Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clean or Dirty?

When I put my Pashley Princess up for sale last week, I had been planning to wash the bicycle before showing her to potential buyers. But things happened fast, and the Princess was purchased just as she was. And the surprising thing is, she looked absolutely clean even without having undergone a washing. Examining the shiny frame with just a few specks of dust here and there, you would never know that this bicycle had seen a year of use, including having lived through a New England winter. Not only were there no scratches on the finish, but there were no mud stains either. I am not sure how exactly that's possible, but there it is. Is powdercoating not only durable, but somehow stain resistant? Seems unlikely.

In contrast, my poor Rivendell Sam Hillborne is absolutely filthy after less than 4 months of use. I will spare you the close-ups of the dirty parts, but he seems to attract mud and grime like honey attracts flies. I am not a person who washes their bicycles after every ride, and I never will be. And while I expected the exposed components on a roadbike to gather dirt, it never occurred to me that the very finish of a bicycle could be dirt-prone or dirt-resistant. The pretty liquid paint on the Rivendell is delicate compared to the thick powdercoat on bicycles like the Pashley and the Gazelle and it is much easier to nick. But does liquid coat also require more cleaning than powdercoat? That is not something I had ever heard before, so I am wondering about others' experience.

Do your bicycles seem to stay clean on their own, or do they require constant washing?  And while I do not mind the look of a dirty bicycle, I am wondering whether leaving the Rivendell like this for long can result in any sort of damage or corrosion? Your thoughts appreciated!

32 comments:

  1. I actually got a book to help me figure out the basics of maintenance (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Do-Yourself-Bike-Book/dp/1600940242/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282148798&sr=8-1), and the author recommends a bike polish to prevent dirt from accumulating on the frame. I've only recently polished my bikes though, so I can't comment on its effectiveness just yet.

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  2. Nina - Well, that's the thing: The Pashley looks polished without it actually having been done. The Rivendell does not and clearly requires maintenance. But what can possibly account for the difference?

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  3. My powder coated blue bike does get a bit grubby, but that's mainly where there's grease from the chain. I imagine the chain case on the Pashley is helping keep yours clean. Otherwise mine gets the odd mud splash which can be wiped off fairly easily. I consider cleaning the frame itself to be cosmetic but it's easy enough to do when I'm cleaning out the mudguards and the chain itself - and that does need to be done anyway so you might as well give the frame a wipe over too.

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  4. After a long ride, I wipe my bike clean. I do it in part because I take pride the appearance of my bike. Plus, wiping around some of the moving parts, like the headset and bottom bracket bearings, can help to keep dirt form working into them.

    After a short ride, I won't clean my bike. Ditto at the end of the day on a multi-day ride. And I don't clean my "beater," which is usually parked on the street. The dirtier that bike is, the better.

    About powder coating versus paint: Powder coating is indeed a lot harder to scratch or ding than paint is. However, I don't recommend it for a bike that's out in the rain a lot, because it actually traps moisture inside frame tubes. The amount it traps isn't so much that you would notice, but it's enough to cause corrosion over the long term.On the other hand, a painted bike, if it rusts, will rust from the outside inward. And surface rust isn't as bad as internal rust.

    One more thing: Judging from the photos, your Pashley was a darker shade of green than your Sam Hilbourne is. Dark-colored bikes tend to stay, or at least look, cleaner than lighter ones. The last and best mountain bike I had was, believe it or not, white when I bought it. You would barely have been able to see that a few years later.

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  5. A nice layer of mud is a great rust inhibitor. Steel needs to be in contact with oxygen to corrode.

    However, if you leave things too dirty, that grit will inevitably make its way into the bearing assemblies of the bicycle, which is always a bummer.

    P

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  6. Velouria - I see your point. Though if a polished surface can make a difference in attracting/retaining dirt, I imagine the difference between painting and powdercoating might function similarly? I'm sure one of our sciency sorts will chime in on this.

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  7. I like riding through puddles so....

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  8. i think in your comparison between the hillborne and the pashley, the difference may be partly due to the braking systems: note how filthy the rims and tires get with rim brakes. much of that filth is brake dust from the pads, which deposits on the rims and then makes radial streaks on the rims and tires when wet. i see this constantly with all of my road bikes, even after a single ride in wet weather. in contrast, the pashley's internal drum brakes don't leave any brake dust on the rims, so the rims stay cleaner, longer.

    ditto the comment about the chain and chaincase-- same deal. without the enclosure, chain grime spits out all over the bottom bracket, chainstay, rear dropout and rear hub.

    also, are the hillborne's fenders as wide as the pashley's? i noticed that my roadbike fenders don't protect as well from splashing as the really wide fenders on my DL1 and dutch bike.

    as for powder versus enamel: i'm not quite sure. i know that my blue powdercoated shogun is very easy to clean. oily grime just wipes right off. ditto my trek, which has the factory enamel paint. both bikes have a high-gloss finish, and that may be why. neither frame attracts general dirt. my jeunet is powdercoated, but it's been finely sanded for a matte finish, and it attracts dirt like mad.

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  9. My ebony Pashley sleeps in the garage but she still manages to get a little dusty - and even has a few small scratches in the paint. Don't really have an answer for you other than maybe you are just more careful/delicate with your lovely bikes than you realize!

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  10. justine and anon: interesting posits, but i'm not sure i agree.

    as for powder vs paint, what i've learned about powder is that since it is so thick and difficult to blister or crack, if it is breached it can trap moisture between itself and the bare steel, allowing it to rust without creating a typical rust blister like you see when rust starts to form underneath paint. so, the rust can develop longer while going undetected, unlike with paint. on the other hand, i don't see any credible argument why powder causes moisture to get trapped *inside* tubes. the best way to prevent rust from the inside out is to make sure that (1) your bike's tubes are treated with a rust preventative coating such as framesaver or linseed oil, and (2) the vent/drain holes in your bike's tubes are kept clear and unclogged. this is perhaps more important than having a rust inhibitor coating inside the tubes.

    as for muddy versus clean: i have never heard a case for mud being a rust inhibitor because of insulating from oxygen. true, steel must be insulated from oxygen, which is what paint and other coatings do, but mud traps moisture (which contains oxygen), and it is prolonged exposure to moisture that promotes rust. what would happen if you buried a piece of steel pipe in the ground?

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  11. I got my green Pashley back in March and I too was amazed at how durable the paint job is. My other bike is an Electra with an aluminum frame and the paint job did not hold up as well. My bf says that's because paint just doesn't adhere well to aluminum and of course, powder coating is more costly but in the case of Pashley that's what you're paying for isn't it - the quality.
    I was actually marvelling that I hadn't a scratch on it until I had a minor accident in which my wheel caught on a streetcar/trolley track and I went down. Still, most of the dings were on me and not the bike!

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  12. In addition to all the above points, could it be that in 4 months the Sam has covered a lot more miles than a year of Pashley riding?

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  13. I think it's well worth giving a bike a regular clean. You never know what's in the dirt that accumulates, roads get salted and have quite nasty chemicals dumped on them from vehicles which can get into water and splashed up onto your frame. Sometimes they'll corrode the bike. They can get through to the metal if there's a small scratch to the paint. I try to give the frame a wash every six or seven rides, that way I keep on top of the grime without getting obsessed.

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  14. It always seems to be a color thing with me. Red, yellow and white seem to repel dirt, not grease. Green and blue seems to repel both, and black don't even get me started.
    I have a set of handlebars that I powdercoated just lying in a parts bin, and they just don't seem to attract scratches. I was told the finish in ten times as tough as regular paint of any kind, maybe twice IMHO!.

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  15. I agree with somervillain, it may have to do with your rim brakes. If you haven't done so already, you might replace your brake pads with a set of Salmon Kool Stops; they run cleaner than most other pads.

    Regarding the paint, a coat of wax will repel dirt and help protect it. I've had good luck with Meguiar's Ultimate Quik Wax. It's a spray on, wipe off, liquid wax that only takes a few minutes to apply.

    Alan

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  16. Perhaps they waxed the Pashley before you got it. I'm a great believer in the magic powers of wax to protect a finish.

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  17. That is a good point about brakes and chain. It makes sense that an uncovered chain does not only get dirty itself, but splashes mud elsewhere on the bike, and same with rim brakes. Oh, and I did plan to get KoolStops for the brakes, but somehow it never got done; better get on it.

    Re powdercoat - gasp, I did not realise the rust-trapping qualities it could have. What I have noticed, is that when powdercoat tends to scuff or scratch, whereas liquid coat tends to chip. I did not realise there could be negative side-effects to powder's durability.

    Steve - If that's the case, than it must have been an excellent wax job if it lasted for over a year, including a winter of daily cycling!

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  18. In very basic terms, paint is applied as a liquid of volatile chemicals. It dries, cures and then as it ages it can oxidize. Paint adheres to the surface. Powdercoating is a plastic which is applied as a dry powder, heated and melted onto the object. In a crude way, it is like shrink wrapping the bicycle frame. The powdercoat will be a much smoother surface than the more (microscopically) porous paint and will better resist grime.

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  19. colonelpossum - Nice analogy, it does feel like shrinkwrap.

    Anon 4:55 - Oh no, I am sorry to hear about the trolley track accident! Gotta be so careful around those : (

    Anon 5:23 - I've ridden over 1,500 miles on the Hillborne since I got him, which probably is more than on the Pashley, which I rode relatively short distances (though on a daily basis) for over a year. On the other hand, I have ridden the Hillborne in the rain only a few times, whereas I have ridden the Pashley in the rain (and snow, including slushy salted streets) countless times. So overall, I thought Pashley would be the one to get more filthy.

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  20. I'm afraid everyone has missed the cleverness of Grant Peterson... The Hillborne is designed to attract dirt accelerating the 'beausage' factor!

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  21. I wish, but that version of the model was $200 extra.
    Sadly, my frame was the regular kind.

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  22. I like an immaculate and freshly-lubed drive train (including complete disassembly if neccessary), shiny rims, and I shave my legs. As far as everything else, well, a little patina adds character.

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  23. Personally, I disassemble and wax my chain after every ride. It takes a little bit of patience to re-rivet each link, but it's worth it. Of course it's easier now that I've sequentially numbered each piece.

    As far as brake dust, it's a lot easier to clean the insides of the rims once you remove the spokes. You can also get to those hard to reach surfaces of the hubs, so it's like that story about two birds vs. one stone. Oh, and when numbering the spokes do try to keep in mind which ones are front and which ones are rear.

    Now that reminds me, does anyone have a good routine for the insides of the lugs? I know, I know, tig-welding really solves that problem, but I prefer lugged frames. A bit indulgent, but nothing's better than a freshly cleaned, polished and waxed lugged frame. I suppose once the tubes are free during the lug-polishing stage, you could really have a go at them with pipe-cleaners.

    The liquid-spray wax *really* makes all of this much quicker, by the way.

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  24. The faster you go, the dirtier your bike is likely to get. I'm sure you tend to ride the Sam Hillborne at much higher speeds than the Pashley Princess. The faster the wheels are turning, the faster the debris is moving when it leaves the tires, rims, and spokes, and the higher it gets thrown up. Also compare the fenders; I bet the Pashley's fenders had a wider margin around the tires than the ones you've got on the Rivendell. You may also be spinning the cranks faster most of the time...

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  25. I have the same experience! My Oma always looks clean, even when I go the entire winter without washing her. The black color helps a lot, but probably has something to do with the powdercoat, too. In contrast, my Rivendell Betty Foy gets very dirty quickly. And chipped. But I like to think of it as her "patina" and that makes me feel good :)

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  26. Dottie - my Hillborne gets chipped as well, especially in the are of the stays. Installing a leather stay protector helped in that regard.

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  27. Some bikes seem to be able to do without any paint at all:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/henryinamsterdam/4882861767/

    According to their specifications, this is 4130 CroMoly steel, with a zinc based primer.

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  28. It's a mystery and that's the truth. Perhaps Grant at Rivendell specifies a type of paint that's beausage compliant?

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  29. Hi there,

    I have found that cleaning my road bike (Giant OCR) to fairly relaxing and enjoyable. Contemplating on the days ride as you remove the days grime is rather satisfying. The issue I have had in the past is cleaning the rear cassette, front mechs, of the machine, trying to remove the dirt in the areas that are hard to get to, but can cause damage to the bike. I have used pieces of rag to clean the cassettes, but that can be fiddly. What a pain! Anyone with any good cleaning products that can help reduce this pain for me? I just want something that takes about ten minutes to use and is easy, works and gets rid of the dirt. Brushes of any description are fine, but tend not to be able to get in the finer and harder parts of the bike and tend to spray after a while.
    Let me know your ideas

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  30. One thing you can do to help keep your bike from getting as dirty is to wax it. It accomplishes a couple of good things, first it reduces the ability of the bike to maintain a static electric charge that attracts dust and helps dirt hang on. I design and build museum displays for a living and I can show you pictures of adjacent displays with and without wax and how they look after 1 day, 1 week and 1 month. I don't know exactly how this works but it does. It works on my bikes too.

    The other thing it does is seal all the little chips and cracks in the paint that are too small to see. The problem you mention with powdercoating trapping moisture can be prevented by giving it a good waxing periodically. Powdercoating can be porous and a good coat of wax is just about the best remedy for that problem, just make sure you do it before rust gets started...

    Spindizzy

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  31. All due respect to the person who recommended a layer of mud to protect a steel frame from rusting due to contact with oxygen, but...That's sooo nut's. Mud is not a barrier to oxygen, in fact it makes a great sponge to keep the worlds finest steel solvent(water, hydrogen and oxygen) in constant contact with your frame. Mud is hygroscopic, it attracts moisture. Something else must be going on if you are getting good results, long-term, from mud baths...

    Spindizzy

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  32. I don't have a powdercoated bike, but I have noticed that after 100 miles or so, my bikes seem to get a haze on them that comes off straightaway with just a wipe-down, but it seems that rain, dirt, sweat, whatever else, just collects and serves as an attractant. It's especially noticeable on the bottom tube, and the stays/fork around the wheels, obviously. I've also noticed that fenders and flaps don't seem to help this much - my three fendered bikes (UO-8 fixed gear, Fuji Palisade with flaps, and a Phillips Sports) get just as filthy as my un-fendered Nishiki Modulus. Then again, the Nishiki is only ridden on dry pavement, while the other ones occasionally encounter rain and puddles, dirt roads, etc.

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