Workshop: Keep your bike sparkling clean

16 tips for achieving that showroom look

The dilemma with mountain bikes is that they’re expensive and beautiful yet designed to be used and abused in the dirty, gritty outdoors. This creates a problem: how do you keep your bike rolling in the dirt and looking good at the same time?


There are those who believe bikes should be treated like utilitarian farm tools. But we like our bikes to look good. If nothing else, it helps keep their resale value high (if you’re thinking of eventually trading up) and makes it much easier to identify any serious wear issues on the frame.

Mud and dust is abrasive stuff, and paint – even the hard enamel-based type – is prone to tarnish and wear from rubbing by cables and heels. So it’s important to wash your bike regularly, especially during the muddy winter months.

With the price of bikes and components rising with every passing month, it not only makes practical sense, but also pays to keep your bike in showroom condition. Here’s how to do it…

How to keep your bike in showroom condition

  • Time: Half an hour
  • Cost: Depends on what you’ve already got
  • Rating: Easy
  • Essential tools: Helicopter tape; Scratch remover; touch-up paint; rubber O-rings; wax polish; duster and rag; soft sponge; chain cleaner; brushes; blanket

1 Wash and go

Getting your bike as muddy as a mudskipper’s tummy is good for your rough-tough image as a mountain biker, but not so good for the bike. Lots of wet dirt will find its way into the innermost and most delicate parts of your bike. It sits there slowly grinding away at soft aluminium, eating through expensive carbon fibre and contaminating parts you thought were freshly greased. So wash it now with lots of hot, soapy water.

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2 Buff it out

Unless you remembered to prep your bike ready for life in the dirt from new, chances are you’ve picked up a few scratches. Go to the hardware store or car spares shop and find yourself a scratch recovery cream. They’re like old-fashioned T-Cut, but less aggressive. Put some on a soft cloth and then buff it into the scratched area – circular movements usually work best. You’ll be amazed at the way you can make many of the scratches disappear. 

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3 Polish it up

Once you’ve got the bike clean and you’ve addressed the question of existing scratches, it’s time to attack the frame with some wax polish. There are various lotions and potions available on the market, although we usually reach no further than a can of good old Pledge. Lots of beeswax helps create a deep shine as well as preventing the next load of dirty water and mud from sticking to the bike. Soft, clean dusters are a must.

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4 New chopper tape

With the bike now washed, buffed and polished, you need to get  your hands on a packet of helicopter tape. So-called because it’s used to protect helicopter blades, it’s a super-tough, thick and clear self-adhesive vinyl. Simply cut sections of it to size and carefully apply these to the areas of the frame where you expect wear to occur. It’s best to do this in a warm environment, since this helps the vinyl mould its way around intricate shapes.

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5 Pad it out

If you’re not yet using a chainstay protector, change your ways. Just one bumpy ride can leave an unprotected drive-side chainstay tatty. Carbon frames especially need protecting, since you’re likely to wear them significantly over time. Most protectors are Velcro-fastening Neoprene jobs that weigh little and protect the stay completely. You can also get stick-on plastic ones, but these won’t dampen chain slap noise like Neoprene.

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6 Chips with everything

Paint chips aren’t the end of the world. Do your best to soften their edges with scratch remover, then use a colour-matched enamel paint to touch them in. Some bike makers supply these with their machines. For others, it may mean a trip to the nearest craft and modelling shop to scour the paint racks for a match. Use the paint sparingly. Let it dry, then use the scratch remover to help blend the new paint in.

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7 Cable guy

Exposed cables can easily be the kiss of death to frame paint. This is especially true of cables on the top tube’s upper side. It’s too easy to find yourself absentmindedly sitting on them as you wait for something, with your weight etching the cable pattern into the paint. Such damage is usually saveable using scratch remover and then avoidable by adding small rubber O-rings to the cable – your local bike shop should sell them for pennies.

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8 Living rough

The inside finish of many seat tubes often isn’t up to the same standard as the outside. This means that just a few height adjustments of the seatpost can leave the its shaft scored and looking second-hand – a nightmare if it’s an arm-and-leg carbon model. To prevent this, use a little emery cloth to gently smooth the inside of the seat tube – carbon, steel and alloy all respond well – and your post will remain unblemished.

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9 Grease seatpost

Making sure they’re clean, smooth both the seatpost and the inside of the seat tube with the correct grease (use carbon-specific grease if required). This will enable you to adjust your post over and over again without visual damage. It pays to regularly remove the seatpost and clean off the old, dirty grease before reapplication. This will ensure that you’re not allowing dirt to find a sticky home in the grease or carbon fitting paste. 

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10 Fork care

Forks are particularly easy to damage, often being the first bit of the bike to strike undergrowth or collide with scenery in a spill. It’s worth taking some more helicopter tape and cutting sections to use on the fork sliders. Don’t try to cover the whole leg in one single piece, because you won’t be able to get it to wrap effectively without pesky air bubbles. Key wear zones are the outside edges of the sliders and places the brake cable might rub.

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11 Save your stanchions

There’s not much you can do to protect stanchions other than taking care and keeping the bike as clean as possible. It does pay to keep a close eye on the seals, though – the grey or black hard rubber rings that keep the dirt and water out of the inside of the fork. Carefully, and without pushing dirt past them, try to fl oss them clean with a little light lube. This stops any dirt hiding in there and rubbing up and down.

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12 Perishing tyres

UV rays can do as much damage to rubber as your skin. Over time, you’ll find tyres – especially those that have been outside for a while – can develop cracks. These can be in the tread section, the sidewall, or both. To avoid this, try to keep your tyres clean and dry when not in use. Tyres on wheels in storage should be kept at about 25psi. This lets them retain their shape while unstressed, preventing the rubber drying and cracking.

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13 Sparkling transmission

You’ll hammer the life out of your transmission if you let it get all gummed up with sticky cack. Using dirt-clogged gears is like throwing money away, since you’ll wear out your chain and cassette fast. Clean the transmission more than any other part of your bike and you’ll have cleaner gear shifts and save money. Use soap and hot water or bike cleaning solutions to make it sparkle before applying fresh lube.

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14 Front mech

The front mech is one of the trickiest components to keep clean, because there’s so much space for dirt to hide here. Specifically, grime can creep in between the front mech band and the frame. It stays lodged and can slowly create a nasty set of score marks. Undo the front mech band once every month or so and wipe the accumulated dirt away with a cloth and squirt of frame-cleaning spray. Ensure you readjust the mech afterwards.

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15 Chain love

The chain is the bike’s teeth, if you will. Its smile is dependent on the chain being clean and tidy. The cleaner you can keep your chain, the better the bike looks, the better the chain works, the better it shifts gears and the less damage it inflicts on the rest of the transmission. Find a set of ways to clean and maintain the chain that you can sustain as an ongoing care program and stick to them. Your bike will look and ride better for it.

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16 And so to bed

Bikes get bumped and barged in storage, especially when multiple bikes are stored in small spaces. We like to keep damage from these situations to a minimum and cover our bikes with an old blanket. Call us silly and overly sentimental, but we feel this is the way we’d like to be stored. Seriously, storing bikes in a warm, dry place is the best way to ensure the bike is as well looked after as possible when you’re not riding it.

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Top tips

  • From scour to sour: Don’t be tempted to use an abrasive cleaning pad to remove tough marks from frames or components; you might remove the tar spots, cow dung and grease, but you’ll tarnish the finish too. Use a specific bike-cleaning solution and soft car sponge. These will shift the dirt without ruining the finish.
  • Hot to trot: If you’re having trouble getting your protective tape to conform to some of the shapes on your frame or forks, a quick blast from a hair dryer can help just soften it enough to press it into crevices. Remember to keep rubbing the tape to force out air bubbles for a smooth finish.
  • Wheely nice wheels: Hubs and rims are easy to overlook, but simple buff with a clean rag will keep them looking new. Hubs also harbour grime like few other components, but an old toothbrush is ideal for getting it out.