I just got off the phone with my co-worker at SmartEtailing, Will Calkins. I called to apologize. Will works at our main office in Boulder. I work in my home office here in Santa Cruz. When I visited the Boulder office last week, I didn’t bring a bike, so Will let me borrow his Blue.
The apology was because I got caught in a downpour the last day there and didn’t have time to give Will’s bike the TLC it needed after the deluge hit. I was late and had to rush to meet the shuttle to the airport on time. Sorry, Will!
An apology is the least I could do, because rainy rides are not good for bicycles. To help Will deal with the mess I left and to help you check your bike after getting caught out in the wet stuff, here’s a quick step-by-step.
Get the water off
The problem with riding in even only light rain is that it doesn’t just fall down onto your bike. Unless you have fenders (and most performance road bikes do not), your tires catch the rain and hurl it back up onto the bike (and you). What’s more, the other spinning parts, primarily on the drivetrain, also catch and throw the drips and drops. This causes the water to penetrate and go places you wish it wouldn’t.
A quick way to get the water off before you start actually cleaning your bicycle, is to lift it off the ground a few inches and drop it a couple of times. This won’t hurt the bike and it will “shock” the heavy drops of water off and out from in between things, like chain links, pivot points on the brakes and derailleurs and the cogs and chainrings. Don’t do it in your living room!
Tip: Speaking of water going places, I’ve seen frames that let water inside and rims that take it in, too. So, if you hear sloshing when you lift your bike, like to put it on a bike rack, or when you turn your wheels by hand, you’ll want to investigate and seal any holes letting the water in. You paid a lot of money for a light bike. All that water weight adds up. More seriously, water corrodes steel frames and parts. Carbon, titanium and aluminum frames are safe, but keeping them dry inside is still important.
Remove the wheels
For the next steps it helps to have a way to suspend your bike, like a repair stand or a hook or bungee cord to hang it from. A car rack can work, too. Now, remove both wheels, so that you can easily clean the bike. Lean the wheels upright against a wall.
Rinse off dirt
With a low-pressure hose, or a soft sponge and a bucket of warm soapy water, rinse all the road dirt and grit off your bicycle and wheels. Don’t use a high pressure spray, just the normal flow of the hose. Rinse off the accumulations on the brakes, front derailleur and where the wheels throw it onto the seatpost and seat, and fork and headset area. Then, rinse off the wheels.
The idea is to let the water remove the dirt and not to scratch your frame and components by pressing down with the sponge and turning the dirt and grit into sandpaper.
Now that the dirt has been removed, you can use soap and water and a sponge, or your favorite bike cleaner, and wipe your bike and wheels down. Rinsing removed the dirt, but rain usually leaves a grimy layer on the rims, components and frame. Wiping cleans this up. Be sure to get the underside of the frame, which can get really filthy in the rain. Get around the bottom bracket, front derailleur, behind the fork, all around the brakes and derailleurs and the front and rear dropouts that hold your wheels.
Also clean the rims thoroughly as they’re your braking surface (unless you have disc brakes). And, speaking of brakes, be sure to wipe the brake pads clean.
Tip: Besides cleaning the brake pads, look closely at their faces for grit or flints that may have become embedded in them. This is more likely to happen on rainy days because more grit is washed onto the road. Pick anything you see out with an awl or small knife so that it can’t damage your rims.
If your chain, crankset and cassette are dirty and grimy from the rain, use a separate wipe to clean them. Solvent wipes, like Monkey Wipes, make the job easy, though if it’s really dirty, it’ll take a little time to clean things up.
The worst thing that can happen on a rainy ride is having the grease washed out of your wheel, headset, bottom bracket or pedal bearings. Fortunately, on most modern components, the bearings are usually packed with plenty of grease and sealed well, too. Still, it’s always smart to check the bearings after riding in the rain to make sure they’re okay.
To do this, turn the parts slowly by hand and feel for a slight hydraulic resistance. For example, hold the wheel axles in your fingers and turn them and hold the fork and turn it slowly left and right. If instead of smooth turning you feel metal on metal or a crunchy, full-of-dirt feeling, you may want to have a pro check your components and overhaul them with fresh grease and/or new bearings if necessary.
Rain can wash bike lube away and cause corrosion and squeaking. So, when you’re satisfied that your bike’s clean, reinstall the wheels and lubricate your bicycle with your favorite lubes. This includes the chain, derailleur and brake pivot points, any adjustment barrels, inside shifting-brake levers and any exposed parts that could corrode, like the seat binder and stem bolts. Once everything is lubed, let it sit a bit and wipe off any excess. For chains, it’s best to let the lube sit overnight and then wipe.
Finally, look at how your cables are routed and if you find bare cables running over or under guides, like beneath the bottom bracket, lube the cables there, too.
Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.