There are lots of reasons to keep your bike clean.
Less grime = less friction
Less friction = more faster
Less friction = less wear and tear
And don’t you want your bike to look good?
Know your Enemy: Where does the grime come from?
Well obviously, if you ride in the rain (or snow, you badasses) you’re getting mud, sand, and salt (in the Wintery places) all over your bike. That’s no good.
Even in dry weather, dust and pollen accumulates everywhere, into every nook and cranny. This dust acts like sandpaper.
Additionally, what you may not realize is that sweat drips onto your frame and drips down into places where the salt will eventually do damage. Don’t look at me like that. It adds up over thousands of miles. Seriously. And if you ride on trainer or rollers, it’s a million times worse. You can actually get a guard or “thong” for your bike to protect it from the sweat shower on the trainer, like the Blackburn Sweat Net.
Your entire bike should be kept clean, if nothing else to show that you take things seriously. But the majority of your cleaning efforts will be focused on your drive train.
Many people hose their bike down after every ride — it’s ok. Your bike can get wet. Or wipe it down with baby wipes. Not a bad idea. Even if you aren’t riding in sloppy, wet weather, dust and pollen accumulate on every surface and in every nook and cranny.
Depending on how often you ride, and how dirty it gets, you should give your bike a thorough cleaning fairly often. The most important part is the drivetrain. Greasy, sandy, grime accumulates there causing wear and tear on your chain and cranks. If you can hear your chain rubbing against the cranks, and a gritty sound when you turn the handlebars, you’ve waited way too long friend. You’ll be replacing parts sooner than you need to.
There are lots of cleaning products out there to help you with this. You can get chain cleaning devices that clamp onto the chain, fill with cleaning fluid, and spinning brushes give it a good cleaning. You can also buy special purpose brushes and floss to get into the hard to reach places. I’ll provide a list of these at the bottom.
But when it comes down to it, all you really need is a thick cloth, or a paint brush (big and floppy to get lots of soap into deep places) a small brush (like an old toothbrush), and a thin plastic or wooden stick (like a barbeque skewer) to get into the tight spots, especially if it’s been a while and things are really gummed up.
And you need some sort of degreasing cleaning fluid. There are lots of special purpose cycling cleaning products, and feel free to try them out. But you’re probably spending too much money.
Many people swear by Simple Green. I’ve been using LA’s Totally Awesome All Purpose Cleaner. Both are inexpensive, and handy to have around for all sorts of cleaning projects.
How to Clean Your Bike
First of all, this whole process is much easier if you have a bike holder. Some might consider this a luxury, but this is just a great thing to have for lots of reasons. Definitely consider investing in one.
Remove all the removable stuff: saddlebag, water bottle, front tire, computer, etc.
Start with the dirty bits first. Get the cloth or paint brush sopped up with a water/degreaser mix and watch the chain and cranks. You should be able to get it all clean to the touch. This part is going to get everything else dirty.
Some people remove their chain and soak it. This is probably unnecessary, at least for us amateurs. You can give it a good cleaning by leaving everything on the bike.
From a wear and tear standpoint, be sure to get all the dirt out of the cogs, especially the small ones on the rear deraileur. You’ll be amazed at how gummed up they get. Spend some quality time in there with the stick and brush.
Use the stick, or even thick string or twine like dental floss, to get in between the gears on the back cassette if there’s some thick gunk in there. The goal is to get all of the black stuff out of there. Make it shine.
Next, just like washing a car, soap up the rest of the bike and clean it off. You’ll find greasy grit everywhere. Get it wet and it’ll wash out of the important places where it will cause problems.
Dry it off with a towel, or air compressor if you have one.
That’s it. Nothing terribly scientific about it. If you’re like me, you’ll find it very satisfying.
Lube the Chain
The last step is to apply lubricant to the chain. This is a religious topic for many, and probably the topic for a separate post, but you basically have a choice between wet and dry lube, meaning what’s the environment you’re riding in. To me, we always have the chance of riding in wet, so I go with wet. I use Boeshield T-9. It’s waterproof and it cleans. I find the drip bottle to be more effective than the spray so it doesn’t get all over the rest of the bike when applying it. Read the instructions on the lube bottle. You may be surprised to see instructions for letting it dry for a few hours.
You don’t have to apply this every time, especially if you didn’t need to scrub a really dirty chain. One application of waterproof lube will last for hundreds of miles.
Watch Out for Sharp Parts
You may not realize that over thousands of miles, your cranks are getting sharpened by the chain to a razor sharp edge as they wear out. Be careful of this as you’re digging in there to get the greasy grim out. Or you might get bit.
Watch a pro do it.
Keep in mind, this bike was probably cleaned the day before, so he doesn’t need to dig as deep as you do to get out the grime that’s been accumulating for two months.
Seriously, one of the best cycling purchases I’ve ever made…
You can buy all these cleaning tools separately. I bought all of these, but I just use that brush tool, mainly.