Clean It Like You Mean It

House cleaning is not the most enjoyable chore. One reason is that it is only temporary. Before long, we have to do it again (or not). It is the same for our hard-working bikes. Cleaning our bikes for many of us is not something we routinely want to do. Perhaps this article can convince you to “want” to do it instead of being grumpy about it. Changing your attitude about keeping your bike clean makes a huge difference.

Riding in Juneau means riding in the rain, especially if you are commuting. The wet weather means more grime on the derailleurs, chain and the frame. Taking the time to routinely clean your bike is time well spent, ultimately prolonging the useful life of your bike.

Materials to have on hand:

  • Rags and/or shop towels
  • Bucket
  • Brushes: stiff and soft
  • Toothbrush
  • Shoe laces
  • Environmentally friendly degreaser
  • Chain-cleaning device
  • Can or bottle for degreaser (aka solvent tank)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Nitrile gloves (if you don’t want dirty hands)

Basic Wash

After a ride in the rain or a muddy mountain bike ride, hose off your bike with water using gentle pressure. High pressure can damage sensitive bearing systems. If you don’t have a hose, use a bucket of water, fill on old water bottle and squirt the bike. Use a soft bristled brush to clean the frame and wheels. A bottle brush is great for cleaning around the derailleurs and other tight spaces. Use a rag to wipe off the chain and, if possible, store your bike in a dry area. It’s not practical to think you could do all of the above when you arrive at work.

However, you can probably store a rag somewhere to use to wipe the drivetrain off. The rest you can do when you get home. Occasionally, use a little car washing liquid or even dishwashing liquid in a bucket of warm water, if you really want your bike to shine.

Cleaning the Chain

Best practice:
Take the chain off and drop into your make-shift solvent tank. Cover the chain with degreaser and let it soak. After several minutes, stir the chain to loosen the dirt and remove it, rinse it off and wipe it. If your chain is really dirty, this step may need to be repeated.

Next best practice:
Use a chain scrubbing tool that you fill with degreaser and wrap around the chain and run the chain through it. For example, Park Tool makes an excellent chain scrubber. Chain scrubbers contain brushes that help loosen caked on oily dirt. It’s a dirty job, so put some newspaper or cardboard under the drivetrain.

No scrubber, no problem:
Put some degreaser in a container, dip in an old toothbrush and scrub away.

No degreaser, okay:
Put chain lube on the chain and brush with the toothbrush. The fresh lube will soften the grime and make it easier to wipe clean.

No Chain Lube:
What are you thinking! Get some!

When the chain is dry, be sure to relubricate it with chain lube. With one hand, squirt a light stream of lube on the chain rollers (don’t worry about the side plates of the chain) at the cassette as you move the chain backwards by backpedaling with the other hand. You don’t need a bike stand for this. If you have a stand, you can rest the nozzle of the bottle of lube on the chain as you move the pedals forward. Give the chain lube time to sink into the rollers. The last step is to wipe the excess lube off the chain. Then you are good to go.

Cleaning the Cassette

Shift into the highest gear on the rear cassette (the chain is on the smallest cog in the back). Take the rear wheel off. Spray degreaser on the cassette or dip your stiff brush into degreaser and brush the cassette. Soak the edge of your rag or shoe lace in degreaser and slide it back and forth between each cog. Wipe the cassette off with a rag, and then rinse it with water using gentle pressure.

Cleaning the Braking Surfaces: Rims and Discs

The braking surfaces are exposed to street grime, excess chain lube, degreaser, brake pad particles, and who knows what else. After the basic wash, clean the rims and discs with rubbing alcohol sprayed on a clean rag or shop towel. Remember that you should never touch the braking surface of the disc, or the disc brake pads with your hands. The oil on your skin will adversely affect pad performance.

In addition to keeping your bike clean, make sure it runs smoothly by greasing and lubing it properly.

by Alice Tiernan

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