Most of us already have the ability to perform basic maintenance on our bikes, what we generally lack is the confidence, or tool-set, to do so…

With winter creeping its ugly head at us in the coming weeks (more like days) I figured I’d start a new series of posts dedicated to helping you keep your bike running in tip-top shape. In this first installment, I’ll cover something all of us can do at home and which is, quite frankly, one of the easisest things you can do to ensure your bike is ready for the next ride: Washing and inspecting your bike.

Washing your bike is good practice year round, but keeping your bike clean is especially critical during the winter months. Road bikes are especially vulnerable during this time of year to the road chemicals used to keep roads dry and mountain bikes are generally exposed to a little more muck.

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll introduce other more advanced tasks that will help you prepare for the coming season and which will keep you busy in your “home shop.” These, by no means, are meant to replace the quality work and expert advice your local bike shop provides, but a small investment in tools and knowledge will help you get on the trail or road much quicker.

With that said, let’s get that bike washed and cleaned so that you can be the envy of your fellow riders at the next meet-up.

What You’ll need:

The dirty bike...

A dirty bike…

  1. A dirty bike – something like the one above 😉
  2. A solid work stand to prop your bike on so that you can raise it to a comfortable level to clean it. If you don’t have a stand don’t worry, you can always hang your bike from a sturdy branch or taught clothesline if necessary. This maybe the perfect opportunity for you to put one of Park Tools portable stands (or similar repair stands) on your Christmas wish list.
  3. Degreasers; I use Simple Green. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable and easy on my hands. There are various bike specific degreaser products from Pedro’s and other companies that will do the trick as well; Pick your poison (so to speak…). If you want to support a local (DC Metro) company, try Wicked Wash Performace Cleaner.
  4. A large soft bristle brush, sponge, and other assorted small hard brushes. Park tool makes a great bike brush kit that has the essential brushes you’ll need.
  5. A chain cleaner – not absolutely necessary, but a must if you are cleaning a mountain bike. Again, Park tool makes the standard here. It’s what I’ve relied on for years.
  6. A couple of buckets (one will generally do).
  7. Dish washing liquid or car wash detergent. I use “Palmolive,” it’s soft on my hands 😉
  8. A hose, so you can spray and rinse your bike off. Lots of mechanics just use the bucket(s), but I like having the convenience of the hose to make the job quicker. NOTE: DO NOT use a high pressure washer to clean your bike. As the weather gets colder using a hose may prove a little more difficult, this is when a second bucket with clean warm water to rinse the bike comes in handy.
  9. A couple of rags/terry cloths/towels to wipe things down when you are done.
  10. Lube to get your chain and drivetrain shifting smoothly and grease for seat posts and skewers.

Getting it Done:

I generally do a “double” wash. I’ll basically rinse the bike, pull the wheels off, wash the frame and wheels with soap and water, clean the drivetrain with the degreaser, rinse again, put everything back together and do another soapy wash and rinse before finishing up the details, which include greasing up and lubing key components. The steps below outline my “tried and true” procedure for getting the bike nice and clean, inspecting it, and getting it ready for the next ride. I can knock it out in 1/2 hour, or, if I really want to get the bike “detailed” spend a couple – it’s like “therapy…”

1. Prep your tools, have everything ready. Fill your bucket with some water and dish soap (one good squirt from the bottle) and set it aside. I generally put my soft bristle brush and sponge in the bucket to allow the sponge to soak in the suds.

 Prep your tools, have everything ready.

Prep your tools, have everything ready.

Fill your bucket with some warm water and dish soap (one good squirt from the bottle) and set it aside.

Fill your bucket with some water and dish soap (one good squirt from the bottle) and set it aside.

The “first” wash

2. Before putting your bike on the stand wash the underside of the saddle and seat post. Spray it with your hose and use the brush to dislodge any gunk/mud from the underside of the saddle. Clean the top of the saddle and seat post. This is generally the contact spot with your stand, so making sure it is clean before you start is good practice. You don’t want to finish cleaning the entire bike to drop it form the stand and realize you got all kinds of gunk under the saddle that needs to be rinsed off.

Before putting your bike on the stand wash the underside of the saddle and seat post.

Before putting your bike on the stand wash the underside of the saddle and seat post.

3. With the saddle and post nice and clean put the bike on the stand and give it a thorough rinse. Remember, NO high pressure! You just want to loosen up the gunk and and get the bike ready for the brush and suds.

Put the bike on the stand and give it a good rinse.

Put the bike on the stand and give it a good rinse.

 

4. Pull the wheels off. Once they are off go ahead and rinse them and spray the cassette, rims, and tire surfaces with a diluted degreaser solution; Set them aside and let the degreaser do its work for a few minutes.

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5. Spray degreaser on your entire drivetrain and let it sit for a few minutes. Use a harder bristle brush  and work your way from the chainrings to the derailleurs. Move on to the rear wheel which you set aside a few minutes ago and to the same thing with the cassette. Park’s cassette brush is perfect for this and allows you to get in between each cog. Once you finish the rear wheel go ahead and give the drive train and cassette a quick rinse to get the degreaser off.

Spray degreaser on your entire drivetrain and let it sit for a few minutes.

Spray degreaser on your entire drivetrain and let it sit for a few minutes.

Spray degreaser on your entire drivetrain and let it sit for a few minutes.

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6. Grab your soft bristle brush, lathered in the soapy water by now, and begin brushing the bike from top to bottom. You are not “scrubbing” hard here, just get your bike nice and lathered with the soapy solution to further dislodge the gunk attached to the frame. Alternate between the brush and sponge so you can get into hard to reach spaces. Try and cover the entire bike, including under the bottom bracket, the cranks, brakes, everything.

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7. Once you’ve lathered up the entire bike give it a good rinse and move on to the wheels. Use the big brush again and work your way around both sides of your wheels. Clean the sidewalls, rims, spokes and hub. The narrow long brushes will allow you to get inside the spokes to cleaned the hubs. I start at the stem hole to make sure I get around the entire rim. Rinse the tires and go back to the frame.

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The “double” take

8. By this point most of the water from the last rinse should have come off; I generally put the tires back on the bike now and give the whole thing another once over with the brush and soap.

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9. Some people prefer to do this first, but I’ve always found that cleaning the chain last is the way to go for me. Use your chain cleaning kit with the same degreaser solution (I generally go undiluted for this). Once you’ve ran the chain through the cleaner give the bike a thorough rinse and let it air dry for a while while you clean up your mess (rinse brushes, bucket, chain cleaner etc.). I then use a dry towel to wipe off the excess water and dry the bike.

Clean the chain

Clean the chain

10. Lube the chain. Don’t put an excess amount of lube here, just dab a drop in each link; Let it work its way into the mechanisms for a few minutes and then wipe the excess from the chain with a rag.

I generally add just a drop of lube to each link, let is sit for a while and then wipe the chain clean.

I generally add just a drop of lube to each link, let is sit for a while and then wipe the chain clean.

11. Finally, take a nice clean cloth and wipe off the entire bike, making sure it is now all dry. Some times, if I’m overly motivated, I’ll apply a little frame polish to the bike. Whether I apply the polish or not I always work my way from top to bottom and inspect the frame and all components for anything out of the ordinary. All your components should now be nice and dry and free of any soap or degreaser residues. Other things I do on a regular basis (but not on every wash) are grease the seat post and skewers, just to make sure no rust gets into the wrong places.

I finish the job by wiping the entire bike with a clean cloth.

I finish the job by wiping the entire bike with a clean cloth.

That’s it! you’re done and your bike should be squeaky clean and ready to go for the next ride. Give yourself a pat on the back and go enjoy your beverage of choice. Once you do this a few times you’ll have it down to a science.

The clean bike.

The clean bike.

My next maintenance installment will cover the basic tools you’ll need to get your home shop started…

Note: This is by no means the “definitive” guide to washing your bike. This just happens to be the way I have been doing it for years and that works best for me. You’ll likely find your path once you do it a few times. Google “Bike Washing Instructions” and you’ll find a myriad of “tutorials” like this one to get you going. Please post your comments and suggestions below and I’ll address them as they come in. Thanks for reading! All photos by my trusty assistant, Ariana Fernandez.