By Jim Langley

Winter riding can wear and tear bicycles quickly because of the grit and crud that gets all over the frame and components. Also, excessive moisture can remove essential lube from the drivetrain, which accelerates chain, cassette, chainring, derailleur pulley and front derailleur cage wear, too.

This is why it’s best to clean bikes immediately after inclement winter rides or at least before riding them again. Here’s a quick rundown of don’t and do’s for a good job (“don’ts” are first in the title because they’re the things that can cause bigger problems).

With a little practice, you can clean a bike after rainy/snowy rides in about 15 minutes. This assumes it’s a relatively clean, well-maintained bike in the first place. And it does not include replacing any worn out parts. If it’s a grimy mess, a more thorough degreasing and cleaning will be required before a basic bike wash will be enough. And having to replace parts adds time, too.

10 DON'TS AND DO'S

Don’t use high-pressure car washes/washers

Last week I saw a cyclist at a coin-operated wash and almost hollered out the window, "Hey, stop that!” Bu, I didn’t because I still run into riders who think it’s a good practice. I have always recommended against it because the jet of water coming out of these devices is too powerful.

Yes, it will blast off dirt and debris and can even strip gunk from the drivetrain. But, the risk is damaging other things, like stripping decals, lifting chipped paint and forcing water at pressure into components. That can leave them completely empty of lube and full of moisture. The high pressure can also force itself into the tiny spaces between chain parts, leaving your bike with an annoying squeak that isn’t easy to silence.

Don’t submerge parts

Don’t laugh. I’ve known cyclocross racers who would toss their bike in the river after races to clean it off. And I knew a bike shop that put bikes in a bathtub to clean them. While it might seem like the fastest way to clean the entire bike, the problem is that when parts are dunked, water can get where it was never intended to go, such as inside the hub and cassette or pedals if yours aren’t well-sealed. You don’t want that.

Do suspend the bike to work on it

Whether you use a bike repair stand or something homemade to hold your bike off the ground, it will make bike washing easier and faster. Having the bike high keeps it closer to your eyes for better inspection and it saves you from having to bend over. Good repair stands allow rotating the bike 360 degrees, too, for inspecting all frame surfaces. It’s kind of amazing what you find stuck beneath the down tube.

Tip: Arm-type vehicle bike racks can work great in a pinch for holding bikes in the air for cleaning.

Do remove the wheels

Get in the habit of removing wheels when bike cleaning. As mentioned last week in the bearing check article, it’s when the wheels are removed that it’s easiest to feel the bearings for grit. So, after a nasty ride is the perfect time. Having the wheels off makes them easier to clean and inspect, too. Plus, without wheels, it’s much easier to clean the nooks and crannies of the bike, like behind the bottom bracket and around the chainrings.

Do use warm soapy water

Warm water makes bike cleaning easier. This produces lots of suds to lift the grit so you can rinse it off.

Tip: I know a rider who had a hot water tap installed outside his garage for easier bike/car cleaning. He kept a bucket by the door with sponges, brushes, soap and rags so it would be quick and easy to clean his bike and he wouldn’t be tempted to put it off.

Do use a grease-cutting soap like Dawn dishwashing liquid

There’s a huge difference in cleaning power between different brands and types of soaps. Lots of bike mechanics stick with Dawn dishwashing liquid because it cleans and cuts grease better than so many of the wannabe dishwashing soaps.

Do rinse before scrubbing

If a wet ride leaves your bike with a fine layer of dirt on top, don’t start wiping/rubbing it off or you may scratch your bike’s finish. Instead, rinse with water only first to get the dirt off and then start washing.

Don’t use only one sponge

Professional bike mechanics have lots of tricks, and one of the best is having dedicated sponges for different bike washing purposes – and not mixing them up. The two main ones are for working on the “clean” parts of the bike, like the frame, fork and wheels; another sponge is used for the greasy/grimy parts like the chain, crankset and derailleur pulleys.

This nicely solves the problem of only having one sponge and continually transferring grease to parts of the bike you just cleaned – or ruining your wet but otherwise still nice handlebar tape. And you can have as many dedicated sponges and brushes as you like in your cleaning kit.

Do inspect brake pads

Whether you have rim or disc brakes, brake pads (the parts that squeeze the rims or rotors) wear most quickly in the rain, snow and dirt. So, it’s wise to inspect them after wet rides. I also recommend having some spares on hand in your home shop so that you can compare the new with the old to tell exactly how worn your pads are. This also means you won’t have to wait to install new pads.

Don’t forget to re-lube after cleaning

A common mistake after cleaning is forgetting to re-lube. It’s important to refresh the lubes that the rain, snow and your cleaning stripped off your bike or else corrosion can set in. So be sure to lube the chain and brake and derailleur pivots. Let it sit for a bit and then wipe off any excess to keep your just-cleaned bike that way.


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.

The Latest VIDEOS & PODCASTS (check main navigation Categories at top of page for more videos)