Life from an outsider's perspective…

A few bike cleaning tips.

One of the more mundane things I’ve has to do lots of with is cleaning bikes, so I thought I’d share a few secrets on how to clean your bike fast -and more importantly- on the cheap.

For my rental bikes, I reluctantly admit to using a pressure washer like the one in the photo. This is not adviseable as it wreaks havoc on the bearings. I frequently “get into trouble” with the mechanic in my LBS who tells me every single time not to do this. Most often it is the BB bracket and wheel bearings. You’d think by now that they would have designed a BB to last more than one season – that appears not to be the case.

Anyway, I don’t have the time to wash 5, 10 or even 20 bikes by hand every single time. Know this: using a high pressure washer can save you a lot of time. Time is money and I pay for that by having to replace bearings more frequently than I otherwise would. Fulcrum racing wheel bearings don’t seem to last very long (other than that they are excellent wheels). I have never sprayed my own personal bikes with high-pressure water for instance. So without further ado, on to the tips (but first a quick science lesson).

Oil & Water don’t mix.

“Like dissolves like” they say in science. What does that mean? More importantly, why? Simply put, molecules are either symmetrical (nonpolar) or asymmetrical (polar). Water is polar for example. Many carbon compounds are non-polar. Here’s the interesting part: manmade detergents works by having a long molecule with what’s called a functional group at one end – these kinds of molecules are effectively ‘polar’ at one end and ‘nonpolar’ at the other end. Then what happens is that the detergent molecules are attracted to a spot of dirt or a drop of oil. All the molecules orient and surround themselves so that the polar ends are close to the oil drop and the nonpolar ends fan out into the bulk of the water. This is better shown in the illustration. This forms what is called a ‘micelle’, which is mobile in water. Right?

Spain is a veritable paradise for cleaning products. It really is. How often is that cleaner of Spanish decent? What can I say? I am married to one and they are most certainly a fussy lot when it comes to cleanliness. So what does this have to do with cleaning my bike?

Use a mild soapy solution of water to remove sweat and dirt. Alcohol and/or oil based cleaners are practically useless for removing dried up sweat, simple detergents do a much better job. Basically, any oil is great for removing grease marks. Don’t use oil on your rims or discs though for obvious reasons!

For aluminium rims, I’ve found that the best thing to use is rubbing alcohol (methanol). Ethanol should also work too but I believe it is more expensive. If you’d like to get that new bike shine you can try a wax or oil based compound after you’ve washed the bike.

I use a rag such as an old t-shirt to wipe the chain down. I don’t bother with chain cleaners and solvents. I think that they are more trouble than they’re worth. I have seen fantastic chain and cassette life by simply cleaning the chains each and every single time (weekly). Happy cleaning!

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