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Motorcycle detailing: A delicate situation

October 11, 2010
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Though many detail technicians limit their services to patrons who only own vehicles with four wheels, it may be wise — especially in the summer months — to broaden your horizons and offer services to those who own vehicles with just two wheels.

Before offering motorcycle detailing services for your customers, it’s important to understand the type of work you’re getting yourself into and what you might expect from this type of craft.

A delicate situation
Depending on the type of bike, you can pretty much wash it the same fashion you would an automobile. However, in order to take care of business the right way, you really need to watch out for some of the motorcycle’s mechanical areas that you’ll come in contact with.

Think of it as washing a car without a hood. Sure, the bike is made for the rain, but pay close attention to chemicals and pressure.

According to Daryl Hoebel, owner of D&S Motorcycle Detailing in Mesa, AZ, the first thing you should do is to view the motorcycle with the customer, identify any physical damages and evaluate what you can do to correct them through your detailing services.

Come up with a base hourly rate and let the customer know, based on your first evaluation, what problem areas may prolong the detailing process and how those areas could increase the pricing.

Some parts of the bike that might require extra work:

  • Restoration of aluminum;
  • Chroming;
  • Painting; and
  • Leather re-coloring or reconditioning.

Start by cleaning the bike’s dirtiest areas. For most bikes, this means the wheels, tires and the area just behind the front tire, (this is often where the bike’s radiator is) as well as the fender area on the rear tire.

Clean these areas with care, and use light water pressure. Always check to make sure that what looks like chrome is not really aluminum.

If you use chrome cleaner on aluminum you can ruin it, and the last thing you want to do it make a biker angry.

Prepping the bike
While many detailers will simply work on the bike as it stands on its kickstand, investing in a stand or even a small, inexpensive carjack could prove beneficial.

In order to do a good job on the motorcycle you’ll spend a few hours on each bike; a carjack might ease the stress you’ll be putting on your back by leaning over the bike, or when it comes time to focus on the wheels and spokes.

Again, keep a sharp eye out for areas of the bike that will need special care.

There are some motorcycles with a lot of chrome, and you have to stay away from using high detergents with those areas.

Tools of the trade
When detailers begin working on cars or SUVs, they generally can estimate how long it’s going to take, and have a handle on the rates that should be charged.

According to Frank Canna, Mirror Finish Detailing, Williamstown, NJ, with motorcycles, you throw all of that out the window.

Basically, you have to ask yourself, how much time is necessary and required for the bike’s condition to reach perfection?

If you know you’ll be working on bikes, make sure to get yourself a few very important items that will prove essential for each specific bike detailing chore.

Stock up on:

  • Chrome cleaner — to get the blue look off of the exhaust pipes.
  • Top quality polish — go ahead and splurge on your best stuff.

    After all, there’s less surface area on bikes than cars, and you can always use what you have left on any high-end vehicles you run into in the future.

  • Degreaser — this all depends on what the customer expects.

    You may want to watch out for some degreasing chemicals that are exposed to some engine parts and plugs, so only go this extra step if it is truly necessary or expected by the customer.

    Again, when polishing, it is important to stay away from the coils and the spark plug wires. When working with water, stay away from electrical areas, including under the seats of some models where the relays are located.

A labor of love
Motorcycle detailing is really a labor of love, because most detailers with bike experience will tell you that profits on bikes are usually half of that with a car, because of the time spent with minute cycle details.

Motorcycle detailing is a difficult market. In fact, many detailers will tell you that it’s the same type of market you’ll find with antique cars: customers want someone who’s going to take their time and not be working too rapidly in an effort just to make a quick buck.

Although motorcycle detailing is only a small percentage of the business that most detailers make, often times it does work cooperatively with the draw from customers offering cars, trucks and boats.

If working in the right area of the country, once you’re able to make that first motorcycle customer happy, you’ll see them roaring on in.


Special thanks to: Frank Canna, Mirror Finish Detailing, Williamstown, NJ; and Daryl Hoebel, D&S Motorcycle Detailing, Mesa, AR.