Over winter, crud and grime can build up on your bike and components. It’s easy to wipe the frame, whip a rag over the chain, and call it clean – but though the bike might look more presentable, doing so this won’t protect the components or make your bike last longer.
The good news is that a proper clean is very simple, and it will add years to the life of your components. A winter gear and chain clean can be done with no specialist tools at all, but it can be quicker with:
I’ve done this demonstration without, to show what can be achieved with some cleaning spray, degreaser, fresh water and a toothbrush. (And because I moved house recently, and could not locate the above). I’ve used my “Dolce” to demonstrate this – she’s around 4 years old, and has been relegated to winter hack/mile muncher/commuting bike – so she’s well used.
First – just start with an initial rinse. Spray the chain with some bike cleaning product, like Muc Off, leave it to soak for a minute or two, and then rinse off. This will get rid of the worst of the muck, so you don’t end up fiddling with massive clumps of dirt when you come to concentrate on the smaller components.
This done, shift the chain into the highest chainring, spray some degreaser onto the chain, leave for 1-2 minutes, and then scrub the chain with a small brush (a toothbrush is fine.) The chain should start to become the colour it once was when new – shiny!
If you have one, add some degreaser to a chain cleaning device (like the one above), and clamp it onto the chain. I don’t often bother with this, but when I do – I’m pleased I did. Run the chain backwards by turning the pedal, and let the internal brushes do their job.
Next, turn your attention to the jockey wheels on the rear deraillieur – these tend to collect dirt, that personally I find very satisfying to remove. Spray on degreaser, then use the hard end of a bike cleaning brush to scrap out the dirt, or alternatively, hold a cloth against the wheel, and turn the pedals so it rotates.
The front mech also needs your attention. Make sure the area is wet and soapy, scrub the outside, and then thread a rolled up rag or sponge behind the mech, in front of the chain to remove built up dirt.
Give the chaninrings the same degrease, scrub and rinse treatment:
Next on the list are your rear sprockets. Again, use more degreaser, spread it between the cogs, and if you have one, use the hard end of your trusty gear cleaning brush (this one comes in a set) to dig out the worst of the dirt. If you don’t own a specific brush, you can also use the sharp end of your smallest allen key, or anything small and thin, within reason. This done, wet the brush end, and scrub away. If you don’t have a gear cleaning brush, a toothbrush will do. Eventually, your casstte will look shiny as new.
Use a dry towel to thread between the sprockets of the cassette, and then rub this over the chain, ensuring excess water is removed and it’s dry.
Take the wheels off your bike, and clean the rims with warm water. Ensure that there are no pieces of grit remaining, and then if you have V or caliper brakes, wipe the surface of these, too.
Replace the wheels – and you’re nearly done. Give the frame a final rinse, to make sure all the product is removed. Clean around the bottom bracket, under the saddle, and around both breaks, then wipe with a clean, dry towel.
Apply a small amount of lube to your chain (I always use Finish Line, go for Wet Lube if you expect wet conditions), and turn the pedal backwards to ensure it is evenly spread. Resist the urge to use too much, as this will simply encourage your bike to pick up more excess grime. Adding a tiny drop of dry lube to the pivots on the front and rear derailleur’s will prevent them seizing.
You’re done! Your bike should now run smoothly, and will be your best friend for many years to come.
This bike clean was done in a garden, but if you live in a flat or don’t have an open space nearby, Andreas has written a great guide to cleaning your bike when you don’t have much space. I also used a bike stand, but if you don’t have space for one – that’s no excuse, as we’ve reviewed some portable bike stands.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.