A Clean Bike is a Happy Bike
Cleaning Up Your Ride like a Rider Shouldby KC Gaudet
Unless you live in Arizona, Hawaii, or a few other US territories with warmer climates, daylight savings is an alarm clock for most of us bike-minded folk. The warmer weather and longer days incite the itch to get out and ride. Some will need to wait until the trails dry out a bit more, some of us may be lucky enough to head south and get a bite of the tacky dirt that is a major driving force in our lives.
Regardless of the stoke level achieved from riding, too often we neglect to focus that energy into the maintenance of our trusted steeds. I used to think “a clean bike is a happy bike” was just a sign hanging above my local shop’s workbench to make me feel bad, and maybe it was. The guilt trip hardly stopped at the sign. Matt, the manager, would offer a severe tongue lashing and have me cleaning my bike outside before I was even allowed to leave it for a tune. I’m not afraid to admit that he had me in tears more than once.
I’ve come to realize that Matt was just trying to help me enjoy my bike more. Bikes have a voice of their own. Every click, squeak, creak, grind, and snap is your bike trying to tell you something. Matt was just trying to translate this oft-misunderstood form of communication. Now I’m my own bike mechanic; I pay for my own bikes and parts, and I still find myself doing my bikes a disservice from a cleanliness standpoint. It’s hard to put the extra cleaning effort in after a long ride as the sun goes down or your riding posse heads to the local watering hole for a post-ride libation. But the relationship you can create with your bike through a regular cleaning is not to be undervalued, and even those lacking the full commitment of cleaning after every ride will benefit.
Just the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the different parts of your bike is a means to higher bike enlightenment. There is no computer code, mathematical equation, or overly complex aspect of the standard bicycle drivetrain or brake systems that would require a rocket surgeon or training beyond novice tinkerer. As you clean, you can’t help but notice how things look, how they work, and how they wear over time.
Beyond saving a trip or two to the bike shop, you may also keep yourself from a long push home or an expensive repair that could have been avoided. The cleaning process is the time for you to look your bike up and down. Are there cuts in the tires, kinks in the chain, a gnarly build-up of energy drink under your bottom bracket? Otherwise hard-to-notice things become very apparent when you get your nose six inches from your rig.
To clean a bike properly, there are some items that you should have on hand:
- Bicycle cleaning brushes – Toothbrushes work ok, but a Pit Kit designed specifically for bicycles will make your life easier.
- Repair Stand – You can flip the bike upside-down, but a repair stand will hold the bike more securely and bring your task to a level that’s easier to see and work with.
- Chain Scrubber – A shop rag works too, but a chain scrubber just works better.
- Degreaser – Lots of options, but I suggest something that won’t eat your skin off .
- Chain Lube – Pick your favorite. Here’s mine.
- Sponges and rags
- 2 Buckets
- Soap – Dish soap works great, but I like to support the bike industry.
- Water – Warm water is best.
- Rubber Gloves – What can I say, I’m a sissy and don’t want to ruin my manicure .
Step 1.Wipe down the part of the bike—usually the seatpost or seat tube—that you’re clamping in the stand. This helps avoid unnecessary scratching of the finish. Now clamp the bike and set it at a height that’s easy for you to work on. The less you strain to reach the bike, the more inclined you’ll be to spend more time on it.
Step 2.Fill both buckets with warm water and add a couple drops of soap to one of them.
Step 3.Start with the drivetrain. Use the degreaser in your chain scrubber for the chain and the brushes to clean the cassette and chain rings. Once you’ve spent some time using the degreaser, empty your chain scrubber and use the soapy water to go over the drivetrain a second time. Pedal the bike as you hold a rag around the chain to remove that last bit of grit.
Step 4.Rinse the drivetrain. An old water bottle is great for the rinsing off the soap. High-pressure hoses can lend themselves to more issues than they’re worth in time savings. If there are some nooks and crannies that still appear dirty, try removing the wheels for an easier approach—not a bad idea for that super-gnar cassette or derailleur.
Step 5.Clean the rest of the bike with the soapy water, starting at the top and working down. Between the rags, sponges, and brushes, you should be able to get the grit and grime out of most areas of the frame, fork, and wheels. Then give it a good low-pressure rinse.
Step 6.Dry it off. A dry rag works, and using compressed air from the hose will make you look pro, but as with hoses, you want to make sure to avoid high-pressure anything pointed towards bearings, pivots, fork seals, and your eyes.
Step 7.Lube ‘er up. While lube is crucial, I like to live by the idea that “less is more”. Excess lube just becomes dirt glue and can create more issues. I suggest reading the directions for the lube you’re using as certain types require a more or less precise application. For the chain, apply the lube and pedal the bike to work the lube into the chain before you wipe the excess off.
Remember, part of this exercise is to make yourself more aware of the how-and-why of your bike, so hopefully you were keeping your eyes peeled for any potential issues. Loose bolts, frayed cables, kinked chains, and cracked frames are best addressed now, not later. Even if the fix requires a trip to the local shop, you’ve potentially saved hundreds of dollars. A stripped crank or derailleur in the spokes is never a cheap fix. As for a frame crack, it’s better to be bummed out when you’re standing next to your bike than when you’re going wide open.
The better your bike works, the easier it is to ride. The easier it is to ride, the more you ride. The more you ride, the more you ride. It’s a vicious cycle that I hope you get caught in.