Remember the day you bought your bike? Do you remember how clean and shiny it was, with no grease splatter, salt buildups, and brake dust? Remember how there was no grime on your drive? Well, that is how your bike is supposed to look. An old teammate of mine when I first got into the sport used to tell us, “A clean bike is a fast bike.” While having a clean bike isn’t the same as putting an engine in your frame, there is definitely some truth to that statement. Lets take a look at some of the key areas of the bike that tend to be the dirtiest.
When you sweat a lot on your bike, say if you ride on the trainer a lot, salt starts to build up around your headset. This can cause some corrosion and dry up all the grease on the bearings making your bike’s handlebars much harder to turn. It can also rust your bolts and while this won’t slow you down, its pretty gross.
Every time you use your brakes, your rims scrape a little bit of material off the brake pads. Where does this material go? It turns into powder that tends to get all over the frame and brakes. Not cleaning your brakes regularly can cause this powder to build up on the pads themselves, making the brakes less effective at stopping or slowing your bike when necessary.
The wheels of the bike are the only thing that touches the ground when you’re doing it right, so you always want to keep them working properly. Sweat, dirt, and grime can sometimes corrode the hubs of your wheels if not taken care of. Bad hubs don’t like to roll smoothly and can be a huge difference in both how fast your bike can roll and how much effort you put in to make the bike roll.
This is the thing most people think of when they think of a dirty bike. While having a clean frame doesn’t necessarily translate to speed or saved Watts, a clean frame just looks good! If nothing else, your bike should always look good!
So here’s the big one, your bikes drive which includes the cranks, chain, derailleurs, cables, and cassette. I cannot express how important it is to keep this clean. These are the actual moving parts that take the power in your legs and turns it into your bike moving forward. This is usually the dirtiest and most overlooked area of bike cleaning. When this is clean, everything is smooth and shifts properly. Grime on any of these components cause things to get sticky and gets in the way of the moving parts. If only one part of your bike is clean, it should be the drive.
So how do I clean these things? Really all you need is a bucket of water, a couple brushes, some foaming degreaser, chain lube, and a bottle of dish soap. To clean the wheels, frame and really everything no the drive, hose the bike down and scrub the whole thing down with the dish soap. This will remove just about any kind of dirt on the bike and make it nice and shiny again. I usually take the wheels off so I can reach under the fork, behind the seat tube, and inside the brakes. Then just spray it all down again to rinse the soap off. For the drive, I put the rear wheel back on the bike, then spray the cassette, chain, derailleurs and cranks with the foaming degreaser. With an old rag, you can then scrub all of the buildup off the chain until its nice and clean. With a brush (a toothbrush works well) scrub the cassette until all of the black grease is removed. The same can be done to the crank. Then just spray it all down again to rinse and your bike will look brand new! Just don’t forget to reapply some more lube on your chain before getting back on the bike.
Cleaning your bike is a pretty easy process and something that should be done regularly and before races to ensure your bike works just like it did when you rolled if out of your local shop. Keep your bike functioning and it will keep you happy. And remember, “A clean bike is a fast bike.”