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Riding Clean : Not the Lance Armstrong Story

Last Sunday, Dick McElligot of Kingdom CC gave a hands-on demonstation of bike cleaning as part of the Bike Maintenance Workshop.

For those who attended, you know that it’s a more involved process that you would first think. I’ve captured some notes below on the process as demonstrated by Dick. I’m working from memory so any mistakes are my own.


Bike Cleaning : Step-by-step

There are two basic parts:

  • Cleaning: remove all dirt and grease
  • Lubrication: replace any lubricants that were removed during cleaning

Effectively, you’re need to strip away all grease and lubricants to get the bike clean. This will make the bike perform better and prevent wear.

However, in removing unneeded grease and dirt you also strip away vital lubrictants that keep the bike running smoothly so they must be replaced.

Cleaning

What to use:

  • Cleaning agent/degreaser
  • Bike Stand (if you have one)
  • Kitchen Scrubbing Brush
  • Small Paint Brush
  • Washing up liquid
  • Hot Water
  • Bucket
  • Cloth for drying/polishing
  • Gloves to keep your hands safe and clean

The process:

  1. If possible, get yourself a bike stand as it makes it much easier to do any work on the bike. Both hands are free and you have much easier access.
  2. If you are using a bike stand, makes sure the clamp doesn’t pinch any brake or gear cables.
  3. Remove all panniers, bum bags and other items that you don’t want to get wet.
  4. There are many options when it comes to cleaning agents. Some of these can be expensive and Dick suggested regular petrol as a suitable alternative but must be used with great caution due to the risk of fire.
    Whatever cleaning solution you choose, makes sure that the you don’t damage the area underneath as the cleaning solution may leave marks on stone or concrete.
  5. To protect your hands, wear first aid/cleaning gloves of some kind. The solvents used for cleaning can be harsh on skin and the grease from the bike can be difficult to remove afterwards if skin is left unprotected.
  6. Dick advised against using a power-washer. The force of the water is too strong and will damage parts of the bike such as wheel axles.
  7. Dick began by using a kitchen scrubbing brush dipped in the cleaning solution. Focusing first on the rear cogs he put the bike in a low gear and scrubbed down the visible gears.
    Then he moved the bike into a high gear and scrubbed the cogs that had been covered by the chain.
    This step softens up the dirt and grease and will remove some visible grease.
  8. Next he used a paintbrush, again dipped in the cleaning solution. This step removes any remaining grease and brings the cogs back to a shine.
    Dick said that you should keep going until the cogs are be clean enough that you can read the cog numbers and see the etchings on each cog.
  9. This process is then repeated for the front gear cogs, wheels, and for the chain itself.
  10. Finally remove both the front and rear wheel so that you have access to clean the forks and other parts of the frame that are covered in grease and dirt that would otherwise be difficult to access.
  11. Next wash down the frame with warm soapy water and dry/polish with a cloth.

Do not stop at this point! If you do the cleaned exposed metal on the chain and gears will start to rust, even in just a the period of a few short hours.

Lubrication

What to use:

  • Lubricant (e.g. WD-40)
  • A cloth

The process:

  1. As with cleaning solutions, there are many types of bike lubricant on the market. Dick suggested that WD-40 was a cheap and acceptable option.
  2. Dick stressed that only a small amount of lubricant is required. It’s hard to explain this in a writing but however much you think you need to use, use less!
  3. He demonstrated by applying a fine mist of WD-40 in just a few short bursts to each of the gear sets.
  4. To lubricate the chain he sprayed WD-40 on a small patch of the cloth until it was soaked.
    He then “pinched” the cloth loosely around the chain and peddaled the bike slowly so that the chain moved through the cloth, picking up lubricant along the way.
  5. Next he used a clean section of cloth and repeated the process. This removed any excess lubricant.
    He explained that you should be able run you fingers along the chain and have your hand come away clean (i.e. no black) and with only a very slight film of the lubricant on your fingers.

Final Checks

A few other things Dick suggested:

  • A small amount of lubricant should be applied to gear and break cables
  • Make sure that brake blocks are clean and free of grease and lubricant
  • Check tires for wear and replace if necessary
  • Check your cleats for wear regularly

Things that need replacing regularly on your bike

  • Chain (possibly once a year depending on mileage)
  • Types
  • Brake and Gear Cables
  • Gears that get worn
  • Worn Cleats
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