How (not) to clean your bike

Bike cleaning
Cleaning your bike is something you do less than you should
. We don’t all have pro mechanics to hand, waiting to take the bike off us immediately after our ride with a big sponge in their hand. Yet there’s nothing quite like riding a freshly cleaned chainset. You can see the cyclist’s dilemma. We can’t go out and buy a new bike every time we get our bike dirty. Well, not all the time anyway.

Cleaning your bike is horrible. For years I managed to clean mine in a one bedroom flat with no garden, commandeering the bath on the promise I’d leave the room as clean as I found it. Bike upside down, I would dress the room in more plastic than your average murder scene. Most of the time I would fall in to the bath. Here then is a basic guide of how not to clean your bike, the benefits and also a cheat’s guide to cleaning it quickly.


Preparation

  1. Get bike dirty. No point going to all that effort for nothing. Ride your bike through puddles with abandon. Take it to the beach. Take it tomato throwing in Spain.
  2. Think about cleaning your bike. For a really, really long time. Pencil in a date and then steadfastly find other things to do instead. Really important things. Like flossing or folding your pants.
  3. Purchase appropriate cleaning products aka find whatever it is you clean the toilet with and use that. It’s just detergent, right?
  4. No sponge? Fear not, this is why somebody invented fashion. Your girlfriend/boyfriend will never miss that expensive FCUK rag they loved so much last year. Rip it up. It’s soooo last season.

Cleaning

The big day has finally arrived when you can no longer put bike cleaning off any longer. Your bike holds so much mud a colony of worms has moved into your dérailleur.

  1. Huff and puff. A lot. This shows anyone who dares get within ten feet of you how much you mean business. Today’s the day.
  2. Begin like all pro mechanics by standing the bike upside down and resting it on the seat and handlebars.
  3. Stare at bike, hands on hips. Get a brew on and return an hour or so later after being distracted by more important things. Like that last piece of cake in the cupboard.
  4. Inspect bike and be amazed at how you cycled for long with what looks like the contents of the local farm attached to your chain.
  5. Clean your chain. Find an old of toothbrush / somebody else’s toothbrush and attack the chain links. Degreaser will help, just remember to use the Fairy Liquid lightly, a little goes a long way and you’ve a row of neatly laid out plates to clean afterwards.
  6. Chain done, find a screwdriver small enough to fit in your cassette. Blindly gouge out any mud, spare change or anything else you find.
  7. Get the garden hose on the go and lightly douse your precious. No hose? Fear not. Throw a bucket of water in the vague direction of your bike.
  8. Find any kind of squirty cleaning liquid you can and spray it everywhere.
  9. Leave bike to soak and admire the fresh lemon smell.
  10. Rub bike vigorously with old rag being careful not to scratch the paintwork.
  11. Repeat step 7 until bike looks shiny-ish.
  12. Leave to drip dry or take it for a ride

Post-clean

  1. Spray WD40 everywhere. You’ve no idea what it does but it smells rather nice. Walk through the fine mist of grease so when you get back inside you’ll smell ‘pro’
  2. Grunt, satisfied with a job well done
  3. When asked how it was, Easy, you will exclaim whilst conveniently forgetting the process has taken you four hours
  4. Now all that’s left to do is ride. On very, very dry roads. Dirt is your arch-nemesis once more.

A cheater’s guide to cleaning your bike

Glad I cleaned the bike with a toothbrush last night

Glad I cleaned the bike with a toothbrush last night

  • Don’t get it dirty
  • Pressure wash on low, taking great care to avoiding the bearings in case you wash out the bearing grease
  • Buy new bike when things start breaking
  • Apply cling film to all non moving parts
  • Get mudguards
  • Don’t spend a fortune on bike specific cleaners but do avoid foamy detergents
  • Become a fair weather cyclist
  • Move to a dry country
  • Take up indoor track riding
  • Leave bike on roof of car during the next drive though car wash
  • Get a quick link for the chain so you can remove it and leave it in degreaser / diesel overnight
  • Buy a massive sponge
  • Clean a regular basis to avoid the dreaded forensic deep clean
  • The indoor turbo is your friend
  • Invest in bike brushes and dust off bike when mud is dry (this works really well)
  • Ride single speed with a thick chain that you never have to clean (great for commuters)
  • Polish your bike with pledge – mud won’t stick to is so much and you’ll smell great on the next club run
  • Buy a bike stand if you have space – they really do make a big difference
  • Wet wipes can make a frame sparkle in no time at all
  • Wear gloves otherwise it’ll take you longer to clean your fingernails than your bike
  • It’s OK to use WD-40 – I use it on the hard to reach pivots on gears to keep them moving. You could use it on your chain too, so long a you pretty much re-applied after every ride as WD-40 is a very light oil. Baby oil and vaseline are numbered amongst its ingredients! Sure, it will act as a degreaser but it will leave behind a light layer of oil too.

The benefits of cleaning your bike

  • Smooth gear shifting
  • Your bike will run quietly
  • It’ll look shiny again. Or matt black if you went for the batman bike.
  • A chance to check if your chain is worn before it destroys your chain set
  • You can see any damage to your bike
  • Take flint out of your tyres to avoid impending punctures
  • A chance to grease all moving parts and prolong their life (does not work on knees)
  • You’ll feel boss on your next ride
  • You’ll also be (mentally) quicker with those smooth spinning cogs of yours!
  • Fellow riders will take you as a newbie debuting their new bike. You know better
  • Your bike and its components will last longer
  • Thanks to the above you’ll save money

What about you – what tips have you got for cleaning your bike? Or things to avoid perhaps?

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15 thoughts on “How (not) to clean your bike

  1. Thanks for another entertaining yet insightful post. 🙂 I finally got my new bike a couple of weeks ago and have ridden only a half dozen times and only in dry weather but I’m already thinking about getting it shiny and new looking again. Well, new and Batman-looking again, as I opted for that (makes me feel like I’m extra stealthy and can sneak up on people, you know? By the time they realize what’s happened I’ve already zipped on by.)

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  2. I gotta admit, I do not wash my bike as often as I should. I have the lubes and the foams and the brushes. I just do not give myself the time to do it right. Recently, I have been paying a lot more attention to my chain. It used to be the source of my filthy drivetrain. I do wipe that down every other ride. It makes a big difference. Yes, a bike stand makes a huge difference. So does proper access to an outdoor hose. And hand washing works, too. I can get on that.
    Thanks for the funny post.

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  3. I’m 50/50 ashamed/proud to admit that I like cleaning my bike. Mainly because of the double whammy of a clean bike at the end of it, and an excuse not to do some even more tedious job. Curtain rails, or summat…!?

    I have a particular thing about removing the rear cassette, dismantling it, and cleaning piece by piece. This might be verging on a fetish.

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  4. Somewhat depends on types of bike, but taking off wheels to clean inside of frame is minimal. Also brake pads and rims should be regularly washed to protect them and you. Nobody uses WD-40, as it attracts corrosive grit. There are dozens of lubricants better suited, teflon and wax basedl

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  5. My bike cleaning schedule goes something like this: wait for something to make an unusual noise, like a squeak of rattle. Wait at least a week before investigating the source of the noise if the bike is still rideable. Spray some WD40 on the chain and jockey wheels. Spin pedals backwards. Take a rag and wipe any dirt off the retroreflective tape. Leave the bike over a shoe tray in the basement to drip dry and use the bike again for the next ride. Sometimes I skip this last step if I clean the bike right before a commute.

    Liked by 1 person

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