Keeping your cycling equipment clean isn’t primarily about appearances: it’s preventative maintenance for you and your gear.
A bike that’s well looked after will go on working better for longer. The same goes for cycling equipment. Treat it well and you’ll get more mileage from it – as well as avoiding things like nasty niffs, rashes, intestinal problems, and even being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Here are some of the most important items to clean and care for, starting with those that need cleaning most often.
Why: Er, they’re designed to be worn next to bare skin (no underwear).
How: Check the label but most can be machine washed at 30 degrees. Never tumble dry them. Some soap powders cause skin irritations for some cyclists’ nether regions, resulting in rashes. If that’s you, try washing your lycra shorts with pure soap flakes instead. Note that as well as becoming baggier over time, lycra wears thinner. Don’t be that rider with the veiled builder’s bum!
When: After each ride or after you finish riding for the day if you’re making more than one trip.
Why: The dark interior of a bicycle water bottle is an ideal environment for mould.
How: Dishwasher is easiest if it’s marked as dishwasher safe (https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/dishwashers/article/how-to-load-your-dishwasher-and-what-s-dishwasher-safe-aTkf79u5rqyY). Most not marked as such still survive okay but some warp, particularly on higher heat settings. By hand, washing-up liquid and warm water is sufficient if your bottle only had water in it. Shake it, squirt water through the nozzle, rinse thoroughly, then stand upside down, lid off, on a clean tea towel or drying rack. If it had energy drink or similar inside, use a bottle brush to ensure any residue is removed. Clean with Milton Sterilising Fluid (designed for babies’ bottles) if the bottle hasn’t been used and washed recently, or if it’s been used by someone else.
When: After each ride or day of riding.
Why: As above – and hydration bladders tend to retain (stale) liquid in the drinking tube.
How: Even if you only drink water from your hydration pack, clean the bladder and the tube by filling them with water and Milton Sterilising Fluid (or own-brand equivalent). Empty and rinse with clean water to get rid of the ‘Milton taste’. If you had energy drink in your hydration bladder: fill with steriliser as above and clean the bladder with a bottle brush; rinse and empty thoroughly, including the tube; then consider storing the bladder in a freezer, which will prevent any mould growth.
When: After each ride if you had energy drink in there. Before each ride is okay if it only had water in.
Why: If you never clean a pump that’s carried on your bike, you may find it’s seized when you finally need to use it, leaving you stranded.
How: Sponge clean or spray it with a hose to remove surface dirt. Then draw back the handle to extend the plunger. Spray the plunger with silicone spray (available cheaply from car parts and accessory shops). Unlike oil, this won’t attack the pump’s seals. Push the plunger in and out several times to ensure the pump is working smoothly. Then wipe off any excess spray and put the pump somewhere to dry.
When: Spray the plunger after washing (potentially after any dirty ride) or every few months if the pump remains clean and dry.
Why: Not all of your sweat escapes from breathable fabrics. Some remains… and goes stale.
How: Check the label but most waterproof jackets can be machine washed on a 30 or 40 degree cycle. Do NOT use fabric conditioner. This blocks the pores of the jacket’s breathable membrane, turning it into a boil-in-the-bag nightmare. Don’t tumble dry it and don’t leave it folded up damp. Many jackets have a water repellent coating that gradually fades. If rain no longer beads and rolls off your jacket, reproof it. That’s easiest with a waterproofer that goes in your washing machine, such as Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In .
When: It depends how sweaty you get in it. Sniff test it – or ask an honest friend.
Lights & reflectors
Why: They don’t do their job properly when dirty.
How: Hot soapy water and a (wrung out) rag, sponge, or soft brush. Avoid getting water into battery lights when cleaning the lens. For the best results, finish with a window-cleaning spray and a clean, dry rag.
When: As required. Bikes ridden off-road and/or without mudguards will need lights and reflectors cleaning regularly, possibly after just one ride. Those on commuter bikes will only need occasional cleaning.
Why: Helmet pads and straps absorb sweat. On top of that, there’s general dirt and grime.
How: A damp rag or sponge is enough to wipe away mud splatters. To clean it thoroughly, first remove the pads on the inside. You can hand-wash these as you clean the rest of your helmet, or you they can go in the washing machine (ideally in a mesh bag so they don’t block filters or outflow pipes). Immerse the helmet in cool or tepid water and sponge clean, using washing-up liquid or liquid soap. Don’t use anything stronger than you’d use on your own skin, or it may damage the helmet and cause it to fail prematurely. Massage the soap into the straps to clean them. After rinsing the helmet clean, allow it to dry naturally. Don’t put it next to a heat source.
When: As required. Again, it depends how sweaty you get.
Why: To prevent dirt from the pannier (particularly the back of the pannier, which faces the wheel) being transferred to clothing or furnishings.
How: PVC or similar waterproof panniers can simply be sponged down. For waxed-canvas bags, use warm water and a small brush like a nail brush. Don’t use detergents as they can remove the waterproofing. For non-waterproof nylon bags, a mild (skin friendly) detergent is fine. Don’t store fabric panniers wet or they may get mouldy.
When: Rarely, unless you’ve had an especially muddy ride. Eyeball it.
Look for your next ride?