Keeping your bike clean, just like taking care of your gear, is a critical part of being a great bike rider. It isn’t just to keep it looking good — it’s to keep it running smoothly. Even if you have very minimal understanding of mechanics, you can do a great job on your DIY bike cleaning by avoiding these common bike washing mistakes.
While it might be your first instinct to flip the bike so it balances, avoid flipping bikes up onto the seat and handlebars as both areas are generally sensitive to scratches. Plus, you might have a GPS or bike computer mounted on your handlebars. Your best bet is to use a bike stand or lean the bike against a wall or post, like a professional mechanic would, to keep hands free for scrubbing the bike and back pedaling the crank to clean the drivetrain.
The best way to keep your bike clean and happy is to have a bike washing spot ready and stocked at all times with your bucket, degreaser for the chain, dish soap (or pre-formulated bike wash), soft brushes for the frame and tires and one harder bristled brush for gears. Many pro mechanics put their degreaser in a small jar or cut-off water bottle with a paint brush or gear brush.
Many riders make the mistake of not using enough water, and trying to wipe the bike down while it’s not really wet. This can cause scratches and, over time, can ruin the paint on your bike. Ensure you use a hose, or in a pinch, a bunch of water bottles filled with water and a bucket of soap-suds to rinse off the worst of the mud.
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Rather than blasting your bike with high pressure, use a hose to spray down your bike initially, before you soap it up and then rinse it again with the hose. The trick is to be judicious in how hard, and how close you spray the more delicate areas of your bike. Suspension, wheel and crank bearings are spots to be careful with direct spray; use a soft spray and your sponges and brushes to clean those areas. (If you don’t have hose access and rely on car washes, keep the pressure washer at least a few feet away from the bike to lessen the impact.)
Many riders don’t lubricate their chain often enough, and annoy others with their squeaky drivetrain. This also makes your chain much more likely to break or jam mid-ride. But on the flip side, other riders overdo it and keep lubricating their chain, ending up with a very greasy chain that leaves black marks everywhere. The best strategy is to degrease your chain, then give it a good scrub with your brushes and suds, before rinsing it. As you wipe down your bike, spend extra time polishing and drying the chain, then apply lube on the clean chain.
Avoid these mistakes; your bike will thank you — and you might notice you’re able to put out a few extra watts!