In this article I’m going to give you what I feel is the best way on how to clean your bike properly. Because my channel covers bike restorations, the cleaning process is especially suited for older bicycles.
Nonetheless I feel that my cleaning process has a number of unique elements so you definitely want to sit this one out till the end.
I don’t use water
The most distinctive element of my bicycle cleaning process is that I don’t use water, not even if the bike is very dirty.
In general, adding water to dirt, makes a mess of things. And though it’s a best practice to hose down your vehicle in the car detailing industry, using a power washer on an older bike is NOT.
Bicycle hubs, headsets, and bottom brackets of older bikes are very susceptible to corrosion that eat away at the bearings and damage the bearing races.
Also spraying your entire bike may very well cause water to get inside the frame. This water may pool in the bottom bracket shell and cause havoc to the metal body of your square taper bottom bracket.
Your hub axle from 2021 may be perfectly sealed, but the average cup-and-cone style one from the eighties or nineties rarely is. And using great force to spray water near it or in it with a garden hose or power washer is a bad idea plain and simple.
Step 1. Using a soft brush to get rid of dirt and sand
One thing I did learn from car detailing is that you can use a soft brush to remove dirt and sand very effectively, without damaging any of the components or scratching your paint job.
That is provided you’re careful and after a couple of strokes clean your brush and remove any sand particles.
A brush makes it easy to clean hard to reach areas like in between the brakes and frame, and suspension springs.
The whole idea behind this method is to easily remove all sand and dirt. So that when you clean the frame with a wet cloth to make it shine you don’t dull your paint by scratching it with sand particles trapped into your cloth.
If you want to you can use two different brushes. One for greasy areas, like derailleurs and one for the rest of the bike. You don’t want to smear dirty grease all over your bike.
This brush was 2 euros.
Step 2. Cleaning the drivetrain
A clean drivetrain is key for optimal shifting performance and minimizing wear on its parts. There’s an entire industry around bicycle cleaning, but I use white spirit as my main degreaser.
To counter the argument that this is more harmful to the environment, I reuse almost all of the white spirit and simply let crud drift to the bottom of the container. This way I not only save on product and a lot of money, but also the plastic bottles in which it comes.
A liter of white spirit costs 1 euro.
I always clean the chain first. Then the chainrings. If necessary I finally do the cassette.
Cleaning the chain
Before using a chain cleaner I use a toothpick, hold it against the jockey wheel, and remove the caked up dirt that sits on the wheels.
With most of the dirt gone I hold a dirty cloth against the wheel to clean the rest of it, while spinning the chain.
I have a Park Tool CM-25 chain cleaner, which I think is the best chain cleaner the market has to offer. But any chain cleaner can do the job.
To get the best result I clean the chain twice, with 50 crank rotations for each cleaning step. The first cleaning removes all the dirt and grease. The second step removes the rest that stays on the chain because the white spirit get’s too dirty during the first step.
I then dry the chain and remove the white spirit with a rag. The rag doesn’t have to be clean at all, but you don’t want any sand in it.
Cleaning the crank
Now that your chain is clean it’s time to work on the crank. I first remove the pedal so It’s easier to handle.
I use a salad bowl filled with white spirit to clean the crank with a dishwashing brush. Of course any bucket or container that fits a crank will do. With the pedal out of the way it’s easier to submerge the chainrings without using a ton of fluid.
When the crank is clean I rinse it in the sink.
Cleaning bottom bracket
Before installing the crank I clean the bottom bracket, bottom bracket shell and front derailleur. With the crank removed you have better access.
I utilize the brush to remove leftover dirt and sand. And a toothpick to get into the edge between the bottom bracket and the shell.
With a rag wrapped around a toothpick I can get in between the spindle and bottom bracket cup and clean out the rest of the dirt.
If the cassette is dirty enough it will get the same treatment as the crank. This involves removing the rear wheel, removing the cassette and cleaning it using the salad bowl, white spirit and a dishwashing brush.
With the rear wheel removed you can also clean the inside of the chainstays easier, even though this Cannondale Super V actually doesn’t have chainstays.
Before putting the cassette back on, I take the time to clean the freehub as well.
Step 3. Cleaning wheels
Before I put the rear wheel back into place, I clean it. Especially skinwall tires at the rear drive side can look really dirty because of the chain lubrication that gets thrown onto it caused by rotational forces from the cassette and jockey wheels.
At first I remove and leftover dirt with a brush, which lowers the risk of damaging your paint and decals, and scratching rim anodization.
I even use the brush to clean mud caked on the side of tires by firmly gripping the head of the brush, shortening the hairs, thus stiffening it so I can apply more pressure on the tire.
With the dirt removed I then proceed to apply a thin layer of WD-40 onto the wheel. I quickly remove the WD-40 taking both the dirt and grime from the tire as well as cleaning the braking surface of the rims.
Since there’s some debate whether or not WD-40 is harmful to rubber, I remove any WD-40 with a damp cloth afterwards. Both on the tire and in between spokes. The result is a wheel that looks like new.
Final thoughts on how to clean your bike properly
I’ve spent many hours and dozens of repairs restoring the bicycles I own. To me it seems only natural that once you get a bike to a certain point, you do the things necessary to keep it there.
It’s much easier to simply buy a bike, than to buy a project and put in the time and effort to restore it. I sometimes say that bike restoration enables you to create your own experience. Cleaning and maintaining your bicycle the best way possible is part of that experience.
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