Category: Basic Commuter Skills

Have you ever been 5-foot-n-change and tried to hang your bike vertically on moving transportation? Well, I have! This week my combo commute took a rainy Cantaloupe and I for quite a ride as we perfected the Art of Racking. And by Art of Racking, of course I am referring to hanging your bike on wall or ceiling-mounted vertical racks. From bike storage rooms to moving TriMet MAX cars, you TOO can hang your bike vertically despite being vertically challenged!


Blurry photos… because I’m just that unstable on public transit. (Look, the doors are open, it wasn’t even moving yet)

This “How To” is a feat worth sharing and a basic commuter skill that everyone should keep in their cerebral saddle bag. Here’s a picture narrative of how to get a heavy-ass steel steed like Cantaloupe all vertically racked up without spazzing out and injuring bystanders:






And… TADA!!! Vertically racked and totally stacked.


Cantaloupe and the Art of Racking

Now, go ahead and make humping and straddling jokes all you want, but smashing the saddle of the bike into your stomach really makes it much easier to balance a heavy bike and navigate the front tire up onto the hook. Other options include growing taller, asking for help, or riding a lighter bike. I’ll stick with stomach-saddle-smashing for a perfect 10 in the Art of Racking.


Disclaimer: What follows in this article are personal practices based upon casual research, others people’s advice, and my own experience over the years as a bike commuter. Here at, we realize that each person does things differently, and we encourage diversity and constructiveness of thought. So if you have some of your own methods on bike cleaning/ maintenance, feel free to comment.

RL put it quite well for me when I suggested a refresher on this topic: “…be prepared to get some people saying that your technique is wrong. Chain lube and lubing, as the “Elder Statesman” (Jack) had once said, ‘is like the topic of religion, everyone does it differently.’”

A perusal of the current online content regarding “bike cleaning tips” (1) will generate an enormous array of practices, products, and recommendations. However, an initial review of the literature, including an excellent article by our own Jack “Ghost Rider” Sweeney (2), reveals a few common themes in the arena of bike cleaning. Throughout the years, I have practiced these themes on my own bike, and with the same components over the past 3 years (7000+ miles), the bike has been running pretty smoothly. That being said, those of you who ride double, triple, quadruple or more the distance of what I do may have a different cleaning routine, and appropriately so.

So looking at the top 3 relevant hits on (1), I lay out some of the techniques that “many” people will agree on (3,4,5)

1. Avoid jets of water for the initial “rinse down.” If you must use a hose, use a gentle SPRAY.  Jets of water can force water and debris into bearings, the drive train, etc. making them wear down faster.

2. Use a degreaser. Lots of brands.

3. Wash down your bike with water, soap, and a soft bristled brush.

4. Use chain lube. Lots of brands.  Brief explanation about dry versus wet lube:
– A dry lube’s basic purpose is to be applied wet but dry off to form a smooth, dirt-repelling coat on your chain. They can be wax-based or teflon based. However, these lubes can wash off in wet weather.
– A wet lube is a hydrocarbon based lubricant that stays “wet” on the chain and is more resistant to washing off, so it is better for wet weather. These can be petroleum or plant based.

The frequency of cleaning is critical; cleaning your bike once the symptoms of severe drive train wear appear is moot. The entire point of cleaning is to perform it frequently and consistently enough to delay the onset of component wear. The past year has allowed me to commute about 80 miles a week (16 miles a day, 5 days a week), and with these distances, I found that I cleaned my bike about once a month (~every 300 miles on paved roads, SoCal weather, a.k.a. no weather). The first signs I pay attention to that signal the need for cleaning comes from the drive train:

1. Chain starts to get noisy
2. Shifting is not as smooth.
3. The beginning of a grime layer depositing on my chain and cogs.

Once these start to appear, it’s time to clean. Here is my routine:


1 large soft bristle brush
1 old toothbrush
Large sponge
Soft lint-less cloth
Screw driver (Flat head)
Latex gloves (to keep your hands cleaner)

Degreaser (Simple Green featured in this article)
Gentle dish soap (NOT dishWASHER detergent)

General bicycle lubricant (Tri-Flow)

Chain lube (Finish Line Dry)

1 1.5

1. Degreasing: I like Simple Green. I spray it on thick along the drive train (chain, front gears and derailleur, rear gear cluster and derailleur). It stays on as a very satisfying foam layer. I let it sit for 5 minutes, and in the meantime, you can prep for the next step.

2 3 4

2. Get some soapy water ready in a nice big bucket. Some are proponents of warm water, and I agree that this definitely helps loosen dirt and grime better. But for me, cold water is easier to get and cleans fine. I use a gentle dish soap like Palm Olive (NOT dishwasher detergent). I then get a large brush and toothbrush ready.

3. Take large brush and scrub the chain, rear and front derailleurs with the soapy water. Use the small toothbrush for detail work in the drive train. Do this several times. Change the soap water in between washes as needed.

4. Change sides on your large brush to the cleaner side (the side that hasn’t been scrubbing the drive train as this side will be dirty) and use the cleaner side to scrub wheels, frame, basically everything else. Or you can always get a different brush.

9 8 1112 13 14

5. Change water in bucket. Do not add soap this time. Using your large sponge, soak up a bunch of water and squeeze the water onto your bike, rinsing away the soap and debris. I find that a sponge allows me to direct a gentle stream of water for effective rinsing without generating any potentially damaging jets. Sponges also help me conserve water instead of pouring bucket after bucket to rinse the bike.

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6. Get your bike clamped to a work stand.

7. Rear derailleur detail: Personally, I have never needed to diassemble the pulleys on a rear derailleur for cleaning.
– Using a screw driver, gently place the flat edge flush onto the walls of the pulley and freewheel as you do this, allowing the screw driver to gently scrape off the grime that has accumulated. Do this for both pulleys and both sides.

6 7

8. Clean and dry your bike with a soft cloth towel. Use 2 different towels: one for the drive train and another for everything else.
– To dry the chain, freewheel the chain as you hold the chain with your towel.
– Pay attention to detail: use this opportunity to look at your bike more carefully. If you see any dirt or grime on the frame, wipe it off with the towel. Clean the wheels, spokes etc.

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9. Lube time:
– lube your chain: wet or dry, freewheel the chain as you drop the lube onto each link. Wipe excess off! Dry lube should dry, but wet lube stays wet, and if you have too much, it will spray everywhere, especially your rear wheels when you start pedalling fast. This will make for ineffective and very NOISY rear braking.
– Apply bicycle lubricant to front and rear derailleur moving parts and springs, moving parts of your braking mechanism, as well as your CABLES. To apply lube to cables, just put a couple drops of lube onto your gloved thumb and index finger, pinch the cable, and run your fingers along. Don’t overlube, and if you do, wipe away excess.

20 21

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10. Test run your bike by riding around the block a bit, making sure your shift through all of your gears, allowing the lube to settle in and penetrate the moving parts.

11. Enjoy the smooth ride. Tailor the frequency of your cleaning based on how much you ride.

Do good and ride well.



1. Google search terms: “bike cleaning tips.” Search performed August 17, 2013

Wow. I mean, WOW. Were you guys out on the bike last night? Did you feel the wind cutting through every piece of you that was not covered at least twice in layers as you caught every light on that downhill?

I DID! Cantaloupe is a beast, with her new sweet fenders. How could I resist a cold as ice night commute?

Let’s back up a bit. It’s in the 20’s here in Portland, and this girl has Hawaii body-core temperature still coursing through her veins, so don’t laugh at the pathetic attempt at layering if you are a seasoned winter warrior (you guys should leave tips in the comment box below, instead). I know some of you commuters are out there pedal-pushing in the single digits. Brrrrrmmmmnesota.

I’ve taped this photo to the inside of my front door for inspiration… it keeps me from wein-ing out and opting for a run for the bus:

Okay, so I did get a major flat and had to sprint for the bus the other day, only to find out that I had zero cash on me. Fail! Crap monkey, where did I leave my teleportation device…

My neighbors and I biked home together at about 7pm, or 20-something degrees o’clock here in Portland. And I am proud to say that I somehow survivor-ed the coldest commute of my life. How did my sissy-la-la pants make it happen?

Layers, Cycle Gators… layers! And lots of them. I’m no expert on looking fly riding home in the cold, but here was this night’s order of operations:

  • Step 1: Pull on your skivvies and cover up your underparts… Cycle ladies and gents, I would not recommend anything that’s gonna give your crotch a case of seam anxiety, but that is a very personal choice. Y’all know what works with your saddle, and what doesn’t – immediately!
  • Step 2: Pull on some Darn Tough wool crew socks.
  • Step 3: Next, some super-high waisted fleece-lined leggings. Do Cycle dudes wear leggings? No, but some kind of bike base layer tights might do the trick. Just ask Jack.
  • Step 4: Then your outer layer of pantalones. I chose the Chrome Vanya knicker for it’s stretchiness and crotch action (make sure you follow Step 1, re: crotch anxiety).

Getting warm yet, people? Okay… Keep going to the top layers:

  • Step 5: T shirt/tank/base. I wore a cotton tee tucked into my leggings/tights.
  • Step 6: Long sleeve zip-up running jacket thing. Stretchy, thumb-holey, and a freebie from my stepmom via Costco.
  • Step 7: Oh yeah, ANOTHER long sleeve, with more stretchiness, a super long back to cover my butt, and a high collar from that Lululemon review back in the day.
  • Step 8: Fruffy vest. Marshmallow it and warm up your core! I love puffy vest like my future unborn child.
  • Step 9: Patagonia Torrentshell with pit zips open and hood tucked in.

Seriously, everybody on bikes looks like this today. All color combo Do’s and Don’ts go out the window for this weather, kids. I look like a bag of Skittels had a civil war on my torso.

And on to the peripherals (“I see a ficus tree…”):

  • Step 10: North Face gloves: inadequate – not cycling specific, but it’s all I got right now.
  • Step 11: Ear grips over ponytail.
  • Step 12: Buff over the neck, over the ear grips, ponytail, and up to the top of my head like a wetsuit hood.
  • Step 13: Shoes, helmet, and the obligatory Mir fannypack.

So, yeah. It did the trick. More winter wonderful commuting tips coming your way. In the meantime, hook us up in the comments box with your favorite or newly-discovered layering goodies. Go eat a bag of tiny donuts, cold weather! Props to all the winter pedal peoples out there.

Here’s a story that caught our eye recently…from the San Francisco Chronicle, a story about stolen bicycles and the sprawling police warehouse that stores the recovered ones:

There are rows of mountain bikes, road bikes, rusted clunkers, fat-tired cruisers, fancy carbon fiber, and new and old frames of every color.

The cycling cache, which recently stood at more than 800, is the fruit of the San Francisco Police Department’s labor – the bicycles were recovered in stings, raids, stakeouts and chop shop busts – yet none of the bicycles has been claimed.

The problem, according to Officer Matt Friedman, the department’s point man on bicycle theft, is that there’s no way to find the rightful owners.

Read the full article by visiting the SFGate page.

A couple things in the article left me shaking my head:

1) Do bike owners really not write down their serial numbers or take photos of their two-wheeled friends? If you don’t, you really should. In fact, go and do it RIGHT NOW. Having a serial number and a couple of photos helps tremendously in recovering stolen bicycles…how else might you prove that the bike is yours if you manage to locate it?

2) In the article, the author states, “…no coordinated bicycle registry program exists that officers could refer to when they recover a bike.” Does no one use the National Bike Registry anymore? The NBR is cheap (about a dollar a year per bike) and from what I’ve heard, pretty effective. It’s the big kid on the block in terms of bike registry; there are others, including ones done locally, but the NBR is really the one that should spring to mind for anyone looking to protect their bike/recover a lost or stolen one.

We’ve written about bike security a bit over the years. Take a look at our articles:

Lock Considerations (the comments are a treasure trove of good info)

Wheel Security

Oh, autumn… you tickle me orange, and yellow, and red, and green, too! Nothing beats a brisk bike commute through town on the newly assembled and sorely missed Cantaloupe with trees like these:


It may be that fenders are everyone’s favorite commuter bike bling, or maybe just uber practical in any kind of rainy weather, but I think these fenders will be my new besties. After years of riding in warm weather in spandex, where road spray was NBD – (sidebar, okay, I admit that I have ridden in rain that resulted in road crud up in my crack) and now, I’ve finally joined the ranks! With a steel bike that is heavy as eff and all kinds of transit options that are bike-friendly, the benefits of riding fender free (easier to quick release your wheels and pop your bike in a car trunk, or lightening up your ride for distance commutes) are no more. Time to get all dressed up for Fall, Cantaloupe!

I swung by my LBS and opted for the fullest fenders in town. To no one’s surprise, the nice, bearded LBS employee (wearing a Carhartt beanie and a really small Alaska tee shirt) recommended the PB Cascadia Road full fenders in black. The Western Bikeworks super sale was on, and I snagged ’em for only 33 bones instead of shfifty-five.


So, instead of letting Cantaloupe sleep over at the LBS with a buncha shop rats and paying 40 more bones to get said fenders installed, I strapped those suckers to my silly little commuter backpack and headed back to the house for some DIY fender installation time.


Only a week of procrastination later, plus several borrowed wrenches from my bike-loving neighbor in the apartment across the hall, and maybe some scavenging of lock nuts off of the junker that’s slowly melting into a pile of scrap metal in the basement, we have LIFT OFF!

And by “lift off” I mean frakkin‘ full-on Fall Fenders, of course!


Whew, I hadn’t installed fenders since 2007 people. Two-Thosaaan-n-SEVEN. It wasn’t that bad, but took longer than those pro shop rats, for sure (1 hour, no shame). And the zip-tie action kind of looks like bug antennae so I think I will keep ’em long.


Hope that extra zip tie length doesn’t slow me down whilst I be Cat-6’n all up ons Portland, yo. Or not. Remember me? Asian Bike Daria?


Anyway, join the fendered masses for fall, all you new bike commuters. It’ll keep your feet and socks dry and the skunk stripe off your lovely fall coat (or if you ride all spandies and no undies, the road grit outta your crack)! Plus, I heard all the cool kids are doing it…