DEALING WITH MUD
Tips and tricks for maintaining your mountain bike - and your small apartment.
N+1 is the rule: The number of bikes you need is the number you have, and one more. In this modern era where we all seem to live with roommates until we're over 30, its hard to justify the purchase of another bike. Sometimes the call of the wild is just too strong, and you buy a mountain bike - In New York City. Sacrifices must be made. You sell one of your spare road bikes, give your kayak away, loosen the stem bolts to turn the bars to the side and cram it behind your bedroom door. Cool. Then this happens:
They told you not to ride muddy trails, but you did anyway. A few too many stream crossings and your new bike is a gloppy, crunchy, pariah (and so are you). The MTA gave you the side eye as you sauntered onto the train to get home. You wince as you pedal home listening to the abrasive paste grind away at every moving part. You might be tempted to bring that bike inside, take yourself and it into the shower, and hose down. Don't do it. Don't even think about bringing that bike into your apartment. It's not good for anyone, least of all the bike. Brush, don't flush.
Often at cyclocross or mountain bike races there will be a bike wash station. It can be tempting to grab the hose and blast away until the bike looks shiny and new. This can be more destructive to your bearings than the actual race. Mud, stuck to the outside of the bike, is thick and sticky enough not to penetrate most of your bearing seals, bushings, or suspension wiper seals. Dilute that mud with water from the hose or shower, and every particle of mud and grit will flow down the fork and frame tubes toward your suspension seals, hubs, brakes, pivots, and bottom bracket. Leave that mud outside the bike, rather than washing it into its moving parts. (If your brake pads or rotors are covered in grit, give those a quick spray with water to preserve your pads life for the way home.)
Make yourself a bike-wash kit:
Soap or natural degreaser
Stiff nylon bristle brushes in mixed sizes
2 spray bottles
Chain cleaning device
an old towel
work stand (not required but it helps)
Ride that muddy bike home or put it on the car rack or truck bed and let it air-dry on the bike. Once desiccated, grab a DRY brush with stiff nylon bristles and gently sweep away the clods. I use a combination of scrub brushes purchased from True Value and Bicycle Habitat in Brooklyn. You'll be surprised how clean (looking) you can get the bike in this step, it saves a ton of time that you can use for thoroughly cleaning the drive train. If you're totally smoked from your ride or race, you should be able to get the bike presentable enough to be allowed back into your apartment - but don't wait too long to finish the next steps.
Soak Now its time to bring out the soap or degreaser. I've been using simple green for years. Again, since we're talking about apartment living and a bucket or hose is inconvenient or unavailable, prepare two spray bottles - one with simple green (diluted!) and the other with water. Spray down the whole bike with your cleaner, except for the brakes. Use only clean water or pure isopropyl alcohol there.
Degrease Leave the soapy mixture to do its work on the frame and wheels, and go to work on the drivetrain. If you have a chain pig or other chain cleaning device, clip it on. The chain pig is my favorite, since you can leave it in place and turn the cranks as you scrub around the cranks, chainrings, cassette, and derailleur pulleys. To get the cassette extra clean remove the rear wheel and ratchet the brush back and forth along the cassette until you've made a few revolutions.
Scrub Now its time to scrub away at the frame. Starting top to bottom, scrub down the bike to remove any stubborn dirt or grease. Don't skimp on scrubbing the wheels and tires. A bottle brush like in this kit or a toilet brush works well to clean under the fork crown and the around the hubs. This brush fits perfectly around the seals and wipers of your fork - its especially important to keep these areas free of grit to protect the low-friction coating on your stanchions. Naturally, its best to have separate brushes for your drivetrain and the rest of the bike. Rinse Use the spray bottle filled with water and more brushing to rinse away any remaining soap and water. Gently spraying or misting with water is better than blasting with a hose - again the goal is to clean the bike and not to force contamination into its moving parts.
Use the old towel to dry the bike and remove any residue. Its also important to rinse soap or degreaser from the chain - a few vigorous turns of the cranks will shed much of the water, then run the chain through the old towel for good measure. Degreaser will not only interfere with lubrication, but its acidic and can damage the chain if left too long. Leave the bike be to air dry completely - leave it in the sun if you can or bring it indoors and set it on top of an old towel.
If you've removed the wheels, apply a light coating of oil to the thru-axles. Apply lubricant to the chain - drip oil on the bottom run of the chain and turn the cranks backwards. Take a clean and dry rag and wipe away the excess.