In areas of the country affected by winter weather, vehicles covered with road salt after snow and ice storms are a common sight. Another common site are vehicles covered with extensive rust damage. This is what road salt can do at its most visible extreme.
Our motorcycles are not immune to the damaging effects of road salt, either. And the impact can go beyond a tarnished physical appearance.
The most economical—and thus common—“salt” used on roads is sodium chloride. The chlorides of other elements, such as calcium or potassium, can also be used to produce the ice-melting effect desired to make roadways safer during winter weather.
The chloride performs the ice-melting magic by bonding with water and lowering the temperature at which water freezes. Chlorides are hydroscopic, so they readily attract and bond with water in both the liquid and vapor state.
The sand in road salt mixtures provides both traction and friction that assists in melting ice.
The hydroscopic nature of salts fosters the electrochemical process that damages metals. Salt attracts and holds water on any surface it coats. The chlorides in salt— combined with water—form an electrolytic coating that utilize the oxygen in the water to cause corrosion, which is when metals are converted into metal oxide.
Most motorcyclists don’t ride during winter storms. Some of us do ride between winter storms, however, and this exposes our motorcycles to road salt.
Even riders who wait until early spring to start riding again can get salt on their motorcycles. Although no salt has been spread for weeks, salt will remain on road surfaces until it is washed away by significant and multiple rain events. Even after rain, salt can remain trapped in potholes, surface cracks, and along the edge of the road.
If you ride during the time of year when salt is used to treat roads, salt will get on your motorcycle.
It’s easy to observe salt on the outside of your motorcycle. A good wash will clean those surfaces.
However, when cleaning salt off your motorcycle, it’s important to be thorough. Rinsing under fenders and washing the undersides of your motorcycle are obvious efforts. But consider going further to protect your ride.
A deep cleaning involving the removal of pieces such as saddles and side covers—and cleaning the out-of-sight areas such as behind chrome muffler shields—is highly recommended.
Corrosion is a slow process that affects all the metal parts of your motorcycle. Salt will absorb moisture even in dry weather. So even on a sunny day, corrosion will be at work. In fact, heat increases the electrochemical process.
What you don’t see will also cause damage. Salt mixed in solution or alone as a fine dry powder will find its way into all the nooks and crannies of your motorcycle. If you think your motorcycle has been exposed to road salt, a deep cleaning is definitely worth the effort.
Till next time, ride safe!