Riding bikes off-road always means one thing: you are going to get dirty. In the summer months less so, but as the recent apology for a summer confirms, that’s not always the case. Vast quantities of rain have turned dusty trails into a winter-like quagmire, and when bikes get this dirty — and left dirty — they are incredibly prone to wearing out at an alarming rate.
The basic principles of cleaning a bike are simple enough: start at the top, washing all the dirt downward and off, and don’t forget every nook and cranny. Cleaning products and special brushes are available to make the fiddly tasks easier, but the basic premise is always the same — get rid of the crud before it gets rid of the working parts on your machine.
Not only does a clean bike last longer and perform better, but the act of cleaning gets you up close and personal with your machine. Take the opportunity to check out how it works close up, and have a good look at all the frame joints for damage if you’ve recently had a crash. A crack in a rim found now is a lot easier to deal with than a catastrophic failure out on t’ moors.
TOOLS FOR THE JOB:
Bucket of water
Sponge and brushes
1 First up, with your cleaning fluid, spray down the whole bike. Try to be methodical, but don’t dawdle. Some harsher fluids can attack the finish on aluminium parts (such as rims and chainrings), dulling the shine or, worse, staining the anodised finish. Don’t forget to get into all the nooks and crannies.
2 For the photos, we have our bike in a stand, but however your bike is positioned, start at the highest point, ie, the saddle. Wash down with the warm water and a sponge. At this point you don’t need to remove every speck. You also need to get rid of the cleaning fluid. Really get into the cramped spaces like between the chainrings.
3 Remove the wheels. This allows easier access to some of the dirtier areas.
4 Now you can get at the cramped areas to begin to give the bike a more thorough going-over. You may need a little extra cleaning spray on areas like the drivetrain.
5 With the wheels off the bike, you can get about the cogs more readily. With the cassette pointing downwards (so the cleaning fluid drips off rather than into the hub internals) apply cleaning fluid and give the cogs a good clean. If they are particularly bad you may need to use a thin brush or rag to get between the cogs and possibly use some degreaser to get rid of any thick black gunk.
6 Make use of the easier access to get stuck in to the gear changers. Clean all the cack from the jockey wheels as this will improve shifting. Don’t forget the fork legs. Dirt often gets trapped behind the brace and in the webbing of the arch casting. Get it all out with some elbow grease. Be careful with cleaning fluid around the seals, though. Most dirt will come off with just scrubbing and plenty of warm water.
7 Hold a rag around the lower run of chain and spray into the rag — over the chain — with the cleaning fluid. Spin the cranks backward pulling the chain through the cleaning fluid-soaked rag. Plenty of dirt will come off on the rag. Repeat this process (including the application of more cleaning fluid if required) until the rag comes clean when running the chain through.
8 If you have disc brakes, now’s a good time to clean off the rotors. SpeedClean from Finish Line is great as it needs no wiping or rinsing and it doubles up for use on the drivetrain.
9 Now you need to get rid of any water sitting in hidden areas. Pay particular attention to anywhere an exposed inner cable enters a piece of outer cable. Spray the water displacer at the cable ends — this will flush out any H2O trying to eat away at your bike.
10 Stick the wheels back in, lube your chain as per the instructions on the packet, and you’re ready to go. Remember: less is more when it comes to chain lube. A thick coating of oil will feel smooth at first but it’ll collect dirt like shit on a blanket.
11 Optional polish. Apply some to a clean soft, lint-free rag, and apply as per the instructions. Not only does this make your pride and joy sparkle, but it will slow down the speed at which the next outing’s mud will stick thanks to the now-slippery surface.
A trip to your local ‘pound shop’ may result in you finding some weird and wonderfully shaped brushes, ideal for difficult to reach places.
If you do polish the bike, make sure you don’t get any on the braking surfaces, either rims or disc rotors, or you’ll have to go through the whole clean and degrease process again.