by Shawn Downey
Something Old, Something New, Something Chromed…
It takes countless hours of pushing and pulling, but your bike is poised in direct view of the television. Despite your chiropractor’s warnings, you kink your neck, so you can watch Speedvision through the gap between the absent airbox and the frame. This position causes you to walk like an Egyptian for the first four hours after the morning wake-up call, but you don’t care. You get to watch your bike in front of other bikes. Besides, your neighbor thinks your new strut is sexy.
After the 100th wash, wax, polish and buff, you rewire the living room to accommodate a light show pulsating to the beat of your favorite motorcycle song. You need MORE shine. You start cleaning the chain with paraffin on a daily basis (isn’t that the same stuff they spray on apples to make them look shiny in the grocery store?). You run home during lunch to remove any dust that may have accumulated since the morning buffing session. There is so much Windex in your house, that the state mandates you post a toxic placard on your front door. But even after gallons of Windex, pounds of Simichrome and a 1500 watt strobe light, your 20+ year old mount just doesn’t have the same factory shine it once did.
Now what? “RE-CHROME IT,” answers a celestial voice accompanied by wind chimes. “Chrome it all.” Uhhhh, okay.
Before you grab your glistening wrenches, you may want to consider a few of the finer elements of chrome plating. For instance, before you haul your frozen butt down to the plater with a trunk full of swingarms, side covers and gas tanks, you may want to remove all the bolts and washers. The plater will do it for you, but expect a $60 per hour fee tacked onto your final bill. So, to avoid the “You gotta be kidding me! What the hell is that charge ?!” you may want to disassemble and degrease to the best of your ability. Budget about two to three episodes of “Renegade” for each piece.
What can you chrome? Well, that depends on you, Mr. Mastercard and the condition of the piece. The piece must be free from rust, casting cracks and excessively deep nicks or pits. Remember the quarter-inch deep gash you made in that rim with the screwdriver while you were changing the tire? You should have used a tire iron because you cannot re-chrome that. Those nasty little pits that remind us how lucky we are to live in a climate with two seasons (cold and damn cold)? You can re-chrome those.
Decorative chroming is a three step process. First, the plater buffs out all the blemishes and applies a .005″ copper coating. Once the copper layer fills in the remaining irregularities, the piece is buffed to a finish like that of a shiny, brand-new penny.
The luster signals that the piece is free from major imperfections and ready for the second step: nickel plating. Nickel plating, as is all plating, is applied through an electrical process, which bonds the new material to the original material and strengthens the bond to the original piece. Plan on the coating to be in increments of approximately .006 to .007 inches.
Lastly but not lusterly (How could I resist the pun?), the chrome plating is applied at about a .005″ depth. If you use your handy dandy calculator (Hey honey, how much is…?), you can see that it is common to have a chrome plated piece become .015 to .020″ larger than its original specifications. Is this a problem? It could be if it were an axle, for example, or another component that is manufactured to relatively tight tolerances. I once saw a guy use a hammer to assist in the installation of a newly chromed front axle. By the time he got the axle in place, the chrome had fragmented like chipped nail polish. We all know how attractive that is. Not that I wear nail polish…anymore…much.
How much is this going to cost? That depends on the intricacy of the piece and what shape it is in. The actual plating is not that expensive. It’s the hours doing all that buffing that adds up. The plater has to clean and buff like crazy before and after the copper is applied. Then, she has to do a final buff after the nickel and after the chrome. If your piece is relatively free from imperfections and grease, your bill will be significantly less than the bill for that chain guard from your TR6 that has been holding up your bird feeder all winter.
You may want to check with your chromer before submitting a piece in rough shape. A lot of these guys have pieces in inventory that are already chromed&emdash;old and new stuff. You give up your old piece on trade, and you get the new one. Magic. If you insist on keeping the original and want your product back by the time the salt clears, you better get the On Any Sunday videos out now and start degreasing. Many local chrome shops are experiencing a six to eight week backlog (Can you say Harley surge?).
What about after the piece is chromed? Keep it clean and waxed, but do not use any type of detergent on your chrome. Today’s bike chrome is rated for 5,000 hours of salt water spray, but one swipe of dishwater detergent can permanently damage it. Metal platers will forewarn you to take extra precautions when handling a chromed aluminum piece. This is because the aluminum core is softer than the applied finish and therefore an impact with a wrench or a rock may cause an “eggshell” effect. Always use flat washers under fasteners, and always keep it waxed.
Remember, in addition to the luster and added strength, fresh chrome serves an even greater purpose. Take note rockabilly boys and girls&emdash;you can comb your hair in the reflection.