Cleaning old motorcycles

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Cleanliness is next to godliness, so they say. Maybe what they ought to say is that cleanliness is next to impossible when dealing with 30-plus-year-old bikes.

But not wanting to rock the boat and being in need of a spiritual journey, I decided it was time to find godliness with my 1981 Suzuki GS850L by purchasing some used cleaning equipment.

My sandblasting setup is good. It’s efficient at removing rust, old paint and stuff. It even removes grime. There are problems with sandblasting grime, though. First, it slams the grime deep into the surface of the piece being blasted. Second, the grime circulates through the sandblasting system, spreading dirt onto everything it touches.

Back to the spiritual journey, I realized too many cans of brake cleaner were used to make parts manageable or able to be handled without getting covered in grease and grime. A parts washer has been on my wish list for a long time, but other tools like a gear-puller set or impact wrench or whatever seemed to trump the need for being next to godliness.

This winter I started searching craigslist out of curiosity. Parts washers were few and far between. What was listed were either commercial-sized, too expensive, too small, too worn or…they’d be sold quickly. So I set up an alert on craigslist to be notified of new listings.

Within a couple of weeks, a parts washer came up that was a good size, inexpensive and didn’t look overly worn, so I jumped on it fast. It’s a Harbor Freight washer which is hit or miss for people. I’ve had nothing but good luck with Harbor Freight. Only once did I have to return an item—a motorcycle lift—and HF took it back without any problems. The new one works very well.

Here’s my new-to-me (as they say) Harbor Freight Parts Washer.


It took a good bit of elbow grease to get rid of the grease and grime but it was worth it.


It looks pretty good, if I may say so myself.


The 20-gallon parts washer has a re-circulating high flow pump with a filter, a removable shelf and parts basket. It has a flexible spigot to direct cleaning solvent flow over the grimy parts. According to Harbor Freight, the parts washer has a heat-resistant lid that closes automatically in case of fire…I don’t expect to find out for sure.


Doing all this research on cleaning parts got me thinking about cleaning parts by boiling them, specifically boiling carburetors. The internet is loaded with stories about how great boiling works without consequence to carburetors.

So it seems that the left (or is it the right…I always get this wrong) side of my brain kicked in and I came up with this.


It’s a big old Oster 24-Pound Turkey Roaster Oven that holds 18-quarts, surely enough space for a bank of carbs. Instead of asking permission to ‘cook’ in the kitchen, this lets me boil what I want, when I want in the basement or garage and no need to worry about making a mess.

This too came from craigslist. I think it was like twelve dollars.

Both of these fine pieces of used machinery will get plenty of use on the 1981 GS850 that needs a lot of cleanliness.

Next: Turn your old Big Red into a rolling shop cart

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