Cleaning a bicycle
If you ask ten different cyclists about the best way to clean a bicycle you'll get ten different answers. To some extent the cleaning regime depends on the type of bicycle and the type of dirt. My son rides a mountain bike with an alloy frame and it gets covered in mud and grass, whereas mine is a steel framed road bike that accumulates road grime over a period of time. I like mine clean but my son doesn't bother about his too much.
I spent a good part of yesterday spring cleaning my touring bike after a winter of cycling almost daily. Wheels off, chain off, remove jockey wheels and get to work. It looks much better but it still isn't clean. It will take me another half day to do it properly. Compared to cleaning a car, cleaning a bicycle takes a ridiculous amount of time.
With the bike upside down I began by loosening the caked mud on the inside of the mudguards with a spoon, then used a suction cleaner to vacuum it up. The mudguards still aren't clean though. There are speckles of road tar stuck on hard and they can be removed only with solvent. The mudguard rivets and the stay clips would need more work with a toothbrush and warm water, but none of this really seems worth doing given the mudguards' primary purpose of catching mud. This simple acceptance means that the bike will never be returned to showroom condition unless I fit new ones. And that's just the mudguards.
A bicycle chain can only be properly cleaned by removing it and soaking it in a bath of something like white spirit, then jiggling it around for a while before rinsing it in water and hanging it up to dry, then re-applying a suitable lubricant. During that time, another chain needs to be fitted for the bike to be ridden. Given that a chain costs only £12 or so, this rigmarole hardly seems worth it even if it means replacing the cassette periodically (£22).
The owner of my local bike shop – an experienced cyclist and bicycle mechanic – just wipes his chain with a rag occasionally, and replaces the chain and cassette every 4,000 miles. They're consumable items after all. So I wiped my chain with a rag soaked in proprietary bike cleaning fluid. I removed it only to access the front and rear mechs and the jockey wheels. You can read what Jobst Brandt has to say about cleaning a chain. He uses one chain per year at about 10,000 miles. Or read the chain cleaning Gospel according to Mick F on the CTC forums.
With the bicycle still upside down I wiped off most of the underside dirt with a combination of, and in no particular order, (i) warm water with washing up liquid (applied with a toothbrush), (ii) wet wipes passed through places hard to access by hand then pulled back and forth by the ends, and (iii) white spirit worked in to the mechs and jockey wheels with a special bike cleaning brush (Muc Off I find useless for degreasing), then (iv) wash again and wipe down dry with paper kitchen towels. Then I squirted WD40 into the ventilation holes in the frame and fork, and also around the various braze-ons and the cables where they pass through the guide beneath the bottom bracket.
I then repeated this whole process with the bike the right way up on the repair stand. Then squirted some special lube into the front and rear mechs. Then wiped them clean again with kitchen towel. Then wiped the frame clean where WD40 and other wet stuff had dripped onto it. And so on...
All the way through this I use as little water as possible, and I try to make sure that no fluids of any sort seep into important bearings like the bottom bracket and headset, or drive grime into crevices on the bicycle that might harbour moisture and cause rust later on, like mudguard fixing bolts and brake pivots. At all times you have to angle the bike so that fluids flow away from these areas rather than towards. Which is why the Hollowtech II bottom bracket set is still dirty. In fact if you look closely, the whole bike is still dirty.
The bottom bracket external bearing housings and the chainset are the hardest parts to clean properly. Perhaps the bottom bracket doesn't matter, although it does seem desirable to prevent dirt entering the seals, so I'll clean this area with white spirit and a small stiff brush, with the bike tilted down on the side I'm doing.
Eventually my bicycle will be clean after the winter, and ready for the drier roads of spring. Choosing your time for a deep clean is part of it. You don't want to be doing all this too often. But spring does seem to be here at last. My mountain biking son takes a different approach to cleaning his bicycle. From time to time, when he can no longer see his front mech, he uses a hosepipe followed by half a can of WD40.
Of course there are cyclists whose bicycles are always clean, either because they cycle only on dry roads or because they wipe down their bikes little and often. It must help if you have a workshop or spacious garage. I don't. The garage is full so my bike is kept indoors on a clean carpet, but I don't let the prospect of road dirt prevent me from cycling throughout the winter.