triathlon bike

Bike Cleaning and Maintenance 101 for Athletes

Contents:

  • How to clean your bike
  • How to maintain your bike
  • When to replace bicycle parts
  • When to get a new bike

Bike Cleaning and Maintenance 101 for Athletes

Your bike and all its pieces are a collectively moving element. So, when exposed to dirt, grime, mud, and other external contaminants, it may deteriorate—a nuisance for athletes who constantly train and compete. Athletes need well-working bikes and cycling equipment to succeed.

Get in the startling line and reach the finish line with a well-working bicycle through proper cleaning and maintenance. On this page, we listed down the basic tips to help you clean and prolong the lifeline of your bike.

How to Clean Your Bike

Keeping your bike and its parts properly cleaned and lubricated can provide more riding comfort and improve your overall performance as an athlete. This, however, needs to be done regularly and properly.

Here are the basic methods to clean your bike:

Use the Right Cleaner

Bikes are sturdy equipment, but you need to be sensitive when cleaning them. As such, you need the right cleaner that won’t ruin the internal and external components of your bike.

Bike cleaners are different from general-purpose cleaning products in the supermarket. These cleaners are designed and formulated to be safe on all bike components while keeping them clean at the same time. In this way, you don’t have to worry about the product getting on your brakes.

When shopping for bike cleaners, find products that foam up nicely and remove serious dirt and grime on wheels and tires. Aside from cleaning capabilities, you might also want to look for products that streak and shine up well after the cleaning process. Most of them don’t require rinsing.

Alternatively, as a cheaper option, you can also look for a mild dishwashing liquid that can be used for bike cleaning. Look for a dishwashing liquid with grease-cleaning power but with brake and tire-friendly ingredients.

When you find the perfect bike cleaner, pair it with a powerful degreaser, so you can easily remove stubborn grease, oils, fluids, corrosion inhibitors, and other contaminants in your bike, and a reliable fork oil for suspension seals.

Use Proper Cleaning Materials

Pair the right bike cleaner with the right cleaning materials. Rough and inappropriate cleaning materials can also damage the internal and external components of your bike. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  1. Clean rags or old cotton shirts
  2. Soft brushes (regular or bottle brushes)
  3. Bucket or a big dipper
  4. Hose
  5. Sponges

Some optional but highly recommended tools to make your cleaning process easier are bike stands and chain keepers. These materials can help you properly clean all the areas of your bike.

You can recycle your brushes, sponges, and clean rags for multiple cleaning sessions, but make sure that they are in separate containers during storage. Don’t put your tools, rags, and buckets in one area as items with grease can infect your clean tools.

Set Up and Detach the Parts

Place your bike in the bike stand or any work stand available. Bring it up off the ground, so you can easily see the upper and lower portion of the bike when cleaning. Then, remove the wheels to clean them individually. You can insert a chain keeper, if you have one, to keep tension on the drivetrain. This setup prevents the chain from folding up or falling off while you’re cleaning the bike.

Start Cleaning the Drivetrain

If you followed our recommendation to have a chain cleaning device, use it to clean the chain. If you don’t have one, you can simply use a degreaser and a brush to clean the drivetrain. You may need small brushes to reach complicated areas like the jockey wheels. Dispose of the brush after using it; don’t use the same brush on other parts of the bike.

Clean the Suspension Seals

Don’t forget to check and clean your suspension seals during the process. Most newbie bike owners or athletes forget this because they’re not confident about their knowledge of bike mechanics. But don’t worry, it’s fairly easy to keep your suspension clean and running smoothly.

For regular cleaning, you can use the right bike cleaner to clean suspension seals. But this method won’t keep the seals from running smoothly—it will just clean them. You can use a reliable fork oil to clean and dry your suspension seals during general cleaning sessions. All you need to do is apply a generous amount of oil at the bottom of the stanchions, then cycle or rotate the suspension multiple times before wiping the oil.

Clean the Discs or Braking Surface

For this step, you only need to wipe your discs or braking surface down. You don’t need to brush them harshly as they’re sensitive. There’s a chance that a muck, dirt, or excess cleaning agent got stuck on your bike’s rotors, so spray some degreaser into a cloth or paper towel and wipe your rotors.

Rinse and Dry Your Bike

Some cleaning agents don’t require rinsing. But when you’re cleaning all areas of your bike with oils and various cleaning agents, you still need to rinse and dry them off. Use a high-pressure hose or a bucket and a sponge to wet the external components of the bike and remove the build-up of dirt you accumulated while scrubbing.

Spin the wheels while rinsing, and make sure to reach all complicated areas of the bike. Then, use an old cloth or special chamois leather to dry the bike. For the finishing touches, apply lube to the chain while turning the pedals to keep them shiny, new, and smoothly working on your next cycling sessions. Don’t overdo the lube application and only focus on the chain.

How to Maintain Your Bike

Now that you know the proper way to clean your bike, add proper maintenance to your knowledge bucket. Bike cleaning is just a band-aid solution to keep your bike clean, sanitized, and working properly for a short period of time. Bike maintenance is a completely different yet essential process. Maintaining your bike will prolong its life.

Here are the best ways to keep your bike in its best condition:

Keep Your Bike Clean At All Times

Regular cleaning is a must—the most important part of bike maintenance. Always break down the oil and grit in the chain, suspension seals, gear sprockets, and other areas after regular or heavy use.

Always Check Tire Pressure

Over time, tire pressure can drop off due to regular or heavy usage—this, of course, leads to poor inflation. Poorly inflated tires are vulnerable to punctures, and may even cause accidents and bike damage. As such, always check tire pressures and ensure that they’re topped up.

To make your life easier, you can purchase tire-pressure gauges to accurately check your tire pressure in real-time. This will help you know when to inflate your tires before and after a cycling session. Also, learn some basic methods on how to fix flat tires to save you time and prepare you for accidents and emergencies.

Always Keep Bolts, Bearings, and Nuts Tight

Ensure that all the screws, bolts, nuts, and bearings in your bike are in their proper places—tightly secured. It would be an inconvenience if they get loose while cycling. Worse, it could damage your bike. It might also be an inconvenience if they accidentally get stuck due to too-tight placements or extremely cold conditions.

To avoid problems involving bolts, screws, nuts, and bearings, you can buy tools that can help you adjust and tighten them. It’s also a must to have spare nuts and bolts in case you lose them. You can get them for free or at a cheap price at the bike store where you bought your bike.

Adjust Brakes Correctly

Brakes are a critical safety component of your bike, so you also need to ensure that they’re well-adjusted and working properly. A functional brake doesn’t just ensure safety; it also prolongs the lifeline of your equipment.

Adjusting brakes may be complicated. It requires time and experience. You can seek help from bike stores or professionals if you have no experience, but you can also learn the basic methods in case of an emergency.

You can adjust your brakes by tightening the adjusting barrel in the brake lever or brake arm end—depending on the structure of your bike. When you tighten the screw in that area, the brake pads move closer to the disc. In case the wire in the screw is also loose, you need to tighten the wire by unscrewing and screwing the bolts back for further adjustments. Adjusting the wire and screw will give you more room to adjust the brakes to your liking.

If the brake pads are preventing you from adjusting or using your brakes, then you might need to clean them from dirt and oil or replace them altogether. Brake pads wear out over time, so prepare for regular replacements.

Get Your Bike Professionally Checked

Get your bike professionally checked and serviced at least once a year or before you compete in a long, important race. This will save you the time and effort of fixing your bike—keeping your equipment in good condition and preventing accidents at the same time.

You can go to the bike store where you purchased the bike or any local store in your area where you can come and go in case of an emergency. Professionals in service centers can easily identify, prevent, and solve issues in your bike.

Learn the Basics and Advanced Methods

As a cyclist or triathlete, you should also turn your attention to your equipment and essentials when competing. Your training is designed to hone your physical, mental, and emotional state before a competition, but your equipment can make or break your performance.

As such, improve your knowledge bucket with basic and advanced technical lessons about bicycles and other cycling equipment. In this way, you can rely on your knowledge and experience when cleaning, maintaining, and fixing your bike.

When to Replace Bicycle Parts

There will be times when proper cleaning and maintenance won’t be able to save your bicycle parts. That means it’s finally time to replace them. The replacement time depends on the frequency of usage and the quality of material, so there is no exact or set mileage and time frame when replacing bicycle parts. But on average, considering frequent usage during training and competitions in athletes, here are the best times to replace the following key parts:

  • Tires – Change tires every 2,000 to 3,000 miles or when it looks too worn and there are lots of threads on the tire belt.
  • Chain – Chains also need to be changed more often. Change your bike chains every 2,000 to 3,000 miles or when the chain starts to lift off the ring.
  • Chainrings – Aim to replace the chainrings every 2,000 miles or when it looks 75% worn.
  • Cassette – If you regularly replace your chain and chainring, it will prolong the life of your bike’s cassette. You can replace it once every three years, provided that your chain and chainrings are always in good condition.
  • Housing and Cables -On average, you can replace housing and cable every 2,000 to 3,000 miles or at least once a year, depending on your usage. When the housing has huge cracks and when the cables have weakened, it’s time to replace them.

When to Get a New Bike?

Proper bike cleaning and maintenance can prolong the lifeline of your bike. But if you’re a long-time, professional athlete, you might be required to change your bicycle and other cycling equipment after years of usage. The question is: how often?

The exact answer, of course, depends on the quality of your bike, the frequency of usage, and your cleaning and maintenance habits. But on average, bicycles used every day last five to seven years. Some bicycles may still be working outside this duration, but you’ll find it difficult to use them competitively. So, the best option when you reach that point is to replace them altogether.

Bottomline

Owning a bike for training and competitions is different from seasonal cycling. If you’re a serious athlete, then proper bike cleaning and maintenance should be part of your routine. Treat your bike and other cycling equipment with care; like your physical effort, they’re also part of your success.