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Regular cleaning routine

Regular cleaning routine

Cleaning your bike is the best time to spot worn or broken parts that could otherwise fail and leave you stranded in the wilderness. Beware of jet washes though. The power hoses on garage forecourts can leave your bike looking very shiny without much effort, but, no matter how careful you are, they force water in through the bearing seals, flushing grease out. This shortens the lifespan of bearings, pivots and other components radically. As a principle, start with the dirtiest bits and work up to the cleaner ones. That way, you minimize the amount of recleaning you may have to do. If starting from scratch, here’s a routine to transform your bike. Drop off the wheels and hang it up so you can reach everything. 

“No matter how careful you are, they force water in through the bearing seals, flushing grease out”

  1. Start with the drivetrain: the chain, sprockets, chainset and derailleurs. If the chain isn’t too dirty, clean it with a rag.
  2. If your chain is too oily and dirty to respond to this treatment, give it a thorough clean. You can do a very respectable job without removing the chain from the bike, which is a lot of trouble and can weaken the link you remove. For the best results with the least fuss, tip a little degreaser into a small pot. Use a toothbrush or washing-up brush dipped in degreaser to scrub the chain clean. A chain-cleaning box is a good investment, making this job cleaner and quicker.
  3. Sprockets and chainsets need regular cleaning too. They’re close to the ground and exposed to whatever’s going around. If they’re oily and dirty, it’s worth degreasing them. Oil is sticky and picks up dirt as you ride along, wearing out the drivetrain. As above, use a little degreaser and work it into the sprockets and chainset with a brush. It’s very important to rinse things very carefully afterward to remove all traces of degreaser. Also, dry components carefully. Be careful not to get degreaser into bearings.
  4. Once everything is clean and dry, re-lubricate the chain. I prefer drip oils to spray types because you can direct the oil more precisely, which ensures you can get it where it’s needed without wastage. Drip a little onto the top links of the bottom stretch of chain all the way around. Don’t use excessive amounts of oil. Leave the oil to soak in for five minutes, then carefully remove excess with a clean rag. Don’t worry about re-lubing other drivetrain components as they need no more than is deposited by the chain onto the sprockets.
  5. Next, clean the wheels. Muddy tyres are best cleaned by riding your bike along a tarmac road (with your mouth shut) once the mud is dry. Use a sponge and a bucket of warm soapy water, hold the wheels upright to keep water out of the hubs, and sponge the hubs and spokes clean.
  6. Rim brakes work much better on clean rims. They pick up dirt from the ground and from the brake blocks, which stops the blocks from gripping the rim effectively, causing both rims and blocks to wear out prematurely. Green nylon Brillo pads are ideal for this job. Wire wool is too harsh but nylon gets detritus off the rims without damaging the braking surface. While you’re there, check for bulges or cracks in the braking surface. These indicate that the rim is worn out and needs replacing urgently. If your rim has rim-wear indicators, check them now too. (N.B. Photo opposite is of a disc-brake bike.)
  7. Disc rotors, the alternative braking surface, also work much better when clean. It’s important not to contaminate them with oil. Use bicycle disc brake cleaner or isopropyl alcohol for disc rotors. If they have become oily, clean the rotors with isopropyl alcohol (from chemists), which doesn’t leave a residue. Don’t be tempted by car disc cleaner – this leaves a residue that cannot be scrubbed off by the brakes.
  8. Brakes next. For rim brakes, remove the wheel and clean the block surfaces. Use a small screwdriver or knife (carefully) to pick out shards of metal. If the block surface has become shiny, use a strip of clean sandpaper to roughen it. When looking at the brake blocks, check they aren’t excessively or unevenly worn. Most blocks have a wear-line embossed onto the rubber. If the blocks originally had slots, make sure the slots are still visible. Once they disappear, it’s time for new brake blocks.
  9. For disc brakes, wipe the calliper clean. Check hydraulic hoses for oil leaks. There should be no trace of oil at any of the connections. Also check for kinks in the hoses. Look into the rotor slot on the calliper, and check that the brake pad is at least 1mm thick.
  10. Clean and oil the parts of your cables normally trapped inside casing.
  11. For rear cable brakes, follow the black casing back from the brake lever to the frame. At the cable stop, pull the casing forward to release it from the cable stop and wiggle the brake cable out of the slot. Use the same method to release the other sections of casing. Run a clean rag over the part that’s normally covered by outer casing. Relubricate each section with a drop of oil. Refit the outer casing.
  12. Repeat with the gear casing. You need to click your rear shifter as if changing into the highest gear, then push the derailleur away again. This creates enough slack in the cable to pull a section of casing out of its cable stop. Repeat with all the other sections of casing, cleaning and oiling – especially the last loop of rear derailleur cable. This loop is nearest to the ground and tends to collect dirt. Refit the outer casing.
  13. Pull the front derailleur out over the largest chainring, click the shifter as if to change into the smallest sprocket, then release the casing in the same way. Clean, oil and replace. A sticky gear cable causes sloppy shifting.
  14. Pedals are often forgotten, even though they get more than their fair share of mud and abuse. Use a small screwdriver to clear all the mud from around the release mechanism. Make sure you do both sides of both pedals. Mud gets forced into the springs every time you clip in with your shoes, building up until you can no longer clip in and out properly. Lubricate the moving parts sparingly with a light oil, like GT85 or WD40.

“All components work better and last longer if they’re not covered in grime”

Clean the frame and forks. You need a sponge and a bucket of warm water to rinse everything off afterwards. All components work better and last longer if they’re not covered in grime. Finally, a quick polish. Wax-based polish helps stop dirt sticking to the frame, keeping it cleaner for next time. Refit the wheels, reconnect the brakes. This is a good time to pump up the tyres, just to finish the job off neatly.