Bike Cleaning

A bit of a Tuesday Tune-Up cheat this week I’m afraid – this entry is based on one I’ve used twice before! Still, it’s been a while and it serves as a useful precursor to next weeks’ entry on getting some showroom shine to your bike shed.

So, after a grim wet and dirty ride (yes, I do ride in the wet sometimes!) how does a Bike Tart go about making his dream bike sparkle again? Allow me to share a few of my secrets and techniques…

First and foremost, a polished frame is easier to keep clean. I’ll get onto the real detail of the ‘how’ on polishing next week, but starting with a layer of polish means that the dirt doesn’t stick so well when things do turn grim.

Once the dirt is there though, how do I get it off?

In a perfect world having the space to setup a bike stand and wash the bike with a bucket of soapy water and a soft sponge or brush would be ideal. Living in an apartment doesn’t make this the easiest solution though. It also doesn’t go down well putting the bike in the shower! The answer? Baby wipes. Yes, really.

Baby wipes are designed to wipe away dirt from a baby’s bottom. They don’t do any damage there so why wouldn’t you use them on your bike? They’re strong, you can do the whole bike with only a few and you can even clean your hands up with them afterwards. If you get the flushable ones they make less of an impact on the environment too. I’ve taken to chasing immediately behind the baby wipe with some dry kitchen towel as the black paint on my Corretto and the matte grey finish of my Ristretto both show up drying marks from the baby wipe, but coloured bikes suffer less from this.

Chains and cassettes can also be done with baby wipes, but I tend to shift to something a bit stronger for those – in the UK I used to use Flash Strongweave surface wipes, and at the moment in Australia I’m using a Woolworths own-brand strong kitchen wipe to good effect. Wipes of this nature are a bit more robust so they’ll stand up better to having a chain dragged through them, and to dragging them between cassette teeth. For the chain, fold it over a couple of times, wrap it around the chain between the rear mech and the chainrings and wind the pedals backwards to wipe off excess grime. On the cassette, fold it so that you can wipe it between cassette teeth such that it’s thick enough to wipe both surfaces.

Muc-Off in the UK also do their own brand strong wipes designed for bike cleaning, but in reality they’re probably not much different from some of the stronger household wipes on the market.

The Strongweave stuff is also really good for raw Ti – a brushed or satin Ti finish will be fine with just a wipe, and polished Ti could use my method on the Baum of chasing the Strongweave wipe with a dry kitchen towel to prevent drying marks.

Another useful tool is Purple Harry’s Bike Floss. Although ultimately just old school pipe cleaners, they are a bit thicker than the colourful school craft classic and so do a better job of fitting – and therefore cleaning – in between cassette teeth. Once dirtied they can also be cleaned with degreaser so you can re-use them.

I recommend being really careful with lots of commercial cleaning products as in the past even some of the bike-specific brands I’ve used have damaged the finish of my bikes despite following instructions. The best thing to do is to test a discreet area first, and you might even feel the need to do that with baby wipes and Strongweave wipes anyway.

If you can’t be bothered with a full polish once your pride and joy is all sparkly there are a couple of brands of ‘bike spray’ available – these give your bike a sheen and will help to prevent dirt sticking, but it’s not as permanent as a thorough polish. If you’re going to use this stuff then make sure you steer clear of your rims!

One final useful tip is to wear some Park Tool mechanic gloves, or the cheaper alternative of surgical gloves when cleaning your bike (or when working on it in general for that matter). It makes cleaning your hands afterwards much easier, and your better half / family / housemates will be grateful that you’ve not turned the soap black…

If on the other hand you live alone, reserve the right to shower your bike, dirty the soap and revel in the smell of GT85 as your bathroom fragrance!


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