Dr. Hutch: The impossibility of bike cleaning

Carpet lovers look away now — the Doc is cleaning his bike

There is an old proverb: cleanliness is next to impossible. This goes double for bicycles.

Bikes are essentially a PhD-level cleaning challenge — oily and shiny all at once, ridden through mud and grit, and with most of the moving parts not only on the outside, but covered in dirt-attracting lubricant and with a wheel positioned almost as if it had no purpose in life other than to spray muck over them.

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Most cyclists would, at first glance at least, seem like the worst possible people to own something expensive and difficult to clean.

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A wool carpet, for example, is expensive and very easy to clean. And, well, you know what one of those looks like after a cyclist has been in charge of it for a few months. (Top tip: leave a wool carpet for long enough and some moths will come and eat it and your problem will be solved.)

Cyclists get out of this with our cunning double standards. One rule for the house, one rule for the bikes.

My own double standards even have double standards — my summer bikes are spotless, but my winter bike is so crud-encrusted it’s starting to look like it’s made from giant Twiglets.

Look at it this way: I reckon I’ve only got about 10 hours of cleaning a year in me. I can expend them on my bikes or I can expend them on my house. 10 hours a year will make no impression on the house at all.

And anyway, it’s still warm and waterproof and that’s all I really want. If I let the summer bike get dirty, it will squeak. It’s really an ethical issue.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit surprised that the contrast between the bikes and the house hasn’t resulted in muck spontaneously jumping from the house to the bike, just because of the sheer cleanliness differential. But until the day that happens the house can go swing.

I’ll share with you my bike-washing technique. I put the bike on a workstand in the same spot, just over the mysterious oily stain on the patio.

(The workstand hasn’t been washed, except as a matter of collateral damage, since 1997 and looks like something your children would drag out of a ditch in a forest and want to take home. But trust me, no one judges you on your workstand.)

I pour some degreaser into a cut-down water bottle, and put it in the down-tube bottle-holder to keep it handy and secure. Then I apply it to the chain and cassette with a paintbrush. Most of it splashes on to my shoes and socks, but that’s OK because it usually collects some dirt on the way.

I get the paintbrush well into the gaps between the sprockets. As the bristles flick off the teeth they spray a fine mist of crud onto my face, hair and clothes.

Then I put a bit of car shampoo in a bucket of warm water. (I’ve no idea why it’s called ‘car shampoo’.) I get a big sponge and I give a good all-over wash to the frame, saddle, bars and so on.

Remember that you look down on a bike, but spray flies up. Under the saddle — don’t miss that. Underside of the stem, likewise.

Then I hose it all down, especially the chain and cassette. Finally I dry it all with some nice clean towels.

Then I pop it off the workstand and take it to the garage. I tip the bike back and wheel it vertically to get it through the door.

At that point the bottle of degreaser in the bottle cage empties itself over the back of the nice, clean bike.

Lather, rinse, repeat, as they say. And swear.