You Own It, You Clean It

by Ken King, PCI # 523
IPMBA Industry Relations Committee
Lakewood Police Department (CO)

Proper maintenance adds to the reliability, performance, and longevity of a bicycle. However, we have all seen bikes that have been neglected for a variety of reasons: lack of maintenance knowledge, use of improper lubricants and cleaners, or, worst of all, just plain laziness.  This purpose of this article is to clarify issues related to the proper cleaning and lubrication of your bike, a critical element of overall bicycle maintenance.

Why Clean and Lube?
  • Reliability and Performance – Drivetrain malfunctions are common reasons for “deadlining” a bike, and one of the most frequently performed services at most bike shops.  Proper maintenance ensures a smooth, positive drivetrain and shifting, reduces down- or repair-time, and enhances overall performance.
  • Longevity – Reduced friction equals reduced wear and failure. Parts last longer and perform better and stronger.
  • Proactive Maintenance – Cleaning and lubing on a regular basis increases the chances of finding a problem (or potential problem) before it occurs or becomes severe.  It is as important as taking a car in for routine service and oil changes.
How Often to Clean and Lube

Opinions vary, but it doesn’t hurt to use a good drivetrain lubricant after each full day’s use or after a good hard ride. Think of it in terms of a duty weapon: if it has been used and is dirty, clean it, lube it, and perform a basic function test.

How to Lube
  • Start with a clean drivetrain.  Use a different set of brushes, sponges, and buckets to clean the drivetrain than you use to clean other parts of the bike.  This will help you to avoid debris contamination and getting harsh cleaners in areas where you don’t want them.  Clean the drive train, rinse off thoroughly and allow to dry (no high pressure wash, please). Now you are ready to lube.
  • Under heavy or frequent use, degrease the drivetrain components by scrubbing them thoroughly or by pulling them off the bike and using a parts washer.
  • Apply lubrication evenly and thoroughly to the chain. 
  • Wipe off any excess with a rag after each application.
  • Lubricate derailleur pivot points and housing ferrules with a silicone-based product or dry lubrication.  This will repel dust or debris and enhance performance and positive shifting.
  • Use the right products and tools.
Types of Lube
  • Dry – Usually best suited for dry, dusty, and low humidity climates. Repels debris and dirt.  Will wash off easily in wet environments, and not provide adequate lubrication.
  • Wet – Best suited for wet, high-humidity climates.  Will not wash off as easily as a dry lube.  Attracts more debris and dirt than a dry lube.  When used in a dry environment, attracts everything under the sun to your drivetrain.
  • Wax – Best suited for the same conditions as dry lube, although some products are marketed for all-conditions use.  Waxes usually have a self-cleaning component that makes them a popular choice.  They do have a tendency to build up, so it is important to wipe off any excess. 

Most citrus cleaners aren’t as harsh as traditional degreasers.  They are marketed as being safe on all finishes and plastics, not just drivetrain components. Degreasers are usually best suited for drivetrain components only (unless diluted) but they do an excellent job in removing the really nasty stuff.  If you are not really sure what you need to get started, most products are available in cleaning and maintenance kits that include cleaners, degreasers, lubricants and cleaning tools.  

Caring for your work equipment should include maintenance of your bicycle and bicycling equipment.  Routine cleaning and lubrication should be considered an important part of your overall bicycle maintenance.   Take care of your bicycle, and it will take care of you.

Ken King, PCI #523, is with the Lakewood Police Department, in Lakewood, Colorado.  He is a 10-year police veteran, was certified as an IPMBA Police Cyclist in 1996, and has been an IPMBA Instructor since 2001.  

(c) 2004 IPMBA.  This article appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of IPMBA News

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