Cleaning your bike or how to save yourself hundreds of pounds

cleaning-bikeOver the years I have learned many things about cycling, but the one I preach about the most is cleaning your bike. I didn’t used to bother much about cleaning my bike. I did oil it, but I tended to just add more oil on top of what was there, thinking I was doing good, oiling your bike is important, right?

Well, about once a year I’d put my bike in for a service and I was always really annoyed (I’m being polite here) at how much it ended up costing. Every time without fail I’d be replacing bits of the drive train, wheels, brake blocks, cables etc and every time my service would easily cost between £250 and £400. That’s bloody expensive for a method of travel that is meant to be saving you money. I also raved about how wonderful the bike was after a service and how it felt like new, then 4 weeks later I was back to complaining about how my bike was slow, and creaky and annoying.

I went on like this for years before a chance conversation with one of the bike mechanics at my local store “The Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op” explained that the issue wasn’t in fact my bike at all, it was me and the lack of love I showed my bike. Let me explain, you go for a ride and all the crud from the road sticks to the chain, or the cassette or the gear jockey wheels or the chain rings. With each pedal, you are rubbing all that dirt and little bits of stone etc against all the moving parts of your bike. It builds up and over time the chain stretches to try to accommodate all the extra gunk as it tries to fit to the teeth of the wheels. The grime gets into the pedal cranks and makes that less than smooth on each turn of the pedal. The cables get dirty and don’t slide as nicely in their sheaths making the brakes or gear changes less smooth and the brake pads rub that grime on your wheels every time you pull the brakes meaning you are effectively sandpapering your rims. Now you can see why bits of your bike need replaced so often if you don’t clean it?

Watch my youtube video to see how it’s done or read my short explanation below.
Keep an eye on my youtube channel for more cycling related videos.

Set aside 30 minutes this weekend for you to get dirty and your bike to get clean. If you do, it will keep that new bike feeling for longer and have a much more enjoyable cycling experience with crisp gear shifting. Can’t beat it! So on your way home from work tonight pick up any of these bits you need from your local bike shop and then follow my “make my bike new again” instructions.

You will need;

  • a bucket
  • a couple of sponges or lots of old cloths
  • an old toothbrush
  • soap
  • degreaser
  • an old cup
  • a towel to dry the bike off
  • some oil

So how do you clean your bike?

General frame and drive train

First of all fill a bucket with hot soapy water, I always use muc-off bike cleaner as my soap which is bio-degradable so you get to feel all righteous as you clean your bike but you can use any soap of your preference. It is important that the water is hot though as it’s much better for getting rid of the grease and oil and grab a couple of sponges or some rags.

Before you do anything else…

Degreaser. Decant some into an old pot or tin and with a toothbrush just paint the degreaser liberally onto the chain. After the chain is thoroughly coated in degreaser, get a flat blade screwdriver and run it around the jockey wheels just to scrape all that gunk off and then paint degreaser onto them too. Lastly paint de-greaser on the chain rings.

While we give that degreaser 5 mins to get working  we can get started cleaning the rest of the bike. I use a cheap car sponge and some cloths and I have a set of brushes cause I’m a bit obsessive about things. You use whatever suits you.

I’m a bit of a creature of habit so I tend to start at the front of the bike and work backwards getting loads of soapy water on the frame. Just basically give the frame a good wash and get all the crud off.  This also means I avoid the area with degreaser on it until it’s had a chance to work its magic.

my obsessive bike cleaning kit
my obsessive bike cleaning kit

When you get to the oily area of the drive chain, you want to swap out your clean sponge for a dirty one, it’s good to have separate stuff for the chain area and the rest of the bike as they will get filthy. The idea now is to get all that yuk off the chain and drive train area and I find it much easier to do this with the chain in the larger chain ring. Just get in there with lots of soapy water and some elbow grease. The chain should start looking shiny again, but if you aren’t happy, just apply some more degreaser and leave it to sit and then clean it again.

Now it’s time to get to the derailuer and the chain rings, for this having a handy brush set really helps but you can easily use a rag, just get it into all the nooks and crannies and get rid of all the yucky stuff.

It’s really important that you get all the muck and degreaser off, you don’t want to leave any degreaser on there as that’s going to interfere with your oil. So make sure it is thoroughly washed away with the soapy water.

Ok so now that your drive train is done, it’s time to do the wheels.

I start at the front again and just take the wheel off and start off by cleaning the frame and front forks now that you can get into them, then the disc brake pads or normal brake blocks. Then you can get the wheel washed, paying attention to the wheel rims, if you have standard v brakes you really want to make sure the rims are spotless and make sure you give the brake pads a clean too. If you leave any dirt or grit there it’s going to wear down your wheel rims.

Make sure you’ve got all the dirt, degreaser and any oil off the wheels as you don’t want this to affect your breaking.

Then same again for your back wheel giving you a chance to clean the bike frame and brakes at the back and then with the back wheel, it’s pretty much the same as with the front but obviously you also have the cassette to clean. Now it’s already got degreaser on from earlier, so get your brush or rag to get in between the sprockets to get all the gunk out of there. If you don’t have brushes, you can use a rag and use it like you would dental floss.

Ok so put the wheels back on and you should pretty much have a clean bike.

Swap your soapy water for nice clean hot water and rinse the bike off and you should have a nice clean bike.

Next get an old towel or some clean cloths and dry everything off.

Oil

There you go,  your bike is all clean and shiny, so now it’s time to replace the oil around the drive train. You get two types of oil you can use, dry lube and wet lube. Basically if it’s wet weather then use wet lube if it’s dry weather then dry lube.  I live in Scotland so I mostly use wet.

You want to run the oil on the inside of the chain making sure every link gets greased. I like to run the chain for a few minutes shifting gears just to make sure everything gets coated. Then take a rag and just wipe away any excess.

Obviously then just a dab on derailuers and things to keep everything running smoothly.

There you go, one shiny and slick bike. You won’t recognise it when you go for a spin.

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