Keeping a bike clean and well maintained isn’t exactly complicated, but it’s not that simple either – especially for beginners. The good news is that once you get the hang of it, as well as the tools you need to keep your bike in tip-top shape, you won’t have to rely on bike shops for future cleaning and general maintenance. More importantly, being able to take care of your own bike will lengthen the service life of its many parts.
You probably already have almost everything you need to clean your bike at home. A basic bike cleaning kit includes clean rags, a toothbrush, scrub and bottle brushes, used sponges, two buckets, dishwashing liquid, a sharp spray head attached to a garden hose, and degreaser. You’ll need more stuff for further maintenance, but let’s start with the cleaning first. Fill the buckets with water and lots of dishwashing liquid.
Start with the chain. RCUK points out that the chain receives the most stress and action out of all your bike’s various moving parts, which also makes it the most prone to wear-and-tear as well as the accumulation of dirt and grime. Start by applying degreaser to the chain while turning the crank backwards, ensuring that the degreaser gets on every chain link. After five minutes, rinse the chain using the hose, and if it’s still dirty, apply some soap while turning the crank backwards. Use a sponge to grip the chain with one hand and keep turning the crank for a deeper wash, after which you can rinse your now spotless chain.
Now for the drivetrain and crank gears – feel free to use degreaser if there’s a thick build-up of grime, but for these parts, it’s wiser to just dip your stiff-bristled bottle or scrub brush in your first bucket of soapy water and scrub away. Use toothbrushes to get into the nooks and crannies. Soap up, scrub, and rinse as necessary until every bit of grime is removed from the teeth. This is also when you should clean the disc brakes if you have them, which Bike Radar advises is best done by wiping them thoroughly with paper towels sprayed with degreaser. Caliper brakes can be cleaned using a soapy sponge and water. Cleaning the braking mechanism ensures that your brake pads have a strong grip.
You should have a second, fresh bucket of soapy water – use this for the frame and the wheels. Use a clean, soapy sponge to work your way from top to bottom and front to back. Use your bigger brushes to make cleaning the wheels easier, from the valve all the way around, making sure to cover both sides. And once everything is grime-free, use a clean dry cloth to dry the entire bike. Give it 30 minutes to dry in the sun and open air. Once completely air-dried, you can apply lube to the chain while cranking backwards and shifting gears to ensure that everything is still tuned and in place.
While you should never shy away from getting your bike dirty, you should always keep it as clean and protected as you can. Ideally, you should keep your bike securely locked in a place where it’s protected from both thieves and the elements. There’s no sense keeping your bike clean and running well when it’s just going to be exposed to moisture and rain or stolen by thieves, which is a real concern in London. London Police report that there have been 88 recorded incidents of bikes being stolen in the city from October to mid-December. Depending on where you are in London, a lock and chain might not be enough to keep your bike safe. It is best to invest in a secure bike shed. Most of the bike sheds listed on Screwfix are made of metal and are very secure units. What’s evident from the list is that if you want to buy a bigger bike shed, you could also house multiple bikes as well as any accessories and equipment for both cleaning and maintenance.
Cleaning and maintaining your bike is just one part of the cycler’s life. Check out our article on ‘Tips for a New Cyclist to London’ to find out how you can make your bike commutes around the city better and safer.
If this article has inspired you to clean your bike but you still lack confidence, check out some of the courses run by our friends at London Bike Kitchen on basic bicycle maintenance, they are held in their workshop in east London.