How To Clean Your Bike (Properly)

A little while ago our good friend Helen asked us if we could offer some blog content outlining those day to day tasks which help all of us to keep our bikes in tip top condition. So here it is 'Maintenance Monday' a series of blog post each of which are designed to offer you bite size maintenance tips. 

Let’s start at the beginning

Every day we get a lot of repair jobs coming into the pod and that’s cool its what we’re there for. Whenever we check a bike out our team take time with the customer concerned to show them how a little day to day maintenance might mean they need to see us a whole lot less. Top of the list is always the need to keep the aforementioned bike clean so let’s start there.

We need to remove dirt from our bikes not because of aesthetics (although that obviously matters) but because dirt is fundamentally corrosive and corrosion is fundamentally contrary to good bike maintenance. British roads are covered in salt meaning that whether in the form of wet spray or dry dust your bike is constantly being covered in a thin layer of corrosive force slowly eating away at your bike and its components; removing this layer of dirt keeps you quids in and is our number one tip, simple but so so important. To do this well you’ll need to invest in the following

Time

Time but not lots of it. Ask a man riding a GT how he spends his Saturday mornings and the odds are he’ll scratch his groin, beef up his chest and tell you with great pride how he spent all day Saturday cleaning his bike. Do not be fooled this illustrates little more than poor time management and the urgent need for a life! Spending that amount of time cleaning your bike is definitely not what we have in mind. We favor the ‘little and often’ rule. Taking a few minutes every three days to do the really simple stuff and maybe the odd half hour once every ten days for something a little more thorough. 

Bike Cleaner 

You’ve seen the bright pink bottles of Muc Off bike cleaner adorning the shelves of any self respecting bike shop but “is it necessary?” we hear you ask. Fear not, everyone asks and everyone has a dad, uncle or friend who has always and effectively used . . . . (fill in the blank with everything from fury dip squid to Cif!). Well here’s our analogy. Would you wash your dishes with windowlene or your face with fairy liquid? You could but you probably wouldn't  and for good reason. Cleaning agents are designed and fromulated for specific jobs and thus using the right one matters enormously. Invest in (and use) Muc Off Bike Wash and you’ll note a massive difference in the cleanliness of your bike, more importantly what you can’t see is a cleaning agent which doesn’t have the negative effects of non specific products. 

Roll up your sleeves rinse your bike (use a garden hose on a gentle setting) then spray your bike liberally with Bike Cleaner, and soak all over with good hot soapy water. Once the bike has been washed thoroughly use a semi dry cloth to dry it down. How often you need to give your bike a Muc Off wash depends entirely on how often you ride and in what sort of conditions. Ask yourself, ‘does she look well?’, if the answer is ‘not particularly’ it’s ‘Muc Off time’. 

NB: Remember to check the underside of your down tube. The odds are you’ll spot lots of tiny black dots. That’s tar and it needs to be removed gently but definitely. Make a good mix of cleaning fluid and hot water and then get scrubbing.

Logic

Work top to bottom and left to right.

Baby wipes

Not to completely undermine my previous points but every bike owner should also invest in a bag of cheap nasty baby wipes, the  cheaper the better, the sort you wouldn't put near a real  baby.

Most of us just don’t have the time or weird inclination to wash our bikes on a weekly basis but sparing ten minutes once a week to wipe down your bike will save you a fortune and represent a disproportionate investment in your bikes well being. Pay particular attention to the area under and around your bottom bracket and around your rear sprockets.  Twist the wipes and hold tightly between both hands enabling you to clean right inside all of those awkward, hard to reach areas. A few minutes wiping away the grime means you have removed that corrosive force we mentioned earlier. This really, really isn’t a big job but makes a massive difference. 

Common sense

When cleaning your bike

  1. Always remove your lights and computer,
  2. Loosely spray off and dirt and debris preventing you from scratching as you clean,
  3. Remove your wheels so that you can clean them and your forks with ease,
  4. Turn your bike upside down,
  5. Dry what you’ve cleaned,
  6. Use the right product on the right part. Drive chain cleaner is not meant for your frame, however stubborn the dirt might be! 

Love

It’s not a battle! Put away your jet wash (the pressure coming from your jet wash will cause serious damage to your bike) and grab those mitts, learn to caress your bike (did I just say that?) working cleaner into stubborn dirt covered parts and increasing your level of elbow grease as required.  

Old tooth brushes

While we’re big fans of the Muc Off chain cleaner you can also (and much more cheeply) take two tooth brushes, face them together trapping your chain between the two, tape together and voila you’ve got yourself a chain cleaner. A fine toothbrush will be equally effective cleaning in between your sprockets and chain ring. 

Degreaser

Grease is fundamental to your bike running smoothly but old wet lube clogged with dirt and grime is also fundamental to a whole heap of day to day problems. When it comes to degreasing your chain you have two options the proper ‘use a chain cleaner’ method and the improper ‘two tooth brushes’ (as above) method. Either way you’ll also need a good can of chain degreaser (persons who will remain unnamed have been known to use diesel very effectively!!). Give the chain, sprockets, chain wheel, rear derailer and front mech a liberal covering of degreaser before you get to work with the elbow grease. 

Once the chain is cleaned you then need to clean anything the chain touches or goes near. Be sure to clean each tooth on the chain ring as dirt trapped in these teeth causes excessive chain wear. It’s worth spending time on this job as the repair bill it saves can be very considerable. 

A mild and occasional obsession with detail

If your bike has a jockey wheel (those two little wheels under the sprockets which your chain runs through) pause once in a while take a baby wipe (remember them) and a little time (remember that) and remove any grit of excess dirty lube. 

Once in a while remove the outer cables from their housing and clean behind where the cable sits (more of this when we talk about lubrication)

As you clean your wheels take time to check for loose spokes

Very little else

Avoid buffing up your saddle unless you want to spend an entire journey slipping and sliding, as for that stuff they use to shine up car tyres feel free but only if you enjoy loosing all control of your brakes. 

Lube

We’ll cover lubrication more fully next week suffice to say if you’ve washed it off you need to re-apply liberally, consistently, carefully, covering the whole chain and wiping away any excess with a paper towel.