Chrome is chrome is chrome, right? Wrong. Not all chrome is created equal. There are varying levels of chrome from quality to color and durability. My most commonly asked question is "why is Harley chrome so much more expensive when it's the same thing?". I'm here to tell you, Harley Chrome, is by far, the top of the line on the market.
How does Harley chrome stuff? They use a process called electroplating. Electroplating "uses direct current electricity to transfer metal ions from an anode, such as copper, nickel or chromium bar to a cathode, which is the part to be plated. Both the anode and the cathode are suspended in a tank filled with a liquid solution called electrolyte". A vast knowledge of metallurgy, attention to detail and quality control is critical in making Harley chrome the top dog that it is. The voltage and amperage of the electrical current must be exact. Each part is carefully polished and cleaned. There are "roughly 30 plating tanks... each containing a unique chemical solution that must be maintained at a specific temperature and strength of solution. Some tanks are the actual plating cells and some are for plating preparation and after-plating rinse". Harley does small batch plating to control color and finish; by doing this, they are able to ensure that every piece of chrome you purchase throughout the lifetime of your motorcycle will match.
When you're perusing through your Genuine Motor Accessory catalog, you can't help but notice the prices. I'm sure you've heard the phrase "You know what HD stands for? Hundred Dollars". What most people don't know about Harley, is that the cost of the product is mostly because of the extent of testing that they put into their motorcycles. They put every component under some of the most horrific conditions to ensure longevity, and most importantly the safety of the motorcycle. There are a minimum of 5 tests that a part must withstand before it is even considered for the Harley GMA lineup. The first test is on corrosion; the part is put into a 96-hour salt-spray test that was developed by the military to test for oxidation, then looked at under a microscope. If any signs of corrosion are present, the finish must be revised. The second test is thickness. The thickness is important because too little electroplating can cause the appearance to suffer, and too much could make the surface too brittle. The third test is an impact test. The impact test "tests the resistance to fracture". This test would make most motorcycle owners cringe at the thought of doing such a thing to such perfect chrome. They take a piece of chrome or paint and strike it with a center punch. They expect the punch to penetrate, but not fracture, which would allow moisture in to corrode the base metal. The fourth test is adhesion. Basically they bend the chrome to and fro to make sure it will not crack or peel. The last test is appearance. Harley has a minimum color and quality to ensure that every piece of chrome that leaves their factory will match, without question. Harley uses what is called Hexavalent chrome, whereas most aftermarket companies use trivalent chrome. The biggest visual difference between the two is the color. Hexavalent chrome has a very blue-white color, and is composed of a copper base, two types of nickel, and a chrome alloy. Trivalent chrome has a very yellow color, and is composed of a copper base, one type of nickel, and a chrome alloy. If you hold each piece separately, you will not notice the difference; bolt them on side-by-side, and you can definitely see a difference.
In a nutshell, Harley chrome has what's called the ABC advantage: A. more Abrasion Resistant to withstand rugged use, B. more Brilliant in blue-white color, and C. more Corrosion Resistant for greater durability in harsh environments. Most aftermarket chrome plating has what is called "acceptable blemishes". After 6 years at a Harley-Davidson dealership I can tell you that from aftermarket companies I've seen "acceptable" be as horrible as yellow splotches with pin-holes large enough to catch your fingernail on, and corrosion beginning just weeks after installation. This is unacceptable as far as I'm concerned. One common misconception about chrome is that you need to polish it. Do not, I repeat, do not polish your chrome. The minute that you do, you will forever have to polish it. Harley chrome is like glass; once you use an abrasive, it's now ruined. To care for your chrome I recommend soap and water, Harley's chrome cleaner, or your favorite wax. Not a "chrome polish" or polish of any kind.
Harley-Davidson Dealer website and ShopTalk