Riding your bike makes you happier. And you should do things that make you happy, right? That means taking every opportunity for a two-wheeled adventure: your commute; nipping out for a pint of milk; or even just a gentle Sunday morning pootle with the family. But one thing many people forget to do as they ride more is clean their bike!
It’s hardly the most exciting job, but even if you only go out in fair weather, the chain soon picks up dust and gunk from the roads.
Leave it grubby and you’ll soon have a squeaky, rusty machine which, at best, becomes rubbish to ride and, at worst, could be dangerous or lead to costly repairs.
It took me a while but I’ve found a way of keeping my bike clean without it becoming a chore. In return for a small amount of effort, you’ll get that new bike feeling every time you go for a ride.
I’m not saying this is a definitive guide but here’s what works for me. If you are prone to neglecting your bike, perhaps it could work for you too…
Little and often
If you mainly cycle in decent weather, a quick rub down once a week might be enough. Focus on the drivetrain as it tends to attract the most gunk. Hold the chain gently with a rag and pedal backwards to wipe off the grime. Check the brakes, gears, wheels and bolts are in good nick, put a few dabs of oil on a clean chain (see below) and you are away.
It’s normally obvious if your bike needs more of a spa treatment – if the sprockets are gunked up and the chain has an oily paste on the links then it’s definitely time for a bath. You’ll find it much easier to do if you don’t leave it to become too disgusting.
Gently rinse off your bike with a hosepipe. Don’t be tempted to blast it with the ‘jet’ setting – it doesn’t do the bearings any good.
Spray the frame, wheels and drivetrain with a cleaner such as Muc Off. Allow it to work on the dirt for a minute.
Use an appropriate brush to clean each part of your bike. Park Tools do a nice set of four brushes which helps you to access all the nooks and crannies without bashing your knuckles on sharp metal work.
Rinse the bike gently with clean water.
The easiest way to clean a dirty chain is to use a specialist chain scrubbing device. Simply pour some degreaser into the chamber, clamp it around the chain and pedal backwards. The brushes will scrub the muck from the chain and leave it gleaming. Be sure to rinse well and make sure you lubricate once it’s dry.
Dry your bike as best you can. Water will linger in bolts and hard to reach areas so you can blast those with a water displacer / lubricant spray such as GT85 to prevent rust. Make sure you don’t spray near sensitive areas such as brake pads and wheel rims, though – use the straw to minimise overspray.
Once the bike is thoroughly dry, apply some lube to the chain. I tend to locate the ‘quick link’ and use this as my starting point before carefully adding a drop of lube to each pivot point. Work backwards along a short stretch before working on the next section. When you get back to the starting point, leave the oil to penetrate for a few minutes before wiping away any excess – just pedal the chain back through a rag.
Finally, put some drops of lube on the cables where they enter and exit their plastic housings and any obvious pivot points (think brake levers, front and rear mech…). You only need a small amount and be sure to wipe away any excess.
While you can get away with a bucket, sponge and an old toothbrush, you’ll find it easier (and be more likely to do it) if you invest in a few bits of kit for the job. These are by no means essential but there are worse things to put on your Christmas list…
- Bike stand – ok, this is quite expensive but it makes cleaning and inspecting your bike so much easier. Buy a quality one like the PCS-10 from Park Tools and it should last you forever.
- Cleaners – a mild washing up liquid will get you so far but I prefer Muc Off.
- Brushes – a sponge and old toothbrush will do the job but specialist brushes speed up the job.
- Chain scrubber and degreaser – my favourite bike cleaning gadget.
- Lubricants (GT85 and bike lube – wet lube for Winter and dry lube for Summer).
Other than that, support your local bike shop by treating your bike to a regular service. Or if you are really serious, look out for a bike maintenance course and learn how to look after your ride yourself!
Little and often really does pay off. There’s nothing worse when you are faced with an afternoon of scrubbing seized-up parts before spending the same amount of time trying to get the grease off your hands.
By keeping your bike clean, you’ll be more likely to spot issues before they turn into costly repairs. And having a fully-functioning bike at your disposal means you’ll ride it more and be happier as a result.