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Mountain Biking

Mountain Bike Cleaning
A Clean Bike is a Fast Bike

By David Alden - Twin Cities Sports

Chances are if you went mountain biking this summer, you came back muddy at some point. And if you came home messy, then you also came home with a dirty, muddy, grimy bike.

A dirty bike can look cool, and people may think you are hardcore, but the reality is that dirt, sand and grit can shred brake pads, ruin shifting and destroy drivetrains.

They will also mess up just about any bearing surface they contact, and if there is enough dirt on your bike, it can even mean extra weight. Add it all up and you’ve got a slow bike.

The smart thing to do is to clean your bike after any muddy or messy ride. For some rides it can be as simple as wiping your rig down with a rag and cleaning/relubing the chain. Other times, you have to do a little more.

“If your bike is really a mess, the first thing to do would be to remove any large debris, like sticks, leaves or clumps of mud,” says bike-cleaning expert Karl Weidemann of Pedro’s, a cycling tool, lube and accessory company based in Massachusetts. “Then spray the whole thing down with a good cleaner/degreaser.”

But make sure it is a degreaser that is approved for plastic and rubber, warns Weidemann, as some citrus-based degreasers can eat though parts of your bike.

It helps if you can put your bike in a work stand (if you’ve got one) and take your wheels off while cleaning the bike. This will let you get at some areas that you might not be able to with the wheels on. If you don't have a work stand, you can use a trunk-mounted bike rack or other rack, or just lean the bike against a wall. In the latter case, you'll have to lay the bike down when you remove the wheels.

Use rags, sponges or scrub brushes to gently remove any stubborn areas of mud. Don’t scrub too hard because sand is just sandpaper without the paper, and it can ruin a paint job.

It’s important to get your chain and your rear cassette clean, as grit will wear these parts down fast. Several companies make chain-cleaning machines that clamp down around the chain and use little scrub brushes and cleaner to get the chain looking like new. They are definitely worth the money.

An alternative to the chain-cleaning gizmo is to rinse the chain with water and scrub it with a brush as it passes over the rear cassette. Then back-pedal the chain through a rag soaked with degreaser.

Regular scrub brushes are good for cleaning the cassette.

Once the bike is all soapy and clean, you can rinse it down with a hose.

“Use a very gentle shower of water,” Weidemann says. Do not use high-pressure hoses like the ones found at car washes, or even at your home. High-pressure water can work its way into the bearings, and even into the frame, and can cause rust and damage in the long run. For this same reason, also be careful not to spray directly into your bearings.

If you spray water into bearings, even into sealed bearings, it can force some of the grit that you are trying to get rid of into the bearing surfaces. Soon after that you can say “bye bye, bearings.”

If you hear any crunching sounds in your headset, hubs or any bearing surface, it probably means you’ve got to do a more detailed cleaning with more disassembly.

With all of the gunk gone, it’s time to dry the bike and apply some lube to all of the moving parts.

Lube your chain, pivot points, derailleur pulleys, brake bosses, cables, levers and shifters. Wipe off any excess lube, otherwise it will attract more dirt and grit.

It's also a good idea to regularly grease the metal-on-metal contact points on your bike, such as the seatpost/seat tube and the threads of your pedals where they screw into the cranks. You'll need a pedal wrench to remove your pedals, which you can buy one at most bike shops.

During the drying and lubing part of this process, take time to inspect your bike. Finding frayed cables, loose bolts or even a cracked frame now is much better than finding it when you are out on a ride.

Taking a little bit of time to take care of your bike will make it ride better, last longer, and in the end, be faster.

Bike-cleaning checklist:

  • Hose
  • Rags
  • Cleaner/degreaser
  • Chain cleaner
  • Various scrub brushes
  • Bucket
  • Lubricant: both grease (for metal-on-metal areas like the seatpost/seat tube and threaded parts like the pedals/cranks) and liquid lubricant (for the chain and other pivot points)


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