After my bike tipping over at Bear Mountain and having some issues with my bottom bracket, it was finally time to pick up my bike from Ride Brooklyn in Williamsburg. I rode Citibike the ~2 mile route over, and just as I was about to dock at Kent Avenue and N. 7th street, it began raining. I checked my Accuweather app and saw that heavy rain was anticipated for at least the next 120 minutes. Yay.
Typically this wouldn’t be an issue, but I wasn’t dressed for rain and I don’t love spending an hour after I get home to clean the grime off of my bike. The ride home wasn’t too pleasant since the freezing rain turned into partial hail. My cotton clothes were soaked, of course. That said, dressing properly and riding in the cold rain can feel incredibly badass. Especially seeing people walking down the street who are bundled up and fighting to stay upright against the wind.
While many of us are old hands at cleaning bikes, I figured it would be useful to write a post offering a pseudo tutorial for my cleaning methodology. (Note: serious, caked mud will need a different set of cleaning instructions – I’ve included a great video at the end of this post for that).
Step by Step Guide:
1) My go-to first step after riding in the rain is to lay down a bath towel, remove my seatpost, wheels, and carefully put the bike upside down to begin the draining / drying process. I know there are differing schools of thought on turning a bike upside down. There are certain considerations, such as being careful with the chain placement, shifters, and such.
2) Step two immediately after, take a hot shower! Riding in the (cold) rain can get old quickly and a hot shower is seriously perfect for thoroughly warming up.
3) I like to start out the cleaning process by taking wet wipes and removing the grit, especially the grit that’s begun fusing with the underside of the frame, as well as underneath the saddle! If you don’t have full fenders, chances are you’re going to get plenty of grit kicked up from your back wheel as you ride in wet conditions.
This turned out to actually be a great opportunity for me to do some deep cleaning, around my disk brake calipers where the brake dust has really accumulated over time. If you have latex gloves, it’s a good idea to wear them to avoid getting chain grease all over your hands, which is a pain to wash off unless you have Grease Monkey Wipes.
As an aside, I recently switched over to Jagwire’s Sealed Shifting Cables. I truly believe that this is going to make a very positive difference in terms of protecting my cables from grit, liquid, etc… It may definitely be something for cyclocross racers to consider as well (assuming they don’t already have internally routed cables).
4) After using numerous wet wipes to clear off the grit from the frame (with a focus on the underside of the frame and components), I like to take paper towels to dry off the bike. A microfiber towel would also work well.
It’s worth noting that I also follow similar steps for my wheels, paying close attention to my rear cassette. If it’s especially dirty, I will take a brush with some soapy water and brush out the grime. In this case, I didn’t need to do that. While you’re working on cleaning off your wheels, it’s always a good idea to run wet wipe on the tire itself, taking a moment to look for any thorns, glass, etc… that might be making its way into the tread. This is actually a step that I take after every ride and has saved me from potential flats.
Once the frame is cleaned and dried, I will put my wheels back on, and go about re-lubing the chain: critical for post-rain rides.
Essentially the fundamental difference here is that dry lubricant is thinner and doesn’t attract dirt nearly as much. On the other hand, wet lubricant is much thicker and stays on the chain far better in soaked conditions. If you primarily ride in dusty conditions and use wet lubricant, you’re going to likely attract / accumulate a lot of dirt on your chain!
I like to have the bike upside down for this part since I don’t have a mechanic stand in my apartment and my wall rack has a lot of cycling accessories hanging off of it, so I can’t make full pedal revolutions to oil the chain.
Generally, I’ll wipe off my chain thoroughly with a paper towel to get any residual grime off. If it’s particularly dirty and gritty, I would recommend a small brush, or even an old toothbrush (with some soapy water) to brush the chain links (Don’t be tempted to reuse said toothbrush on your teeth, haha).
The chain looks pretty clean at this point and is visibly matte. From here I will apply one small drop of lubricant in between each link, slowly turning the cranks to make sure each link is taken care of. Afterwards, I will turn the cranks faster, while shifting into the various gear ratios. This way, the oil works its way between the links and into the cogs as well. After a few minutes of this, I’ll take another paper towel and lightly wipe off any excess lubricant.
6) Here’s where I tend to get a bit pedantic with cleaning my bike, I take some Q-tips and do a follow through pass on my components to make sure any road salt, grime, etc… isn’t left on the bike.
During this step, I like to also remove excess dirt / lubricant buildup from the rear derailleur jockey wheels and other small components. The Q-tips make it very easy to maneuver around that small space.
So that’s essentially it. Obviously, your mileage may vary. The above clean up is definitely not going to suffice if your bike is coated in mud, or has never been cleaned over the past few years.
If you are in the camp of needing to clean off a muddy bike, this video from Global Cycling Network has done a really great job of walking you through the steps:
Hope this helps provide some further insight for those looking to gain a better understanding on cleaning their bikes!