Clean Bike, Clean Mind

I never feel particularly bad when I can hear my chain and there’s an inch of salt and sand on everything, but knowing that your parts are clean and slicked with grease has a real Zen to it.


Long overdue, I flipped Bikeasaurus Rex (sue me, Velominati!) and treated him to a deep cleaning today to get rid of some of the salt and sand buildup which had slowly been driving me insane in the deep Massachusetts winter. Since we’ve had back to back snowstorms and temperatures well below freezing, I’m only riding a few miles a day, but this short commute has been coating the bike from top to bottom in grime.

Luckily, none of it damages anything. I committed this season to stainless steel for my chain and cables, and I’ve got relatively nice components, so all the salt in the world rinses off with no trace of it’s existence other than a bit of rust inside my frame (which is somewhat ignorable).

I’m no professional, but my cleaning ritual goes something like this:

Part I: Dust Busting

First, I ditch my wheels and set them aside. Cleaning starts by getting rid of the superficial, easy-to-spot dirt. With the bike completely dry, I use a Pedro’s bike brush (any soft bristled brush will do) to rub off all the caked-on sand. I do this outside, with a door open, because clouds of road grime billow off the bike. When I’m finished, I’ve got a cleaner frame with dirt still lodged in all the nooks and crannies.

Part II: Nooks and Crannies

Using a tube brush, I get the dust out from hard-to-reach places like my derailleur, cranks, pedals, joints in the frame, and my disc brake. A toothbrush also comes in handy, but test tube cleaning brushes are the best. Everything is still dry.

Part III: Wet and Wild

When it’s summer, I’d hose the bike down. Since it’s winter, I use a wet sponge to go over everything I can reach to get rid of the last remaining bastions of dust and dirt. A wet rag can slide underneath cables and between your crank and your bottom bracket, as well as behind your rim brakes. I slick the whole bike down, then mop up the muddy water with a paper towel or clean rag.

Part IV: Brush Your Teeth

Now, the chain comes off. A KMC Quick Link makes this easy. Using an old toothbrush (You’re replacing your mouth’s one soon, right?) I give the teeth of my crank and cassette a thorough brushing with water and a citrus degreaser, mixed. Then, I hit my rear and front derailleur, thoroughly scrubbing everything to the best of my abilities. Sometimes, I take the wheels off the rear derailleur and clean out the little axles there. If it moves, apply liquid grease AFTER it dries off.

Part 5: Clean Wheels

We’ve scrubbed the cassette with a toothbrush, but the rim still needs some love. I use a sponge or rag with a little citrus degreaser to cut the grime and I scrub the rim thoroughly. Then, I check my hubs to see how they’re spinning. I’m just starting to clean my own hubs out, having learned from my local bike shop how to replace cup-and-cone bearings. Don’t spray your hose directly on your hubs; the pressure could introduce water to the inside of the hub, and that’s not good.

Part 6: Chain Love

Finally, I soak my chain in citrus degreaser for a few hours. Then, the grime and gunk should just fall right off as the citrus breaks it down. Once my chain is glistening and shiny, I thread it back on the bike, allow it to dry completely, and apply a fresh coat of lubricant.

The bike doesn’t have to look perfect for me (obviously) but I do love a clean bike. Taking care of your drivetrain reduces abrasion damage, giving you longer stretches between maintenance and replacement parts. I’ve probably got another thousand or two miles on my cassette and cranks before anything’s up for a swap, thanks to regular maintenance.

4 thoughts on “Clean Bike, Clean Mind

  1. Enjoying all the posts!!
    Rust in the frame- When I have supe wet rides, I take off the seat post and drain the water out of the frame. I mark the seat post height with a marker or by wrapping a piece of electrical tape around it where it exits the seat tube. To minimize rusting, you could try a dab if grease in the bottom bracket if/when you need to service it.
    When you put the dereilleur cogs back in, do youput a dab if Locktite on the bolts? I’ve done that since I read it in a repair manual. You could ask your LB mechanic about it.

    1. I actually loctite most of the rack mounting bolts on my bike, so it makes sense to loctite the derailleur bolts, too. My only concern would be putting too much on where it bleeds over after you tighten the screw; near the actual cogs, loctite would have a pretty bad effect.

      I am about to swap out my stock bottom bracket for an Ultegra; I’ll grease in there when I do! Thanks Auntie!

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