process is time-consuming but is more beneficial in the long run.
  12. While cleaning, make sure not to let the cleaning solution or even water dry out at any point during this chrome maintenance regime because removing spots of evaporated fluids is extremely challenging. If you still get water spots on the bike, keep spraying more water, wetting the bike, and towel cleaning. The freshwater will help dissolve any spots on the chrome.
  13. If you cannot remove the water spots, do not use abrasives as they will only damage the chrome finish. Simply leave these spots unattended and they will disappear on their own after some time.
  14. Once you are done with dirt removal and cleaning the bike with water and shampoo, towel dry it thoroughly or use motorcycle dryers. When using towels, make sure no dirt or grit is sticking to them.
  15. Do not wait for the thick road dirt film to appear on the motorcycle's chrome parts before cleaning them. This is an important aspect of motorcycle chrome care that many people ignore.

Protect Motorcycle Chrome Parts

  1. Leaving any existing micro scratches untouched on the chrome surface is part of its protection. Many people try to remove these scratches and instead end up scraping off the thin layer of chrome, exposing the nickel/copper layer underneath.
  2. This might come as a surprise but do not use a chrome cleaner or any type of metal polish directly on your motorcycle chrome parts. These cleaners and polishes consist of abrasive particles and strong chemicals that can degrade the thin decorative layer of chrome on your motorcycle’s parts.  
  3. Try to apply a generous layer of carnauba wax — a natural wax paste — instead, as it is more compatible with automotive/motorcycle chrome plating, paint jobs, and lacquer finish. Moreover, when the carnauba wax is buffed properly, it helps create a luscious glossy appearance that augments your motorcycle chrome’s appearance.
  4. You can also apply good-quality synthetic wax as a protective layer. Some synthetic waxes may also help you fill minor scratches. In addition to water repellency, wax also offers UV protection to the chrome parts.
  5. When applying a fresh coat of wax, be sure to remove all residue of any polish or wax used earlier. This will increase the adherence to the new layer of wax, optimizing protection. For this, simply use a wet wipe or a soft clean cloth and gently rub it all over the chrome parts. Once clean, apply the wax using a soft cloth and rub it gently on the chrome in circular motions. Make sure you use the wax paste sparingly and spread it all over the chrome surface to get an even coverage.
  6. Though this rule may vary depending on the weather conditions and temperature in your area; however, it is best to leave the wax to dry for 30-60 minutes.
  7. Before buffing, make sure the wax is dry to the touch. For this step, use thick and soft buffing cloths. To achieve the desired finish from the wax application, make sure to apply at least three coats of wax almost eight hours apart, allowing each coat to dry and cure properly so you don’t loosen it with the application of the next layer.
  8. If you do it correctly, the wax will protect the chrome from harmful elements, UV rays, and pollutants until the next time you wash the motorcycle.  
  9. Additionally, if your motorcycle has chrome wheels, make sure to apply an additional layer of wheel sealant regularly as it offers an even higher level of protection.
  10. When it comes to chrome on the exhaust pipes, you need to follow the same cleaning and waxing process. However, no wax is strong enough to withstand the high temperature reached at the exhaust level. Therefore, to protect the chrome layer on motorcycle exhaust, you must also use an oil-based or silicon-based motorcycle/automotive maintenance spray, coating the exhaust generously with it. You can also use this spray on other chrome components that are subjected to high temperatures. However, be careful not to get any of this spray on the motorcycle brake rotors. To be safe, always wipe the brake rotors clean afterward.

6. Last Words

Motorcycle chrome plating requires regular maintenance, and for this reason, many people now avoid bikes with chrome highlights even if they find them beautiful. However, chrome maintenance is quite simple, and if done regularly, you would never have to grapple with stubborn dirt marks, dead insects, and rust. If the chrome parts on your motorcycle are not already damaged due to corrosion, adopt the chrome care regimen explained in this article and see the amazing results for yourself.

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