How Not to Wash Your Bike, with Peter Sagan
The topic of bike washing is oddly controversial in cycling. Dive deep on YouTube and you’ll find a range of tips that cover everything from using the best lavender-scented organic wet wipes, to cleaning your bike with a powerful pressure washer while doing AC headbanging. / CC. And there are situations where every recommendation is correct.
A short Instagram clip recently posted by Peter Sagan shows him “lovingly” tending to his bike at a car wash. The three-time world champion wields the high-pressure wand to get the foaming detergent into every hard-to-reach nook and cranny of his Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7. He pays particular attention to the left bottom bracket bearing, then (properly) cleans the chain on the chainrings, before blasting snot out of the often dirty spot above the front wheel (also known to bike enthusiasts under the name of low steering bearing).
Sagan’s efficient approach to cleaning a bike isn’t necessarily bad, at least not for a professional cyclist (more on that in a moment). But his short video is a healthy reminder that the way the pros do something isn’t always the best approach for the average bike owner.
Washing bikes with a pressure washer is a common sight in the dirtiest professional cycling disciplines. Go to a cyclo-cross race and you’ll see the bikes go through multiple pressure wash cycles in a single hour. Mountain bike racers are known to do the same between workouts. And they do it because there is nothing faster.
However, what you don’t see in those short Instagram videos are the hours of professional mechanics that often follow the heavy wash to get the bike set up for race day. When done by a professional mechanic, this pressure washing (done more carefully) is often quickly followed by the use of an air compressor to quickly dry the bike before surface corrosion sets in. Then the real work begins.
All bearings on the bike are often cleaned and re-greased, or even replaced. The suspension, if present, also usually gets a fresh splash of oil to ensure maximum small-bump sensitivity. All moving components are often carefully prepared for maximum performance. The wheels are regularly rotated as soon as the tires have a few cuts. And chains are usually replaced based on weeks, not mileage or measured wear.
By contrast, seasoned shop mechanics know only too well what happens to a bike that has been thoroughly pressure washed on the outside and left to rot on the inside. The rear freewheel bearings and pawl mechanism are often the first to rust, the bottom bracket starts to feel gritty, the mountain bike suspension pivot bearings seize up and start to groove the pivot bolts or add tension to the frame, while an improperly sealed headset bearing (common on many new road bikes) will soon see its grease turn to brownish rusty sludge.
At first you ride a bike that feels fresh because it looks fresh, but over time everything starts to get rougher from corrosion and/or grease loss, and if it is left, it can result in an incredibly high utility bill.
And so I go back to Sagan, a professional cyclist who gets paid to use the product he saw washing off in this video. Professional cyclists ride a whole lot and as a result they tend to wear through a lot of product. Longevity is not a critical attribute of a product used in professional cycling. As such, most teams service bikes simply to achieve efficiency and performance, and the product is scrapped and replaced to maintain it.
There’s nothing wrong with using a pressure washer to clean a bike, but it’s important to remember that most of us aren’t Peter Sagan. If we blast detergent into our bottom bracket bearings, we’ll probably have to pay for it at some point. For some riders this is a reasonable compromise for the speed and ease of washing a bike in this manner, while others should be aware that such a rapid approach to cleaning the bike must be balanced with frequency. increased detailed maintenance.
Either way, there are better ways to maneuver a pressure washer around a bike than what Sagan shows.
Quick tips for using a pressure washer correctly
If you plan on using a pressure washer, there are a few basic things to remember:
- Use a lower pressure setting – the goal is to remove dirt, not paint.
- Keep a good distance between the nozzle and the bike to make sure you don’t force water into any hidden parts of your steed.
- Do not concentrate the water jet at the entry points of the bicycle bearings. For example, avoid aiming the water jet directly at the spaces above and below the headset, the bearings next to the cranks or the edges of your hubs.
- If you have a suspension or dropper post, do not direct pressure directly into the outer wiper seals. Instead, angle the nozzle below the line of these joints.
- If using a detergent-based pressure washer, spray it gently on the remote bike and agitate the dirt with a brush. Wash it away with water. Forcing this foaming detergent onto the bike will remove significant grease from the bike. Also be aware that some of these automotive detergents can contaminate disc brake surfaces, often resulting in noisy braking.
- Be careful not to throw an oily chain in the direction of the rear disc brake. This too can lead to contamination of the brakes. This is something Sagan does correctly by cleaning the chain at the chainring on the non-drive side of the bike.
- Always dry the bike as soon as possible after washing. Most professionals use an air compressor for this, but even a few dry microfiber towels, a hair dryer (on a cool setting), or even a leaf blower will do. Just be aware that, as with the pressure washer, you should definitely not direct the high pressure air directly at the edges of the bearing seals.
- Don’t ignore the need for routine maintenance and/or servicing. No bike is completely weatherproof.
Personally, my approach to bike washing involves spray bike wash cleaner, a soft bristle brush, and setting the shower from a garden hose (much like what Park Tool recommends). The transmission gets the most attention, and for most, a moderate level of transmission cleaning is the one to aim for. Yes, it’s slower than a pressure washer, but it’s also much gentler on all the sealed parts of your bike. And again, don’t forget to dry the bike afterwards!
If you decide to skip the above and choose to emulate Sagan instead, be sure to copy the thumbs up at the end. This is a nice gesture for your mechanic who will now have to re-grease your lower steering bearing sooner than expected.