High-rise or block living can turn the notion of bike cleaning into a real problem. So, why not take the hassle out with my safe and efficient guide on how to clean a bike living in a flat or apartment.
At the top of my concerns list is security. We can’t dangle an unattended bike under the nose of a passing tea leaf. This means we must carry everything necessary in order to de-gunk, wash, rinse and towel dry.
So, first things first, let’s set the scene; we’ve been out riding and started to bring the great outdoors, indoors!
The cassette works sometimes but is filled with black cheese, the chain sounds like it’s been packed with sharp sand and we’ve started to take the long way home because we’re ashamed of our grubby 2 wheeled appearance.
It’s time for a deep clean.. de-grease, wash, rinse, dry and re-lube. Let’s get stuck in..
We need some tender loving bike care #TLBC – Spike
Stuff you’ll need . .
- small clean sponge for non-oily parts
- small nasty sponge for oily parts
- nylon bristle cassette claw brush (see below)
- old toothbrush with a sharpened end
- 6x releasable heavy duty tie wraps (optional)
- dry, clean absorbent cloth or old tea towel
- pair latex/neoprene or rubber gloves
- spray bottle of bio-degreaser (see above)
- sturdy plastic bag to carry all of the above
- large bucket with strong carry handles
- large 750ml+ squeezy cycling drink bottle
- 2x empty 2-litre plastic bottles (any purpose)
- small 6″ x 4″ shallow plastic container(s) plus lid
(Chow Mein or Fried Rice cartons are perfect!)
With the bike indoors, our first task is to remove the chain. In order to do this regularly, I use KMC chains and the KMC removable missing-link. For a few pounds special chain link pliers come in really handy too (see below).
TOP TIP • If you don’t have chain link pliers try cutting 2 lengths of heavy-duty coat hanger wire. Feed a length through each side of the split link. Press each wire together whilst pinching the sides of the split link. #fiddly
TOP TIP • Don’t be fooled into thinking 2 wires are all you need should your chain snap when out riding! A multi-tool with rivet press will still be necessary, as will spare quick links. You’ll never snap your chain on a joint link!
Handy tools & chain links from Amazon…
Chain removed, give it a good rinse in warm soapy water and remove the thickest of the grime. An old nail or toothbrush will really help loosen gunk before a quick wipe over with kitchen roll to remove all excess.
Carefully coil a chain snake in your 6×4″ Chow Mein container, so it lays one flat link deep. This allows us to use minimal degreaser. Pour just enough to cover the links, saving money, reducing waste and helping the planet too.
Lid on, gently swirl the liquid without disturbing the flat chain. Leave to soak while we turn attention to the bike.
Preparation is key
Collect your checklist of cleaning stuff (I keep all mine in the same bucket I wash with).
Firstly, almost fill your 2L bottles with clean lukewarm rinsing water. Secondly, place the bottles in your bucket before filling with warm soapy (I use car shampoo) washing water. Expect the bottles to rise as the bucket fills.
Next, fill the drinking bottle with clean water and drop it in a bottle cage on your bike. Every little helps…
Taking one flight of stairs at a time, first the bucket, then your bike. Repeat until you arrive at your wash area. So far, at no time has the bike left your sight and with safety in mind, you can warn people of trip hazards too!
Safety inspections prevent serious injuries & long walks! – Spike
Now, prop the bike up and use this opportunity to do a safety inspection. I check major frame joints for obvious damage, ensure all bearings are snug. Particularly, pay attention to wheels, hubs, tyres and brake condition too.
When your happy, next step is to de-grease the greasy bits; that means the front chainrings, the gear cassette at the rear and derailleurs (if you have them). I tend not to spray degreaser specifically on the bottom bracket or wheel hubs, instead, I just use the cassette brush as I go and give those secondary areas a quick brush over.
Now it’s time to go fish! and take your time. The more black cheese we can scrape away the less there is to wash off. I get in between each and every gear at the rear and around both sides of the front chainring teeth too.
With the heavy stuff removed I spray degreaser on these areas again. I find a sturdy brush with neat de-greaser works best to remove stubborn grime. I brush around all parts, give a final waft of de-greaser and let it sit for 5.
TOP TIP • Some people call them wax carving tools, I prefer to call them black cheese picks. Try them!
It’s time for a foam party!
Starting at the top of the bike I use the clean sponge and cover cockpit, bars, frame, seat, under-seat, pedal arms and forks. I swap to the nasty sponge and lather up the chainrings, cassette, derailleurs, pedals and hubs.
With the clean sponge, I split the remaining soapy water between the wheels, tyres, rims and spokes.
When the soapy water is out, I use the drinking bottle to power rinse the whole bike. Refilling the drinking bottle with the 2L bottles we carried down earlier. Play with the bottle nozzle to adjust the amount of spray you get.
Keep an eye on water stock obviously leaving enough to rinse off the wheels, tyres, rims and hubs.
When you’re all out of the good stuff just lightly bounce front then rear wheels to remove excess water.
Break out the soft absorbent cloth and start to wipe down (I find old tea towels are excellent for this).
Well done! One shiny bike just in need of its fresh chain and a re-lube when you get it back indoors.
Fresh lube then jelly legs! eewww eewww
So, your back inside with your clean, chain-less bike and all aglow.
Let’s check on the chain tub and give that de-greaser another swirl around. The liquid in my tub is usually opaque and black now, so if you’re going for a deep clean you may want to renew the de-greaser and re-soak your chain.
With the tub lid carefully removed I usually spend 10 minutes brushing each and every link in the fresh de-greaser. In gloved hands I brush inner rollers and link faces, turn the chain and pay equal attention to both sides.
When satisfied I use household detergent and massage the chain (no, I really do massage it!). Then, thoroughly rinse under a warm running tap and dry off as much moisture as possible.
I tend to re-lube my chain in a second plastic tray (fried mushrooms) I reserve purely for chain lube. When the chain is dry I snake it in this tub, partially cover with the lid & spray with either WD-40 or GT85 lubricant spray.
I know, I know! it sounds like overkill but until you try it you won’t know what your missing. I find using a pre-lube spray just expels any water and gives me more miles between chain removal and deep-cleans.
When you’re ready to drop the chain back on, lift from the tub and into a thick, dedicated chain lube cloth. Wipe off all the spray lubricant you can. Finally, apply your usual lube, dry or wet and wipe away excess.
Job done! After a tiny spray/wipe of lube on mechs, exposed cables, each axle and pedals you’re ready to roll.
The great tie wrap mystery…
So tie wraps then? Why did we need releasable tie-wraps?
Well, removing the chain before venturing outdoors is not only the best way to clean your chain but also a clever safety feature too. Without a chain, at lest your bike can’t opportunistically be ridden away!
So, your bikes semi-safe and this is where the tie wraps come in handy! The tie wraps are for added peace of mind if you want to nip in for more water or need to rinse the sponge you just dropped in the mud (yes, I have).
You could really upset a tea-leaf’s day if you tie wrap handlebars to frame, brake levers to grips (locking brakes on). Furthermore, tie wrap any quick release parts to the frame & tie your frame to something immovable.
I hope this has motivated you to clean your ride. Flat or apartment living isn’t the obstacle it first seems and is arguably even more efficient and less wasteful than having all the gear but no idea.
If you enjoy the efficiency herein, this might be an interesting read How To Organise Your Life
Happy riding! oh! and the tie wraps come in handy when out solo at petrol stations and coffee shops too.
Be safe, be seen, keep smiling & ride on! (preferably with a crash hat!)
P.S. Trying to get parents or grandparents onto a bike ? Why not send them this Top Tips For Silver Cyclists