This week we take you through how to clean a bike without using any special tools or taking it apart. Frequent bike cleaning can not only prolong the life of a bike, it also provides a much smoother riding experience. Clean chains move and shift easier and they don’t wear the sprockets as quickly. A good cleaning also brings back that shiny look to your bike which is nice!
Due to all the grease that comes off the bike, I recommend doing this outdoors in clothes you don’t mind getting oil stains on. If you haven’t cleaned your bike in a while, I would allocate around 30 minutes to an hour to finish the clean. If your bike is in a much better condition, or you chose to just clean one part, then it will not take as long. You’ll need a bucket with warm water, a toothbrush, a brush, rags and sponges and biodegradable degreaser (and maybe a small screwdriver for stubborn grime).
It is usually best to start with the dirtiest part of the bike, usually the chain due to the nature of the greasy grime. To start cleaning the bike chain, get a wet brush and scrub the bike chain making sure to get in between links. Run the chain through a damp cloth.
If after these first two steps there is still dirt on your bike chain then you will need to apply some degreaser. This is likely to be the case this time of year or if you haven’t cleaned your bike in a while. Spray a biodegradable degreaser onto the chain and allow it set for 5 minutes. Then use your brush to go over the bike again. This time the dirt should come off. The toothbrush is useful if you need to get in-between each chain link.
Then using a clean dry rag, go over the chain, massaging each link. Be sure to get off any remaining degreaser.
Gears and Cogs
The rear sprockets and derailleur also need cleaning in a similar fashion. Start using hot water and a brush. If this is not enough spray on some degreaser. Once the degreaser is set, scrub it off using your brush. It is often useful to carefully use a small screwdriver to get to any dirt wedged deep inside the sprockets.
Use a wet cloth to floss in-between the sprockets and get any dirt remaining out of them. For the jockey wheel, you should also use a brush to remove the big chunks of dirt. Again, a thin screwdriver can help get any stubborn dirt out. Make sure you focus your attention on both sides of the derailleur, not just the side facing you.
The chainrings can be cleaned in a similar fashion. Use your brush with warm water and then a toothbrush to get to the hard to reach places. Again, use a cloth in a flossing motion to get any dirt trapped in-between the different parts.
To clean the bike frame I have often found baby wipes to be highly effective at removing grease. Otherwise, simply use a damp cloth. It is best to avoid adding cleaning liquid to the water as it contains salt, which can rust the frame if not removed fully. Cleaning the frame also allows you to check areas where cables rub. Brake and gear cables which contact the frame can wear through the paint in time, particularly with folding bikes such as Bromptons. It is worth keeping an eye on this as these areas could rust.
Hubs should be wiped down. They tend not to accumulate much actual grease, but if they have you can use a small amount of degreaser, although not on a hub with internal gears. Spokes can just be wiped of also, just run down one and up the adjacent one for increased efficiency.
The rims of the wheel should also be cleaned using a clean cloth to ensure the brake pads have a good braking surface. The same goes for the brake pads themselves, which can gather dirt causing them to be less effective. You want to be careful to avoid getting any lubes or degreasers on the braking surfaces.
Depending on bike usage, this cleaning process can be done in stages or as one full job. For example, I probably clean my chain twice a year at the beginning of autumn and mid-late spring. I wipe down the frame fairly frequently though as it is quicker to do it frequently rather than let grime build up. I also like to keep my bikes fairly clean from a practical point of view as well. They are all stored in my flat and I carry them in and up stairs. I don’t want a dirty bike rubbing on my clothes or furnishings. My Brompton probably gets the most cleaning as I carry this against my leg pretty much every time I use it.