Let’s see, I write a review and people ask me how I keep my bikes so clean; I write about wrenching and people ask me how I keep my bikes so clean; I write about commuting and people ask me how I keep my bikes so clean, I write about chain maintenance and people ask me how I keep my bikes so clean; I post a photo to Flickr and people ask me how I keep my bikes so clean. Hmmm, I think I see a pattern here. Perhaps I should take a hint and talk a little bit about how I keep my bikes so clean.
First off, realize that I’ll often wash the bikes before a photo shoot, particularly if the photos will be used for a review or product feature. I figure I owe it to our readers, sponsors, and potential converts to present bikes in their best light (literally and figuratively). Also, realize that living in a relatively dry portion of Northern California means I infrequently ride in the rain, and when I do, it’s on a bike reserved specially for that purpose. With those things in mind, here’s a rundown of my approach to keeping our stable clean and shiny.
What You Need
- A bucket.
- Dish soap (the liquid handwashing type, not the mechanical dishwasher type).
- Degreaser. Any biodegradable, water-rinse degreaser will do (I like El Duke).
- A kitchen sponge like this one.
- A stiff brush like this one.
- A plastic grocery bag.
- An old bath towel.
I keep all of this stuff in the bucket so I don’t have to go searching for it each time.
How I Do It
- Cover your saddle with the plastic grocery bag (be sure to tie it in a knot around the seat post to keep the water out).
- Decide whether or not the drivetrain needs cleaning. If it does, remove the chain and squirt a little degreaser on the cassette, chainrings, and front and rear derailleur cages. Let the degreaser soak for a minute or two, then scrub down the grungy parts with the stiff brush.
- Once you’ve given everything a good scrub, rinse well with water. Some of the degreaser may get on your frame; be sure to rinse it off right away so it doesn’t harm the finish.
- Partially fill your bucket with warm water, add a squirt of dishwashing liquid, and throw in the sponge.
- Spray the bike down with a hose. Keep the pressure relatively low, and never EVER spray directly into bearing races.
- Go over the entire bike with the soft side of the sponge, redipping the sponge in the warm, soapy water numerous times during the process.
- If the rim braking surfaces are grungy, flip over the sponge and use the abrasive side to clean the sidewalls (go light and easy on this).
- Rinse the bike starting from the top down. Again, please don’t spray directly into your bearing races and keep the water pressure relatively low.
- Finally, wipe the bike dry with the old bath towel, taking particular care to dry around bearing races and any areas that might rust like rack mounts and braze-ons.
Once the wash job is complete, apply lube where needed (usually only the brake pivots and derailleur pulleys). Some people like to apply a little furniture polish or car wax to the frame, which is fine, but it’s not something that I do (no reason really, perhaps I should).
The entire process takes a little less than 15 minutes, and washing more than one bike at a time dramatically reduces the overall time devoted to cleaning.
Obviously, there’s nothing special about the above. If there’s any secret at all, it’s that we insist on having fenders with good coverage on all of our bikes. Even though we don’t live in a wet area, fenders still provide a ton of protection from road grime and lawn runoff, minimizing the amount of effort it takes to keep the bikes clean and looking good. The other secret is simply to keep on top of it. If a bike is not particularly dirty, it takes just a few minutes to clean it up. On the other hand, if it’s been months (or years) since a bike has had a good cleaning, getting it back in shape can be an all day affair and a major hassle.
And finally, know that I realize this cleanliness thing is highly individual. I’m guessing many people could care less if their bikes are dirty (some may even feel it’s a badge of honor), and I’m certainly not one to pass judgement one way or the other. I just happen to enjoy keeping our bikes in great shape and I view keeping them clean as one part of that larger maintenance process.