Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Saltwater and Rust

Surly, Rust
Both this summer and in previous years we've brought our bikes to the coast, we've noticed rust forming alarmingly quickly - even with the bicycles kept indoors. The chain is usually the first to rust, with the various bolts that hold components together shortly following suit. Even hardy powdercoated frames are not immune to this: We noticed rust spots on the Co-Habitant's pale blue Surly at the end of our first week here. I am curious how those who live next to salt water year-round take care of their bicycles. If the rate of rust formation we are seeing is any indication, it seems that bikes kept near salt water are liable to become rust buckets in no time.

On the other hand, I recall that my parents - who live around the corner from a marina - have always kept bikes in the garage, which was left open more often than not. These included my old mountain bike - which was stored in this manner for 15 years before I retrieved it, and the vintage Raleigh we later restored - which must have been kept there for over 20 years. Neither of these bikes show any more rust than is typical for their age. Could it be that bicycles were somehow rust-proofed in the past, and that this is no longer done? Or does rust formation slow down after an initially vigorous attack? Insights from coastal dwellers appreciated!

40 comments:

  1. I am going to guess that if your bicycle is hanging out next to a beach with pounding waves, then you are going to get rust a lot faster than being near a marina with calm water. The waves aerosolize the salt water and it will coat everything. I live near calm sea water (Puget Sound) and things don't rust that badly here at all, cars and bicycles included.

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  2. If you keep your bicycle inside and it is air conditioned and then take it outside "dew" forms on the metal (inside and out) and rust gets a start. I am at the Isle of Palms, a few hundred yards from the ocean, and will be here for about 3 months. My Sam and the Rainbow bike are downstairs in the garage (have been there for weeks) at ambient temp and there is no sign of rust.

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  3. Ah, the joy of living in Phoenix. We may have to deal with 110+ temps, but rust... not here.

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  4. I don't have particularly coastal insights, but you hear a lot in that chromes and other coatings have become more vulnerable to rust as they've been made more environmentally friendly. We hear this a lot about paints in architectural settings.

    I believe that "old" chrome plating involved a lot of heavy metals which are now banned or restricted.

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  5. I live in Michigan, where they use a lot of salt on the roads in the winter which will mess up a bike fast. My parents live in Florida about 30 miles inland, everything rusts and corrodes there, the salt is in the air all the time, even inside the house things rust. I bet that is true when you are near the coast too.

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  6. Bikes in Seattle show remarkably little rust. I kept an unpainted, raw steel frame in my basement for over a year before I got around to having it finished, without significant rust forming.

    I suspect it depends on the temperature of the water - the Puget Sound is very cold, so little water evaporates.

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  7. This is precisely why a dynamo cable run through the frame to the rear in a salty, moisturized climate ain't ideal. Too many points of entry.

    The powdercoat doesn't extend to inside the frame, that protected by somesuch thing like Frame Saver(tm). The corrosive effects you're getting during your rides primarily, not so much storage inside.

    The degree of salinity in ocean water is variable too.

    What you are seeing is surface rust and doesn't compromise structural integrity. The problem is when it's left in this environment over a longer term. Clean it up w/some light lube or grease and keep an eye on it.

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  8. Seems like powder-coated bikes rust more than painted ones.

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  9. J.P. Weigle Framesaver, then relax and enjoy the ride for the next 10-15years.





    www.bikewrider.blogspot.com

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  10. I grew up 3 blocks from the beach in New Jersey and our bikes were always sort of rusty (like the paint inside our house was always sort of mildew-y). We didn't have a garage so we kept them on the front porch in the summer and the basement in the winter. My dad was a touring cyclist so he took care of the cruisers my sisters and I rode somewhat but I remember rust on the chains and handlebars. I do think the rust sort of reaches a critical mass at a certain point because I don't think any of the components ever got so rusted we couldn't ride the bikes though? (Also, my mom always brought brown bikes, and in retrospect, maybe this was to minimize the appearance of rust?)

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  11. this is just mild surface rust and will happen in all but the most dry environments. where i live is extremly dry, but i will still get this kind of rust from the drain holes. it's almost always caused by washing my bike. i've also lived on the coast and have never had issues with rust. i would say you have nothing to worry about with this.

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  12. Bicycles definitely had no secret rust prevention that has since been lost. Rust forms a surface film. Combined with older lubricants, the opportunity for continued oxidation is limited. The rust progresses faster with water or fresh metal exposure such as during cleaning.

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  13. Not a coast-dweller, but my family did once have our bikes in tow on a visit to my wife's parents on the Atlantic coast of Florida. They (the bikes, that is) were never out of the garage and, yet, within a week, had gotten rust on pretty much every bit of exposed steel. My understanding is that rust is easily penetrated by both air and water, so that it does not do anything to prevent, or slow down significantly, the formation of additional rust. Beyond that, I have nothing to contribute. I don't know how people in coastal areas do it, either.

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  14. I don't know about the sea air for sure, but I know I've heard Henry from WorkCycles talk about bikes that get left around Amsterdam that just develop a nice patina of rust on the surface, but it never rusts through the steel. These being ones that have probably been left outside every single day for 30-40 years. So maybe it is the case, that rust forms quickly on the surface, but then just kind of stops there (unless it gets submerged in a canal or something) :)

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  15. Saltwater is definitely a contributor to rust, particularly in areas along the east coast, which has two things going against it. First, the Atlantic has a much higher salinity than the Pacific. Second, the east coast tends to be much more humid than places like southern California, so you not only have a saltier ocean, you have more (and saltier) moisture in the air. My first tour in the navy was in Norfolk, Virginia, where sailors were constantly battling ship's rust. My second tour was in San Diego where 25 year old ships looked brand new because of the lower salinity and drier air.

    As for ways to combat rust, rust inhibitors, such as Weigles Frame Saver or Boeshield T-9, sprayed into the tubing of steel frames before the bike is built up helps.

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  16. Rust formation does actually slow after an initial oxidation layer is formed on bare metal. This is why building girders and bridges can be left unpainted. The key here is that the surfaces are flat, and can vent regularly to dry any moisture on the surface. Once bare metal is allowed to become wet without a means to regularly dry out (like bicycle tubing without adequate venting), then rust can continue to spread into the metal.

    I routinely spray a rust-preventative coating inside all my bike frames before building them up. I use JP Weigle's Framesaver, but there are lots of different anti-rust coatings on the market, that pretty much do the same thing.

    That rust you see on the co-hab's Surly has nothing to do with it being powder coated or painted. From that picture, it looks like the inside of the tube (which did not get any powder and is bare metal) has formed a layer of rust. Moisture that has gotten into the tube has weeped out through that vent hole (as it should), carrying some of the surface rust with it. It's superficial for now, but if the frame and fork had been treated prior to building up, you wouldn't see it.

    As for hardware such as bolts and cables, I always use stainless if possible. Chains are consumable wear items, so it doesn't bother me too much that they rust. They usually wear out before they rust out.

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  17. I live about 100 yards from the coast In Round Pond Me. Even have a water view in the winter. I restore old bike frames. After painting the frame gets wire brushed in all the tubes that are accessible then I wash out with boiling water which cleans the tubes and dries them out. finally all tubes get a dose of Frame saver or CRC sp 400 corrosion inhibitor. I have never had any problem with frame rust. This may seem time consuming and involved but you have to do it only once. the chain is another story. That gets rusty in the rain but then I keep chains well lubricated and replace every 1000 miles or so.

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  18. Amsoil heavy duty metal protectant from the auto parts store, it's like a third of the price of Frame Saver. Also the best chain lube I've ever used.

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  19. I recall from my New England childhood that there was a lot of salt used on roads during the winter. Cars would routinely rust out after a few short years if they weren't taken care of. If salt is still used, I would expect that riding in the winter would be far more likely to cause rust than riding near the ocean.

    Did you experience any rusting in the winter?

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  20. GRJ said, "This is precisely why a dynamo cable run through the frame to the rear in a salty, moisturized climate ain't ideal. Too many points of entry."

    Ha! Only if it's done carelessly. Not when it's sealed with a proper grommet (and the frame is Framesaver-treated):

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5517041659/

    AND, if existing vent holes are utilized, then there's no new point of entry created:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5394761276/in/set-72157625413101060/

    Lastly, all good frames should have vent/drain holes wherever water is likely to pool, to allow any water that has breached the frame through the headset or seat post to drain... for example the underside of the bottom bracket. Ever remove a bottom bracket from an old bike without a drain hole at the bottom? Ever notice how much rust accumulates down there? This is why any frame of mine that's getting repainted or powder coated is now getting a hole drilled at the bottom of the bottom bracket. I don't worry about moisture getting in; I only worry about moisture not being able to get out.

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  21. SV, I'm sending you my next build. It's pretty obvious your standards are higher than most, particularly mass-built ones. Or even not.

    Workscycles does a galvanized coating for weatherproofing; that's the nth degree US-bound bikes don't get.

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  22. I live in the Netherlands and I'm not sure why some bikes do better than others. My son's Diamondback frame is doing okay after being here a year, but doesn't seem to be doing as well as the bikes we've bought locally.

    The Sparta I rebuilt had a rubbery top coat that was very thick over the paint job. I can't explain it exactly... it wasn't a gloss coat, but actually kind of rubbery and plastic like. It was difficult to sand off and eventually I just gave up and sanded it enough to hold a paint job. This bike had been dumped in a canal for a while and looked really good considering. The worst parts were the disk brakes which had filled up with water and sqeeked unmercifully. The frame itself was in great shape.

    The peugeot mixte I keep outside as a stationbike has been sitting out for most of it's life. It was frozen up with rust when I bought it. The frame is fine and she's working again with a new chain and a regrease.

    Sometimes I think the designers built the older bikes to live with rust and weather. Simpler components, better materials. I've heard the Kabuki submariner is completely waterproof and I want to get my hands on one someday just to check it out.

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  23. We lived 2 miles inland on the coast of CA and the moist salty air was hell on my bikes, and tools and springs in our window roller blinds.

    From doing a few restorations (bikes, motorcycles and tractors) I found a great product that kills rust dead. Well 2 products - Ospho and Permatex Rust Treatment. These products are in liquid and spray respectively, but they are, I think the same product chemically.

    Their best aplications are as a thin base coat right after stripping or sand blasting. The chemical kills all the rust, microscopic or otherwise, doesn't just cover it up. Then (with Permatex anyway) you lay your primer and top coats of paint directly on top. Ospho might require a wipe-down before paint. But no pin rust will bleed through.

    I have carefully applied the Permatex via Q-tips to selected bicycle components understanding that the product can discolor paint. Usually - if it is a painted area - I've lightly sanded, applied the Permatex and touched up the paint. On chrome - let 'er rip. When dry you can buff it off with 0000. The formerly rusty affected area will turn black, but with even hearty pin rust this all but disapears.

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  24. Aircraft built using steel tubes back in the 1920's and 30's used "lionoil", also called line oil or tube seal. A quart is $18. The oil climbs the tubes so as it vaporizes and condenses. Aircraft guys have done repairs on fuselages with lionoil in the tubes that were 60 years old, left out on the ramp for years and no rust! A quart will treat two airplanes, so I imagine that's a lifetime supply for bikes!
    Application tip. Use a shotgun cleaning kit, especially if you are cleaning and oiling an old bike. 12 ga. patches work great.

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  25. I recall from my New England childhood that there was a lot of salt used on roads during the winter. Cars would routinely rust out after a few short years if they weren't taken care of. If salt is still used, I would expect that riding in the winter would be far more likely to cause rust than riding near the ocean.

    Did you experience any rusting in the winter?


    Absolutely! I've had the salty slushy streets around these parts destroy steel parts on my bikes in one season. Only my beater bike gets ridden when there's salty slush getting splashed up.

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  26. Meh. This frame was less than $400. I am not exactly worried if it catches some rust flakes on the inside of the tubes.

    Components are decent on this bike, every fastener is supposedly high quality. So I don't expect to have to worry about any of it. Seriously, I worry much more about someone messing up my fenders on a parked bike than I worry about the elements. I just keep pouring oil all over the drive train to keep things moving smoothly. My cut-off point when it comes to my own bikes is when I hear something. Like a fender rubbing, perhaps out of alignment, or something that makes a noise in the drive train. Anywhere on the bike--squeaks, saddle being chatty. I will get on that right away. But as long as the bike is silent, I am not worried. It was damn hard to get this bike silent with its oversized wheels and tight rear fender clearances.

    I ride my transport bike through the worst salty mix all winter long. I don't exactly baby it when it comes to removing the salt. I keep meaning to spray it down with something, but it's August and... well, I have other stuff to do.

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  27. Have not had a chance to read all the comments, but re salted roads: They salt the heck out of the roads in Somerville, and I ride my transportation bikes through the worst of it, often leaving them parked outside for hours. Never seen rust form on my powdercoated frames in the winter from the salt on the roads, whereas here it happened in a matter of days.

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  28. The rust at the hole on the Surley is likely from very thin powder coating at the sharp edge of the hole. Coatings tend not to stick to non-rounded edges, this happens with wet paint as well.
    Regarding stainless steel, you probably notice rust in the recesses of hex bolts, from what I read, the rust is caused by either or both water spray from the road containing iron oxide (rust) collecting in the recess or from steel tools leaving behind small traces of steel.
    Like Cycler, my background is architectural, we always specify that exterior stainless steel is to be cleaned with non-ferrous materials such as Scotch Brite pads instead of steel wool or steel brushes to prevent transfer of steel that will rust onto the surface of the stainless.
    We also have a tendency to use galvanizing (typically hot-dip galvanizing) to prevent rust on normal steels. I have wondered of anyone has experience using a cold applied galvanizing such as ZRC?
    Regarding intentionally exposed rusted steel on some structures, the steel involved is likely a self-weathering steel such as Cor-Ten. Even Cor-Ten has problems if water is left to accumulate on it. The Blackstone school in Boston's South End had its Cor-ten siding replaced several years ago after about 30 years of use.
    Mark

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  29. Even cars rust quickly on the coast. New vehicles will get rust on the little bits and pieces in no time. While I do notice rust can appear almost overnight, it is all the ocean's fault. I would say more harm is done when salt and de icing products are put on the roads in the winter-or in my neck of the woods at the slightest chance of freezing!
    More vital components should be made out of stainless steel.
    Sadly, powdercoating is not the cure all it claims to be. Some frame painters even refuse to powder coat because it is not really that durable. A properly liquid painted frame should be good for decades. In the liquid paint process there are many steps, undercoats etc which seal the frame. So, those old frames were likely well painted. Higher end bicycles were also chromed before they were painted. My surly is only a few years old and I recently found a scratch in the paint, and the spot is rusting. :0
    I am not as diligent as I should be about cleaning up my bikes, but there are many things you can do to protect your frame and components. Framesaver, boeshield, special bicycle frame waxes, regular car wax etc.. I keep my 'good' bikes inside the mudroom where it gets some heat in the winter, and we started rinsing our bikes when we got home over the winter/monsoon season.
    I would say rinse your bikes off every day while on the coast.

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  30. I grew up a block from the beach in Florida, and my parents always left the garage door open. We therefore rode cheap cruisers. The biggest problem, really, were spokes rusting out -- galvanized spokes near the beach have a life of 5 years, tops.

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  31. Shortly after writing this post, I spotted this bike in town. Frame seems to have intentionally been stripped and not repainted.

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  32. I rode a borrowed bike for a few months like that one. Even here the real rust started forming quickly, particularly when sweat was applied.

    Lot of guys like the natural look, clear coated.

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  33. http://www.flickr.com/photos/henryinamsterdam/5832968707/

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  34. @ Anon 7:46 - new chain every 1000 miles? Really? I would barely consider that broken in and here in sunny Lancashire we are prone to more than the odd shower.

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  35. In addition to portlandize's post of 1:57pm:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/henryinamsterdam/4882870973/in/set-72157624085566433
    Photo of one of Henry Cutler's test bikes, unpainted and kept outside in all weather in Amsterdam (which is reasonably close to salt water on both sides) for a year. The secret is rustproofing the tubes both inside and out, and having relatively thick-walled tubes (which partly accounts for the weight of Dutch transportation bikes). Surface rust is easily wiped off and does little harm, provided it doesn't get too thick as it then collects moisture and accelerates the oxidation process.
    Henry also wrote in reply to a complaint about rusty washers that he doesn't use stainless washers in direct contact with his frames, as the two metals interact in a bad way. It's better to change rusty washers when they become too obvious. In his own words: "The little rust spots around the bolts are very difficult to avoid because galvanized washers will rust but stainless washers will react with the zinc coated frames. We’re damned either way!"

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  36. I live in Florida and I never had problems with rust...and I've ridden the bikes in the sand. I got my bf an electra amsterdam that used to be belong to the son of the brother of Enrique Iglesias on Miami Beach and that thing was a bit rusty but nothing steel wool didnt solve. None of the painted areas suffered. Mostly the underside of the saddle and the handlebars and some bolts that were easily replaced.

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  37. When I'm not enjoying cycling I work in the field of renovation / performance enhancement of buildings and structures.
    Corrosion due to salt attack is particularly difficult to treat.

    The reason you see faster surface rusting on the coast than at home (notwithstanding the deicing salt) is due to the increased humidity and temperature of the environment.

    Without going into too much detail (that's available on the Web) steel will rust (oxidize) in contact with water (the electrolyte) and oxygen (the oxidizing agent). The problem gets very much worse when there is salt around, as with salt spray at the coast.

    The salt dissociates in water to give sodium and chlorine ions. Chlorine catalyzes the corrosion reaction very aggressively, ultimately causing corrosion pitting of a metal surface.

    Even so called stainless steel will corrode in a salty environment unless it is of the austenitic class (high chromium content) One can see this effect on less expensive stainless steel knives that are regularly placed in the dishwasher. The combination of salts in the dishwasher cleaning chemicals and the high temperatures cause pitting corrosion on the surface of the knife-blades.

    As has been suggested, galvanizing provides excellent protection against corrosion. The zinc coating that results corrodes more readily than the steel. When covered with a coating of paint, any paint scratches expose the zinc which corrodes instead of the steel beneath it. This is the system used on most car bodies today.

    The rust shown in the photo is due to the poor paint coverage at the rim of the hole. One could try cleaning these areas before going to the coast and then spraying them with a light oil or applying polish. Alternatively, after cleaning the area thoroughly one could wrap a piece of insulating tape around the (dry) tube until away from the coast. Basically, removing water or oxygen from the bare steel surface will stop the corrosion reaction from taking place.

    A good wash of the bike upon return home would also help, avoiding aggressive water jets around bearing areas where water could penetrate of course. Don't add washing-up detergent as it usually contains salt.

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  38. Bike beach protection information - My bike mechanic told me to rinse off the bike with fresh water once a week. When it's clean and dry spray a coating of GT85 lubricant, penetrator and water displacer over the bike's vulnerable areas. Wipe off the excess. The lube barrier keeps rust out. It also stops rust already there. I saw it transform a rusty washer on my bike and was amazed.

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  39. Agree with the rinsing information. I grew up in Corpus Christi, TX, a coastal town with a warm, subtropical climate. There is significant salt in the air, enough that new cars used to rust out within just a few years even if they were never actually driven to the beach. It seemed that even the dew which formed on a parked vehicle overnight had some salt in it, so a car parked in a garage lasted longer than one parked outside in a driveway.
    Their life could be extended by washing the salt residue off periodically. Moisture alone can initiate rust, but moisture plus salt will do so much more quickly.

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  40. Yes we will be sure to wash the bikes well after this trip. It is interesting though how seemingly similar saltwater climates can have different degrees of this effect on bikes (and cars). I've spent a considerable periods of my life living on the coast and have not notices these effects to the same degree.

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