What this blog is about

Bicycle commuting, bicycle touring, bicycle racing; bicycle ADVENTURING.
To the grocery store, up a mountain, across the country or to the finish line--
it's all an adventure.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to Wash Your Bicycle

For the quick-ZIP!-video, scroll to the bottom!

Seems like a simple thing: washing your bicycle. But there are a few nuances in bicycle washing worth knowing that can make your bike so fresh and so clean, clean.

  • Bucket filled with dish soap and hot water
  • Rubber gloves
  • Degreaser  ..chain-specific also available by Park Tool.
  • Rubbing alcohol  ..the United Bicycle Institute uses this as a general degreaser. I just use it on my rims.
  • Windex  ..for mirrors
  • Pine Sol (not pictured)  ..for bar tape. I used Windex.
  • Bike-specific lube  ..WD-40 is NOT lube!!
  • Sponge or rag
  • Scrubbing tools  
  • Medical rag  ..commonly used by mechanics. Does not leave lint behind!
  • Sandpaper, found in patch kit (oops! not initially pictured)  ..for buffing brake pads.


Using a rag/sponge, wash your bike frame with soapy water, top to bottom. Stay away from your drivetrain (chain, derailleurs, etc.) until the end because it will only muddy up your soap water in a jiffy. If you don't have a work stand or kick stand, propping your bike upside-down works well. Also, remove the wheels for better access. Places where dirt likes to collect around: 
  1. Brakes
  2. Underneath, near the bottom bracket (the axis that your cranks/pedals go 'round)
  3. Derailleurs (the do-dads that shift your gears, both front and rear).


Again, with a rag and soapy water-- wash your sidewalls (sides of tire), rim, whatever you can get at. For the cassette (cogs), you'll use degreaser. Mild soap is not strong enough. Spray degreaser on the edge of a shop/medical rag and "floss." A scrub tool helps here, too. Finish with a spongy rinse. For the rims, I prefer to use rubbing alcohol because it leaves no soapy residue (like degreaser or soap) which is no good for a braking surface. Degreaser is fine, though, so long as you take care to rinse it off.


Brake Pads
After moderate use, especially in wet conditions, brake pads can become "glazed" and lose that grippy rubber texture. Use the sandpaper from your patch kit to buff the brake pad, then wipe away the residue with alcohol. 


Remount your wheels (take care to re-engage your brakes!). If you don't have a rear-mount kickstand or a workstand, turn your bike upside-down so that you can freely pedal the bike backwards.
  1. Spray degreaser onto a shop/medical rag.
  2. Run the chain through the rag, holding both the top/bottom and sides of the chain.
  3. Use a scrubber for tough gunk.
  4. While you've got the scrubber out, scrub the jockey wheels (see rear derailleur) and chain rings (front cogs).
  5. Give a good rinse! You don't want degreaser hanging out on your chain, pushing off lube when you apply it.
  6. Lube! Bike-specific lube. WD-40 is NOT lube. You want the (bike) lube to get INSIDE the chain, not outside.. so after you give it a few spins..
  7. Wipe off the excess! Lube on the outside only collects dirt.


Give that mirror a shine. 

Bar Tape
Spray and scrub. I used Windex, but I have also heard that Pine Sol, blue Dawn dish soap and plain degreaser can brighten your bars.


Washing your bike is about more than looks, it keeps your bike functioning properly. In particular, your drivetrain and brakes/rims need regular attention in order to shift smoothly and brake quickly. Also, washing your bike is an opportunity to check-up. You might notice that your brake pad was misaligned or that your cassette is worn down. If you find any problems beyond your mechanical knowledge, it is also nice to hand your bike mechanic a CLEAN bicycle. They really appreciate that.

Now, in quick-ZIP!-video-form!

How to Wash Your Bicycle from Rebecca Jensen on Vimeo.

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