Cleaning motorcycle engine fins like removing gaskets is no fun, but it is one of those jobs that needs to be done – either to keep your bike in good condition or to restore an old bike to show condition.
The key to cleaning motorcycle engine fins if it is a new or relatively new bike is to stay on top of it. Don’t let moisture and grim build up over weeks, months, and years on the engine fins. I know, it is more fun to ride than clean; but it has always been my opinion that if you respect your ride, it will respect you.
Just like dental hygiene you want to clean those engine fins regularly so that you don’t end up in the tougher situation of having to rehab or restore fins that are already in bad shape. If you do it regularly, you can do it with a soft brush from Home Depot and a little degreaser. Take 15 minutes once a month and you will never end up having to take any of the more difficult steps below. You can thank me later.
Look, I have been down the more difficult road more than a few times. My first 10 bikes were clunkers that I had to do various levels of restoration to. I am currently working on cleaning up the engine fins and rocker boxes on “Cal.” I am about half way done, but I figured I would share some tips that I know to make life a little easier.
1) It is definitely easier to clean the fins if the entire valve head assembly is off the bike. I realize this isn’t practical for cleaning purposes, but if you are doing a restoration, you have the luxury of cleaning them while off the bike.
2) Wire brushes aren’t bad, but can leave scratches if you are not going to follow up with fine-grained sandpaper. Consider the softness of the metal. Wire brushes will dig more into aluminum than iron.
3) Dremel sanding bits are great for the edges of fins. You can get a really nice mirror looking finish on the fin edges this way. This will offset nicely against the inside of the fins even if you can’t get those sections perfectly clean. Generally the bits are too large to get between fins.
4) Sandpaper is your friend because it can get between the fins and contour around corners.
5) A flat edged file is a good companion. I like to take the file, wrap it in sandpaper and then slide it between the fins. This does a good job of creating a tight fit and applying pressure to both the top and bottom fin while cleaning. Grab yourself a 20% off coupon from Harbor Freight and get yourself one of these. I like quality tools, but for this purpose a cheap file will do the trick.
6) Finally, consider using a power washer, aqua-blasting, or media blasting for the toughest jobs. As you graduate from power-washing up to media blasting, remember that you will need to mask off areas you don’t want to hit with the media. This includes gasket surfaces and valve seats. Just like painting, preparation (i.e. masking) is key to a successful media blasting job.
So, these are the few tips I have for cleaning motorcycle engine fins. I am sure there are other tips and tricks from the DIY community out there, so please if you have a suggestion, share it below. People will thank you!
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