Bike Washing For the Lazy Person

Below is a video of me washing my bike. I’ll probably catch heck for this because there are several orthodoxies I’m violating. But I have a theory, which is that a bike cleaned my lazy way is better than a bike owned by a cleaning pedant, but which isn't clean because the pedantic process is too time consuming so rarely happens.

Washing my bike takes me 15 minutes, start to finish. May I stipulate there that there is another, probably better, process that's already explained on Slowtwitch by the able folks from Ceramic Speed, and if you end up with some sort of hybrid approach between their process and mine, all well and good.

Let me start with the tools I use, in order to make this easy for the lazy man.

First is an air compressor. I’ve written about these. A pancake compressor will set you back about $150, and if you don’t have one, you ought to get one, not just for this, but for filling up your bike’s tires; your car’s tires; the tires on anything else you own with pneumatic wheels; and all kinds of reasons to use it that you can’t imagine unless you have it. I have a larger compressor as well (which I'm using in the video), and the larger the better for jobs that use a lot of air (CFM) as opposed to jobs that need a lot of pressure (PSI), and this is a CFM job. But these relatively inexpensive pancake compressors will do fine.

Then I have a pressure washer. You don’t need one of these, but if you’ve got one then it makes the job easier. Mostly it’s getting the grease off, and I mean the black stuff that brands you a Fred on the group rides, when you sashay in with a chain ring tattoo on your calf. That’s not easy to get off your chain, chain rings, and cassette cogs… unless you have a pressure washer! I put some degreaser on the chain and the gears a few minutes before I pressure wash them but, honestly, most of that black stuff comes off fine just with the water pressure. These pressure washers cost maybe $150 for a pretty cheap one, and mine is a 2000psi model. You don’t want too much more than that, or you risk washing the paint right off your frame (or peeling the decals, if they’re top-mount decals).

Only thing about the pressure washer: don’t get one that’s really cheap. I have bad luck with cheap pressure washers, as in, they tend to break after 2 or 3 uses. You’ll grow to rely on your pressure washer. You may use it to wash your car. I’m painting my house now, and the best way to prep your surfaces – get off all the dirt and loose paint – is to pressure wash it (though you may want a beefier pressure washer when tackling a big job like that one).

Then I’ve got a pneumatic hose, of course, and a presta valve adapter. I use that adapter for blowing the water off the bike, but you may need a separate adapter just for blowing compressed air, depending on the presta valve adapter you own. Just, for sure, if you have a compressor, you need a presta valve adapter. No more floor pump for you! (Except when you’re traveling.) These accessories, like the presta valve adapter, pneumatic hose and fittings, a compressed air adapter, will cost you total between $40 or $70 total, if you get them all.

In the video above, as you see, if you have water and power you have all the utilities you need for this. A little mild degreaser on the drive train, then soapy water via the pressure washer, then a rinse, then drying with compressed air. Then a shoot a little water out the nozzle onto a rag and go around the bike to catch up any dirt you missed.

Soap? Anything. Dish soap. Car wash soap. I'm not picky. There are plenty of degreasers around, from WD40, Simple Green, ProGold, Muc-Off, and you can get bike-specific stuff or something more generic from Home Depot or Walmart. Just, the heavy duty engine degreasers, I stay away from these.

Do I apply wax to the newly washed frame? Frame protectant? Do I take the chain off to clean it? Soak it? Get in there with a toothbrush to get out all the sand particles? Do I wax my chain, or resort to a Friction Facts or Ceramic Speed lube process? No, no, no, hell no, and no. Except on that last question, if it’s an important race taking place right after washing my bike I might change the chain, and I’m pretty picky about the sorts of chain I put on my bike, depending on the groupset (SRAM Force AXS Flat Top, SRAM Eagle X01, Wippermann, PremierBike Ultra Optimization).

Or I'll just run what I brung, but I might use a more friction-friendly lube than WD40. If I’m between races, which is what I am for 97 percent of my rides, I just squirt some WD40 on the chain and any other unsealed moving or sliding part and I’m done. Yes, that makes me a faithless bohemian. Guilty as charged. But my bike is clean.

And that’s it! You’ll spend more time dragging this stuff out of the garage and putting it back than actually washing the bike. Which is the point. For me, it’s a binary choice: wash it the lazy way, or don’t wash it at all. Hence my process.

Notes Post Publication: I like the comment below on the use of Squirt Long Lasting Dry Lube. This appeals to my particular lazy man's needs, I haven't used Squirt as of yet, I'll test this and it may change my chain care behavior. The article above describes bike wash habits. For more on my habits, here is when and where I oil, grease, anti-seize, threadlock and friction paste.