Classic Motorcycle Build

How To Polish Motorcycle Forks

Yes, it's a lot of work - but if you're taking the forks off anyway, like when replacing seals, it's an ideal time to get nicks and scratches out of the sliders and then polish them.

fork sliders before and after polishing

Harley Hydra Glide forks before and after polishing

By taking your time and using progressively finer sanding grits, you can get very close to a chrome finish on aluminum sliders.

motorcycle forks before and after polishing

Norton Commando fork sliders before and after polishing

Preparing the sliders for buffing is critical to the final outcome. This often includes removing a clear-coat, filing out imperfections, and sanding with progressively finer Emory cloth and sandpaper.

Clear Coat Removal

Do you have peeling, black speckling, or yellowing on front of your lower legs? If you have a newer than 1980's bike, it's the factory clear coat wearing away. Removing it and polishing the aluminum is the only way to renew them properly.

Stripping off the clear can be done with paint stripper or an oven cleaner. Then degrease and go over the whole area with a Scotch-Brite pad.

Removing Pits and Scratches

Before any sanding or polishing, deep pits or grooves need to be lightly filed out.

repair pitted motorcycle forks

Removing pits and scratches from fork sliders before buffing

Sometimes, imperfections can be removed with a wire wheel, but use caution, as aluminum is a soft metal.

repair pitted motorcycle forks

Sanding Aluminum Fork Sliders

Once the deep scratches and imperfections are gone, sanding can begin. I'll usually start with medium Emory cloth, then fine Emory cloth, then progressively finer steps with wet sandpaper.

Unless really necessary, I try not to use 50 grit (coarse) Emory cloth. I've noticed that afterwards, too much time is spent getting the scratches out that the 50 grit left in the aluminium.

Some people go to 1000 and 2000, but those ultra-fine grits are more suited for paint.

Work In Sections

TIP: Split the length of the slider. Usually I'll do top, middle, and bottom, but whatever works for you.

As a general rule, you'll want to sand in one direction. However, an effective way to remove deep scratches is to sand in a back-and-forth motion, then sand the same area in a side to side motion.

repair pitted motorcycle forks

Assorted blocks of wood are used to prop up the slider for a better working angle.

sanding motorcycle fork sliders with emory cloth

A V-block made with a piece of 2x4 wood makes tedious sanding a little easier.

how to renew old motorcycle forks

Final wet-sanding should bring the surface to a "dead flat" no gloss finish, with only very light scratches left.

flat matte finish before buffing aluminum forks


Buffing Wheel

Finally, we come to the buffing part. Although it can be done by hand, a buffing wheel is a whole lot faster, plus it helps achieve a more uniform finish.

fork sliders before and after polishing

Caution: Wear protective eyewear, and clothing (or an apron) that you don't care about getting dirty.

There are many different styles and sizes of buffing wheels.

polishing aluminum valve covers with a buffing wheel

I use three different buffing wheels, sort of like a coarse, medium, and fine, with a brown Tripoli cutting compound. Bench grinder RPM is 3,300.

Harley hydra glide sliders after polishing

60 year-old fork sliders looking like new after polishing!


Clear Coat?

If you decide to clear-coat afterwards, it may wind up cracking and yellowing like the original finish did. Instead, consider leaving them bare and give them a quick cleaning every now and then.

best polish for aluminum motorcycle forks

One of the best aluminum polishes on the market today is Autosol Metal Polish.


Articles of Interest:

Harley Forks Identification
Kick-Starting An Old Motorcycle
how to polish aluminum engine parts

Read: How To Polish Aluminum Engine Parts