I full well know and appreciate the advantages of a clean bicycle. Plus, riding a spanking-clean bicycle actually makes me happier, but my Litespeed is the workhorse that I log all my training on. When a race or event comes along, I ride another bike that stays in near-perfect condition. Having two bikes like this has made me lazy with my Litespeed.
The other issue is that, when you’re riding one bike all the time, you don’t always have the time or energy to clean it. The best time to do it is right after every ride. But refueling and getting out of your damp kit takes precedence. And I end up putting it off and just keep riding it and getting it dirtier and dirtier. My bad.
But, I have a 3-step plan
Disclaimer: This plan is only for bicycles that are reasonably clean to start with, not for seriously used and abused ones. If you’ve got one of those, start by having it thoroughly overhauled, and then you can continue with this approach.
1. Clean it at least once a week
Bike cleaning is a hassle only if you put it off. Doing that allows the grit and dirt from the road and the drivetrain grime from riding to accumulate and get worse and worse. To keep the job easy, you have to clean frequently. That’s why Tour de France mechanics clean every bicycle, every night.
Ideally, you’ll do it after every ride just like the pros (well, just like the pro mechanics). But if you can’t do that, at least once a week will work. If you ride in the rain or snow, however, be sure to clean it and lube it right after those rides. If you don’t, the moisture and dirt from the wet roads will penetrate and quickly corrode and wear the parts.
2. Focus mostly on the drivetrain
I’m sure you know how important it is to keep your chain lubricated, and you have a favorite lube and use it. As important as that lube is, it’s also the main cause of gunk and grime building up on the chain, cassette cogs and chainrings – and then spreading to other parts.
What happens is that the excess lube gets spread to these parts and road dirt and grit gets picked up and mixed with the lube, creating the black crud that over time can make a mess of everything if you let it get out of hand.
You can’t stop lubing your chain, so the solution is attending to any excess chain lube as soon as possible. The time to do this is several hours after applying a fresh coat of chain lube. That’s enough time for the lube to penetrate inside the links and dry.
Once this has happened, you should wipe the chain clean. Use a lint-free rag and wipe off any/all gunk and grime. The goal is to end up with fine film of clean lube on the chain with no black grime. If you wipe the chain with a clean rag, it should leave a slight residue of oil on the rag. But don’t wipe it so much that it’s dry.
Tip: If you can’t seem to keep your chain clean, you are probably either using too much lube, applying it too often, or using the wrong lube for your riding conditions. For example, a wet lube used in dry conditions is just too thick and it will usually create a mess. Cleaning your chain and changing the amount of lube, the frequency of lubing or the type of lube will usually solve the problem.
3. Simply wipe the frame and components clean
The last part of my 3-step plan makes cleaning so easy there’s no excuse not to do it. It involves a somewhat new product that I’ve tried and like: bike wipes. A few companies offer them, including Grease Monkey Wipes, http://www.greasemonkeywipes.com/, ProGold, http://bikes.progoldmfr.com/products/?product=protowels, and globalbike wipes, http://globalbike.org/products.
These products are just like the pre-moistened wipes you probably use to clean your kitchen and bathroom at home, except that they’re treated to cut through grease and grime and tough enough to hold up to the job.
A thought: Mentioning kitchen/bathroom wipes makes me wonder if they would work on bikes, too. I haven’t tried it so I can’t recommend it. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they worked adequately.
Wiping a bicycle clean – especially one that you haven’t let get filthy – only takes about 10 minutes. Work from the front to back or do the wheels, the frame and finish with the components. That way, you’ll do a thorough job and clean all the parts. If you finish with the drivetrain parts, you won’t transfer any grease from them to the rest of the bike.
Wax it once in a while, too
As a final step that you only need to do after every 10 cleanings or so, you should wax your frame and components. Don’t use paste wax, because it turns it into a big project. Instead, use a spray furniture polish (which you probably already have around the house) – I like Lemon Pledge – or a bike-specific product like Pedro’s Bike Lust, http://pedros.com/products/clean-and-lube/degreasers-andcleaners/bike-lust/.
Sprays can irritate the throat and eyes, so work in a well-ventilated area and keep the spray away from your face. Spraying it on the rag instead of on the bicycle will help reduce the amount in the air, too.
All you need to do to get a lustrous wax finish that looks great and also helps prevent dirt and grit from sticking to your bike is to spray or wipe on the wax, wait a few minutes for it to dry, and then wipe and polish it off.
With practice, the entire clean-and-shine process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. I hope it helps you out, and I hope I can stick with the plan, too!
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.