Last week, I noticed that every time I attempted to switch gears, my chain clunked around in my cassette. I took a closer look, and — lo and behold! — my cassette was crammed with mud and (impressively) dead leaves. No wonder.
I’m no bike mechanic, but I trusted myself with this one. Give me half an hour, an old toothbrush and a bucket of soapy water, and that mud’s no match for me. Plus, unlike most bike maintenance projects, there was little potential that I’d make matters worse.
I’m guessing that my gears get neglected more than most. But I’m also guessing that your chain and cassette could use a good scrub-down, too. I promise you, this is something that anyone can handle, and it will make your life a whole lot easier during Bike Month (because you’ll be riding every day, right?).
How often to clean? According to various sources all over the internet, you really should spray down your bike every time it gets dirty. Trouble being that, if you’re anything like me, the last thing you feel like doing when you get in from the rain is hosing down your bike. Once a week seems like plenty to me; if you’re fastidious, more is better.
What to use? There are a number of commercial products out there designed for cleaning the grease off your chain, but I found that a bucket of warm water with dish soap worked just fine. An old tooth brush will help you get into hard-to-reach places, and an old rag comes in handy. Spray it with the hose first to remove loose dirt.
Where to clean? You’ll want to clean your cassette, chain, the rims of your wheels and your brakes — really, anywhere you see dirt. The added friction from the grime causes all your components to wear down faster, so keeping things clean will keep you out of the repair shop.
How to clean? This is mostly self-explanatory, but it bears mentioning that cleaning a chain is best accomplished by turning your bike upside down and rotating the pedals backwards so that the chain moves through your soapy rag. Make sure you rinse things thoroughly and oil your chain when you’re done.
What are your sources? I’m no expert — so don’t take it from me. There’s a thorough blog post on Cycle and Style from back in 2010 that will tell you everything you need to know. If you like visual aids, Youtube videos abound.
Have bike-cleaning wisdom to share? Feel free to share!