It’s partly psychological, but a clean bike just seems to ride better. Some cyclists clean their bikes after every ride. Some clean their bike only when it’s dirty. It’s a given that, if you can see dirt and gunk on your bike, it needs to be cleaned. But too much water is not a good thing. And with the onset of winter, it’s almost impossible to wash your bike with soap and water, and then expect it to dry instead of freeze. Maybe a dry wash is all it needs.
Road bikes are delicate, complex machines. The lighter they get, the more delicate they are. Washing them with a hose is sometimes necessary, but the less water on your bike the better. Water won’t hurt your bike, but constant immersion in water should be avoided when unnecessary.
You might have noticed that bike shops have spotlessly clean, shiny bikes. They don’t wash each and every one with soap and water. They use ordinary household products to dry wash their bikes when needed, without soaking them.
Water seeps into cable housings and between moving parts. Rims can rust, especially where brake pads wear them down. The chain is another steel part, if it’s wet, and you don’t have sufficient lube, it can rust overnight.
Don’t Blast It
Mountain bikes are one thing. They get caked with dirt and mud, and there’s nothing you can do but hit them with everything you’ve got. But unless you’ve been caught in the rain or rode a stretch of dirt covered pavement, your expensive road bike collects nothing in the way of dirt and grime that requires you to blast it with a garden hose.
Motorcycles really have little to offer cyclists, but borrowing a few secrets from them can’t hurt. Motorcycles collect bugs like you wouldn’t believe. Motorcycles have complicated electronics that shouldn’t get wet over and over again. Dealers sell expensive products that are specifically designed to remove bugs and road grime without spraying the motorcycle with water. But guess what, it’s more like common furniture polish. Some bicycle shops also sell bike-specific dry wash to customers, but when it comes down to polishing their own bikes, they often use common furniture polish instead.
Wiping your bike with a dry cloth is not a good idea. Sand, grit and debris attached to the bike surface can scratch paint. By spraying the bike first with furniture polish, it helps to lift abrasive particles onto the cloth, and prevents them from scratching.
Even though most household furniture polish works just fine to dry wash your bike, it’s always wise to read the instructions printed on the can. If it prohibits using it on leather, cloth or other components on your bike don’t use it. Get something else. Note that if the product can be used on delicate furniture finishes, it’s not likely going to hurt the clear coat on your bike.
Dry washing your bike is almost as easy as it sounds. Work in manageable sections by spraying it with furniture polish — after vetting it of course. Lemon-scented is nice, it gives your bike the pleasant citrus scent of summer.
Foam it Up
Spray the frame until it’s foamy. Allow the foam to soften bugs, dirt and grime for a few minutes and then wipe it off with a soft cloth. If the foam begins to deteriorate and disappear before you can wipe it off, work in smaller areas.
Repeat as Needed
Don’t scrub hard initially, it’s still possible to scratch your paint or clear coat with abrasive grit that your rag has picked up. If you feel that the rag has particles, shake it out or use a different rag. It’s fine to go over the top tube, down tube or steering tube individually, and then repeat if needed until it gleams.
Polish to Shine
Hit the grips, seat and handlebars with the furniture polish if you desire. But be aware that furniture polish will make things slick; don’t use it on your rims where they contact the brake pads. Slick brakes are dangerous — it feels nice on the seat though. Allow the bike to dry for about 15 minutes, and then bring out the luster by polishing it shiny with a soft, dry cloth.
Don’t forget your clipless pedals. Foam them up. Use a toothbrush or other small brush to get the sand out of them. Furniture polish has just the right amount of lubricant for these delicate parts. If you’ve ever hit them with oil, you know that they can release when you don’t want them to. Furniture polish has just enough slick stuff to keep them working like they should.
Car detailing products are other options to furniture polish. They come in handy wipes, similar children-safe baby wipes, but they have a silicone protectant that provides a bit of armour to your bike’s finish. Keep a container of these handy, they’re good for quick touch ups right before or right after you ride. Just wipe the bike with them and it shines, it’s almost too easy.
The Last Resort
If you’ve hit a patch of mud, ridden on soft dirt or wet gravel, dirt and gunk can get into the brakes, collect on the chainstays, splatter the down tube or pack into the derailleur. A dry wash isn’t going to do it in this instance. A garden hose and bucket of soapy water is in order.
Soap and Water
Tutorials for washing a bike are all over the internet. It’s just like washing a car, with a few exceptions: Remove your saddle bag and computer for starters. Washing it is easy enough, but make sure it’s dry. Air compressors are handy if you have one, they can dry your bike in minutes.
One of the big issues with soap and water is that it removes lubricants, and then they need to be replaced. Some cyclists tend to over-lubricate. It leads to poor performance and excessive component wear when dirt and grime attach to the extra lube. Go easy on the lube.
Under normal riding conditions, your bike will remain cleaner longer if you ride it. Dust from your garage is a common reason bikes need to be cleaned in the first place.