Cleaning Bike Parts

Any hobbiest worth their salt knows that maintaining their gear is one of the most important things you can do, and this goes double for cyclists.

If not properly cared for a bike of any kind, from expensive racing bikes to simple touring models, can malfunction possibly resulting in injury to the rider, to say nothing of the damage to the bike itself.

So how does one keep their bycycle in peak condition, and how often do you need perform the necessary maintenance? One method that’s starting to catch on with many cyclists and even shop owners is ultrasonic cleaning.

How to Use Ultrasonics for Bike Cleaning, Re-Lubrication, and Maintenance.

Choose a Cleaning Schedule

There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should clean and re-lubricate your bike. It all depends on what kind of bike you have, and what you do with it. For example, a rugged mountain bike that’s often used to blaze muddy trails and cross streams will get far dirtier far faster than a road bike used to run errands around the city. In general though, a thurough cleaning once every two weeks or so is usually sufficient to keep everything in good working order.

Gather Your Cleaning Supplies

Once it’s time to clean, it’s important to have everything you need organized and ready to go. In general, you will need:

An Ultrasonic Cleaner – When choosing the model that’s right for you, it’s important to know what size and what features you need for your specific application. For most bike parts, we suggest a unit around 1 to 2 gallons in size, such as the Crest CP500HT. Heat is also very important when ultrasonic cleaning bike parts, as many of the soils are petroleum based and require hot water to clean properly.

Cleaning Concentrate – One of the great things about ultrasonic cleaning is that you no longer have to use harsh, potentially hazardous solvents to de-grease your parts! Many people who utilize ultrasonic technology use a simple concentrated cleaner such as Simple Green for most of their cleaning needs. Our professional customers use Branson MC-3, because:

  • Its biodegradable
  • It is an emulsifier, meaning it holds particles nad oils in suspension, so they cannot re-deposit on your parts.
  • MC-3 is aluminum safe

WARNING: Never put anything caustic or flammable in an ultrasonic cleaner! Caustic chemicals can wear away at the bottom of the tank, causing pinhole leaks to appear. Flammable liquids can combust from ultrasonic cavitation, creating a “flashover” effect.

Lubricant – When using an ultrasonic cleaner to re-lubricate bike parts, it’s important to choose a free flowing bike oil suitable to your riding conditions (wetter areas need a thicker oil, while dry areas benefit from a thinner oil that attracts less debris).

Accessories – A mesh basket and lube pan are essential for the ultrasonic cleaning and re-lubrication process. Most ultrasonic manufacturers, such as Crest Ultrasonics, have full lines of accessories available for all of their tabletop lines.

Cleaning Your Bike Parts With an Ultrasonic Bath

The process of cleaning your parts is actually very simple once you have everything you need:

1.) Get Your Sonic Cleaner Ready – Fill your ultrasonic unit to the “fill line” with hot, clean water. Next, add your cleaning concentrate to around 10% concentration. This can be adjusted up or down depending on how dirty your parts are. Insert your cleaning basket, and let the unit run empty for a cycle or two. This will allow the tank to come to temperature, as well as “de-gas” the cleaning solution.

2.) Clean Your Bike Parts – First, place your bike parts into the cleaning basket. Make sure your parts are arranged in such a way that they are completely submerged when lowered into the cleaning tank. Once the basket and parts are in the tank, choose your cycle time (if applicable) and hit go! In general, it shouldn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes to fully clean your parts. Once the cycle is completed, remove your parts from the basket, and allow to air dry, or if available, blow dry.

TIP:  Your tank of ultrasonic cleaning solution can be used more than once! A good indication of when you need to replace your solution with a new batch is when cleaning time begins to increase to acheieve the same result.

3.) Ultrasonic Relubrication – Using an ultrasonic parts washer to re-lubricate your bike parts may sound far fetched, but the process is quite simple. First, have your ultrasonic cleaner ready with a tank of clean, hot water, filled to JUST UNDER the fill line. Next, place around 2 to 3 inches of lubricant in your lube pan, then place the lube pan in such a way that the bottom inch of the lube pan is submerged around an inch or so in the tank water. Many “solid trays” have flanges on the side to facilitate this purpose. Finally, run your ultrasonic unit as normal, as if you were cleaning parts.

The way this works is that ultrasonic energy will actually pass through the tank of water, pass through the bottom of the lube pan, and into the lubricant within, thus sonifying it. The same process that cleans even microscopic nooks and cranies will now shove lubricant into those same areas!

After a full cycle, remove your parts from the lube pan, and allow them to drip access lubricant back into the pan. Finally, wipe any remaining lubricant from your parts, as over lubrication can attract abrasive soils over time.

Whatever cleaning schedule you set up, you’ll find that the life of your bike is extended, and you’ll get more hours of trouble-free riding by keeping your gear clean and lubricated.

Check out the video above for an example of the great results you can get with this method!