One of the easiest activities you can perform to keep your bike looking good is to give it a bath. Washing your bike is also a nice way to finish off a round of maintenance, especially in the spring. You can wash off the grime of last season before you get back out on the road.
The reasons why you should wash your bike goes beyond just having a sparkly clean machine with which to greet the new season. And there are affordable ways to do it correctly and efficiently.
Why You Should Wash Your Bike
Over the course of a season, your bike is exposed to dirt and debris from the road, your sweat, grease, spilled or splattered sports drink, and the cumulative elements of weather. Although it might not be readily apparent, your bike picks up these things every ride.
While dirt and debris can dull the finish of a beautifully painted bicycle, grease and dirt, if left unchecked, can begin to break down componentry, such as chains, cogs, brake pads, etc. Those elements will definitely impact the quality of your overall ride.
How Often Should You Wash Your Bike?
Washing your bike is really an essential task. And it is one that is usually quick, easy, and enjoyable. How often should you do it? That really depends on you and your riding habits.
During the peak riding season, which is from late spring to early autumn, I might wash my bike three times. I might do it once a month or once every couple of months. I’d say think about how often you ride and the environmental conditions in which you ride. For instance, if you ride gravel along with road surfaces, your bike will get dirty faster than just riding road.
If you are one to ride in the rain or during the winter months, you probably want to wash your bike more often as well, maybe once a week. Road salt, mud, and rain can, over time, damage your frame, dirty your wheels and their braking surfaces, and gunk up chain and seat stays.
Get Your Bike Off the Ground
There are a number of ways you can approach washing your bike. Some people like to lean it against a wall, turn it over in the grass, or put it in a bike rack. These are all fine approaches, but not very efficient. If you have the means, place your bike in a work stand.
A work stand will allow you to get the bike off the ground so you can effectively wash the top tube, down tube, and chain stays. You’ll also be able to access areas you can’t get to as easily with the bike on the ground.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to wash, spray, and wipe down your bike without a lot of bending over and have 360 degrees of motion with which to work. With the bike in a stand, you can also remove the wheels and clean them without worrying if your bike is going to fall over.
What You’ll Need to Successfully Wash Your Bike
What you use to clean your bike is a matter of personal preference. It comes down to what you want to spend and what you can afford. Just remember, the ultimate goal is to have a clean bike, and you don’t have to spend a lot to achieve that.
If you are obsessive, particular, protective of your bike, and money is no object, then you might want to invest in cleaning products specifically made for washing bikes. Silca offers a Bike Care Box Set that contains bike wash, bike and drivetrain cleaner, a ceramic waterless wash, and graphene spray wax. It also comes with “two free microfiber towels, a foam applicator, and chain stay stickers” for $135.00. Gtechniq offers something similar but even more high-end with its Ultimate Bike Care Kit which will set you back $229.00.
A Cheaper Way to Wash Your Bike
If you don’t want to spend a lot to clean your bike, you really don’t have to. In fact, between your local grocery store and, perhaps, a store like Target here in the United States, you can find what you need to clean your bike for less than $50.00. You might even be able to mimic those high-end bike cleaning boxes.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Microfiber cloths
- A wash mitt or sponge
- 3 to four spray bottles
- shop rags
- Dishwashing detergent
- Citrus degreaser
- Some scrub brushes
How to Wash Your Bike
Everyone has their own way of doing things. That is particularly true for an activity like washing your bike. I’ve used specialty bike products for cleaning my bike and I feel they aren’t really worth it. What follows is my approach to washing my bike.
- Take your bottles and fill one with dishwasher detergent and dilute with warm water, fill another with room temperature water, and use another for citrus degreaser
- Wish your bike in the stand, take a wet rag and wipe it down.
- Spray some degreaser on your cranks and derailleurs and wipe down.
- Now is when you actually start washing. Take a wet sponge and wash mitt and spray your diluted dish detergent mix on your frame, then scrub up your bike, crank, derailleurs, all tubes, your fork, etc., etc.
- Remove your wheels and use degreaser, scrub down with a brush, wash brake surfaces, then wash with detergent and water.
- Once you’ve fully washed the bike, take your spray bottle full of water and rinse off the soap. If you feel like you can’t get all the soap off your bike and you have access to a garden hose, you can give your bike lite dousing.
- Dry your bike and reinstall your wheels.
It might take an hour and a half at the most to complete all these steps. Notice when I got to the part about rinsing your bike with a hose, I said a lite dousing. Pro mechanics wash bikes with power washers every day and shine up the bikes. That’s fine if you’re a pro and you have a stable of mechanics with access to unlimited parts.
If you’re not a pro rider, then I’d say be very careful with a power washer. Water can be a destructive force if not used correctly and wreak havoc on bike parts. And the truth is, you don’t really need to power wash your bike, so be gentle, precise, and careful.
Washing your bike can be a fun regular task. However, it is also an essential part of the maintenance we must do. After an hour, you can feel good knowing your bike is ready for your next ride or event. So, invest in some affordable equipment and give your bike a bath. It will reward you in the long run.