How to Clean an Aluminum Bike Frame
You like biking, and you want to make sure your mountain bike is always in shape by taking care of it properly. However, while many people ignore essential maintenance until a problem or significant build-up occurs, proactive maintenance is a crucial part of owning a bike.
It is recommended to clean your bike every time you ride in muddy or humid conditions to avoid deterioration or accelerated corrosion due to the accumulation of dirt and grease. As dirt accumulates, it can affect the drive-train and other mechanical parts. Cleaning the bike regularly can also help you detect worn out parts quickly, saving you money on more costly repairs in future.
For new riders, following a bike cleaning program may seem complicated, but it all becomes natural once you add it to your schedule. A bike stand for DIY maintenance work will also be useful. This allows you to access the entire bike, including the pedal and brakes, whenever you need to do cleaning or repairs. You could also use old towels or rags to protect the seats, handlebars and other parts that are not being looked at.
These days, many racing bike frames are made out of aluminum. Aluminum is a metallic material that is known for being light and provides faster performance than steel frames. The downside is aluminum frames are not a durable as steel ones, and could cost more.
When cleaning your aluminum bike frame, you would want to take care to avoid damage, as the material is more brittle than steel. The last thing you want is a bike with reduced performance or mechanical problems due to improper maintenance.
Aluminum does not rust, but it can be destroyed to the point of causing irreparable damage. Anodizing generally helps protect aluminum to some extent, but it could still corrode if it is constantly exposed to salt. In mountain bikes, the salt comes from sweat secreted by your body, or salt in the air if you live near the ocean.
What can you do to reduce corrosion and protect the aluminum structure and parts?
Ensure to clean the bike regularly before corrosion sets in. Once corrosion sets in, more drastic measures are necessary to ensure the longevity of your bike.
Wear work gloves for protection when cleaning an aluminum frame. It is much easier to work on an aluminum frame after removing all the parts. Attempting to bypass the parts takes longer and, if you leave the crank installed, it is guaranteed that a chain-ring might cut you at least once.
After removing the frame, remove any excess dirt or grime before you begin. Then, with a good compressor, apply lacquer fluid. Use a brush to do this as it saves time. The upper part of the brush makes it easier to apply a bit to the pad.
Once the structure is clean, the lacquer fluid will help prevent corrosion, and it also gives aluminum a shiny appearance.
What is Lacquer for Aluminum
Several products on the market can be used to coat aluminum. Any paint or varnish that works on metal is suitable for covering an aluminum surface.
Lacquer refers to any type of finishing that is applied to materials. Lacquer meant for metals tend to have a clear coat finishing, so that the underlying color is not altered significantly.
The type of lacquer/ finishing for your bike frame depends on whether it has a matte or glossy look. A glossy frame could use Carnauba wax, while a matte one would require a liquid wax. This video by Global Cycling Network explains the differences between both types:
Here are the five most common mistakes bike owners make when cleaning their bikes:
- Rinse first: Do not skip the initial rinse of the bicycle before cleaning it. This dramatically increases the chances of hard debris to scratch and mark the finish of the bike frame. Before taking the cleaning product and scrubbing it, use a garden hose to spray the entire bike up and down. Here you can get rid of those big pieces of mud attached to the wheels without spreading them all over the bike. A prewash rinse will also help the detergent penetrate deeper into the surface for better overall cleaning.
- Pressure washing: Using a pressure washer to clean the bike thoroughly can be problematic, forcing water in the bearings and compromising grease (mainly if a degreasing detergent has been applied), as well as any existing tape. If using high pressure, keep the nozzle at least 2 or 3 meters from the bike and avoid the bearings, if possible, to prevent breaking and to endanger the bearing seals.
- Poor cleaner: Be careful when choosing the cleaning product to avoid severe damage to the bicycle. Various metals and rubber materials on the bike have different sensitivities and cleaning requirements. Extremely alkaline cleaning agents and solvent-based products can cause rubber coatings to dry and rupture, damaging painted and plastic surfaces. Detergent soaps can have an adverse reaction to aluminum, causing parts to deteriorate over time. Titanium, aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber are susceptible to corrosion, so it is best to use a cleaning product that is safe for all metals, rubber, aluminum, and plastic on bikes. For example, the Krud Kutter metal cleaner is effective and does not produce harmful fumes, although you would have to take care as it can irritate your skin and eyes
- Drive Train details: Maintenance of the chain, derailleurs, and cassette is particularly essential, as any build-up and dirt in these areas can create severe problems for the operation of the bicycle. Use a simple detergent and degreaser directly on the bike. Use a toothbrush to work on smaller surfaces and penetrate dirt, grime, and grease. Rinse the transmission thoroughly.
- Lubricate the chain: It is essential to clean the chain and re-grease the chain before putting it back on the bike. But be careful if you have not cleaned the chain: applying a new lubricant to the dirty grease will shorten the life of the bicycle chain. If there is lubrication on the outside of the rollers and connections, it will collect dirt and sand. Therefore, after lubricating the chain, wait a while for the liquid to harden, then remove the excess with a dry cloth.
Cleaning your aluminum bike frame may be a chore, but it is much better to do preventive maintenance before incurring major damage. If your bike is damaged beyond repair, it may be time to consider buying a new bike with a stronger frame – especially if you love to ride along forested or rocky trails!