Even if you didn’t ride your bike all winter and it hung in the garage or basement, it could stand to be cleaned off before your first ride of the season. This also gives you a chance to check the bike over mechanically and make sure that your first ride isn’t cut short by a flat tire or frayed cable. In fact, cleaning your bike is a lot like flossing; we all know it’s a good idea but that doesn’t mean it always happens. But it really is a quick bit of work that keeps your bike looking nice and running smoothly. Ideally cleaning your bike is done in your yard or driveway, like washing your car. So take advantage of the early warm spell and get your bike cleaned up and ready to go.
First let’s talk about what supplies you’ll you need:
- hose with an adjustable sprayer
- a bucket, sponge
- shop rags
- fancy bike-specific cleaner or dish detergent
- dry towels
There’s 3 zones to focus on when you clean your bike: chain, tires, frame
You’ll want the rear wheel in the bike while cleaning the chain. The chain is the most important part of the bike when cleaning; it tends to be the dirtiest but can also rust if not cleaned and treated properly. If you’d like you, can keep the chain on the bike and buy a chain cleaner – or if you’re feeling more ambitious you can pull the chain off and clean it by hand. Simply running a sponge over the chain probably won’t get it clean enough – the lubricant and therefore the dirt and contaminants are located where the teeth of the gears come up through the chain – on the inside. Your best bet when cleaning the chain is to use a specific degreaser followed by the dish detergent. Once you’ve got the chain cleaned, rinse it. Once you’ve finished washing the rest of the frame we’ll get around to re-lubing the chain.
Shockingly the part of your bike that touches the ground can get quite dirty. Avoid using the high pressure spray function of the hose; this goes for the entire bike, all the high pressure spray does is make it more likely that you’re going to flood your bearing systems (wheel hubs, bottom bracket, head tube) with water which can also bringing in contaminants and abrasives. It works best if you can pull your wheels off the bike so you can move them around while cleaning them. Use the “shower” selection and bust out the old elbow grease. Scrub the rim but don’t forget to clean off your spokes! If you’ve got an air compressor, you can blow dry (again, avoid the bearing systems), but a towel works fine too.
Scrub it down
Washing the frame is a lot like washing a car. Soak it down, suds and scrub and rinse it off. Don’t be shy about scrubbing down the brakes, they grab the parts that touch the road. After you’ve got everything soaped down, rinse it off with the cleanest water you can find.
You’re not done yet! Now grab a towel or an air compressor and dry off your bike. Start with the frame and then dry off the chain because it might still have a little bit of grease and dirt on it. Once you’ve got the bike nice and dry (it’s worth a parenthetical aside here to mention that lubricant doesn’t remove water, it provides a coating between metal surfaces to prevent excessive wear, so if you lube a wet chain it will not prevent rust from forming) grab some light lubricant. Don’t grab the big can of WD-40 – it will strip your chain of any lubrication on it.
A light lubricant does not collect dirt and dust but needs to be replenished. If you ride mountain bikes or in a lot of moist conditions than a wet lube can be used but you need to clean your chain more often to prevent wear. Apply the lube directly to the links of the chain and ride in one gear for a while to work the lubrication into the chain’s components. Lubrication is intended to work between the moving pieces of the chain and the chain and the gears – lube on the outside of your chain doesn’t do anything, so wipe the excess lube off the outside of the chain. You can use the same light lubricant on all of the components on the bike – shift and brake cables, pulley wheels and any pivot points.
Once you’ve got your bike lubed up, clean up after yourself and get out there and ride!