Monday, January 07, 2008

How To - Clean Your Bike

Today is the first day of a three or four day heat wave in Connecticut. Relatively speaking of course. Normal temperatures typically hit the mid 30s to the low 40s during the day, and much of the day is spent at or below freezing.

However, today we hit 52 (allegedly). Tomorrow is forecast to hit 60, and then we're supposed to have a 55 degree day and a 48 degree day.

Sounds like Florida to me!

Actually, Gainesville was colder in the morning the second last time we went there - high 20s to low 30s.

Anyway, I started off my mini big session with a ride into Massachusetts. It's a loop I've done before but I suffered like a dog the last time I did it. Today was a bit better. I wasn't out to break records and in fact I never did a sprint. But I managed to make it over the hill on Route 57 in reasonable shape and I never really faltered throughout the ride, a good sign.

Massachusetts has one consistent road feature I don't enjoy - a non existent shoulder on main roads. In some places the white line actually falls away because the pavement under it is gone. And instead of putting dirt or something obviously "not road" next to the road, Massachusetts put gravel. So it's driveable for a car but dangerous for a cyclist. A bit of my riding is done on such roads and it's definitely disconcerting. I end up riding through a lot of sand, through puddles, and get the bike pretty messy, all because I have no road to work with. I feel much more relaxed when I get back into Connecticut.

A disconcerting thing happened on one climb - in my lower gears (39x25 and 23), my chain made grinding noises. Dirt had gotten onto the cogs and were doing their best to prematurely wear out my drivetrain. So I tried to avoid those gears. I thought about rinsing them off with water but I didn't have any stop points and I didn't want to risk running out of water.

Chain grinding aside, I added on a loop of about 16 or 17 miles, my standard "Quarry Road Loop" as I've come to call it. On a fast day it takes me about 52 minutes to complete, an average day is about 55 minutes (all this at a not very intense pace). On my mountain bike it takes 57-60 minutes just for comparison sake. Today, after 2.5 hours of riding through the surprisingly cold hills of Massachusetts, the loop took about 54 minutes. Not a fast loop, but not a slow one. I felt reasonable, no cramps, no agonizingly aching back, and my legs were totally fine except they'd fatigue pretty quickly on short hills.

After I got back from the ride I cleaned my bike. Since there are at some points about two feet of snow on the sides of the road (Massachusetts, when I look past the non existent shoulder) and the temps were way above melting, most of the roads were damp with snow run off. My bike was appropriately plastered with mud, sand, dirt, and bits and pieces of yet-to-be-decomposed leaves and twigs.

Since I was already sort of a mess, I got two buckets of water (one with soapy water), my cleaning kit, and went at it. I read about Moreno Argentin when he came to the US for the World Championships in Colorado. He rode with some journalist types and the thing that got them was that no matter what the weather, he always showed up with a clean bike.

Mind you it rained every day out there, and many of the rides set off with wet stuff falling from the sky. When you ride in rain the chain gets gunky, the brake pads bleed blackness everywhere, and the bike becomes a general mess.

Yet each day Argentin showed up with a bike that could have come off a showroom floor.

The kicker was that he was doing the work, not a team mechanic. It was him cleaning the brake stuff off, him cleaning the chain, him wiping everything down.

When I told this story to the guys at the store, we pledged to treat our bikes the same way. We'd go for a ride, return, and detail our bikes, sometimes for hours. Back then it seemed that bikes were it, but without a nice big shop in which to detail your bike and without a couple friends doing the same thing, it's not as much fun detailing the bike. I have a more efficient way of doing this now.

Detailing Your Bike in 30 Minutes or Less.

A couple caveats. First, the bike has to have been kept somewhat clean prior to this "detail". In other words, you don't let more than a week or two of riding go by without performing this detail work (don't count riding indoors as riding time). Second, if you ever ride in the wet, the bike gets detailed. Third, you have all the gear you need.

- Bike, a bit dirty but not filthy.
- Two 5 gallon buckets, one filled 2/3 with soapy water (use car wash, not dish detergent), one filled 2/3 with rinsing water (both warm if it's winter, cold if it's summer).
- Gear brush (I have a Park and a Pedros and I use whichever I find first)
- Car wash sponge thing, leave in the soapy water
- Water bottle you don't use for drinking or peeing, leave in the rinse water.
- Simple Green degreaser or some other biodegradeable stuff.

First find a place where you can wash your bike. Usually the street is good, somewhere so the waste water can go somewhere other than the grass or into a big puddle. Don't get too close to a sewer grate since bits and pieces get sucked in there like it's a black hole.

Next, lug your stuff there.

1. Spray Simple Green (on "Spray", not "Stream") on the chain, chainrings, and cassette. Let it soak a bit.
2. Get a bottle of rinse/plain water and squirt it at the sand/mud on the stays, brakes, fork. The idea is to get the heavy stuff off, not make it clean.
3. Grab the car sponge thing, make sure it's nice and heavy with soapy water, and run it over your bike, top down. So run it over your top tube (maybe your saddle), down tube, stem and sides of head tube, seat tube, seat stays, forks. Rinse the sponge thing and, with a new load of soapy water, run the sponge around the outside of the wheels/tires (rims, tires, outer ends of spokes). Don't let it touch the chain area for now, we're just trying to get the bike clean enough that mud and dirt don't fall into the chain while your cleaning the chain. At the same time we don't want your sponge thing to get greasy.
4. Put the bike in the big ring, small cog. Re-spray the chain, chainring, and cassette with Simple Green.
5. Use the gear brush and brush across the chain on the chainring. Brush towards the bottom bracket, do a pair of links at a time. The chainring holds the chain in place so you can use a lot of force to brush away grit, grease, etc. Spray Simple Green every now and then and you'll see when it starts getting clean under the black mess you're making. Move to the next pair.
6. When you get to a clean pair, you've done a lap. Only two more laps to go. The next lap you're going to do the middle of the chain. Don't focus on the rollers. Instead focus on the inside of the plates, especially the outer plates. Black gunk builds up there and if you don't get it out, the first pedal stroke or two will make your pristine cassette filthy. A couple more pedal strokes and your chainrings will resemble your cassette. So go through, jam the brushes in the middle, get the stuff out of there.
7. When you get to a clean middle bit of the chain, you've done your lap. Time for a break. Use the water bottle and squirt rinse water on the chain. Looks nice, right? It does but it's not clean yet.
8. We're going to leave the third lap for later. Now the teeth. First the chainrings. Since the chain is on the big ring, do the little one first. Clean the valleys of the teeth, where the rollers hit, because that's dirty. Also do the sides and the little ridge where the teeth become the ring. Don't forget to hit the bit between the big and little ring, and don't forget behind the crankarm.
9. Do the big ring next, hit it where the teeth point to the rear hub since the chain doesn't ride there. Get the valleys of the teeth and the ridge on the outside. Remember to spray more Simple Green every now and then.
10. Now do the cassette. I just hold the bike up with one hand and brush with the other. I brush parallel to the chain, on the top of the cassette. The brush going backwards rotates the cassette, the brush going forwards cleans. Scrub away. When I get tired of that, I also scrub down across all the teeth - this gets the valleys of the cassette cogs clean. While you're doing the cassette hit the derailleur pulleys. The upper one is a pain.
11. Rinse again. Now it'll look really nice. And it's still filthy. Turn the bike around so you're looking at the left (non-drive) side. The chain and rings are filthy. Gross. Do a third lap of the chain, scrubbing it while it sits on the big ring. Clean the insides of the chainrings too. Spray more Simple Green.
12. Now rinse again. Now you're talking. Stand up, stretch your back.
13. Take the front and rear wheels out, lean them against your buckets. Put the bike down very gently, fork tips and brake levers on the ground, lean against something secure.
14. Take the front wheel and go around it with the soapy sponge thing. Wipe down the spokes (easier than polishing them individually), wipe down the rim sides and tires. Jam the sponge inside the spokes and wash the hub center. Rotate and repeat - should take 3 or 4 scrubs to do the hub. The rim should be very clean looking. Rinse with the waterbottle.
15. Take the rear wheel. Spray some Simple Green on the cassette, clean whatever you missed. Use the sponge thing and wash the tire, rim, spokes, hub. Rinse.
16. Get bike, spray derailleur pulleys with Simple Green. They are the dirtiest part of the drivetrain, guaranteed. Scrub with brush, rinse, repeat until they look clean. You may learn something about the pulleys like, "Hey, look! The pulleys have writing on them!" Also get the pulley cages, they are the second dirtiest part of your drivetrain.
17. Reassemble your bike. Pick it up and take it to a clean place with no sand on the floor. Get some WD40 or your favorite lube and put some on the chain (on the bottom chain between the derailleur and the crank, and only put lube on the top, i.e. the contact area). Wipe off the chain by turning crank backwards while holding dirty rag to chain.

Note: "WD" of WD-40 means "Water Displacing" or something along those lines. So if you just washed your bike, WD-40 is a natural choice to "displace" the water that's on your chain. Whatever you do, don't leave it wet. Your chain will start rusting in a couple of hours.

18. Wipe off the rest of your bike, leave it to dry.

This should take you, after the first few times, perhaps 30 minutes or less. On cold wet days I do a rough job and get it done in 10 minutes. On a hot summer day with no bugs outside and cold water in the buckets, I'll dwaddle for an hour making sure the bike is spotless.

There are variations of course. Instead of a rinse bucket you could have a hose. At my former house I ran a hose from our basement sink - hot water makes for cleaning your bike in the cold not as unpleasant as it might be. If your bike is more dusty than anything else, the full blown wash probably isn't necessary, and if it was clean before the ride, it'll take very little time to do since your drivetrain cleaning will be sort of done already.

Anyway, I did this at the end of my ride today so my bike is ready to go tomorrow. My "I only have one" things like booties are washed and about to be dried.

Tomorrow I'll be on a fresh bike, with fresh gear, even if it's only a few hundred yards before I go through a puddle.


James said...

A clean bike is a very happy bike.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

are you suggesting that we use WD-40 as a long-term chain lube?

Aki said...

Not necessarily although I've used it without problems on and off for 25+ years. In fact I have a gallon jug of it and a refillable spray bottle.

I primarily use it to get water off the chain and any other unfinished or easily rusted parts. If it's a part I don't want dripping with lube I spray it on a rag and wipe down the part (like a steel frame for example, or a chain that I'm not going to install right away but that I cleaned of its packing grease).

For chain lube I've used WD-40, TriFlow (like the smell best), White Lightning, Slick 50, automotive silicone lube (meant for plastics), motor oil, Boeshield T9, Finishline products, Pedros stuff. Currently I choose from my White Lightning (for dry outdoor riding), Finishline Ceramic (a "wet" lube), WD-40 (indoor riding), T9 (general chain lube I carry when I travel). I have a hard time resisting purchasing a new chain lube.

My chain is normally run clean and any lube works in dry conditions. In wet conditions a heavier lube would be better since it won't get washed away. Regardless, in wet conditions, the bike should be cleaned before it's ridden again, else the dirt and grit in the drivetrain will cause things to wear prematurely. My road chains last for many thousands of miles. My mountain bike chains, when I rode off road, lasted maybe 3 months, due to the fact that no matter how much I cleaned them, they'd be muddy in a few minutes of riding.

Technically WD-40 actually failed in displacing water well enough for military/scientific reasons but for me it works pretty well.

Ron said...

In reply to genes>effort comment on my blog.


I'm sorry I may have misunderstood. I'm having mixed feelings about the genetics vs training idea.

I'm kind of being prone to believe now that you may have plateaued in your power abilities. I mean I'm sure it gets harder at this point without a doubt (since its Cat 2/1) but this is where one has to go for some really advanced training methods to break that comfort zone.
This is why I'm being slightly arrogant in feeling that there must be something, something you can do to beat the 'genetics' slammed out by your friendly 'rivals'.

I'm not at all sure what your training methods are, how long you have been riding, over training signs etc. If you haven't tried motorpacing, try it. I know my Italian coach of 73 years old who still races in Master's championships (in Italy) uses those techniques.

Listen to your body at all times. I guess thats the point of a training diary.

Third, I want to ask whether you have been using strength training 'enough'. Try continuing limited amounts throughout the season.

Look at your nutrition (protein, iron balance). Try combination of foods that give longer time release of energy (like a high glycemic index with a low one). Try a few supplements just for the feel, like sodium phosphate (some research has proved its 5-7% effect on aerobic capacity)

Something has got to give! Thats my point. Damn genetics. I'm sure you can break the cycle my friend (no pun intended).

Aki said...

As a Cat 3 the genetic thing left me behind a long time ago. I think it would be worse if I was a Cat 2 or 1 because then I'd be just a tiny bit away from being a pro type rider. But a 3 is just a 3.

I think training helps me become a more competitive 3 but that's about it. At my peak, using every trick I knew, I could go into the last few turns of a 1/2/3 race in contention but, except for one race where a slew of teammates sacrificed themselves for me (I got 6th) I never placed.

So now I'm okay with being a 3. However when I see someone who is convinced beyond a doubt that they'll be a pro and they can't even beat me, well, they need a dose of reality. One guy I sort of taught how to ride over one winter ended up beating me in the first race of the year. That guy was just wicked strong. They are not that common.

Anyway, it's all good. I'm hoping that once I get some decent miles in that I'll be able to motorpace. I've never consistently motorpaced so it should be interesting.

thanks for your responses too :)

Ron said...

Cool. BTW, Aki, use a motorcycle for motorpacing, not a car. I believe you said your ex pro friend used to do this.

Anonymous said...

simple green turns chains black.

Aki said...

My silver chains seem to be silver. Is this if you soak it?

Erik said...

Great article! But the use of all the Simple Green is kinda freaky to me -- I once got some into my freehub internals and suffice it to say my wheel was knackered and had to be worked on a bit to purge that stuff out. Have you never encountered this?

Anonymous said...

aki - When scrubbing the greasy parts while still on the bike I always get grease splatters all over the frame, rims, and spokes, which is a bigger pain to clean up. How do you avoid this?

Aki said...

erik - I spray only the chain, chainrings, and cassette. I don't innundate anything. No problems in the 15 or so years I've used degreasers on drivetrains.

anon - oily spatter marks are normal. If you rinse quick enough (I rinse every couple minutes regardless of where I am, and then respray Simple Green and keep going) it'll just come off. If not, the car wash sponge thing will take it off.

At some point I'll have to repost this with pictures, with the warmer weather etc.