Friday Group Ride #228

Friday Group Ride #228

I am not known for the cleanliness of my bikes, the tightness of my tape or the smoothness of my shifts. Years ago I had time for cleaning and tuning. I spent hours in the basement in peaceful solitude being a pretty poor, albeit willing, wrench. Then children arrived (I blame all my shortcomings on those blessed events), and I feel lucky if I get away for a ride, never mind the pursuit of punctilious bike care.

As I am consigned by injury, for the time being, to my suburban service course, I have made some effort to put my small but able stable of bicycles to rights, cleaning, tuning, upgrading, etc., I have single-handedly (pun intended) replaced brake pads and cables, retuned some off-key derailleurs and restored a lustre to tubes that had been sand-blasted only by organic and entropic means.

It feels good to have your bike(s) squared away and in fine fettle. I can understand the allure of the wrenchly arts, even if I realize that I am not, by temperament, cut out for this work.

I am not an aficionado of lubes and degreasers. I tend to use whatever is to hand. Once I threaded a chain with a piece of rough twine soaked in sewing machine oil. There is a reason this technique is not demonstrated in maintenance videos on YouTube, even though it worked pretty well. Windex and furniture polish and toothbrushes and an all-purpose (is there any other kind?) awl, I have used them…ahem…all.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how clean is your bike? Do you maintain on a schedule or as needed? What’s your best maintenance trick? What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever tried in the name of bicycle improvement? Do you look down on people with dirty bikes? Or on people with clean bikes? Or, do you not even bother with it all, but pay someone to do it for you, someone with a clue, no one like me?

Image: The lovingly restored TdF bike of Adrian Timmis displayed at his Cadence Sport bike shop in Burton on Trent, UK.

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  1. RonS

    I’m bit of a bike slob. I’ll gussey them up over the winter, and degrim them after wet rides, but once I start riding in nice weather, the last thing I want to do is pretty up my ride. I’m doing my first off-road ride at the D2R2 this year. Sorry you won’t be there, but I hope to run into you next year :-).

  2. armybikerider

    What can I say?…I like a clean bike.
    I don’t follow a “schedule,” but every couple of weeks….250 – 300 miles (more often if I get caught in the rain) I’ll take a bucket of soapy water and clean it up. Pretty much every time I’ll also remove, dissassemble and clean the cassette and take a toothbrush to the chain with some citrus based degreaser, then relube.
    Is it a PITA? Not to me. I love all things bicycle and time spent with my bike – even in this capacity is enjoyable. And, I’ve found that regular maintenance really does prolong the life of drivetrain components. I get huge mileage out of chains and cogs.
    I don’t have kids or huge demands on my time away from work, and when I retire in 6 weeks, I might even do it more often.
    *No tricks unfortunately.
    *Silliest in my opinion was the time I soaked the chain in paraffin on my mother’s stove. Ruined her sauce pan and almost started a fire.
    *I make no judgements about the way people approach bike maintenance. To each his own. Conversely, I don’t clean my bike to gain favor with anyone. I do it for me.

  3. Dan Murphy

    I used to be better – a lot better.
    Once a week, at least, I would spend a fair amount of time making the thing spotless. I liked doing it and I really liked having a clean bike that worked well.
    That has changed, and I don’t have little Murphs to blame it on.
    My bike is next to me in my cube now and it still has the dirt from the Jeremy Powers Grand Fundo ride that had ~20 miles of dirt roads – from 3 weeks ago. I’m hoping to clean it up this weekend. Maybe. I think some of it has to with it being a bare ti frame.
    I like the way things are now, not caring as much. When I was more obsessive, sometimes I wouldn’t ride the next day because it rained out and I just spent a lot of time cleaning it dammit. And dirt roads almost never happened. Now I just don’t care and seek out dirt roads.

  4. Chris

    I’m in the same boat – kids preclude maintenance. I had in issue with a new tire and replaced it at my shop but, as a have a spare wheel I’ve been riding, that new tire has been sitting next to the wheel for almost a month waiting for me to find 10 minutes and the modicum of motivation to mount it.

    When time is tight, riding trumps preening 10 times out of 10.


  5. Haldy

    Oh..I am fortunate enough to be a shop my bikes get love very often! As a matter of fact…the owners of the shop set aside 15 minutes of every day for all of us to maintain our own steeds since we spend all day maintaining others. Only the rain bike will spend more than a a couple of days not looking all shined up and sparkly..

  6. Dustin

    Things that move (like drivetrains) I keep clean, lubed, smooth, quiet and happy. I can’t stand squeaks and groans and whatnot. Beyond that all mine get is the ocassional hose down, maybe once a year an actual wipe down with a rag or two. The only soapy water that’s ever been on my bikes was from doing a tubeless tire install.

    I don’t care if someone elses bike is clean or dirty. Just keep it quiet.

  7. Nathan

    If it’s any measure, I’m still finding the chalky dust of the Almanzo 100 in the nooks and crannies of my bike (that was in May). I’d claim the excuse of having two kids, but I was cleaning averse before they showed up. With most of my riding being on gravel a weekly frame clean is pointless, but the chain and drivetrain get fairly regular attention (read: when the flock of starlings in my cassette begins to sing).

    This is perhaps bad form coming from a part-time LBS wrench, but as long as the dirt isn’t causing functional problems with the bike, I don’t mind.

    But when customers bring a bike splattered with pigeon droppings on the frame, or with cattle manure coating the bottom bracket, I do get a bit cranky. We have turned bikes away for being too covered in filth. This is the great Iowa tradeoff: Little traffic, lots of crap.

  8. Rod

    I’m very diligent with no vanity. A clean, well-adjusted bike works well. And I am driven nuts by noises, clicks, missed shifts, etc. on my bike.

    I used to work at a shop but I never was very fast at cleaning a bike. As a tip, when a bike needs a cleanup do it as soon as you get home – it’s easier that way for everything. And Rock N’Roll lubricant. I love how it can be used to clean and lube the chain as long as it is not truly built up with crap.

  9. Larry T.

    Does obsessive but practical make any sense? My winter bike, the one with fenders can stay dirty if it’s too cold outside to get washed, meaning the water will freeze before it does anything. The chain will get some TLC since that can be one inside. If I have a choice between similar bikes in my stable, I’ll ride the dirty one. Once it’s dirtied up enough to be washed and serviced, I might switch to another one. At CycleItalia we have a small rental fleet and I take care of those the same way as my personal bikes. Before each new client takes one out it’s been washed, serviced and inspected. Tip: simple dish soap works as well as anything for washing while diesel is still the best for cleaning chain and drivetrain. As environmentally obnoxious as it is, you can usually get by with less than an ounce per bike – I might go through 2 liters max in an entire season, both rentals and our personal machines. I’m worse than Nathan above, bring me a filthy bike to work on and you’ll either a) pay ME to wash it first or b) clean it yourself before I’ll touch it. A clean bike is a happy bike!

    1. Padraig

      Wayno: Okee-doke. I keep my bikes pretty clean. Once they’ve picked up enough grime that you can see it, I find an hour to clean them. I don’t tend to remove chains too often, but I’ll hit them with cleaner, a brush and a rag to keep them clean. Being near the beach, if you don’t use a light lube and keep the chain wiped down it’ll pick up more sand than a toddlers ass crack. I’ve got a few different cleaners I’ve been playing with. Once I settle on one that seems to have some advantages, I’ll do a review. In the grand scheme, I’d say I’m not particularly obsessed. I’ve got a couple of friends who are so anal they make me look like a slob (their bikes make my bikes look like slobs for all you grammarians). Also, I should be honest; when I was racing and in need of being superior, if you showed up with a dirty bike, I gave you shit.

      And Larry, when I was still in Northampton, that was my approach as well.

  10. Aar

    I keep mine clean. No schedule, just clean it when I can see dust on the white paint which works out to about once or twice a week and after every rain ride. My maintenance tricks are a Park Chain Cleaner, Finish Line Gear Floss and a Chain Checker. I vacillate on lube but use wet 90% of the time and am currently trying to figure out how little lube I can use while still actually lubing the chain because I’m tired of running toothpicks and paper towels through holes in jockey wheels a few times a year. When I see a bike that’s constantly dirty, I think something like “It only takes a few minutes” but otherwise no judgement.

  11. Ron

    I will admit to being a bit of a nut about keeping things clean. I use a automotive detail spray on the bike after each ride. A quick spray and wipe and all is well. My favorite trick to clean the cassette is to use the room card from some old trip and wrap a piece of old cloth ,then spray liberally with a degreaser, slip it into a space between cogs and turn the crank a few turns. It gets out the gunk pretty well and you have a nice shiny cassette. Works well with 10 spd. but I haven’t tried it with 11s.

  12. Bo L

    I am a snob when I see dirty drive trains. Mine stays clean enough not to leave grime after accidental contact. My secret: A power link, a pan full of mineral spirits, and a cheap paintbrush. Seeing chain ring tattoos bothers me so much that I teach friends how to clean their bikes properly.

    1. Full Monte

      Amen! If everything is working perfectly, and my bike is whisper quiet, I leave well enough alone.

  13. Pat O'Brien

    My obsessive/compulsive gene is in full evidence with my bikes. I don’t just clean them, I detail them. Every time. Carnauba paste wax on the frame and fork as the final touch polished with a diaper.
    Taking a dirty bike to the shop is like going to the dentist without brushing and flossing your teeth.
    My favorite chain cleaning combo is a Park chain cleaning tool and straight Simple Clean. I am careful to fully rinse the chain. My favorite chain lube is Demonde Tech Lite in all conditions on both mountain and road bikes.
    Silliest bike improvement? Red Salsa handlebar tape on my Soma ES. Gets dirty quick, but damn it looks nice.

  14. Miles Archer

    Same logic as with my fun car*. I want a toy, not a hobby. I ride my bike. I do simple maintenance, like lubing the chain, but that’s about it. I can do more, I just don’t want to. If I have free time, it’s for riding, not futzing. I’ll happily pay my lbs to do it for me.

    *I bought a Miata in the early 90s when I was single. Still have it. I love British sports cars but didn’t want the hassle. First dent on it was from the little bike rack I put on it for a trip to Mendocino with my (now) wife.

  15. Gummee!

    I work in a shop, so I’ve got a standard to uphold. Stuff may not be spotless, but its clean. If it squeaks, it needs to be quiet. If its dirty, it needs to be wiped down. Sometimes that means every ride. Sometimes its a few times/month.

    …and… Since I know I’m likely to sell stuff on in a fairly short time, I try and keep stuff up to snuff.


  16. Les.B.

    I keep the bike basically clean. Every hundred miles I do a cleaning, checking, lubing and minor prepping for the following hundred.

    But the chain — I hate greasy chains and sprockets. So I actually go to the trouble to take the chain off and dip it in the paraffin bath. This takes as long as all the rest of the prepping, and I usually do it the day before. My chain keeps a squeaky clean look.

    A new chain gets degreased before it ever gets on the bike. That was true even when my chain was on Dumonde Lite. Really don’t like the grunge they ship the chains in.

    I keep track of my cadence, and the mounting for the Garmin cadence module is no good. It constantly goes out of kilter and has to be re-set on the chainstay. So what I did was order a replacement mount for a Light & Motion headlight and hacked that onto the cadence module. Works much better, needs readjustment only when bump it.

  17. brucew

    Ordinarily, I keep my bikes clean, but not obsessively so. My bikes are my basic transportation, so they get dirtier, more often, than many people’s bikes. But, I live in a third-floor walk-up with no other place than my living room to store the bikes, and I park in the server room at work–two places you really don’t want a messy dirty bike.

    I have a bike hook over the tub. In foul weather, the bike gets a shower before I do. With weekend soapy washes as needed, I generally keep up with it, even through the winter.

    This year there’s lots of construction on my preferred commuting route. Muddy construction, given the rain this year. I’ve all but given up keeping the bikes clean. Full fenders on the commuters keep things down to a dull roar. And my LItespeed suffers the indignity of wearing a beavertail fender.

    Still, they’re not as clean as I’d like, but it would require a full detailing daily, which is far more effort than I want to expend. The trouble is that in winter, I can keep up with one bike that gets filty daily. i can’t keep up with three, and mud doesn’t hose off as easily as salt and slush.

    I am managing to keep up with drivetrain cleaning and maintenance. A rag dampened (not wet or even moistened) with mineral sprits to clean, and Chain-L or NFS to lube.

    That said, I discovered a few years ago that showing up at a group ride on a 90s titanium bike with a light patina of road on it (and a clean drivetrain) yeilds instant cred. It’s taken as a sign that your bike gets its lovin’ on the road, not in the garage. Nobody wonders if you can take your pull or hold your line. It’s just assumed. (Fortunately, I can back up those assumptions.)

    That changed my own view about how clean other riders’ bikes are. I’m still suspicious of riders I don’t know who have showroom clean bikes and new kit. I still feel bad for bikes that look like they haven’t been cleaned since the first Bush Administration. But that in between look that I once took as ambivalence, I now give a pass. Provided it pans out that the rider can hold his line and take his pull.

  18. Boroboonie

    Since I went to electronic shifting with internal routing I’ll say my bike has become pretty maintenance free. That’s one of the good sides of that technology (I could tell you the bad sides but it’s just embarrassing). I do a full DTC once a year, dumonde tech only once the chain starts to make noise, an occasional rear hanger adjustment. Other than that quiet = happy. Also, when buying a used bike never trust an ad that says “professionally maintained.” I’ve always found that statement amusing. We demand the most out of our machines, ride them harder than most other riders, and usually have no time to work on them.

    1. Larry T.

      I thought that meant they paid a pro to maintain it for them instead of fart around with it themselves? I’ve seen some real damage done by serious obsessives – the ones who take the bike to the coin-op car wash or use their own pressure washer because they’ve seen the pros on TV doing it. The bike’s absolutely, surgically clean, but rotting from the inside out whether it’s steel, aluminum or carbon. Their stuff wears out quickly as the lubricants are washed away with high-pressure water and soap and they’re loathe to apply any grease or oil for fear of dirt and grime. Too many bikes and parts are ruined this way, though of course they’re nothing in comparison to those who die an early death from lack of just a bit of TLC. Chairman Bill of Bikeraceinfo badgered me for years to make him a bike wash video – awhile ago I finally caved in and made one. You can see it here but trust me, the production values are pretty low!

  19. Jorgensen

    When drivetrains get dirty I move to another bike. Fortunately there are a number of bikes. When I run out of clean ones I clean a batch. Easier to do a group as the set up and clean up afterward takes a bit of time.

  20. Champs

    Depends on the bike! The road machine stays immaculate, and if I had a mountain bike it would be clean after every shred on the trails.

    Everything else, i.e. bikes I ride in the city, will have a patina. There’s no way around picking up grime on the commuter, and the city bike is what you’d call an “outside dog”. Both have needed some time on the workstand lately, so they have gotten some love. Turns out that both have *silver* rear hubs…

  21. Andrew

    Just got a nice reminder about the importance of maintenance, defined in this case to include one’s gear. I let my road cleats get totally worn, and so today on the dairyland dare, my right cleat decided to stop engaging at all at mile 30 of a 100 mile, 9000ft vertical, ride. Not a whole lot of fun riding with one “Ultegra platform pedal”. And pretty entertaining when I was unable to maintain a high speed right turn and had to go into full LA cyclocross mode in the meadow at the bottom of the hill. Did you know it’s hard to bank hard when you aren’t clipped in? So I’m going to be a very good boy from now on about this. We did maintain 18+ though, so I got the “stubborn” medal to go with my “stupid” one.

  22. Lachlan

    ANC Halfords Peugeot! I knew that had to be one of those with the orange tape, even seeing it on my phone.

    As for repair schedule, I’m with Robot and then some… kids not only mean time to ride or maintain with bike is an either/or equation, they also limit my riding enough that maintenance needs are hugely reduced. I’ve even managed 3 seasons without puncture or need to swap out the same pair of Vittoria CXs!

  23. Tom in Albany

    Like yourself, I focus on the kids and the resultant schedule. Also, like yourself, I’m not a very good wrench. I do what I can when I can manage it. I try to keep the chain lubed. Other than that, all best are off. My bike is rarely clean. I’ve been known to take a cup of water and some paper towels out to the bike rack at work and give my bike a wipe down. No degreaser or any of that. I don’t wash my car. I don’t wash my bike. Hell, my Subaru’s state inspection was up in March! It’s all unimportant as compared to my wife and kids. That said, when I had the time, the same was all true! so there.

    I don’t judge on bike condition and cleanliness. What I do is try to keep my bike (and my cars) in good operating condition. I don’t much pay attention to the aesthetics. (Back to the Subaru, the drivers side has about 2,326 dings on the driver’s side thanks to the kids and their car doors and their bike parking (tossing)…

    Serious repairs go to the shop. I don’t want to take the time to learn how to do it. I’m a passable mechanic at best and would rather waste my time riding than waste my time fixing the bike!

    Hope the hand heals up well.

  24. David Appleby

    I used to be a car wash type. Hose it down, scrub it, then rinse, dry, lube.

    Everything I do now is with a damp microfiber rag and anither microfiber rag for the greasy bits, I do all my cleaning on a stand once a week or when it rains (I ride 400+ miles/week). I fold my rag into fourths and wipe down my chain until the track on the rag isn’t black anymore. I apply triflow to all derailleur bushings, shift through all gears and wipe excess. Then I run triflow through the lining for the front derailleur until it drips out the bottom, and the same for the plastic cable routing under the bb. I use a cleaner and wax lube generously and then wipe again until the track on the rag is no longer black. Then I wipe the outside and inside of the big ring, inside of the small ring, and both pulleys. Now I use the damp rag to clean the tire, brake tracks, in between spokes, spokes, and hub. Then I pull the rear wheel and lean the tire tread on a wall and rub the edge of the greasy rag between all cogs in the cassette. Next I wipe the rear triangle, running the rag between the chainrings and the chainstay to the bb shell, between the seat tube and the chain ring a, and between the down tube and the chainrings, cleaning the cranhs and both sides of the spider, wipe all the tubes themselves, then do the front wheel as the rear and remove it, wipe fork, headtube, cable housings. I “floss” the gaps in the brake pads then pull the pads from the holders and dress the pads with 220 grit sandpaper. Put it all back together and you should see the bike you bought the way it looked in the shop (minus the tire and chainring wear). About 15 minutes.

  25. Harris

    I find cleaning my bike WITH my kids to be a good way to kill two birds with one stone. They wipe theirs down while I clean mine.

    1. Harris

      P – My oldest is not much older than MiniShred, and his brother is 14 months behind. It is a fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon after a ride, even if I have to break up fights of the degreaser bottle. Take care.

  26. peter leach

    Assertion: Cleanliness is next to Godliness.
    Assertion: Riding is close to Heaven on Earth.
    Therefore: I don’t know. I was going somewhere … but now it’s deserted me.

    Clean is clean. But, to my my mind at least, quiet, smooth, slick – call it what you will, is part of the magic of riding.
    As @Brucew said: “… showing up at a group ride on a 90s titanium bike with a light patina of road on it (and a clean drivetrain) yields instant cred …” – and it’s a very rewarding way to ride to boot.

    I like to keep my bikes clean, well lubed and ready to ride.

    Now for the mischief. A couple of posters have already declared their allegiance. And there’s nothing like a good ‘lube war’. Prolink Gold is the greatest gift to a clean, smooth, quiet drivechain going round 🙂

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