Friday, January 22, 2021

Royal Enfield washing day packed with pride

It has 44,000 miles on it.
Considering its age and mileage, my 1999 Bullet cleans up pretty well. is really a sort of log book for what I do to my personal 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet. Checking the blog, it looks to me as though I last washed my motorcycle in January, 2019!

I like to say my Royal Enfield "lives in the real world." Back when I commuted to work we'd get caught in the rain often enough that drying the motorcycle off with a rag when I got home to the garage was usually enough to keep it respectable.

Now that I don't commute, fewer miles translates into less dirt. After almost a year, though, it was past time to get out the bucket, rags and Zip Wax wash-and-wax soap.

Like most motorcyclists, I like to see my motorcycle clean. But washing a motorcycle is aggravating because it has umpteen crevices human fingers can't get at with a rag.

I'm water adverse: I won't use a hose or, Lord forbid, a pressure washer. Many years of trying to operate British motor vehicles have convinced me that water intrusion into electrical devices is to be avoided.

Close-up of rust spot on wheel rim.
Oh no! Rust spots on rim of front wheel.

Most motor vehicles I've owned, British or not, rusted. Some were rusted before I bought them, but nothing I did tended to improve that. So I use the minimum amount of water I think I can get away with, hoping it will not find secret places in which to encourage corrosion.

This is one of the reasons I used to clean the Bullet only after a run in the rain: hell, it was already wet.

I'll agree that frequent washing is a good idea. It's the ideal time to check the tightness of nuts and bolts and to make adjustments.

This time, before I washed the bike I cleaned the spark plug and tightened up its gap just a bit to .020, still a fairly wide setting.

(Subsequent Note: It has started on the second kick ever since I did that.)

I also removed the kick start lever and put it back just a notch or two towards the back of the motorcycle. I'd been noticing it blocking my heel just a bit as I operated the Neutral Finder while riding. Hopefully this will fix that.

I found that the right-side rear turn signal wobbled just a bit and made a mental note to tighten it up.

Elastic sock top around gas filler opening.
I never throw away tube socks without saving the elastic tops.

Washing day was the perfect time to replace the "gasket" on my gas cap. I use the top elastic band cut from an old tube sock.  Can't remember who recommended this, but it has helped keep my tank relatively unscarred by gas over the years.

Of course one of the things that happens when you get up next to your motorcycle is you see the wounds it has collected over the years. Perfectly natural but obviously unwelcome news.

But some of these wear points pack the pride of how far we've travelled together. More than 44,000 miles, I reckon.

Close-up of rusted screw head on fender.
Rust seems to attack the leading edges first, even on a screw head.

One surprising thing I noticed this time is how rust has typically formed on the surfaces that face forward. The screw heads on the front fender, for instance, show rust damage only on the leading edges. Anyone have any ideas on how to fight that? Leave a comment below.

It's almost as if the wind is eroding the motorcycle.

I ran out of light before I could finish my job. The final step, tomorrow, will be doing a wipe with an oily rag across the shiny parts.


  1. Take one of those rusty little fender bolts to the hardware store and see if they have something similar in stainless steel.
    44k miles is a lot of miles, have you done a top end rebuild along the way?

    1. I thought I heard a noise from the crankshaft at 40,000 miles. So at that point a mechanic took the motor apart and reassembled it with an Alpha main bearing. Based on what he found he told me the rebuild hadn't been necessary at the time.

    2. When you need new valves, get in touch. I have sets of Iron Barrel stainless steel valves. The inlet is 1mm larger than stock. These are not like the stock valves. The RE ones are friction welded with the head fastened to the stem. These stainless ones are one piece. Cheers,

  2. Sounds like you care for your "Iron Belly" rather like I do for mine, which hasn't seen the garden hose in years. I just wipe mine down after most rides with a variety of dry to oily rags and microfiber cloths. Every year or so I might give the painted bits a proper waxing, but mostly I just use that Lucas Slick Mist stuff (, which smells like Prom Night in Candyland (I wish they made an after shave), and does a really great job. The tires and wheels, particularly the front, get a liberal shot of that Tire Shine spray from time to time that you can get for a buck at Dollar Tree. Not only does it keep the tires looking new (without overdoing it with that "wet look" thing) and keep the UV at bay, the overspray seems to be keeping any hint of rust or corrosion from the wheels. Rounding out the wonder potions is that humble green bottle of Turtle Wax Chrome Polish for under $3. You can pay more if you like, but back in the late '90s "Auto Restorer" magazine did a more or less "scientific" test of chrome polishes, testing them for effectiveness and long-lasting protection, and the humble green one, at a fraction of the cost of some others, came out well on top as their "Best Buy". But if you've taken on a real rust bucket "barn find" fixer-upper where the damage is done, as a last resort, give that obscure water-soluble "Quick-Glo" a try. At $15 it ain't cheap, but this family-brewed goop from Louisiana must have a healthy dose of that bayou voodoo in it. Amazing stuff! You can find it here on Amazon:

    My "Military" Bullet doesn't have a lot of polished alloy, having green painted cases, primary, gearbox, etc., but for my Norton's alloy I like that Nevr-Dull wadding available most everywhere except California, where stern warnings against drinking the contents of one's battery also prevail. Paste polishes like Simichrome are fine too, I suppose, but are trickier to get out of those books and crannies without breaking out the Q-tips.

    After each ride I'll also top off the tank with ethanol-free fuel with just a dash of Marvel Mystery Oil in it, say an ounce or two per tankful. Keeping the tank full when not in use is good practice, since it reduces the amount of air, and hence water vapor, in the tank, which might condense, gather in the bottom and cause rusting or other issues. Also after most rides I'll slop a liberal amount of gear oil onto the section of the drive chain easily reached just forward of the brake assembly, with the result that every four or five rides the whole chain on average gets some love. I keep an old brush in a wide-mouthed jar of strained/filtered old gear oil for this purpose. I just kick a heavy old cookie baking sheet underneath to catch any excess drippage, which also seems to carry away most dirt or grunge such that those chain cleaners aren't really required. I suppose this regimen must be doing the trick, since the (presumably) OEM chain is still on the bike at nearly 18,000 miles with more than half slack to go on the snail adjusters. An occasional wipe of the rim and spokes for any flung off too keeps them looking respectable. They're certainly not in danger of rusting!

    Anyhow, that's how I keep mine fettled. And just like you say, taking the rag to the ride often is a fine opportunity to catch those loosening fasteners before they bounce off into the hedges.


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