'Praxis'

How to clean your bike in ten easy steps

A team-mate recently skipped cleaning his bike after a weekend snirt ride, and subsequently found it waiting for him with a rusted chain and cassette the following weekend. He emailed about how I avoid this problem after our weekly snirt rides all winter, so I decided to wrap my response into a quick post some of you might find helpful as you get out onto the wet roads covered in salt water.

At a bare minimum you’re going to have to at least spray your drivetrain and moving parts with WD40 after a snirt or wet road ride. That will tend to inhibit rusting until you can get to it and actually clean it. Here’s what I do after each wet ride in the spring. After all the salt is gone, only a wipe-down and some lube is required after most wet rides with a fender bike, a bit more with a non-fendered bike. A few items used are not standard for every rider’s home set-up, but most are common.

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  1. I let the snow and slush melt off the bike for a bit, if there is any. If you have to work on the bike in the cold (like a garage), you are going to need hot water to melt the snow.
  2. Spray the bike with Salt-Away, ideally, or a substitute. Salt-Away dissolves salt, and works rather well, but you can also use vinegar and water, dishsoap and water, or Muc-Off’s pink ‘nano-tech’ bike cleaner, which is pretty mild. You don’t need to use degreaser for this. I got a bunch of Salt-Away through Andrew Olive, like gallons of it. I use an old stain remover bottle with a plastic brush on top to scrub rims and stuff while filled with warm water. It works incredibly well.
  3. Rinse with water – I do this either with water bottles filled with hot water, or with bike/wheels in the laundry sink. Lately I’m just doing this on my unfinished concrete floor in the basement (my wife doesn’t care, nor do I).
  4. Blast everything with the air compressor, if you have one. This is a really useful tool to have at home for this very use, as it allows you to blast grime and water out of little nooks and crannies.  Take time with the chain to blast out all the grit. Make sure you hit every single pivot on the bike too, especially the derailleur pivots. Don’t blast grit into your cable housings.
  5. Let the bike dry a bit more if you want, or put it on the bike stand now (assuming you have one…you need something to support the bike).
  6. Use Triflow or similar thin multipurpose lube on all the bike’s pivots, except the chain. ALL the pivots: derailleurs, brakes, pedal springs. Also good to put a drop at every spoke thread and eyelet at least every two or three rides. This takes me about 2 minutes including wheels. Never forget your pulley bearings. If you have open cable-housing ends (my bikes all use full-length cable housing to reduce contamination and maintenance), you will likely need to clean and lube them. Here’s a video showing the easy technique I use. 
  7. Dry the chain more with a rag, make sure there is no grit on chainrings and cassette, pulleys.
  8. Apply your best wet lube. The Silca NFS Pro is the best I’ve ever used, but I’m finding the Muc-Off WET is also good, as are a variety of others. For these thick lubes you normally only need 12 drops on the whole chain. I learned this from the Silca lube’s instructions. Put the chain on the 12t cog, apply 12 drops to random rollers, pedal 12 revolutions, wipe. After a nasty day, do a bit more, and let it sit longer before wiping – like wipe before the next ride. I learned last season that I’d been over-lubing with these heavy lubes forever, which is why I ended up disliking some, due to their grime factor. With thin lubes, you need more, but they generally suck.
  9. You can finish with a wipe-down with Pedros Bike Lust if you have it – I love it.
  10. After the bike has been sitting a while, it’s generally good to turn the pedals and make sure nothing has gotten stuck, like a pulley wheel. It’s just a little peace of mind thing. This is easy when the bike in in the house.
That’s it! I realize this isn’t an exhaustive run-down, but that’d be exhausting!

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