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Why do I suck at washing my bike?

Old 03-12-12, 03:45 PM
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krazygl00
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Why do I suck at washing my bike?

TL;DR Edit: I'm an OK home mechanic, but I suck at washing my bike. I don't know why, and it always takes about 5 times as long as I think it is going to take. Maybe I'm using the wrong cleaners or the wrong method, but for me it is always a messy and time-consuming process. What could I be doing wrong?

-----------

I like to think I'm a fairly competent home bike mechanic; I have a pretty nice in-home shop and a great collection of tools. The only time I need to go to the LBS mechanic is for stuff I don't have the tools for (reaming/facing, for example).

Despite this, bike-cleaning is the one area I just suck at at, which is odd because it shouldn't take a lot of expertise (or so it would seem to me). I always have in mind this should take 30 minutes tops, but then every time, 3 hours later I find myself finally wiping down the last bits.

I just don't have the method down or something. I don't know whether I clean my bike infrequently because I suck at it, or if I suck at it because I do it so infrequently. I just cleaned it yesterday and this is how it went: I used a bucket of hot water with a variety of brushes, two chain cleaners and a copious amount of dish-soap (dawn or some lemony equivalent). I start out just below the seatpost collar and the headset bearings and work my way down. I scrub the frame, the brakes, the wheels all normally as you'd expect. The trouble is when I arrive at the drivetrain. No matter what I do I just can't seem to cut through that gunk. It just gums up, then I wind up smearing it around and back onto the frame and fork, I add more soap, directly onto the brush and it just seems to sit there, still smearing around still gummed up. I used a Park Chain cleaner and a Spin Doctor chain cleaner with varying success, often adding a tablespoon of soap right into the cleaner with soapy water. The gummed up grease just kind of laughs at me and sticks on the chain. I think I changed the water/soap in the cleaner 10 times before my chain started to become shiny. (By the way, I think the Spin Doctor chain cleaner works better). After the drivetrain is somewhat clean, removed the wheels and cleaned the dropouts and between the stays and forks. When the frame was pretty much clean, brushed the cassette, rinsed the whole thing and put the wheels back on. After the rinse, I was surprised at how much crap I'd missed. So then it was another round of soaping up, brushing, etc. Eventually I just got tired of it and called a truce. I was still surprised about the grime hidden in the little nooks around the derailleurs, behind the crank, etc.

I have tried Simple Green in the place of dish soap before to similar results. What am I doing wrong? Should I do drivetrain first with mineral spirits then do an all-over wash after? Are there some better cleaners that I'm missing out on? Is it better to take the wheels off or leave them on? Is there a good way to dry all of the water out of the parts quickly/fully? It bugs me to have wet moving parts and trust air-drying to do the trick.

What I dislike most about the whole process is not that it is difficult, just that it is so...inelegant if that makes sense. There doesn't seem to be a good, simple, streamlined way to do it...it all seems messy and wasteful and time-consuming. Trust me, I'm a tightwad, but this is one chore I'm tempted to outsource and just pay for.

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Old 03-12-12, 04:02 PM
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I have one question about this whole process; why? A scrupulously clean bike doesn't ride any better than one that is just kept in decent shape. I do a complete overhaul about every two years or 7000-8000 miles on my road bikes and about every year on my rain bike and that's the only time they are operating-room clean. Otherwise, wipe off the buildup every so often and keep the chain reasonably (not anally) clean and lubed.

It's like people who spend hundreds of dollars to "detail" a car. Unless you are showing it in a Concourse de Elegance where big money is at stake, why do it?
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Old 03-12-12, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
I have one question about this whole process; why? A scrupulously clean bike doesn't ride any better than one that is just kept in decent shape. I do a complete overhaul about every two years or 7000-8000 miles on my road bikes and about every year on my rain bike and that's the only time they are operating-room clean. Otherwise, wipe off the buildup every so often and keep the chain reasonably (not anally) clean and lubed.

It's like people who spend hundreds of dollars to "detail" a car. Unless you are showing it in a Concourse de Elegance where big money is at stake, why do it?

Exactly, just use some 409 or some hot soapy water (I prefer ivory soap) on a rag and get the most off and done. My bike isn't a princess, and I am not about to treat it that way.
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Old 03-12-12, 04:19 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
I have one question about this whole process; why? A scrupulously clean bike doesn't ride any better than one that is just kept in decent shape. I do a complete overhaul about every two years or 7000-8000 miles on my road bikes and about every year on my rain bike and that's the only time they are operating-room clean. Otherwise, wipe off the buildup every so often and keep the chain reasonably (not anally) clean and lubed.

It's like people who spend hundreds of dollars to "detail" a car. Unless you are showing it in a Concourse de Elegance where big money is at stake, why do it?
Originally Posted by ben4345 View Post
Exactly, just use some 409 or some hot soapy water (I prefer ivory soap) on a rag and get the most off and done. My bike isn't a princess, and I am not about to treat it that way.
I'm with both of you! :-) I am not one of those guys who details his car every saturday, or obsesses about having a clean bike. Part of my point is that this annoying process doesn't result in a scrupulously clean bike, merely a somewhat clean bike. And I do it seldom enough (every 4-5 months) that when I do, I feel I should be thorough. I just hate that this takes 3 hours that I could have spent riding, and I'm looking for that method that will let me ride more and clean less.
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Old 03-12-12, 04:29 PM
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Where do you live, how grungy do you let your bike get and how often are you "washing"? I can take all three chains off my tandem, take the cassette off, remove the cranks, clean everything and reassemble in about 90 minutes. A quick clean and chain re-oil takes maybe 30 minutes.

I you live someplace where it rains and your really packing on the grit, mud, etc. I can see a cleaning being a bit more involved, but not much.
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Old 03-12-12, 04:29 PM
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I am "THAT" guy. I dont think it takes me any less time than you but I take the chain, cassette, crank, disk brakes and sometimes the rear mech off. Only a few times a year though. Quick cleans the chain and cassette definitely come off
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Old 03-12-12, 04:56 PM
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Drive trains are hard to clean. The small chain rings are nearly impossible to reach, the RD pulleys build up gunk and digging out the dirt and grease is a pain. And if left for any long period of dry and wet, the gunk hardens on all the surfaces. It's like tartar build-up below the gum-line.

I may not treat my bikes like a princess, but I do like to ride a very clean bike with shiny chain. Otherwise, why spend more on the sliver links? And who wants chain-ring scuff marks on the inside of the calf muscle? I know I don't. So I clean weekly and I have strips of rags pre-cut and ready for wiping down the bike and sized to get into hard places like behind the crank around the BB area. And I get the 8-pack of stiff toothbrushes that look sort of like Oral-B knock-offs, only stiffer from the dollar store. Too hard for human gums, but great for scrubbing between teeth in cogs and chain rings. 10 minutes or so, once a week, and I use a dry lube to attract less dirt onto the drive train.

A warning about simple green and other degreasers - they may cause discolouration and react with aluminum surfaces. I just go through polishing the derailleurs off a bike that was de-greased with something too strong. I try to use some oil/petrol-based fluid like WD40 to clean with instead.

Last edited by gyozadude; 03-12-12 at 04:56 PM. Reason: typos
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Old 03-12-12, 05:06 PM
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This thread has been interesting and shows the spectrum of bike cleaning. I've known people who spend more time cleaning than riding and others who's bikes look like they've been dipped in tar. I think of myself in the middle. I do keep the bikes in good order remove buildup on the chain and pulleys and keep the bearings in good adjustment and lubed but don't obsess over the minutia. We all have our foibles.
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Old 03-12-12, 05:22 PM
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Bikes are inherently difficult to clean. They have lots of exposed greasy parts, unlike a car. To me there are two types of clean: drivetrain clean and aesthetic clean. The aesthetic takes the least time for me, bucket of soapy water and a hose. 20 minutes maybe. The drivetrain (chain, cogs, chainrings, RD pulleys) takes longer but I would not say 3 hours. If you want your frame and other parts to stay cleaner and be easier to clean wax them with a car wax. This is a lot easier when the frame is completely stripped.
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Old 03-12-12, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
Bikes are inherently difficult to clean. They have lots of exposed greasy parts, unlike a car. To me there are two types of clean: drivetrain clean and aesthetic clean. The aesthetic takes the least time for me, bucket of soapy water and a hose. 20 minutes maybe. The drivetrain (chain, cogs, chainrings, RD pulleys) takes longer but I would not say 3 hours. If you want your frame and other parts to stay cleaner and be easier to clean wax them with a car wax. This is a lot easier when the frame is completely stripped.
I washed my bike once.

Neither of us liked it, so promised I'd never do it again.
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Old 03-12-12, 06:14 PM
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I keep my gear spotless, I ride year round in any conditions and am averaging 500-700k per week through about 80% of the year. 10% of the year would be above that, 10% a bit below.

Having said that a spotless bike is a 30 minute process for me (tops) - and depending on the conditions I've been riding in, that could mean anywhere from two washes a week, to a wash a fortnight.

First, the choice of lubrication you make is going to affect how easy or hard your drive chain is to keep spotless. I use very thin wet lube, and I wipe and re-apply probably 2-3 times per week irrespective. That makes a big difference to the cleaning process as well. You use thick wet lubes, its harder to remove. Same for a lot of the 'dry' lubes.

My process is:

- Hose bike down (low pressure ie garden tap as opposed to a high pressure unit)
- Spray non caustic degreaser liberally cluster, chain, jockey wheels, fd cage, chain rings
- Allow to sit, while I fill wash bucket (so about 2 minutes or so)
- Soap/sponge entire bike (ex parts with degreaser), I also use a clean nylon brush over the brakes/pads
- Use the nylon scouring side of the sponge on the rims/brake tracks.
- Use hard nylon brush/soap from bucket to scrub cassette
- Hose soap off, hose degreaser off drive chain
- Put bike onto mech stand towel dry
- Rag with mineral spirit on the chain
- Dry rag on the chain till chain is completely dry and spotless

At this point I'm usually about 20 minutes or so in, unless there are any obvious adjustments or the like required. I'll almost always check the RD shifting. I'll almost always quickly check tires for embedded glass, and pick out any I find with a knife.

Bike then goes inside, I have prolink gold lube in a small container with a hard nozzle. I run the chain while dropping a *little* more than required on the chain. Depending on when I next need the bike I'll either let it sit till I'm about to go to bed, then wipe the chain down with a disposable kitchen wipe, or do it the next morning. Chain is invariably spotless, as is the rest of the bike.

If it's taking 3hrs ... I dunno what you're doing. Seems manifestly excessive.
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Old 03-12-12, 06:36 PM
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You don't tell us what lube you use after you get your drivetrain clean, and if you wipe off the excess.
Lub on the exterior of the chain does little else than protect from rust, and for that, you only need a thin layer on the chain. Lub on the outside of the chain clings to dirt to become hard black gunk if left on long enough. Excess lube on a chain that is cleaned frequently will still have black gunk on it, only not so hard. Remember to wipe the excess lube off the chain after you have lubed it and pedaled backwards to work the lube into the chain pins and rollers.

I think the solution is to wash your bike more frequently. The interval depends on how much you ride.
Do your very best 3 hour cleaning to give you a good starting point, and then give the bike a quick clean and lube every week. Once your bike is clean, it should stay clean with the quick clean and lube.
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Old 03-12-12, 07:08 PM
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Yeah, Sideshow_Bob has a good rundown. I just put some good car wash soap in a bucket with hot water, then use that with a sponge to get the filth off my bike. Then I rinse with low pressure water and dry the areas with towels and rags where water might remain, such as the bolt recesses. Takes 10 minutes, and comes out sparkling. A chain stays clean if you lube and relube and keep wiping it down with a rag. The right lube acts as its own degreaser. I use Park Tools lube or Rock n' Roll.

If you spend three hours and do this twice a year instead of once week or whenever needed, just pop the cassette off your rear wheel, throw it in mild degreaser, scrub it with a brush and do the same for your crankset. With all that removed, you have good access to scrub your bottom bracket area and chainstay. You can remove your chain and bathe it in lube and keep wiping and relubing it until it gleams. Don't submerge or soak your chain with degreaser; it just strips the lube out of the joints. Don't use heavy oils on your chain. That could be part of the problem.
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Old 03-12-12, 10:02 PM
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One good thing about this thread...I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it an odious task. Part of my frustration was that I thought everyone else in the world had an easy and quick time of it

For those of you whose cleanings take ~30min, I think you're right in that I need to do it more frequently.

Originally Posted by sideshow_bob View Post
I keep my gear spotless, I ride year round in any conditions and am averaging 500-700k per week through about 80% of the year. 10% of the year would be above that, 10% a bit below.

Having said that a spotless bike is a 30 minute process for me (tops) - and depending on the conditions I've been riding in, that could mean anywhere from two washes a week, to a wash a fortnight.

<snip>

If it's taking 3hrs ... I dunno what you're doing. Seems manifestly excessive.
Nothing that excessive, but I think as others have pointed out, I'm waiting too long between cleanings and gunk is getting really caked on like tar. This is a really good rundown you gave, and I'm going to try some of the things you do. What "non caustic degreaser" are you using? When possible I try to stick with stuff that is generically available, finding that most bike-specific cleaners and lubes are more expensive versions of what is available elsewhere for less.

Originally Posted by FastJake View Post
Bikes are inherently difficult to clean. They have lots of exposed greasy parts, unlike a car. To me there are two types of clean: drivetrain clean and aesthetic clean. The aesthetic takes the least time for me, bucket of soapy water and a hose. 20 minutes maybe. The drivetrain (chain, cogs, chainrings, RD pulleys) takes longer but I would not say 3 hours. If you want your frame and other parts to stay cleaner and be easier to clean wax them with a car wax. This is a lot easier when the frame is completely stripped.
3hrs might be exaggeration for just the cleaning portion, which is probably taking just over an hour, hour-and-a-half or so. But with the setting up, moving the stand outside then afterwards drying, re-lubing, pulling the seatpost and drying out the BB with some WD-40, cleaning the rims with glass cleaner, I'm finding I'm finally finished with the whole ordeal about 3hrs after I set out.

Originally Posted by skilsaw View Post
You don't tell us what lube you use after you get your drivetrain clean, and if you wipe off the excess.
Lub on the exterior of the chain does little else than protect from rust, and for that, you only need a thin layer on the chain. Lub on the outside of the chain clings to dirt to become hard black gunk if left on long enough. Excess lube on a chain that is cleaned frequently will still have black gunk on it, only not so hard. Remember to wipe the excess lube off the chain after you have lubed it and pedaled backwards to work the lube into the chain pins and rollers.

I think the solution is to wash your bike more frequently. The interval depends on how much you ride.
Do your very best 3 hour cleaning to give you a good starting point, and then give the bike a quick clean and lube every week. Once your bike is clean, it should stay clean with the quick clean and lube.
The sense I'm getting from this thread is I need to stop being a lazy SOB and clean more frequently, especially the drivetrain. As far as lubes, I'm using ProLink Gold for the chain (and wiping off excess), tri-flow for cable routing and pivot points on derailleurs and brakes, dry lube for a few things like cleats.
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Old 03-13-12, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by krazygl00 View Post
Nothing that excessive, but I think as others have pointed out, I'm waiting too long between cleanings and gunk is getting really caked on like tar. This is a really good rundown you gave, and I'm going to try some of the things you do. What "non caustic degreaser" are you using? When possible I try to stick with stuff that is generically available, finding that most bike-specific cleaners and lubes are more expensive versions of what is available elsewhere for less.
https://www.torpedo7.com.au/products/...reaser---500ml

Alternately I just go to the hardware store and pick out any degreaser that says on the label 'non-caustic'. Price is slightly cheaper than the bike one I buy online. It's marginal, when I'm shopping on that site, I might buy a couple bottles, if it's a while between orders I'll buy at the hardware store.

I'm not recommending you buy from a store based in Aus/NZ, but I'm pretty sure any of the big online US retailers will have something exactly the same.
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Old 03-14-12, 06:15 AM
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I cleaned my bike once then decided that more riding less cleaning. So now I'm down to 5 minutes job wiping and lubing the drivetrain every couple weeks. The downside is that my originally white bike might not be qualified as a white bike anymore.
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Old 03-14-12, 06:47 AM
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Gunked up drive trains from overlubrication or using the wrong lube are one place where WD40 is a good thing. Start by spraying everything off with a hose and an old scrub brush. Don't laugh but a cheap (new) toilet brush works good for getting into the major areas of the frame and drive train. You aren't trying to get it spotless here, just knock of the bad stuff. Spray everything that is gunked up and greasy with a good mist of WD40 and let it sit for an hour. This softens the grease. Then take a good degreaser (Citrus, Simple Green with Dawn Dish Soap, or other degreaser of choice) and spray it on straight and let it sit for an hour or two, or better yet, overnight. The next day hot water with a little dish soap and a scrub brush should easily take the gunk off. Finish up with rags and then wipe and use an air compressor to blow the water from all the nooks and crannies. Lube with a silicone or wax lube that won't attract dirt and you're good to go.

It helps if you do a spot cleaning whenever your bike is dirty. Not spotless, just get the worst of it off. Negect results in thick buildup which is a bear to remove. When I've been riding in wet or dirty conditions, I'll generally give the bike a rinse with the garden hose when I get home and then just wipe it down with a rag and lightly wipe the chain and cables with lube on a paper shop towel. In the conditions I ride, I usually get by with a light clean and lube once a week and a more complete clean and degrease every 4-6 weeks. About this time of year, my bikes get completely cleaned and waxed as I do the spring servicing. I get pictures quick because they don't stay that clean for long. I gave up on keeping my bikes showroom spotless a long time ago.
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Old 03-14-12, 10:53 AM
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Keep the drivetrain clean.If you keep your bike clean,you don't need soap/cleaner.The only cleaner you need is for the chain.

I wash my bike once a week,spray it with the hose,wipe it off,takes 30 min.That includes cleaning the chain and drivetrain.It gets torn down every year and serviced.I ride my bike,it's not a trailer queen.

Doesn't take 3 hours to detail my 34 Ford and it's black.

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Old 03-14-12, 11:10 AM
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Generic Glass cleaner ....besides its a great hand cleaner...wound disinfectant etc....

+1 on using light weight wax based lubes more frequently for those of us who live in coastal sandy conditions. Oil based lubes and or heavier wax based lubes just attract grit in these environs.
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Old 03-14-12, 11:45 AM
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I have tried all kinds of cleaners and the only one that can cut through the bike grease made from chain oil, dirt and aluminum is Park Chainbrite. I also used to care for a large stable of Police bicycles and developed a quick method of cleaning bikes. Here's the step by step procedure with pictures I placed on my blog. https://onespeedbiker.blogspot.com/20...your-bike.html
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Old 03-14-12, 11:55 AM
  #21  
Yo Spiff
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Haven't seen anyone post my method yet, so I'll add my 2:

I keep a bucket of old socks around for cleaning the bike, the ones that lost their mates in the dimensional vortex of the dryer long ago. I turn them inside out, so the more heavily textured part is outside, wet it down with warm water (heavy damp, but not soaked). Put it on my hand like a glove and clean the frame and shiny bits with it. When I get to the hard to reach areas (like the underside of the brake calipers), it comes off my hand and gets threaded through. When the frame and components are clean, I can then put a bit of degreaser on it and clean the drivetrain, before throwing it out.

I usually finish off with a bit of Pedro's Bike Lust, just because it looks nice.
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Old 03-14-12, 12:02 PM
  #22  
pdlamb
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To the OP, I'd suggest you wipe your chain off with a dry, clean-ish rag about once a week. That should keep the accumulation of gunk down to the point you won't be spreading it around when you wash the rest of the bike.

And I'll wash my bikes off this month, since it's been so warm. Maybe. Or maybe next month.
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Old 03-14-12, 12:29 PM
  #23  
I_like_cereal
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What about using one of these:
https://www.plumbersurplus.com/Prod/G...FQlbhwod0HMugA

Add some soap or other cleaner and go. It is on my list things to try.
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Old 03-14-12, 12:39 PM
  #24  
Jed19
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
To the OP, I'd suggest you wipe your chain off with a dry, clean-ish rag about once a week. That should keep the accumulation of gunk down to the point you won't be spreading it around when you wash the rest of the bike.
I wipe off my chain after every ride. It only takes a second.

And, as for bike washing, I do it when I have to degrease/clean my clean my chain. It helps to have the chain off (KMC links) and dropped into a Pepsi/Coke wide mouth bottle with a little bit of odorless mineral spirits, agitate, fish out, set aside to let mineral spirits evaporate (thank you, Sheldon Brown!). I also take my wheels out, then clamp bike in the stand, spray some Simple Green on chainrings, pulleys, derailleurs, wait about five minutes, then wash with soapy water, rinse down and dry. The chainrings can be spotlessly cleaned due to the chains being off the bike during wash.

I then quickly scrub the wheels with soap, rinse and dry. Reinstalling of chain and lubing follows. I also lube derailleurs, pulleys and brake pivot points. That is it. I can do it all in about 45minutes tops.

I won't wash my bike unless it's time for a chain degreasing/cleaning.
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Old 03-14-12, 01:55 PM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by krazygl00 View Post
TL;DR Edit: I'm an OK home mechanic, but I suck at washing my bike. I don't know why, and it always takes about 5 times as long as I think it is going to take. Maybe I'm using the wrong cleaners or the wrong method, but for me it is always a messy and time-consuming process. What could I be doing wrong?

-----------

I like to think I'm a fairly competent home bike mechanic; I have a pretty nice in-home shop and a great collection of tools. The only time I need to go to the LBS mechanic is for stuff I don't have the tools for (reaming/facing, for example).

Despite this, bike-cleaning is the one area I just suck at at, which is odd because it shouldn't take a lot of expertise (or so it would seem to me). I always have in mind this should take 30 minutes tops, but then every time, 3 hours later I find myself finally wiping down the last bits.
Don't smoke the herb before washing your bike. It should only take you 20 minutes. Get back to smoking afterwards.
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