Scrub 'er up
Get to know your bike by cleaning it.by Dan Hall
While you maintain physical prowess this winter by taking early morning laps at the pool, "killing it" at spin classes, or sliding on snow, your bicycle awaits spring rides. If you plan on taking your pavement pony to a shop for a spring tune, bring it in–before the traditional fair-weather rush. Wash your bike first–and inspect it yourself–not only will you make the technician's day, you'll have a better idea of your bike's condition before dropping it off.
A: Time to suds up
During winter months the hose water is hopefully turned off ... but you can still wash your bike with the time-honored "bucket technique." Mix warm water in a bucket with your favorite hand-softening dish soap, and use grime-killing suds to clean your bike.
If you live in a warm climate and plan to use a hose instead, only use it to rinse–do not use bearing-hating, high-pressure hose water. The bucket technique saves the cartridge bearings from H2O infiltration and premature failure.
B: Hit the dirty bits with degreaser
Put the bike into a stand. If you don't have one, hang it off a tree limb by the saddle, or–if it's a beater and you don't mind scratched seats and scuffed bars–flip it over on its handlebar and saddle for a trick inverted scrub.
Douse the chain, cassette, chainrings and derailleurs with degreaser. If you have the non-spray variety, fill an empty spray bottle and use it distribute the degreaser–just be sure to clean and label it first to avoid confusion.
C: Cleansing the drivetrain
Dedicate stiff bristle brushes to the grimy job of scrubbing the drivetrain. Once you use them in this application, they become contaminated with grease and oil–and you don't want that on brake surfaces or smeared across meticulous paint jobs.
Run through all the gears and wash the chainrings, derailleurs, and the cassette in all the different gear-combinations. This will assure that you won't miss a spot. Once the drivetrain has been scrubbed, it's not a bad idea to spray it again with degreaser and let it sit while you move on to the next step.
D: Strip it down
Pull the front and rear wheels off. To do this, put the rear derailleur in the smallest cog (1), flip open the brake caliper (2), and undo the quick-release (3).
E: Remove the chain
If you don't have a quick-link, such as SRAM's PowerLock, use a chain tool. If you're unfamiliar with chain removal or how to use a quick-link, now's an excellent time to get acquainted. Here is a good how-to on chain removal from Park Tool. Also, if your chain requires a replacement pin, make sure to have a new one ready. Here are links to Campagnolo, Shimano, and SRAM manufacturer instructions on chain installation/removal.
If you don't have a chain cleaner, put the chain into a container, and add some degreaser. Shake the container (not too hard if using glass) just enough to coat the chain, and set it aside so you don't trip over it.
F: Frame clean
Use a soft brush with plenty of suds, and give every nook-and-cranny a scrubbing.
Wash around the bottom bracket and cranks, but remember not to contaminate the brush with drivetrain grime. Clean the brakes, shifters, and pedals as well. While cleaning, inspect for loose parts or anything that doesn't seem right, such as damaged cable housing or frayed cable ends.
G: Wheely clean
Run a sudsy brush over the braking surface, and get inside the spokes to clean the hub. Be careful not to get this brush greasy from the cassette. Check for loose spokes and rim damage or wear as you clean.
H: Rinse it off
Use the remainder of the wash water to rinse the drivetrain, and then refill the bucket with warm water. Inspect the drivetrain and make sure that it's clean. Sometimes it takes two rounds of degreasing, scrubbing, and rinsing to completely clean it.
Rinse the rest of the bicycle with another bucket of warm water. Put the wheels underneath the bike, and be sure to rinse the cassette and drivetrain thoroughly. Don't worry about rinsing off all the soap suds–they won't harm anything. Use a clean rag to wipe down the bike; let it dry, and any residue soap will vanish. If you're using a hose, be sure to gently rinse; there is no reason to use bearing-hating water pressure. Good-old-fashioned physical effort is what cleans a bike–not a jet stream of H2O.
I: Clean chain
Once you're done rinsing the bike, pull the chain out of its bath, and drop it into the rinse bucket. Shake it around, pull the chain out, and rinse it off with the leftover water.
Use a rag to dry the chain, then set it aside, and let it thoroughly dry. Reinstall it once dried, and lube it up. Now's a good time to meticulously look over your shiny ride and inspect for signs of wear or damage.
Start with the frame, and look for cracks, corrosion, and loose rivets or cable stops. Inspect brake pads–make sure they are wearing evenly, and that cables work and aren't fraying. Turn the derailleur pulleys, bottom bracket, and headset to confirm that they spin freely. Check the cassette, chain, and chainrings for wear. If you find anything that needs replacement, you can research the tools and process needed to carry it out yourself, or take your clean bike to a professional technician for service.
A quick wash, with a thorough safety check, will have your wheels spinning ahead of the competition.