How to get your bike really clean
Tools and techniques that will turn your grubby machine pristine
by Nick Di Cristofaro
Whether you have a state-of-the-art racing machine or a journeyman ride, you need to keep your whip clean especially just before storing it for the winter. Not only will you keep it looking good, but you’ll ensure it’s performing well when you roll it out next spring.
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Removing the crud throughout the drivetrain will not only have everything running at its best, but it also prolongs the life of some components. The drivetrain consists of the chain, cassette, chainrings, and front and rear derailleurs. Giving these items a good scrub can even improve (or restore) shift performance. It’s best to remove your chain and cassette. Make sure to use a cable tie to hold the cassette cogs in order. Soak the chain and cogs in degreaser. Afterwards, give those parts a good scrub with a brush. You may want clean each cog if the set is really dirty. Dry the components with a rag then hit them with some air from an air compressor if you have one.
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If you are uncomfortable with removing your chain and cassette, you can still get them pretty clean leaving them installed. Spray the cassette with degreaser and scrub with a hard-bristle brush to loosen up the crud. Next, “floss” in between each cog with a thin rag,and then spray one more time and blow dry. You may need to repeat this process a few times. With the chain, you can leave the rear wheel on the bike or remove the wheel and use a chain-tension device. Grab your chain-cleaning tool and place it on the chain. Rotate the cranks a few times. Remove the tool and dry the chain with rags and air. Spray the derailleurs with degreaser and use the brush to scrub. Pay attention to the jockey wheels on the rear derailleur. Gunk usually accumulates there.
With the drivetrain done, you can move on to the rest of the bike with or without water. Use a low pressure garden hose to spray down the bike. I stress the word “low.” You do not need a high-powered pressure washer. Using one will force water into the crank and headset bearings. A pressure washer can also damage frame finishes. Even with a garden hose, try to stay away from the bottom bracket, headset and hubs. Use a brush to scrub the wheels and tires and a sponge to go over the bike. Rinse and repeat if you see a spot you missed. Avoid soaking the bar tape as it might take long to dry out, especially in colder temperatures.
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If you opt for the no-water option, diluted Simple Green cleaner and a clean microfibre cloth work well. You can also use a toothbrush in and around the brake area, but stay away from using excess soap on discbrake rotors and calipers.
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The final step is to install the wheels and lubricate the chain and derailleur pivot points. Do not forget this step. You should use a clean rag and brake cleaner or degreaser to give brake rotors or braking tracks a wipe. The finishing touch would be to detail the frame and wheels (minus the braking surfaces) with a polish and microfibre cloth while keeping polish away from braking areas. Once your bike is clean, take a moment to admire your work before getting out to ride.
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Top tools for cleaning your bike
– Warm soapy water in a bucket
– A couple of old toothbrushes, sponge and brush
– A garden hose
– Diluted Simple Green cleaner or equivalent in a spray bottle
– Chain-tension device, so you can turn the cranks and chain with the rear wheel removed
– Clean rags, microfibre cloth and polish/detailer
Nice to have
– Bike stand
– Chain-cleaning device with degreaser
– Air compressor