Dr Hutch: Cyclists’ obsession with cleaning bikes

Some bikes are meant to be cleaned to showroom condition after every ride; and some are definitely not

I am going to examine two classic roadie obsessions and their intersection in the mind of my friend Bernard. Bernard is not usually a good model on which to base generalisations about cyclists, because while for the most part cyclists are a happy, carefree bunch, Bernard hasn’t been happy since the introduction of 8-speed gears rendered his favourite back wheel obsolete in 1994. But in the areas under scrutiny here, he is something of an expert.

Obsession number one is cleanliness. Not you, your bike.

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>>> How to clean your bike

A brief spell in the national squad acquainted me with a team mechanics’ policy, which was: “The mechanics will not clean or work on your bike unless it is spotless and in perfect working order.”

I’m not exaggerating, that’s what it said. It sounds like a bit of legislation devised by a mechanic who liked a quiet life, but the message is clear: no matter how clean you think it is, it can be cleaner.

“That thing is disgusting,” said Bernard when we met for a ride last week.

“What is it now?” I said.

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“That bike,” he said. “The cassette might very well have potatoes growing in it.”

The cassette looked as if it had just that minute dropped, still hot, out of Shimano’s giant cassette-making machine and straight on to the hub. The only way to make it cleaner would have been to rub the teeth off it with a Brillo pad.

Bernard knows best
“Oooh. The sight of it quite makes me queasy,” he said.

Bernard’s bike, on the other hand, seemed to have been freshly fished out of a deep ditch with a long stick. We’re dealing with a man whose idea of cleaning a bike after a wet ride is to leave it somewhere warm for an hour or so, such as his living room, then to pick it up and bang the wheels on the floor a couple of times so some of the bigger bits of mud fall off onto the carpet.

Bike washing

Scrub a dub dub

I’m not even sure he’d bothered doing that with this one.

I pointed this out. Bernard looked at me like I was an idiot, and introduced the second subject we’re discussing this week: the different categories of bike.

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“It’s a training bike,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be clean. The more you love a training bike, the dirtier it is, because you use it so much. What you have there is clearly a race bike, and the more you love a race bike, the cleaner it is.”

“Ah, well, you see, this is actually my training bike.”

“No it isn’t, it’s too clean.”

You will observe that I had no way out of this ring of logic. He’s a master of this categorisation approach, and I frequently think it might be worth trying to get the hang of it, because he can use it to wriggle out of anything.

For example, if you drop him on a climb: “Come on, Bernie, it’s not
the Tourmalet.”

“Well, if I’d known you wanted to ride a hilly route I’d have brought my climbing bike.”

If you drop him descending: “Well, this is my cruising bike — the head tube is much too long for this sort of thing.”

Note that these were probably both the same bike. Bernie has around seven bikes, but at least 20 categories that they can fit into. I’ve seen a bike changed from a winter bike to a spring bike by means of different bar tape.

As he glared at my cassette, I asked him if he’d ever thought about coming for a ride on his race bike.

“God, no,” he said. “I don’t even have a race bike. Do you know how much time you have to spend cleaning them?”