When bikers talk dirty

I mentioned recently in a piece about riding the Rune to Plettenberg Bay that I had a particular horror of dirty bikes. And cars. That doesn’t mean my cars and bikes don’t get dirty; they do, all the time. It’s just that it feels bad.

It’s especially a problem if you live in the Middle East, as I do for some of the year, due to the amount of sand and dust that blows around here. My wife and I used to own a glossy black Mustang convertible in Abu Dhabi, and a glossy black and white Triumph Rocket III Touring that we’d bought each other as a wedding present. I recall my anguish after carefully washing and drying first the car and then the bike under the cover of our car port on a dry and sunny day. I had just stood back to admire the fruits of my labour and noted with horror that the Mustang already bore a patina of light dust – and the bike that I’d finished only minutes ago was already getting its own coating.

It was about that time that I came across a guy who ran one of those “waterless” car-washing companies that proliferate in this part of the world. Most supermarket and shopping mall car parks feature the service, but the idea that somebody was going to spray a mysterious liquid all over my glossy paintwork was totally alien to me. However, this chap explained how the chemical they use encircles every grain of dust or dirt, and how microfibre cloths then attract the dirt, which doesn’t get ground into the paintwork.

Sounded like mumbo-jumbo to me, but I tried it on our other car, an older Mustang with light green metallic paint, and it seemed to work just as described. Eventually I took the plunge with the glossy black paint, and it too came out gleaming and scratchless. The black car has been replaced by a metallic one, and now my wife and I both use waterless washers without giving it a second thought.

I’m not sure I’d entrust any motorcycle to a third-party washer, though: washing a bike properly is a far more complex operation than washing a car, which almost anyone can do. It also gives you the chance to inspect the bike up close, which is always a good thing.

Some people here in the UAE employ maids and labourers to wash and polish their cars every day, often in the early morning before they leave for work. One of our neighbours has a guy to wash his admittedly gorgeous burgundy Mercedes AMG G63 G-Wagon (if you like that sort of thing, and I have reservations about the proportions) at about 6 a.m.

That’s one solution, and maybe a bit excessive, even by Middle East standards. But I am almost as bad when I’m on tour. Right back to the days of my first-ever long-distance trip from London to Rome on my Yamaha 350 YR5 (made it in two days – ah, the folly of youth) in about 1975, I have always made a point of washing my bike when I reach my destination. What’s the attraction of finally getting rid of all the luggage and riding a dirty, fly-spattered motorcycle around Rome or Sorrento or wherever?

I know it’s going to get just as dirty on the journey home, but for those few days at least it can look like its designers intended.

I imagine there are a lot of adventure bike riders out there who feel just the opposite, wanting their GS1200s or Multistradas to show off every splattered insect they’ve managed to kill en route. It’s a point of view, and I respect it, but it just ain’t me. I’ve been known to pack a sponge, chamois and some polishing cloths on trips just in case they aren’t readily available at the other end. Sad but true.

One of the motoring writers, and it may well have been Jeremy Clarkson, once remarked that for him the measure of a good driver is the absence of kerb marks on his alloy wheels. It shows the driver knows what he’s doing and takes care of his car. In the same way, I feel that a clean, shiny motorcycle is a mark of a rider who cares about his bike.

Bizarrely, though, I don’t think I do this cleaning to impress others – I do it to impress myself! I like the feeling that comes from riding a clean, polished, scratch-free bike. That’s one reason I prefer to ride when it’s dry and sunny (apart from not wanting to get wet or cold, having done way too much of both over the years). It means I can ride and not feel the need to wash and dry the bike next day.

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One thought on “When bikers talk dirty

  1. Hi Peter,

    Hope that you are both well. I am currently on an assignment in KSA for IPG based in Riyadh.

    Although I am no biker (fell off one early on in my life and that put an end to them for me), I am really enjoying your blogs, especially your SA road trips! Keep ’em coming. By the way I entirely agree with you about keeping vehicles of any sort as clean as possible, I can’t bear a dirty car!

    Best regards,



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