I know it’s strange, but one of my favorite pastimes is washing my bike. I have the tendency to obsess over this. After most rides I’ll quickly wipe the bike down with baby wipes, but there’s nothing quite like rolling up the sleeves and getting together a soapy pail of water, brushes, sponges, degreaser, and making the bike perfectly spotless. It feels brand new after you’re done.
I’ll go through the complete bike wash process at another time (there’s heaps of great hints and tips), but there’s one part I mainly want to concentrate on in this post – degreaser. Almost every seasoned cyclist has their own secret formula of degreaser. A clean drivetrain is a subtle sign of a rider who respects his bike and knows what’s important. Either that, or he never rides his bike. Refer to leg definition to find out which one.
There are a couple of different theories that mechanics subscribe to. I know people who simply use diesel fuel and it gets the drivetrain nice and shiny. It works wonderfully. However, many mechanics believe that using a harsh degreaser on the drivetrain will work its way into the chain pins and bearings and strip away all the grease that should be left there. It’s also bad for the environment to use chemical and petroleum based degreasers and throw away in the neighbor’s garden. Many mechanics prefer to use a citrus degreaser because it is less harsh, easier on the hands, and better for the environment since they are going through heaps of it.
There are a few degreasers that I’ve had experience with which have really worked well and I can highly recommend:
Simple Green: You can get this at any hardware store and is fairly inexpensive. It’s environmentally friendly, isn’t harsh, can be diluted with water, and can be used to clean almost anything on the bike. The drawback I find is that’s it’s not strong enough to degrease the parts without excess scrubbing.
Park Tools Chain-Brite: A biodegradable citrus-based degreaser that works amazingly well. Just lightly brush it on the cassette, chain, with a paintbrush and spray off with a hose. Works like a charm. The only negative is that it’s relatively expensive because it’s a bike specific brand. I’m guessing there’s an equivalent solution at Bunnings.
Morgan Blue: Now, I have no idea what this stuff is made of, but it works amazingly well. It comes from deep in the heart of Belgium where they know how to clean bikes. It doesn’t appear to be petroleum based, but it works so well that it makes me wonder (the website says that it complies with the highest environment standards). A mate of mine was a soigneur for Team SKY during the Tour Down Under this year and the mechanic left a bunch of stuff behind a couple of bottles of Morgan Blue degreaser they didn’t want to carry home. There was something else added to it though and we couldn’t quite work it out. It took a while but I tracked down the formula from one of the SKY mechanics. What they did was add about 20% Windex to it. Gold!
I don’t believe in taking the chain off the bike in order to clean it. There’s an old saying “there’s no such thing as a broken chain, just an incorrectly installed chain”. You can get the chain beautifully spotless by using a paintbrush to apply the degreaser and a rag to wipe it off. Chain washers can sometimes be good for tough jobs, but I mostly find that they waste a lot of degreaser, make a mess, and don’t do a better job than you can do without it.
Writing this post has given me a thousand ideas on tips for techniques, tools and products on how to wash your bike. I’ll save these for another time, but for now, what’s your favorite degreaser formula?