Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Thanks readers for all the comments on last week’s technical Q & A about cleaning bike parts. Many of you have ultrasonic cleaners and it was great to read how you use them or why you don’t.
Today, I want to highlight some of the best comments and reply to a few. And, I also want to correct a mistake I made, which I realized when reading one of the comments.
Your Chain Lube Recommendations
Before I do that, though, I think one of the most useful things in the comments last week were the chain lube recommendations. Because, keeping your drivetrain clean is so dependent on using a lube that stays clean. These are all wax-based and those are usually cleaner than petroleum-based lubes.
Here are your favorites with links to learn more (I’ve only used two of these – NFS and Squirt). I put the lubes in alphabetical order below. If you’re interested in how their performance compares, try this website: https://zerofrictioncycling.com.au/lubetesting/.
NFS Nixfrixshun: https://www.facebook.com/NFSspeedshop/
SCC Tech Ride It Slick: https://scctech.bike/
Silca Super Secret Chain Lube: https://silca.cc/products/silca-super-secret-chain-lube
Your Ultrasonic Cleaner Tips
Roadie Bill Brannon offered the tip that made me realize my mistake. I said that cleaning parts leaves a mess in whatever you clean them with, meaning you have to clean that too, the solvent tank or the ultrasonic cleaner.
But Bill wrote,
“Tip. Use water in the electronic parts cleaner. Put the parts in a zip lock bag with cleaning solution. This keeps the cleaner clean and uses much less solvent. Essentially, “sous vide” bagging for parts.”
I wanted to learn more about this idea and almost immediately found this YouTuber who shows Bill’s approach in action but with recycled screw-top plastic peanut butter jars, which leave the ultrasonic cleaner spotless – no clean-up needed. If you watch you’ll hear how loud these cleaners are, definitely one of the drawbacks to using them.
In the video there’s a link to the ultrasonic cleaner recommended. It’s a 10 liter model that sells for $170. That’s a lot more than a basic solvent parts cleaner, but it’s not as expensive as I expected. And you could go with the smaller ones that cost less, under $100: https://amzn.to/3Od90Pe
The Best Use May Be Cleaning Chains for Using Wax-based Lubes
Reader “Ray B.” explained why an ultrasonic cleaner could make sense.
“I have used a 1.5 liter ultrasonic for about 5 years to prepare new (and old) chains for lubricant testing. Most lubes – and particularly wax emulsions – require a completely oil free surface for best results. I use the degreaser-water-alcohol system recommended in Josh Poertner’s videos.
However, even though Josh’s Silca “Super Secret” chain lube worked well, for IRL riding, I like Smoove because it lasts a boringly long time and repels water. My 11-speed chains last about 7,000 miles. For trainer riding on my older 9-speed bike, I like SCC Slick. It keeps the chain quiet and beautifully clean.”
Beware Getting Things Too Clean
“Don” made an interesting point,
“I’m not a clean weenie at all, but I do own an ultrasonic cleaner. It was purchased years ago for doing other tasks around my shop. It’s not large but will fit pretty much any bicycle parts except chainrings, which are really easy to clean without an ultrasonic. So, I don’t feel you really need a large bath.
Cassettes, chains, and derailleurs all get nice and clean in the ultrasonic but beware of too clean! Is there such a thing? Well, in my experience newly cleaned chains need a good and thorough lubrication afterward otherwise it will indeed begin to make noise. I know this from my initial experiences.
Make sure to use a good lube for the conditions you ride and lubricate each link separately. Let this sit in for several hours and then reapply before wiping down with a shop rag. Also, worn chains seem to work better dirty!!”
What the chain makers recommend
Please note that most chain manufacturers recommend NOT stripping the factory applied lube from chains. This goes against the wax-based lube instructions to completely strip/clean new and used chains before applying.
To wrap this up, let’s hear from Brian Nystrom who owns two ultrasonic cleaners and was kind enough to contribute these two comments one of which is a great finale to today’s topic,
“Although I own a couple of ultrasonic cleaners (which I got really cheap at estate sales [editor’s note: what a great idea!]) and a cleaning tank that I’ve had since the late ’70’s, I don’t often use them for bike parts. My typical cleaning consists of:
– Soaping up the entire bike using dishwashing liquid and water, then rinsing with a gentle spray [editor’s note – Dawn is the brand most pro mechanics use because it’s such a great grease-cutter]
– Removing the rear wheel and inserting a chain holder in the right dropout [editor’s note: these are sometimes called “dummy hubs,” https://amzn.to/3xFf8bW ]
– Spraying the drivetrain with Citra-Solv https://amzn.to/3tOWZYh and scrubbing it while pedaling and switching chainrings
– Spraying the cassette with Citra-Solv and scrubbing it
– Rinsing thoroughly
– Reinstalling the rear wheel
– Lubing each chain pivot with my home brew lube, working it in, wiping it down, then repeating
– Lubing the derailleur pivots
– Drying things off as much as possible and calling it done
This has been working well for me for a long time, despite the fact that I don’t do it nearly often enough. In between washes, I’ll wipe the chain down (with mineral spirits, if necessary) and apply more lube as above. I get great life out of my drivetrain components and everything works properly.”
“If you’re trying to get the absolute best performance from your drivetrain for racing, perhaps there’s a reasonable argument for it [an ultrasonic cleaner]. For most riders, it’s probably a waste of money.”
Thanks for all the feedback on ultrasonic cleaners readers, very informative and helpful!
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 cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.
Brian Nystrom says
Jim, I’m glad you found my comments helpful. I’d like to add a couple of things about Citra-Solv.
– For best results in removing drivetrain gunk, you need to use it full-strength (undiluted). This is probably true of any citrus degreaser product.
– I’ve always bought it by the gallon, or by the case of four gallons (split it with friends), which is a lot cheaper than buying the small bottles on Amazon. You may need to contact the company at https://www.citrasolv.com to purchase it this way, as I don’t seen gallons for sale online.
It’s been a few years since I last bought a case and I didn’t realize how expensive it’s gotten.
I have no connection to the company, it’s just a product I found many years ago that works well. I’m sure there are other products that would work fine using the cleaning method I described.
Jim Langley says
Thanks a lot, Brian!
I jave heard that tou can ise Dawn dish soap to clean grease in an ultrasonic cleaner but no good info seems to be available on the right Dawn/water ratio. Does anyone have experience with this?
I’ve tried it but dawn doesn’t quite have the punch to cut thru drivetrain grim like mineral spirits or even a good citrus degreaser. Ymmv