With the right clothing, riding in the rain can be more fun than you might think. The headaches often come once you’ve stopped riding and have a look at what the muck on the road has done to your bike.
While fenders can help to keep you and your bike from becoming a complete disaster, you’ll more than likely still need to wash your bike before you head inside for a cup of hot chocolate.
Follow this quick and painless routine for cleaning your bike after a wet ride to keep it looking and working like new:
1. Get the gunk off.
The water, oil and other foreign substances on the road can leave some pretty gross residue on your bike frame and components. And if it’s left this way, it can affect the way your bike performs.
To get most of the grime off, fill a bucket with water and dish soap. With a car sponge, scrub from your handlebars back toward the rear wheel. Be generous with the soap and water, and pay particular attention to the underside of your saddle, the inside of your front fork and the rear triangle where muck commonly collects. To make it easier to get between the tight spaces, remove both wheels.
Tip: When you use a hose, try to avoid spraying water directly at the bottom bracket, headset and wheel hubs—especially if it’s a pressure washer. It can ruin the bearings, and the cost to replace them can be quite pricey.
2. Clean the wheels and brakes.
With the wheels removed, use the same sponge to clean the wheels and brakes. Make sure to get the inside of the brake calipers and brake pads. If your brakes are superfilthy, try a brake cleaner, which can help remove oil, grit and grease, and rehydrate your pads.
For the wheels, make sure to clean the spokes, hubs and tires. Pay close attention to the brake surface, where residue from the brake pads collect. If soap doesn’t take it off, a little rubbing alcohol will do the trick. After a light rinse to remove the soap from the wheels, frame and components, you can put the wheels back on the bike.
Tip: If your frame has drainage holes on the bottom near the dropouts, lift the front end to drain any excess water in the frame. Since the bottom bracket is the low point, water can sometimes collect there. This will help to remove it.
3. Dry the bike.
If you have a leaf blower, this will get the job done quickly. If not, towel dry the bike as best you can. While carbon won’t rust, any parts made of steel should be dried thoroughly.
4. Clean and lube the drivetrain.
The most important step is to finish cleaning the drivetrain and apply a lubricant. This will keep your bike functioning properly and your expensive parts from rusting.
Start by using a degreaser to get any excess grime that wasn’t taken off by the soapy sponge. You’ll need to pay attention to the front and rear derailleurs, the chain, cassette and crank. Dip an old rag or a toothbrush into a separate container with a small amount of degreaser. You shouldn’t need much. After everything is clean, apply a lubricant to the chain and a few drops to any other points where the cables enter or exit the frame.
5. Polish the frame (for extra credit).
Though this step isn’t absolutely necessary and will take additional time, applying a frame polish can make things much easier for you the next time around. A protective polish that contains a moisture dispersant and a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) will expel water from the bike, prevent corrosion and keep the paint really shiny. It’ll also make your bike easier to clean the next time you ride in the rain, because dirt won’t stick as easily.
Tip: If you do decide on a spray polish, remove the wheels. If polish gets on the braking surface, it’ll reduce friction—a potentially dangerous situation.