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How to Care for and Clean Chrome on your Motorcycle

Added June 17, 2020
Chrome motorcycle handlebars

When you think of a Harley-Davidson® motorcycle, what sort of image comes to mind? If you’re like a lot of people, there’s a good chance it includes at least a little chrome.

The story behind the high-quality chrome on your H-D® motorcycle

Chrome-plated accessories first started appearing in Harley-Davidson® catalogs as early as 1930. The first was a “speedometer lamp,” designed to make your (optional) speedometer “as effective at night as in the daytime.” More chrome accessories appeared in subsequent years, with 1934 seeing the debut of the first “Chromium Plated Combination” package. 

“For an extra $13.50,” explains Harley-Davidson Museum Curator Jim Fricke, “you got ‘chrome-plated Handlebars, Generator end cover, Exhaust pipes, Saddle bar assembly, Muffler, Tail pipe, Oiler and timer cover, Intake pipe clamp nuts, Valve spring covers, and Front brake control clamp.’”

In other words, everything you would need to trick out your ride in brilliant style.

Though the trend in recent years has moved toward a darker overall look, chrome accessories remain a staple of customizers everywhere. There’s nothing like it, after all, to add just the right amount of contrast to those flat black parts you just installed.

So, we asked:

Chrome was once king when it came to accessorizing a Harley-Davidson® motorcycle. What’s your preference – and why? Does chrome still rule or is less really more?

Your answers:

“Chrome, baby, and lots of it! I want to be seen, not blend in with the highway!” –W.D. 

“Black is for the tires. I’ve been riding since the ’70s, so I am generation chrome. Flashiest paint, long forks, rigid frames rule. How can you show off on flat black?” –WES D. 

“Chrome is, has been, and always will be king! Chrome, chrome, chrome – beautiful chrome! I have a 2003 100th Anniversary model Fat Boy® that has so much chrome that the color indicated on the registration is “chrome” with a little black trim!” –GREG 

“I have a 2015 Road Glide® CVO™ with lots of chrome, and I also have a 2015 Dyna® Wide Glide® with a lot of black that is slowly changing as I replace black with CHROME! Chrome sets things off. Just my opinion!” –RUSS L. 

“Chrome to the bone, with two-tone paint and black leather bags. It’s a win-win!” –KARL H.

“Flat black draws a long glance, but chrome draws a glance, double-take, and a long look.” –GERRY B.

You may not realize, however, that chrome’s beauty is far more than skin deep. Yes, it adds cosmetic brilliance, but it’s also more durable and easier to take care of than polished aluminum
or painted surfaces. This means less maintenance and more time for riding. No wonder it remains the most popular surface finish for Harley® riders.

How chrome is made

Chrome is short for chromium, a hard metallic element that resists tarnishing and corrosion. When highly polished, it shines like … well, chrome. It only takes a thin layer on a metal surface to accomplish that purpose, usually applied through a process called “electroplating.”

This process uses electricity to transfer metal ions from one metal surface (the anode, in electrical terms) – such as copper, nickel, or chromium bar – to the part to be plated (the cathode). Both the anode and cathode are suspended in a tank filled with a liquid solution called electrolyte.

Electroplating for Parts and Accessories is an extremely complex series of operations that includes dozens of critical steps. Achieving the desired results requires extensive metallurgical knowledge, years of experience, and complete control of all processes. For example:

  • Parts must be polished carefully and be perfectly clean in preparation for plating.
  • Voltage and amperage of the electrical current must be controlled to exact levels.
  • Every part to be plated requires specific plating operations to achieve premium results, depending on its composition. For instance, fork sliders are plated with copper, two types of nickel, and a unique chromium alloy.

Each process can be unique to a specific part. For instance, aluminum fork sliders and Tour-Pak® luggage racks are made of different metals, and therefore require entirely different plating specifications.

The genuine Harley-Davidson® chrome difference

The premium surface quality of H-D® chrome accessories is the result of extraordinary attention to detail, computerized operations, and proprietary processes. Take a closer look at some of these processes, using H-D Chrome Fork Sliders as an example.

  1. The chrome supplier receives the fork sliders in a raw, machined condition from the Showa Corporation, a world-class manufacturer of premium suspension components.
  2. Highly skilled buffers polish the raw, machined fork sliders to an incredibly smooth, blemish-free surface.
    • Uniquely shaped plastic plugs are inserted into the fork sliders to protect threaded holes and bores from plating contamination that would make assembly difficult or impossible.
    • Harley® chrome parts are batch plated (e.g., 32 fork sliders at once). This provides the highest level of control over processes, such as the position of the fork sliders and computerized control of all plating operations, including the electrical current, plating time, and electrolyte strength and temperature.
  3. Specially designed plugs, racks, and plating processes isolate key points from plating and prevent damage.
    • Uniquely shaped plastic plugs are inserted into the fork sliders to protect threaded holes and bores from plating contamination that would make assembly difficult or impossible.
    • Harley® chrome parts are batch plated (e.g., 32 fork sliders at once). This provides the highest level of control over processes, such as the position of the fork sliders and computerized control of all plating operations, including the electrical current, plating time, and electrolyte strength and temperature.

Every Harley-Davidson® part has to meet a detailed set of specifications regarding materials, dimensions, and tolerances that create a superior product. This ensures the consistent quality Harley owners expect.

To make sure chrome parts consistently meet the very high standards set for H-D® Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories (P&A), extensive testing is conducted for five different parameters:

  1. Corrosion: Parts are subjected to a 24-hour copper sulfate-juiced salt spray test (developed by the U.S. military) to verify corrosion-resistance in salty and industrial environments, such as those found in coastal areas.
  2. Thickness: Too little electroplating and the appearance may suffer; too much and the plating material may become brittle.
  3. Impact Quench: Tests for cracking resistance involve heating the part to operating temperature, then dropping it into room temperature water. The plating must not blister, crack, lift, or peel, which can allow moisture to corrode the base metal.
  4. Adhesion: A test piece is cut with a fine-tooth band saw to verify that the plating is resistant to fracture and peeling.
  5. Appearance: P&A must adhere to a series of very strict surface finish quality criteria and standards for brilliant chrome color for a perfect color match between Original Equipment (OE) and P&A chrome parts.

Form, function, and feeling of chrome

What it all comes down to is that you can always rely on Harley-Davidson® chrome parts to fit right, function as expected, and always be a perfect color match to any other Harley-Davidson chrome part. That makes show-quality customization as easy as visualizing the dream, making a selection, and installing the accessory. It doesn’t get any better or any easier to create a brilliant custom motorcycle.

As Willie G. Davidson, Harley-Davidson Chief Styling Officer Emeritus, has long said, “Form follows function, but both report to emotion.”

Harley-Davidson chrome parts and accessories fit this model beautifully, combining a brilliant form and finish with unbeatable functionality – to give you an unshakable feeling of pride.

How to clean and care for your bike’s chrome accessories

Chrome requires cleaning, polishing, and protection from the elements, especially if your motorcycle is operated near the ocean or on salt-treated roads. Use Genuine Harley-Davidson Surface Care Products, following label directions, to make it easy:

Additional tips for maintaining your motorcycle chrome

  • Remove dirt with liquid cleaner before wiping chrome accessories to avoid scratching, and never wipe with shop rags that may contain metal chips or corrosive chemicals.
  • Do not use harsh abrasives or hard objects to clean or polish chrome. While chrome is tougher than paint, it can be scratched, and excessive polishing can wear through the plating.
  • Keep chrome exhaust pipes, mufflers, and heat shields clean. Residue from oil, grease, and fingerprints can discolor chrome when the pipe reaches operating temperature.
  • Remove boot marks and road tar from chrome exhausts using Harley-Davidson® Boot Mark Remover.
  • Cover chrome parts while working on your motorcycle to protect them from dropped tools, etc.
  • Never store chrome parts near swimming pool chemicals, fertilizers, or concrete powder, regardless of whether these items are covered or uncovered, because they’re known to damage chrome.

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