Monday, April 11, 2016

How Do I Wash Thee? Let Me Count the Sprays

Here's one from the Monday Mailbox:
The other day I asked my LBS how they got my bike so clean after a tune-up and they told me they use a pressure washer. I was surprised, because everything I have read online suggests a pressure washer can damage your bike. However as the recommended method of "sponge, soap and water" does nothing for my clogged drivetrain, I am wondering what I am doing wrong. Do I need to remove components and clean them separately? Is a pressure washer okay to use after all? 
In high school I had a rather wonderful history teacher. He made events from centuries past come alive with gossipy candor. He kept a small bottle of rum in a locked desk drawer. And whenever anyone asked him for clarification on how to complete an assignment, he would grin, shake his finger at the inquisitive youngster, and reply with a horrible little proverb: "There are more ways than one to skin a cat." These grim words of advice remain with me to this day, and I believe they are applicable to the bike washing situation: Yes, people use pressure washers. Yes, people remove components and soak (or boil) them. Yes, soap and water can also work. You can do it any which way.

That said, I am lucky enough to live next to a farm, and, consequently, to have firsthand experience with an industrial pressure washer. I can tell you it is a thing of formidable power that could probably snap a carbon fibre derailleur pulley were you to aim it directly at it and from a close enough distance. The bigger concern though is that pressurised water can penetrate sealed bearings and cause damage.

Still, mechanics at bike shops and cyclocross races use pressure washers all the time. I have watched them in action and they wield the things skillfully; they know from what distance and angle to aim the beasts so as to wash bicycles quickly without causing damage. So if the idea of a pressure washer appeals to you and you have access to one, my advice would be to ask a bicycle mechanic who has experience with them to teach you how to use it.

Alternatively, you can go low-tech: After spraying your bicycle gently with water from a garden hose to get the surface grime off,  go to town on the components with an old toothbrush. OR... if you're short on time or patience, you can always use my fabulous/dubious on-the-go BWF (baby wipe flossing) method.

I "developed" this technique after moving to Ireland, where the road conditions are such that even with mudguards attached, debris attacks my roadbike relentlessly, jamming itself into every nook and cranny of every component. After what seems like only every few rides, I examine my bike to find gritty, hard packed dirt lodged in between all the cogs in the cassette and in the derailleur pulleys. Even the carved-out brake calipers become storage containers for compressed debris. Sitting there and cleaning it all out with a toothbrush after every few rides would drive me nuts. The baby wipe flossing achieves more or less the same goal, but quicker.

The key here is to use the non-flushable type of baby wipes, which are durable as heck, and economical: a single wipe should be enough to clean your entire drivetrain. You see, the neat thing about this method, is that the wipe has a built in degreaser, so it is both cleaning fluid and cleaning tool in one.

When my bicycle looks like it needs it, I use the wipe to clean the chain links, then floss in between the cogs, derailleur pulley crevices, etc., and in minutes my drivetrain, if not exactly sparkling, is at least sufficiently de-gunked to ensure a quiet and functional ride. Just don't forget to oil the chain after.

Much like human hygiene and beauty regimens, I find that bicycle cleaning practices are highly individual and only partly reflect what is actually necessary to keep one's bicycle functionally clean. Some people are simply more fastidious than others. Others enjoy the ritualistic, or tinkering aspects of the process. I have a friend who finds few things more relaxing than removing all of his bicycle's components and soaking them in a home-brewed solution, before re-assemblng the machine from the frame up. He does this at least once a year to every bicycle which he owns and rides regularly, which keeps him in soak-happy paradise on a semi-permanent basis! It is a method that fills me with as much dread as my wipe-flossing technique - or the pressure wash, for that matter - probably fills him. After all: there are more ways than one to skin a cat, so are there more ways than one of cleaning a bicycle. What is yours?


69 comments:

  1. For me, acetone and a toothbrush for the old 3-speeds. If ever. Heh

    The baby wipe method does sound pretty appealing for the derailleur-geared bikes! Thanks for sharing your insight haha

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  2. After the April Fools post I was rather hoping for a poem!

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    1. No sonnets today despite the title, sorry!

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  3. Race bikes are disposable. No one expects them to last long. Using team mechanic methods on your own bike guarantees your bike won't last long.

    The only solvent you will ever need is the universal solvent, water. In extreme cases water may be augmented by soap. There is no point at all in being all green and ecological and then throwing volatile hydrocarbons at your bike. No point in exercising if you follow up by breathing deep of neurotoxins. And you cannot keep those neurotoxins to yourself, you are passing them on to me as well as to your loved ones. Just don't do it.

    Somewhat skeptical of baby wipes. Don't have the slightest idea what is in them and don't wish to know. Would not subject an infant to such a manufactured product and don't want to touch them myself. I use rags. Cotton rags. Since the whole planet has gone to synthetic fiber it takes a little discernment to find cotton rags, I have never had a problem scavenging them. And I use a lot of them for my work, enough to clean bikes is easy.

    Slowly and one element at a time is how a bike is cleaned. Many modern components simply can't cleaned. Old parts are easy to clean, when very foul they are easy to disassemble. Any part assembled by robot and humanly unserviceable doesn't get on my bike.

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    1. I am not quite as anti-solvent as you, but close.

      How do you de-grease with water and rag only?

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    2. Will attempt to answer that but not sure I understand the question. Why would a rag not remove grease? I do use an oily rag, there is always one around and they last a good while before being tossed. Oil is a good solvent for grease. Elbow grease is a good solvent for grease. Grease is made with soap and more soap is a good way to break down grease. If you have a build-up of varnish that does not yield to a rag the most likely culprit is unknown ingredients from unknown products. Don't use those products in the first place. Then there are always eightballs like the pollen someone else mentions here. For those occasions, soap and water. For the most extreme cases I have a quart of Simple Green, which has been here five years now and looks like it will continue another five.

      As for degreasing chains, I don't. Whatever product is used will remain inside the chain and limit lubrication. One link at a time, one plate at a time, with the twisted point of a rag. Doesn't take long, doesn't need to be done perfectly. My chains last longer than anyone's. I do and have confirmed chain wear with a caliper for 45 years, have discussed this with riding partners forever. Don't clean your chain with product. It will last much longer. Don't throw out chains just because. Measure them.

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    3. OK. I am going to try the rag + elbow grease only method next time. In the past I probably had not used enough of the 2nd ingredient.

      My chains, and components in general, tend to last pretty long too (see here for instance).

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    4. My chains have lasted even longer since you steered me to NFS. Thank you again. Since so little of that oil is used, the chain and cogs don't get that dirty and cleaning has been much easier. In a couple days I will revisit the thread and talk about "soap", now I will see what others say.

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  4. Hi, great question!

    I like to use Fenwicks bike cleaner concentrate. Neat in a Park Tools chain cleaner for the chain and diluted for the rest of the bike. With a regular hose to wash down. To finish, car polish!

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  5. Nice thing about the baby wipe method is that it leaves your drivetrain smelling like a baby, for a while. Makes you want to cuddle.
    Personally, I use a pressure washer at a car wash, staying away from bearings. And since I have fenders and mostly ride on asphalt roads, I don't have to clean that often.

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    1. Alas I get the scent-free baby wipes. But the bike is still cuddly.

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  6. Me: cleaning sometimes my bike with a dry smooth rag. Some water drops can be useful to get out a muddy stain.
    After a rainy stroll I never forget to dry the chain.
    By using a pressure washer you solve a problem and create others: I think it’s not a soft and clever process, the less energy you spend the better it is.
    After years my bike looks as good as new.

    L.

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  7. I never use a pressure washer to clean my bikes even though I own one. Pro mechanics use them because pro race bikes get replaced after one season anyway and most components are replaced a few times during the season. They are not meant to last for years, hence pressure washers are a tool to go.

    For degreasing the drivetrain I use WD-40 degreaser. This stuff works great.

    The hardest thing to clean off my bike so far was not mud, snow or ice but... pollen. A year ago there was an intense rain overnight in the middle of the full-blown pollen season. The rain rinsed off all the pollen accumulated on trees onto the bike path. The path looked like covered with slimy brown mud but it was much, much worse than regular mud. Apparently pollen mixed with just enough water have a consistency of heavy slurry and adhesive power of an industrial glue. Once this thing splattered all over the bike and dried out, it was very hard to remove it later on. Definitely the most unpleasant part of bike riding.

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  8. My biggest objection is noise. I put pressure washers and leaf blowers in the same category as jet skis, just way to noisy.

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    1. Cannot stand leaf blower noise either, but the pressure washer noise is of a different quality that doesn't seem to bother me as much.

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    2. Q: What kind of noise annoys an oyster?
      A: A noisy noise annoys an oyster! (Also jet skis)

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    3. Shooting jet skiers should be an Olympic sport for the good of humanity!

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    4. Coline, can we include those who ride those horrid, noisy little dirt bikes through peaceful forest trails?

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    5. Always noticed the lower the IQ...the more they are attracted to LOUD!!! Sailing vs Speedboats,Hiking vs Dirt Bikes etc...Peace

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    6. Leaf blowers vs rakes ... ?

      Or those horrid bug zappers that you know are just killing moths while the mosquitos are laughing vs citronella candles. That one's a pet peeve as sometimes the sound of the slaughter can drive me indoors.

      Now if someone could do something about the little things that fly into your teeth ...
      (she adds, trying to bring it round to cycling again I)

      Best,
      Lil Bruin

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  9. Not bike related, but skinning cats related: The expression, "more than one way to skin a cat" refers to catfish, not felines. Catfish have no scales but have a tough skin that must be removed by any of numerous methods before cooking. Still gruesome, especially if you are opposed to eating animals, but perhaps less gruesome than what you might have thought before.

    (While we're on the subject, "not enough room to swing a cat" refers to a short whip-like flogging device called a cat o' nine tails, which was used for disciplining crew members on naval vessels. If the deck was really crowded, you might say "there was not enough room to swing a cat." Sometimes you hear "not enough room to swing a DEAD cat" is a later development by misunderstanding of the original term.)

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    1. How enormously relieved I am to read both of these things. Thank you, Raleigh Rancher!

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    2. My favourite piece of advice is to never start a chain saw while holding a cat. The same doesn't quite apply to a leafblower, water blaster or jetski. Well, maybe the jetski.

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    3. James Cook had ships cat called five legs. He jumped ship in Tahiti and got a lot of offspring. A nice sponge bath keeps my bike happy.

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  10. While I've seen pressure washers used at cyclocross races I've never heard of a bike shop using one to clean bikes. In fact I've been into the repair areas of several shops in my town and nowhere was there such a thing, or the area required for a cleaning station, in sight.

    When working on bikes, years ago, I'd use compressed air to clean off grit and grime. Our compressor had two hoses attached, one for filling tires and another with a straight nozzle for cleaning. Worked great especially since it could be aimed to very specific areas.

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  11. Considering the materials that baby wipes are designed to interact with, bicycle grease and road grit are practically benign!
    (I have a new grandson...)
    Cool idea, though. That particular rag material is rather durable considering how it's designed to decompose swiftly.
    Baby wipes typically have both a water based cleaner and a moisturizer component in them.
    Do you find that the cleaning solution in them interferes with chain lubricant and the like?

    The bikes here get a damp rag wipe down, sometimes with a little liquid dish soap, (if so, then a second rinse) and then a clean 100% cotton rag wipe down.

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    1. That's a good point about moisturiser, but I have not noticed any negative effects. Whatever amount is in there must be miniscule.

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  12. For unclogging a cassette:
    ~Take it off the hub with the proper tool
    ~Spray it with Simple Green or a degreasing soap
    ~Use a folded sheet of cardboard (boxboard or something else from the recycling bin) to floss between the cogs. The creased leading edge gets "brushy" as it gets wet, and does a great job scrubbing the crud out. And there's no spray like you get with bristles.
    ~Rinse, give it a spray with Boeshield or whatever you prefer, and reinstall.

    Chains and pulleys I first lube liberally, then run through a fist and rag (chain) or against a rag pressed to each side (pulleys) until passable.

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    1. > Take it off the hub with the proper tool

      you say that so casually!

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    2. Still have my Cassette Cracker for trail side cassette removal. Had to do that a few times. Too old for hardcore MTB now, no idea if this still works on current bikes.
      My favorite is still a friend who disassembled a freewheel and fixed a fouled pawl spring using only a miniature screwdriver and a rock. While cliff side in a pouring rain, forty degrees Fahrenheit.

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    3. Oh, the cardboard cassette floss! I sometimes wondered if I was the only one who did that (even the other mechanics I've worked with think it's strange, but it works so well)

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  13. Mineral spirits and compressed air are my method. A couple times a year I'll give the chain a quick bath and blow it dry and clean with compressed air. While it's off the bike clean the sprocket and cog with a tooth brush and rag. Thankfully, there are no derailleurs so things are simple and straight forward. Have yet to find a lubricant I'm completely happy with, however, and sometimes regret not getting a belt drive. Oh, well.

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  14. I watched Team Sky mechanics wash the British women team's bikes before the World Road Championships in Richmond, Virginia. They used a bucket full of soapy water and a hand sized brush with the wheels removed, followed by a brief hosing off. No power washer in sight. Fast and clean.

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  15. Clean my bike!? Oh God, is it really that time of year again ...

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    1. That was my blissful attitude before I moved to Ireland. Unfortunately here my drivetrain will protest loudly if I try that approach.

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  16. This is a somewhat funny post. Why would anyone ask YOU this particular question? If one reads this blog they know one thing you are not particularly attuned to is major cleaning and upkeep. You're more a rider than a mechanic ;)

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    1. I know! It could be because I've posted a few pictures of the pressure washer in the past (I'm kind of enamored of it). But generally my stance on bicycle maintenance is "if it starts to make noise or malfunction, maybe it's time to have a look." I do tend to live and hang out with other cyclists though, who are much more fastidious. So I've seen quite a range of bicycle beauty regimens over time. It's all good as far as I am concerned, as long as the result is riding your bike.

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    2. Generally I think if a LBS admits to using a pressure washer to clean a bike I'd stay away from that shop!

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  17. Since several folks mentioned Simple Green, the standard warning needs to be mentioned also. Regular Simple Green should never be used to soak aluminum parts, and really should not be used on aluminum parts where it might get into crevices and not get washed out. It attacks the crystalline structure of the metal. They make specific degreasers developed for the aircraft industry (which first figured out that Simple Green attacks aluminum), like Pro Automotive Cleaner and ProHD that don't have the problem.

    On the topic of skinning cats, I hate to break it to you, but it really does refer to felines and not catfish. The origin of the saying is lost to history, but nowhere else have I ever seen a reference to catfish.

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  18. I cleaned my bicycles recently, and my procedure was as follows:
    1. Spray with low-to-medium pressure garden hose.
    2. Spray Simple Green (oops?) over everything, particularly the derailleurs and cassette.
    3. Wipe off with old t-shirt "rag".
    4. Use dish brush to clean the cassette and derailleurs. If you turn the pedals and let the cassette spin over a stationary dish brush, you also clean the chain.
    5. Wipe off again, making sure to get the chain extra dry.
    6. Lube chain and pivots.

    Pretty efficient method of cleaning (I've pulled everything off for a soak before...not fun) and was all smiles after having a clean bicycle.

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  19. What is this "clean a bike"? I don't understand.....

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  20. I find it odd that the Team Sky approach isn't universal. I don't usually ride in mud, but even when my bikes are clogged with mud or (as last winter) dirty snow and ice, it works well.

    Seriatim, here is the process:

    1. Position bike stand near water source. (If you don't have a stand, lean the bike against the wall.)
    2. Put bike in stand.
    3. Using a spray nozzle, flood the bike with moderate pressure. (If you don't have a hose, use a bucket.) Direct the water flow especially toward the chain (rotate), the pedal clip mechanisms, the cogset, both derailleurs, the crankset, and the brake apparatus. Spray the wheels as they rotate; spray under the bb and under the fenders if you have them.
    4. Take warm water in a bucket; add a judicious amount of dishwashing detergent. Find a mediume-sized soft brush; those that come with cheap dustpan-and-brush combos work well.
    5. Dip brush into soapy water and cleanse bike, paying special attention to underside of dt/ht junction, brake calipers, bb underside, and back of seat tube, as well as the obvious chain, derailleurs, cogset.
    6. Take up hose again, and gently rinse.
    7. Remove bike from stand and bounce thrice.
    8. Wipe down with absorbent all-cotton, lint-free cloth. (Linen works well, too.)
    9. Wipe chain with particular zeal.
    10. Use spray lube to lubricate brake and derailleur pivots.
    11. Apply your lube of choice to chain. Me, I just rotate the chain while dribbling lube on the bottom run.
    12. Wipe chain aggressively.

    Bake in preheated oven at 375* for 45 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Serves 6.

    It often helps if, after rinsing and wiping, you let the bike sit for an hour to dry further, as you go back inside for a nap. This nap time aside, the entire process ought not to take you 15 minutes, and that only if you are a plodder.

    Really, unless you are a pig and don't clean your bike for years, you won't encounter that as-it-were baked-on grime that won't come off except with a chisel. I wash my bikes only a few times a year, and this method always works.

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  21. I've been cleaning bikes for 30 years or so as a profession. I use WD40 (it is really un-scented diesel fuel) on the hardest baked on caked on grease when nothing else works. I rarely use Simple Green (I use Industrial un-scented when I do because it rinses off with water better and doesn't stink) because it is a strong alkali like bleach, and pits surfaces.
    My favorite washing fluid is White Lightning clean and shine because it is quick and easy, but I also like Finish Line Super Bike wash.

    The reason I use formulated (many/most I use are often biodegradable) bike wash is because I need something tested and safe on things like rubber and plastics in seals and so on, not to mention aluminum and carbon fiber and other bicycle parts not found on cars and dishes and baby bottoms.

    If you use a chain lube that is soy or other plant based or other non-toxic (don't eat it) biodegradable oil (my favorite is Slick Lube lite-50) then use a cotton rag and the same oil you lube with as a cleaner on the drive train, and wipe the rings clean as possible. Otherwise you can get chain specific wipes (like the baby wipe) that are soy based all in one clean and lube and that saves time and comes in a simple to use format.

    Some other favorites
    * Heavy duty degreaser -- Liquifix bio-friendly industrial degreaser (I really love the Liquifix bio-friendly lubricant as well)
    * Lighter weight degreaser -- Pro Gold Degreaser +Wash bio-friendly (let it soak)
    * WD40 Foaming bike wash is okay if it's all you can find, but it's only so so on the tough stuff

    For a cleaning brush I use refrigerator coil brush because it has a long handle and multi diameter small brush head. You can find them at hardware stores in all kinds of brands but it looks like this

    [General Electric PM14X51 Coil Brush

    Link: http://amzn.com/B00DZU954E ]

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  22. I don't clean my bike so much as I spray some WD40 on the chain when it starts to squeak. I use a Park tool gear cleaning brush to get between the gears and around the jockey wheels. I use a clean rag to wipe off any dirt from the frame and the wheels (and the retro-reflective tape). That's about it.

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  23. My sister in-law used to work in an operating room and she gave us bales of blue cotton rags that would otherwise be discarded. They work great for cog flossing, chain wiping and other bike cleaning chores. When my mountain bike gets really muddy, I spray off the frame gently with a hose, while avoiding all bearings and pivot points. I used to have one of those chain cleaner gizmos, but I don't miss it all that much after it broke. I just splash a little chain cleaner on a toothbrush or one of the blue rags and brush or or wipe the chain while turning the cranks backwards. Dry it off, then lube.

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  24. I'm the same anon (Jeff) April 11, 2016 at 4:18 PM.

    I use a pressure washer on bikes that have been left in the barn and the goat chewed off the seat, or the pigs have been walking on, or the birds have been roosting on and its covered in poo; or if the bike is really dirty and dried hard with mud or some other thing... But I don't use a pressure washer on *my own bikes* for the same reason I wrap hubs/headsets/BB's and pedals with plastic when I carry them on a roof rack on the car at high speed. Wind and water pressure blows the grease out and forces water into the bearings even if sealed. I've seen this happen multiple times. You can be careful with a pressure washer, but you're going to get water into the cable housings too which will force dirt and water in and keep it there. It forces water into pivots... forces out lube in the chain, -and water in- which sits inside causing internal rust. I've seen it get water inside the frames in the frame vent holes, and rust out chainstays and seat tubes and forks...

    ***In short, I usually only use a pressure washer on other peoples neglected bikes, or when an overhaul is coming next. But a high volume shop has to clean quick and time is money, so some will use a pressure washer and pretend to be as careful as possible ;).

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  25. As an aside, "flushable" wipes are not flushable. They cause innumerable headaches for sewer departments.
    http://blog.nacwa.org/flushable-wipes-clogging-pipes/

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  26. Uh oh! Forget washing, that TV-1 needs a new tailgate, quick!

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  27. As I live in a rather dry climate, my bikes do not get muddy, or even wet for that matter; my road bike only ever needs a soft cloth to 'polish' it and the usual chain maintenance. The mountain bike gets very dusty from the trails, a quick gentle spray of water, then Lemon Pledge polish after it has dried.
    As far as chain cleaning, I have a Park Tool chain cleaner but as yet have not used it - I use a cloth and lemon detergent in water, and to clean the jockey wheels, an old tooth brush - I apply chain lube using an artist brush dipped in the lube and passed over the chain links. I am very fussy about my bikes, which is one reason I will not go beyond two - keeping two in pristine condition is possible, any more and I would find that difficult.

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  28. I believe the comments about jetwashing being expedient if one is not worried about preserving a short life racing bike. My experience is that jet washing, even a hose pipe jet, needs careful handling to avoid premature bearing failure.
    It is important to avoid aiming the water jet at any bearing joint to avoid water entering and causing corrosion, particularly the case with the bottom bracket bearings, of which the crown-wheel side is the worst because the crown wheel encumbrance slows drying. Also avoid the steering bearings.
    I use a low pressure hose spray nozzle in combination with a long nylon bristled brush. The brush loosens the dirt, which flows away in the gentle water stream.
    The most critical areas components are of course the transmission, and aside from the aforementioned bottom bracket, that means the chain.
    I use a Park Tools chain cleaner to clean this in combination with a mild water soluble detergent solution (this I buy bulk as it's much cheaper). Having thoroughly cleaned the chain with it, wipe dry the chain with a lint free cloth. After a further period of drying (ex overnight) sparingly apply a non sticky chain lubicant on the lower inside chain surfaces until all links are treated. Then rotate the pedals to assist the lubricant to penetrate the inner bearing surfaces of the chain. Then I wipe the chain once more to remove any excess surface lubricant. One should aim to be able to grasp the chain without leaving black oily marks on the hand. The Sheldon Brown site is really good for info about chains and cleaning.
    In addition I'm currently trying out a product from Scottoiler called http://ultimatebikesolution.com/ (UBS). Their motorcycle chain lubrication devices are extraordinarily good so I have some confidence. The UBS provides an easy solution for bike cleaning and so far, after 1 month use on road and very mudday mountain bikes I am impressed. I still wipe my chains after riding though!

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  29. We have a small hand pump fertilizer sprayer. This is handy for winter months when we can't have the outdoor taps or hoses hooked up. We use a bucket of soapy water and a brush to clean off the muck and then rinse of with the sprayer. It's really handy for getting into small nooks and crannies as well as the underside of fenders. The pressure directs the water without causing the damage you would get with a car wash or industrial sprayer. This does remind me that I need to go get a bike dirty now!

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  30. Jeff Mobile Bike RepairApril 12, 2016 at 4:10 PM

    I found this about Cleaning your chain last year on KMC Chain website.
    http://www.kmcchain.eu/MAINTENANCE

    **Try to avoid a so-called ‘chain washing machine’ in combination with solvent. This will instantly ruin your chain.**

    The whole article in the link has good tips and procedures I think.

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    1. Yes the KMC site is not bad, their chains are OK too. However I agree with the Sheldon Brown recommendations for lubricating chains from the inside surface, for the reasons given on that website; KMC show lube being applied to the top outer surface of the chain.
      Your statement about solvents is a little melodramatic. The solvent will simply do a good job of removing all original factory applied lubrication from the internal wearing surfaces. So the chain won't immediately be destroyed, but it will need more careful lubrication as the internal reserve of grease will have been removed.
      Incidentally I remember from when acting as team mechanic for my kart racing friend we used, between races, to remove the chain, wash it in paraffin, drain and wipe it clean, then heat special grease in a double boiler and immerse the chain in the, now liquid, grease. That's a good solution, and one that restores the chain to a factory lubed condition, however a thorough cost benefit analysis would be required to justify that sort of obsessive treatment of a bicycle chain.

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    2. Jeff Mobile Bike RepairApril 13, 2016 at 1:15 PM

      I was quoting directly what KMC said. Since they primarily only make chain, I figure they know a thing or 2 about chain maintenance. Never the less, few people are going to go through the trouble of using a double boiler to immerse their chain, and those that do hopefully know how to properly re-assemble their chain to prevent breakage. I've seen a lot of people mess that one up ;) nice post :)

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  31. I'm an apartment dweller in the city with no access to a hose. In Montreal there are no self-service car-washes, and the LBS charges $5 to wash a bike. After trying everything from riding in the pouring rain to sunny-day rides through public fountains, this year I had an epiphany: I now use a 2-gallon hand-pump plastic garden sprayer ($35, Canadian Tire) filled with hot water from the bathtub and clean my bike on the sidewalk. Controllable pressure, enough water for 2 bikes. So simple, I wish I'd thought of it 5 years ago.

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    1. The LBS charges $5 to wash a bike? I would do it.

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    2. $5 * (n + 1) gets expensive over a Montreal "Spring." ;)

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    3. Where I live shops charge $50-$100 to clean a bike. Seriously dirty bikes would be laughed at. Many bike stores around here are still in business because they have a steady clientele that brings in the bike, or has the maid bring in the bike, every Monday. If the store has to pick up the bike and return it add another $20-$50.

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  32. Motorcycles have the same cleaning issues, but writ large. Amazing products have come out in the last decade or so for motorcycle cleaning. The first one I recall was the German made S100, which requires only spray on and rinse off with a low pressure stream of water. They are amazingly effective. I would never pressure wash a bicycle, and won't even apply anything like a full strength garden hose, after knocking off the decals on my Bridgestone MB-3 back when I was using it as a trail bike.

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  33. After riding in the rain, I use the hose nozzle to clean the drivetrain,,brake surfaces and pads. I bounce the bike a few times to get the excess water off and leave it sit to dry. After a few hours, I hit the chain with some oil, and we road ready again!

    In regards to fenders, I have race blades on my road bike....while they're reasonably good of keeping me clean, the bottom half of the frame was covered in schmutz...guess those have their limits...

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  34. Grease is oil with soap as thickener. Synthetic waterproof high performance marine grease at high prices in a small tube is - you guessed it - oil with soap as a thickener. The logical way to degrease is to make the grease thin by adding more oil. Commercial parts cleaners simply recirculate and filter oil. The other logical way to cut grease is with more soap. Most people are going to use detergent as soap and that works just fine. Most of the proprietary cleaners mentioned above are just detergent. If you clean purely with oil and a rag you will never have problems. If you use soap or detergent you should give a moments thought to where residual soap ends up. If you stray too far from just soap you will have problems.

    Someone above mentioned what Simple Green does if left in crevices. Thank you, I did not know that. Speaking more generally what belongs in crevices is crevice gunk. Leave it alone. Engineers who design mechanical parts know very well what lives in crevices. They thought of that already. The part works correctly with crevice gack in the crevice. Getting the crevice spotlessly clean or introducing unknown product degrades the part, or it ruins the part. Some things should be left alone.

    There are things that get on bike that require serious effort and serious cleaning. Tar comes to mind. One of the ingredients in soap is soda ash. Also known as sodium carbonate or washing soda. In use for millennia. Absolutely environmentally benign, the stuff is already in any type of soil you have locally. Now I have to be careful here because in current usage, washing soda is considered caustic and hazardous. I will say that both my grandmothers lived to be 98 and never did laundry with anything but a mix of washing soda and borax. Not for wool, not for silk. Do not use concentrated solutions on paint, or soak painted parts. Do not inhale soda dust. But mostly if you need a heavy duty cleaner, try washing soda. IMO there is no other way to clean diapers, or oily rags, or drop cloths. Only reasonable way to strip wax from a floor. If the word caustic scares you, the modern and very very safe version is sodium sesquicarbonate. Sold in US as Savogran Dirtex. Five pounds of powder is six or eight dollars at the hardware store. I'm sure sodium sesquicarbonate is available in Ireland under some name. For the toughest jobs mix a paste, smear it on, wait.

    Disclaimer. I have worked for both Savogran and Safety-Kleen. I can tell you that on their own premises they use a lot of washing soda.

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  35. No comments on immersing chains in hot paraffin wax, the best method measured by friction facts.

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    1. I have never tried this myself, but would love to under someone's (in person) guidance. I remember when the ecovelo blog was active, Alan was a big paraffin enthusiast and had an entire series on this topic.

      {Ah - here it still is in the archives, for anyone interested!}

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    2. If friction alone were the sole consideration paraffin wins. Realistically riders are attracted to paraffin for the cleanliness. Paraffin has been around a lot longer than bikes have. Paraffin has been used on chains since at least the 1890s. Most riders have always used oil, for many good reasons. First reason is paraffin does not last long. Second reason is paraffin is hard to apply. Most paraffin users resort to waxy stuff sprayed from a can. And spray the chain often.

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  36. So the bottom line is do whatever you want, it's your bike.

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  37. a nice photo. kudos.

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  38. Where I work we use an aqueous parts washer, which is basically a sink with a heating element and a recirculating tank of cleaning solution (it's basically just soap and water, as opposed to the harsher mineral spirit-based solvents of the old-fashioned parts washers).
    The hand-pumped pressure washers are quite a bit gentler than the industrial ones, and are pretty great for getting salty winter slush off your bike before it eats your drivetrain, but even with a self-serve car wash, you can clean stuff pretty well as long as you avoid spraying directly into your hubs, BB or headset, which can force water into the bearings where it'll get stuck.

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  39. Back in the day it was white spirit and dismantling parts to clean a bike . . . a real pain. Now it's simple. The cleaning fluid of choice is Swarfega oil and grease remover (5 litres for £8 from Screwfix or B and Q). A Park chain cleaning 'box'(cheapish and lasts forever). If you don't have a bike stand, hang the bike on a taut clothesline by placing the clothesline under the saddle in front of the seatpin. The bike will balance nicely and gears and brakes can be operated as if the bike were on a stand. Fill the chain cleaning box with Swarfega and clean the chain. Use the remainder of the liquid, with an old paint brush, to clean the rest of the bike by 'painting' the Swarfega all over the bike and cassette, etc. Leave for 10-15 minutes and rinse off with a garden hose. Presto! The bike is clean and so are your hands and tools. Last of all, lube the moving parts with WD40 and oil the chain with a heavier lube. Job's a good'un. The Fossil

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