How-To: Water-Wise Bike Wash
Have you ever needed to wash your bike but not had access to a hose? Maybe you live in an apartment with no real outdoors areas where you can break out a bucket of soapy water—not without making a soggy mess anyway. Perhaps you’re staying in a city hotel the night before flying back to Australia and need to get your bike sparkling for a hassle-free ride through customs. Water restrictions can also prevent you from running amok with the garden hose.
With these predicaments all a distinct possibility, we thought it'd be wise to consider a slightly different approach to cleaning your MTB; the waterless bike wash!
What You'll Need
- Spray-on bike cleaner, preferably one with a degree of degreasing power. We used Krush Rapid Wash which is a diluted version of their Premium Wash—a product that incorporates a degreasing agent.
- Chain lube; it's a good idea to re-lube your drivetrain after a thorough clean, especially if you've applied any degreaser when cleaning.
- A good collection of rags—cotton works well and an old towel can be handy too.
- Concentrated degreaser.
- A couple of plastic bags with elastic bands.
- Disc brake cleaner.
- Bike polish
Start by grabbing a copy of our last issue and following the directions on how to give your drivetrain a good clean. Scrape any dried build-up from the chainring and the jockey wheels, then wipe the chain clean. Use some lube to loosen the contaminants, then give it a thorough wipe. If it's really dirty, put some degreaser on a rag and wipe the outside of the chain. Don't go overboard with the degreaser (as you won't be able to wash it off afterwards), just use it to dislodge the muck from the outer links. All of this will be easier with the wheels in place, as it helps with spinning the drivetrain around and wiping the chain clean.
Drop the wheels out and place them aside. Either flip the bike upside down to make it stable or hang it by the saddle—a sling from a beam or under some stairs will do the trick, or you can hang the bike from the washing line (in most cases it's best to have the dropper post extended when hanging the bike from the saddle). With the wheels off, it's a good idea to slip a plastic bag over each brake calliper. Keep the bag in place with an elastic band. This will prevent the bike wash, residual oil/grease or any other muck from contaminating your brake pads.
Spray bike wash all over the frame, fork and components. With the wheels removed and callipers protected, you can really go to town and spray everything. Make sure you coat all the corners and tough to reach spots—behind the fork arch, in and around the suspension pivots and under the bottom bracket. Leave the bike to sit for five or so minutes. Most good cleaners are a diluted biodegradable degreaser, give them sufficient time and they'll cut through a surprising amount of grime.
This step may not be needed, but if your bike is pretty dirty, giving it a gentle scrub with a soft-bristle brush will help to loosen any heavily built-up crud. Spray a little extra cleaner onto the brush to assist with sudsing things up and spread the cleaner into any pockets that you may have missed on the initial spray. While a soft bristle car-cleaning brush works best, a simple dustpan brush will suffice.
While you're waiting for the bike wash to do its thing, use the time to clean the wheels. Spray the bike wash onto a rag and wipe-down the rims and hubs. This uses less bike cleaner than spraying directly onto the wheel and it ensures you won't contaminate the rotors. Spraying the wheels may be needed if they're really dirty but it's a good idea to cover your discs. Bike wash shouldn't cause contamination but it's best to play it safe—some pads are very sensitive and there's nothing worse than noisy, ineffective brakes. Also give the cassette a clean with a rag that's damp with bike wash or degreaser—hold the rag taught and run it back and forth between each cog.
Don't skimp on rags when it comes to wiping the frame down. Wipe the entire bike clean ensuring that you constantly turn the rag to keep it fresh—failing to flip the rag increases the chance of scratching the surface. Aim to get in every nook and cranny and if the bike is fairly dirty, try damping a rag with bike wash to provide a little extra cleaning power. When it comes to the shock shaft and fork stanchions, it's considered best to wipe around rather than up and down, as vertical scratches are more likely to cause leaks or allow dirt ingress. Whatever you do, make sure a fresh section of rag is used for your suspension components and dropper post.
Your rig should look pretty good by this stage. However for the best results, you'll achieve a better finish by applying some polish. In addition to making the bike look schmick, a good quality polish will protect the finish and make it easier to clean next time because dirt will be less likely to stick. Simply spray it on and polish it with a clean, soft rag. It's best to do this with the wheels still off and bags over the brake callipers—a waxy finish may be great for your paint but it'll wreak havoc with your rotors or pads. Doing this before refitting the wheels will make it easier to reach all the hard to get-to spots.
Now you're just about done. If you didn't have the brake callipers protected or accidentally got oil residue on the rotors, grab some brake cleaner and give them a once-over before putting the wheels on. While we're not proposing this technique will rival a good bucket wash when the bike is really muddy, you may be surprised by how good the results can be. The only major downfall is that you'll use more bike wash spray doing it this way, which means it'll cost more than washing with copious amounts of water. It's certainly a worthwhile approach when there's no water available or when you're stuck indoors.