How to Clean and Maintain Your Motorcycle Gear
Whether you own a traditional cowhide leather suit, lightweight kangaroo or newfangled vegan textile, caring for your gear will keep it looking good and protecting you properly for years to come. We’ve combined our expertise with that of other reputable industry experts to bring you this comprehensive guide to help you care for your Bison gear.
Ask 5 different people, get 10 different answers
Ever asked a forum which oil to run in your motorcycle? All hell breaks loose. Ask how to properly clean and maintain motorcycle gear and you’re likely to get a similar response from the community. Everyone has their own methods and preferred products - in fact they might have a primary and secondary way of doing it - and some of those people might completely denounce the recommendations that others swear by. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Fortunately for you, we’re your ally in this war against smelly, crusty riding gear. Not only am I here to give some personal insight on behalf of Bison, I’ve also tapped fellow motorcycle gear experts for their help in creating the ultimate guide to caring for your precious gear! Let’s get started.
Identify the enemies
When the military launches an attack they don’t just point and hurl some planes, tanks or boats in that general direction. We need to identify our targets then choose the proper method and timing of attack! Before we jump into how to clean and care for your gear, let’s identify the enemies:
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While it’s true we have some pretty serious and embedded enemies to oust, the good news is there are lots of weapons at our disposal. Unfortunately, this is where people start to get all sorts of confused. Fortunately I have invited two of the industry’s leading generals in the war against disgusting leathers to weigh in: Grover and Kim Crawford of Sage Tailoring, and Matt Howell of Compass Leather.
Sage Tailoring’s weapons of choice include:
- Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner
- Angelus De-Salter
- Angelus Deodorizer
- Chemical Guys Leather Protectant Serum (I think we can all agree any product referred to as a serum sounds effective)
- Workhorse Microfiber towel
- Workhorse Microfiber brush
- Workhorse Microfiber foam applicator pad
Compass Leather’s weapons are quite similar, with these notable differences:
- Fiebling’s Liquid Glycerine Saddle Soap (another pretty effective-sounding name)
- Fiebling’s 4-Way Care Leather Conditioner
Finally, here at Bison we use the following:
- Motul M3 Perfect Leather Cleaner
- Angelus De-Salter
- Kleen Freaks Leather Conditioner Use code BISONTRACK10 for 10% off!
- Angelus Soft-Bristle Brush
- Microfiber towels
Planning for attack
In preparation for cleaning your gear make sure it is dry first and foremost. if your leathers are equipped with a removable liner, remove it to help the drying process. We'll also be washing the liner separately here. Open the armor pockets and remove the padding, inspecting it for damage and ensuring that it is not becoming brittle or deteriorating. If there is any question as to the condition of your armor, now would be a good time to upgrade to something like Forcefield armor (which is now available from Bison)!
Addressing the liner
Go ahead and wash your inner liner at this point. You can machine wash, but Sage Tailoring has a great bit of advice: "We suggest having spare Velcro on hand so that you can marry the female and male end of any Velcro on the liner before putting the liner in a wash machine. Open Velcro has the tendency to bind to the rest of the liner and leave a very tangled mess at the end of the wash which can also be damaging." This is an awesome life hack and I highly recommend it!
If your suit has a “fixed” (non-removable) inner liner, you will have a little bit of extra work and limited accessibility when it comes to cleaning inside the suit. In addition, drying times will be longer. Don’t fret, you can still get in there and scrub!
Clean the inside of the suit
At this point we can get down to business on the leather itself. You can get more access to hard-to-reach areas by turning the leathers inside out as much as possible. Start applying that desalter liberally! Using a soft brush, scrub into the suit with circular motions paying close attention to the armpits and groin area which tend to accumulate more sweat and therefore, salt. Once the desalter is brushed in, remove excess product using a microfiber towel.
Following desalting, the cleaner product can now be applied. As you did with the desalter, apply the cleaner liberally to the inside of the suit using your soft bristle brush make sure to test in an inconspicuous area if you are using a product that has not been recommended here. There are lots of great products out there that will do the job, but you want to make sure they're safe to use on the color in your gear. Once you have tested the product and applied it liberally to the inside of the leather, wipe excess product off with the microfiber towels and hang the suit to dry thoroughly before we start on the outside. I recommend at least two hours without a Hang-Dry, or 30-60 minutes with a Hang-Dry.
The exterior attack
For most of you, this is where your hard work will show some instant gratification. As I stated earlier you obviously will accumulate dirt tar, bugs and road grime on the outside of your leathers which over time make their appearance quite dingy. You might not even realize it yet, but wait until you start scrubbing! This will likely prove to be quite satisfying.
If you haven't done so already, turn the suit right side out. Once again, be sure whatever product you are using is safe on the colored areas of your gear - specifically on fluorescent and printed panels. Once you have verified that the product is safe in an inconspicuous area, go ahead and begin liberally applying the cleaner using a microfiber cloth or applicator pad. Use your soft bristle brush to gently scrub the cleaner in and watch as your suit begins to brighten up! Once you are finished scrubbing the visible grime off the suit, immediately remove the excess cleaner using your microfiber towels. You may dampen the cloth a bit to help pull all the cleaner from the leather and stretch material. Once again hang the suit to dry, although this time we’re going to wait a full 24 hours before continuing on to the next step (conditioning)!
What about “Baptising” your leathers in the tub?
Over the years I’ve heard many people rave about two interesting practices involving their leathers and a bathtub: one is taking a hot shower while wearing the leathers either to break them in or even get them clean, and another is to plunge them into a tub and vigorously scrub them to clean them.
Now, I’m a firm believer in the fact that there is usually more than one way to skin a cat. That being said, I am not a fan of baptising your leathers, or even gloves for that matter. Earlier in the article I mentioned that moisture in your gear - specifically the evaporation process - draws the natural oils out of your leather. As you might imagine, dunking them in a tub or showering with them on is going to pull a lot of the natural good stuff out of your gear. That doesn’t mean you can’t put the good stuff back (via a good conditioning, which we’ll get to shortly), but you’re definitely going overboard with this method. Also, I could see it being kind of a big mess. And embarrassing if you’re spotted showering in your suit mid-process.
Recently I overheard someone mentioning that their recommended method for cleaning their leathers was the same as doing dishes; Dawn dish soap and a good soaking! I would strongly advise that you do not do this. Detergent soaps like Dawn are made to draw out grease (oils) and strip surfaces clean. They will pull everything out of your leathers - probably good and bad - and you will have effectively hit the “reset button” on your gear for better and for worse! Leather desalting and cleaning products will work very effectively while retaining most of your leather’s natural oils and - therefore - elasticity.
Grover and Kim from Sage Tailoring recommend 24 hours of drying time prior to conditioning and I agree 100%. In fact, I would take that a step further and tell you to put a fan on the suit if there is no Hang-Dry available. It is important that the evaporation process is complete before moving on.
Conditioning is probably the trickiest part of gear maintenance because there is a fine balance that must be kept. Believe it or not, you can over-condition your gear! Obviously we’ve explained the importance of keeping oils in the suit for durability’s sake, but did you know that too much conditioning can actually clog the pores of your gear’s hides and cause the suit to retain moisture (remember that whole rotting-from-the-inside-out thing)? Not only that, applying too much conditioner or doing so too frequently can result in loss of color especially when speaking of printed patterns and colors (we’re looking at you, fluorescents). Now that I’ve sufficiently frightened you with the finicky nature of this job, it’s time to condition your gear!
In all seriousness, this isn’t rocket science and I hope I didn’t scare you too badly with the previous paragraph. Let’s start with a very simple first rule: Just be mindful not to clog your perforation holes and seams with the conditioner. If you pay attention to the amount of product you’re using based on the perforation and seams, you’ll be just fine. Apply the conditioner product to an applicator pad or cloth and work it in using a circular motion. Follow manufacturer instructions for any setting time, then remove the product using a clean microfiber cloth.
Bison uses genuine YKK metal zips on all exterior openings. You can keep these zippers operating smoothly for years to come by applying a bit of lubricant, and chances are you’ve already got something lying around the house that will work! Chapstick, beeswax, petroleum jelly, even a crayon can be used. Simply rub along the zipper teeth to transfer the material to the zipper. This will not only lubricate the zipper but also help protect it from corrosion. Yes there are zipper care products out there, and you’re welcome to give them a try although I can’t attest to any of their effectiveness. I’ve personally used candle wax for years without issue.
The battle is won, but the war never ends
As you may have guessed this is not a “do it once and forget it” process. Because everyone uses their gear differently and in different ways in different climates, everyone will have their own schedule when it comes to caring for their gear. I personally do a thorough cleaning at least once a season, with periodic spot-clean-and-conditionings in between. Most importantly, I get my suit, boots and gloves dry as quickly as I can between sessions.
Cleaning your gear is a slightly tedious task that can also be quite rewarding. Treat your gear right and it will treat you right for many many years to come. Take the initiative and begin your attack on Kim Jung Salt today! Failure to do so may result in catastrophe - after all, his moisture minions may be working to deteriorate your gear as we speak.
Rob Lackey has been a motorcycle gear connoisseur for years, mostly because he crashed a lot there for a while. After spending 20 years in the automotive industry managing service departments with a focus on culture and customer service, Rob decided to combine his passion for making people happy with that of racing and "going fast while staying safe". He founded Bison Track LLC with his wife, Tosha and they now roam the country with their two youngest kids, Edith and Carter, growing The Herd and educating others about the importance of safe riding gear. Every now-and-then he still gets to race.
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