Tuesday Tip: Sticky Situation

Factory Effex¿s Chris Williams Shows You How to Upgrade Your Style

Intro and photos// Donn Maeda

One of the easiest things you can do to upgrade your old roach or set your new stocker apart from the rest is to install a new set of custom graphics and/or numberplate backgrounds. Doing so, however, requires patience and a precise touch, especially if you don¿t want folds, creases, and air bubbles riddling the surface of your expensive new stickers. If you¿re anything like my distinguished coworkers, the last time you installed a set of graphics, you probably trapped enough air beneath them to sustain the underwater city of Atlantis for a week or so. To help Big Girth, Cooley, and all of our ham-fisted readers out there get the job done correctly, we enlisted the help of Factory Effex¿s Chris Williams, a guy who has installed thousands of graphic kits in his time. Take it away, Chris!

GETTING STARTED: Before you set out to install a set of graphics and/or numberplate graphics, make sure that you have the right equipment on hand. A hair dryer or heat gun is helpful when installing graphics in cold weather or at night, as a nice, soft graphic or numberplate background is more pliable and easier to install. Contact cleaner and a clean rag are necessary to clean the plastic, especially if there is adhesive residue left behind by previous stickers. A razor blade can help scrape off big, thick globs of adhesive after it¿s softened by contact cleaner, and it can also be handy for trimming excess material or puncturing a nagging, trapped air bubble.

TIPS: Always begin with a clean bike. Trying to install graphics on a dirty bike is an easy recipe for disaster. If it¿s sunny outside, setting your graphics out in the sun to soften up can make the job a lot easier. If you are installing radiator shroud graphics, it¿s a good idea to remove the seat before you start, as most decals are designed to wrap beneath the front of the seat. Most of all, though, make sure that you set aside ample time to get the job done right. Rushing through a graphic installation almost never yields favorable results, and no one wants to waste their hard-earned money on ruined stickers.

STEP 1: Removing the stock graphics and warning labels is the first step. These days, most stock graphics are fairly thick and can be removed in one piece. Back in the early `90s, the thin stickers would chip away piece by piece, but today¿s OEM graphics will usually come off cleanly with one swift yank.  Warning labels, however, are a different story, because they will usually break when you try to peel them off. Heating the label from beneath the fenders makes it easy to get them off in one piece.

STEP 2: Once you have removed the old stickers and warning labels, clean all of the plastic off with contact cleaner and a rag. I like to spray the contact cleaner on the rag, rather than straight onto the plastic. Be sure to remove all of the old adhesive, dirt and dust from the plastic¿s surface.

STEP 3: After you clean the plastic surfaces with contact cleaner, it is a good idea to then clean the contact cleaner off the plastic with some sort of soapy cleaner. Contrary to popular belief, the contact cleaner does not completely evaporate, and it can have a detrimental effect on your new graphic¿s adhesive.

STEP 4: When installing graphics or numberplate backgrounds, it¿s always easiest to start with the farthest-forward corner. Fold back a small corner of the paper backing to start with; never peel the whole backing off before you get the graphic situated first. Lightly apply the corner that has the backing folded back, and line up the rest of the graphic with your eyes. Holes for mounting bolts are easiest to line up. Once you get the graphic lined up correctly, press down on the sticky cner and make sure it is adhered nicely to the plastic. Once this is done, peel the paper backing the rest of the way off.

STEP 5: If your graphic has ¿arms¿ like this Honda shroud piece does, lightly stick them up and out of the way while you work on the main center section. Look closely and you will see the upper portion of the graphic stuck lightly to the shroud. In the main section, work your way back in two- to three-inch increments, making sure to carefully smooth the graphic to the plastic without trapping air bubbles. If you do catch some air beneath the graphic, carefully peel it back and redo that particular section. As you apply the graphic, you should periodically eyeball the upcoming portion, making sure that you are still on track to line the entire graphic up correctly. Once the center portion of this graphic was installed, I then applied the top and bottom sections, using the same technique. When applying a front numberplate background, start from the upper left corner and work down toward the lower right corner. For a left sidepanel, start at the front corner and apply the center of the graphic to the raised crease down the middle to the back of the panel before working down, then up. The right sidepanel on most bikes¿and especially four-strokes¿is troublesome because it is curved to accommodate the exhaust muffler. See the right sidepanel sidebar for more detailed instructions about applying that background.

STEP 6: Many graphic panels¿like this Honda CRF450 radiator shroud¿have ¿trouble¿ areas that are difficult to smooth on. When a graphic becomes increasingly harder to apply smoothly and takes on a lasagna noodle appearance, applying heat and softening up the graphic will help it better conform to the surface of the plastic. Be extra patient when working with sections like these.

STEP 7: After you have applied the graphic and/or background, take a step back and get a close look at the surface of the graphic. Sometimes, looking at the surface at an angle can help you to spot trapped air bubbles easier. Depending on where the air bubble is trapped, you can either peel the sticker back and reapply it with greater care, or puncture the bubble with a corner of a razor blade. Personally, I try to avoid puncturing the graphic¿s surface at all costs and will almost always opt to peel back and reinstall.

STEP 8: Once you have the graphic and/or background installed, give the entire sticker a thorough rubdown to make sure all of the adhesive is firmly applied. Go over the edges of the graphic with a hair dryer or heat gun to help ¿melt¿ the edges onto the plastic. Now, I don¿t literally mean to melt the graphic: take care not to get too close with the heat source, especially if it is a heat gun. Applying heat and pressure to difficult indentations in the plastic can also help keep it from peeling back later on.

STEP 9: When applying a numberplate background to a curved sidepanel, it is oftentimes helpful to straighten the plastic with one hand while smoothing the sticker down. In this instance, I am bending the Honda¿s curved-in sidepanel toward me, which makes it easier to apply the background, since the surface is flatter.

THE DREADED RIGHT SIDE: Thanks to the curvaceous shape of your bike¿s right sidepanel, it makes things extra difficult when it comes time to properly install a numberplate background. Believe it or not, though, there is an easy way! Follow these step-by-step instructions, and your right side can look as clean and smooth as the front and left sidepanels.

  1. Start at the back of the sidepanel and work your way straight to the front. Smoothly apply the middle of the background; on a clock, imagine running from 9 to 3 o¿clock.
  2. Once the center strip is applied, divide the graphic like a clock and work from the exact center of the background down to 6 o¿clock. Work the quarter of the background from 6 to 3 o¿clock first.
  3. Now, tackle the section from 6 to 9 o¿clock.
  4. The top half of the panel is definitely the hardest. Take a deep breath, then work from 12 to 9 o¿clock. This step may benefit from some heat from the hairdryer or heat gun, but be careful not to heat the background so much that it stretches and loses its original shape.
  5. Finally, work the quarter from 12 to 3 o¿clock. Because the background is naturally flat and is forced to adhere to a curved surface, it is a good idea to heat the entire surface after it is applied to help the adhesive really take hold.   

center of the background down to 6 o¿clock. Work the quarter of the background from 6 to 3 o¿clock first.

  • Now, tackle the section from 6 to 9 o¿clock.
  • The top half of the panel is definitely the hardest. Take a deep breath, then work from 12 to 9 o¿clock. This step may benefit from some heat from the hairdryer or heat gun, but be careful not to heat the background so much that it stretches and loses its original shape.
  • Finally, work the quarter from 12 to 3 o¿clock. Because the background is naturally flat and is forced to adhere to a curved surface, it is a good idea to heat the entire surface after it is applied to help the adhesive really take hold.