Serious Education ... plus the most fun you can have in metal finishing.
Aluminum motorcycle polishing -- rims, wheels, swingarm, fork, and frame
Roderick Wisdom's polished wheels, frame, and swingarm
Q. Could you please help me on how to polish aluminum motorcycle rims to a chrome like finish. Any help or guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Thank youNELSON TORRES
I have been polishing aluminum on motorcycles for about fifteen years now. All of my polishing has been by hand with no air tools. A bench grinder with a buffing wheel attached helps. I have a 98 gsx-r 750 and just recently polished the outside edges of my rims. My '90 750 was completely polished, wheels, frame, triple clamps, handlebars, swingarm...everything that was aluminum. It looked great!
Polishing the entire wheel is very tedious because you first have to sand the casting down on the wheels so that they are smooth, but leaving the cast spokes painted and polishing the edges is quite easy because when the rims are cut it smoothes out the casting on the inside and outer edges of the wheel.
First mask off any part of the wheel you don't want stripped, if any. Then get an industrial grade stripper, I recommend a spray on stripper called Tal-Strip [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. Spray it on one side of the rim at a time and turn rim over and leave for about 20 minutes. After that time check for bubbling and peeling. Use steel wool and wipe off paint, re-apply if necessary. Rinse with water. Once you have removed the paint from both sides it's time to sand them glass smooth.
Start with 320 grit till the rim seems evenly smooth. Then repeat the process with 400, 600, 800, 1000, and mirror fine sandpaper till they are smooth as possible. Once you are sure that there are no deep scratches and the rim is smooth as glass then you are ready to polish. The sanding should be wet-sanding with plenty of water!
Now get some Mother's Mag & Aluminum Polish [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] and start polishing with a fine 100% cotton cloth. Buff each side of rim about 5-6 times wiping clean with a separate cloth each time. Once desired shine is achieved remount wheels. You must remember that once they are polished scratches show easily. Finish by applying a coat of automobile wax, I use Meguiar's. Some people will tell you to have them painted with clear coat but the paint will peel in time as the aluminum is too smooth to hold the paint effectively. You will only need to re-buff once every month or so. I would go over my aluminum real quickly with polish after each wash. If you keep it waxed it will not oxidize, don't believe people who say it will oxidize, just keep it waxed and give it a quick polish every now and then. You'll get the hang of it.
This may seem like a lot of work but it's not as hard as you may think. You can polish both rims in a day if you're committed. It's better than spending hundreds of dollars. It cost me about $25 dollars for one can of stripper and the sandpaper for both rims. I get compliments everywhere I go. I have done this to 5 sets of wheels for my friends.
Good luck, PrestonPreston Van Name
Hello I am the owner of a polish shop here in Richmond VA thought I'd drop in to say hello and to say very good advice on polishing motorcycle wheels. we specialize in polishing motorcycle frames to that proud to show finish. custom polishing is our specialty have a good day.Kevin Ferguson Sr.
- Richmond Virginia
Q. Great information on polishing aluminum wheels. I am restoring an old Honda 305 Dream and had the aluminum engine bead blasted. I plan on using the polishing procedure you described for the wheels. To minimize oxidation obviously wax won't work due to the heat. Is there any way to maintain the high polished surface at elevated temperatures? This would be the transmission/crankcase only, not the cylinder jugs or valve cover. Thanks!George Van Delinder
I'm currently attempting to polish all aluminum parts of a 99 gsxr 750. Any advice from start to finish would be appreciatedAndrew Strong
The info on polishing rims is very helpful. My question is is this possible to do with the rims on the bike. If not, what procedure do you know of to allow me to simply take my rims off my bike myself. I looked at my GSXR and it worried me that I would have extreme difficulty taking my rims off. Please advise. Thanks.T. Taylor
Los Angeles, California
I wanted to respond to T. TAYLOR'S question, yes it is possible to polish your rims on the bike I am currently doing a 91 Suzuki katana 600 but I am only doing the rim you would probably have to take the rim off to do the whole thing, it takes time but it is really not that bad I just started with 180 grit sandpaper and after removing the paint finished with 400 grit then buff the section with metal polish about 10 times and it is starting to look great can't wait to get it done, thinking about doing the handlebars and triple tree and swingarm sections.Anyway hope this helps you out.scott bender
- Litchfield, Michigan
I'm looking at getting my 1999 Yamaha R1 polished and I was wondering would it pay to have it chromed after polishing to reduce the ease of scratching?Ray harper
- Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
Hi thanks for the article It's a must for a do it yourselfer like me. But I'm stuck approximately how long does each buffing process take (before I have to change to the next buff and compound.) between the emery compound,then tripoli [link to product info at Amazon by ed.] compound and buffs, etc... thanksDelon Jackson
- NCT, Ohio
Hello great polishers. I'm trying to go over my 99ZX9R again. It seems some bikes shine better than others. I seem to have this haze come over by bike after about a week or too. It is even apparent in parts of the frame right after I buff it. Is there a recommend speed (RPM) for the buffing wheel to be rotating at. Should I buff it until the metal gets hot. Let me know something. I need to be consistent.Bryant Frazier
- Ft. Meade, Maryland
Great advice about polishing but it leaves me up in the air about where to start! I have a 96 GSXR 750 and I am getting ready to polish the frame and swingarm. I have read all the articles and talked to a lot of different people about what steps to take. My question to everyone is," Do I use the compounds or just stick to the sandpapers?" Which method will give me the mirror like finish I'm looking for? Are there any books or magazines out there that will walk me through step by step? I called one place that does nice polish work but they won't give me any response, they say "if I knew what they know, then I would be opening my own polishing shop!" Can anyone help me out here?Erik McDaniel
- Kittery, Maine
I too have a '96 GSX-R 750. I have polished the wheels, the frame, and the swingarm.
- Morrow, Georgia
Q. Thanks for the advice, I have already stripped the paint off and was getting worried that I might have to break down and take it somewhere to get it polished right.Paul Tiberi
TO START A POLISHING JOB YOU NEED TO FIND OUT WHAT FINISH YOU WANT. IF YOU WANT A MIRROR FINISH YOU NEED TO START OUT BY GETTING THE METAL AS SMOOTH AS POSSIBLE. YOU CAN DO THIS WITH SANDBLASTING THEN SANDPAPER. IF THE METAL (WHETHER RIMS, FRAME, OR MOTOR) IS ROUGH, START WITH SANDBLASTING THEN WITH 120 GRIT SANDPAPER USE A PALM SANDER OR AIR BUFFER OR BY HAND, IT DOES NOT MATTER. WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO IS GETTING THE METAL AS SLICK AS POSSIBLE. THEN YOU START WITH 180 GRIT, AND KEEP USING A GRADE UP EACH TIME.
MAKE SURE YOU GET ALL THE METAL AS SMOOTH AS POSSIBLE EACH TIME. AFTER YOU GET TO 1200 OR 1500 GRIT, YOU CAN USE COMPOUND TO REMOVE THE HAZE.[LIQUID OR HARDBAR FORM] IF YOU USE LIQUID, IT WILL TAKE LONGER. YOU CAN FIND jeweler's rouge [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] ON THE NET. YOU NEED TO GET tripoli [link to product info at Amazon by ed.] (RED OR BROWN) THEN GET A BUFFING WHEEL. USE THE COMPOUND ON THE BUFFING WHEEL,THE BUFFING WHEEL GOES ON A GRINDER, HAND HELD OR BENCH. THE IDEAL SPEED IS 3000 TO 5000 RPM. DO NOT GO OVER 5500 RPM. YOU ONLY NEED TO PUT A SMALL AMOUNT ON THE WHEEL AT A TIME. DON'T GET IN A HURRY. START FROM THE BOTTOM AND GO UP. GO OVER THE PIECE A COUPLE TIMES. THEN REPEAT WITH A WHITE COLOR BAR. THE MORE YOU BUFF IT THE MORE IT WILL SHINE. THEN YOU WILL NEED TO KEEP IT FROM TURNING. YOU WILL NEED TO USE A METAL POLISH ABOUT ONCE A MONTH; THE TRICK TO MAKING ALUMINUM SHINE IS TO GET THE METAL AS SMOOTH AS POSSIBLE. THE SMOOTHER THE BETTER THE SHINE.TRY TO USE WHITE LIGHT'N OR GREEN LIGHT'N METAL POLISH. YOU CAN FIND IT IN FOUR OAKS N.C.JAMES HALES
-FOUR OAKS, North Carolina
Q. MY BIKE HAS A STEEL SWING ARM. IS THERE A WAY TO POLISH IT TO A CHROME LIKE OR CLOSE TO CHROME LIKE SHINE, AND IF SO HOW?
ANY ASSISTANCE ANYONE CAN OFFER ON THIS I THANK YOU.DEREK EALY
- ROCK HILL, South Carolina
A. Sorry, but no, Derek (in my opinion). Steel rusts rather than shines, and I don't think there is much chance of clear coat protecting it from that while maintaining a good shine, considering the very corrosive environment. Maybe waxing it nearly daily might work. It can, of course, be chrome plated.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
A. Fellow Bikers, and wanna be polishers,
I recently polished the frame and swingarm on my R1.
It is a timely task, and by the time I was finished my hands and fingers were smoother than the metal.
Anyways the first response is a great one, except the part about the mothers aluminum polish. If you decide to finish your job with this material, then you will definitely have a serious amount of haze and not only that but you will find yourself repeatedly doing it over because the material is not course enough even to remove 2500 grit sandpaper.
At your local hardware store you need to get a polishing bonnet (not like a car wax bonnet, but for polishing metal). Then you need to get polishing rouge. It also, like sandpaper comes in different grits it is almost the same thing as say rubbing compound to wax for your paint. But it's meant for metal. As for the tools to use a cheap small buffer at any paint and supply store should make the venture not only look better but it is well worth the money just because of the amount of time you save. And after all of the sanding and polishing then finish the metal with some sort of aluminum polish.
HINT: In order to have a mirror like finish all the scratches must be removed, in order to get a really good idea if all the scratches between each grit is to use a "guide coat" simply spray (LIGHTLY) some black lacquer paint on the scratched surface and as you sand the paint will slowly go away and will only remain in the scratches, so when its all gone you know that all the scratches of the preceding grid are gone!
Good luck!Craig Johnson
- Brooklyn, New York
I have a 2000 gsxr 600 and began the polishing process. I found that heavy duty paint stripper did the job real well on the rims. I was stumped though when it came to the frame. There is a baked on factory finish coat on the frame that comes off easy with a few coats of oven cleaner. It took me a while to figure that out though.Steve J Morse
- Bourne, Massachusetts
I just want to thank you all for the info. I'm gonna polish the rims on my 99 Gixxer at the end of the season using your advice since it's the best I've come across.Mark T. [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Vancity, BC, Canada
My brother has a Peterbuilt truck and wants the tanks polished. Looking for websites that explain the process and shows some pictures.David L [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Monroe, Washington