I've watched several tutorials on washing bikes, and the general gist seems to be to use a degreaser on the drivetrain, then wash the rest with soapy water, and don't spray hard when rinsing so water doesn't go into the bearings. My question is are there are any special considerations when washing an older bike—in particular about rust?

It's also worth noting that my seat post has grooves cut out to reduce the weight, so water could potentially go inside the seat tube. Should I take care to avoid this, or is it a nonissue?

The bike in question is a 1984 Trek 460, with a CrMo steel frame.

  • Rust in quality steel bikes is very rarely anything more than a cosmetic concern. To all practical purposes, the CrMo in a 1984 bike of any quality will only suffer mild surface rust unless you ride it in winter on salted roads or store it in outside close to the sea (200-5000meters depending on the typical wave size and winds).
    – mattnz
    Dec 6 '16 at 19:13

Cleaning a vintage bike isn't that much different than cleaning a new bike, with perhaps two caveats:

  • Vintage bikes are usually made of steel and the frame drain holes may be plugged or non-existent. I wouldn't use water directly (from a hose) directly on a vintage bike but instead only use wet rags and wipes. Don't spray (citrus-based) cleaner directly on the bike, spray it on the rag and then wipe the bike. While cleaning the bike, I'd see if there aren't drain holes at the bottom of the bottom bracket, chain stays, and front forks and make sure they're clear.

  • Vintage bikes usually have decals that might be easily accidentally removed or damaged. I'd be particularly careful cleaning around these decals. If you like how they look and don't care about restoration value, I'd protect the decals by spraying them with a decal-safe clearcoat (or putting an overlay of helicopter tape) - but be aware that this will destroy their value for a conservationist, so do it if the bike is emotionally valuable to you, but not particularly rare (such as say, a 1984 Trek).


I would say the washing instructions.... degrease drivetrain, mild soap, etc. is exactly what you want to do.

What I would concern myself with is the extent of the rust. Today there are a number of frame saver (rust inhibitor) products that you can apply inside the seat tube to mitigate corrosion, I am not so sure those product were so well known in 1984. Back in 1984, conscientious owner may have found a product or have used 3-in-1 oil inside the frame to serve the same purpose.

My advice would be to perform a very thorough inspection of all the rust areas to ensure the integrity of the tubing has not been compromised by corrosion (e.g. no holes in tubes). Once I was satisfied that bike was structurally safe to ride, I would apply a frame saver product and then not worry too much about the grooved seatpost when washing. Most bottom bracket housings (the tube the bottom bracket threads into) have drain holes at the bottom for water to drain.

  • 1
    More likely linseed oil than 3 in 1.
    – Batman
    Dec 6 '16 at 15:56
  • 1
    Maybe poking the drain holes with a wire, to make sure that they aren't plugged with rust, would be a good idea. Also if it were my bike I'd only wash it on a warm day, or I'd bring the bike inside after washing and set it next to a heater, to give any water inside the frame a good opportunity to evaporate quickly.
    – rclocher3
    Dec 6 '16 at 18:44
  • 1
    Just be sure to use artisanal water. Dec 6 '16 at 19:52

A point missed in other answers is the saddle, which may be leather. If it is leather, then avoid washing it with water. Instead treat with an appropriate leather conditioner and preserver product

  • Proofide (what brooks saddles recommend but only on their brand new saddles)
  • beeswax (I use this - I put on some leather gloves and simply massage beeswax onto the saddle for 5-10 minutes on a warm dry day. Let it sit for an hour in the sun, and then buff with a clean lint-free cloth.
  • Nuggets for shoes - not recommended because they tend to stain your clothes easily.

Very occasionally grips can be made of leather too, but that's rare.

  • 1
    The manual that comes with a Brooks Saddle make a point of saying NOT to Proofide the top of an AGED Brooks Saddle
    – dafew
    Dec 7 '16 at 15:58
  • @dafew I was unaware - thank you. What's the recommended brooks maintenance?
    – Criggie
    Dec 7 '16 at 19:53
  • 1
    I was unaware too... Instructions say "Proofide needs to be applied to the underside of the saddle and in this case it should be left on. Apply very little Proofide on the top to the finished side of the leather. Allow the Proofide to permeate until dry then polish off with a cloth. This leather dressing should be used during the break-in period and then every few months. Proofide must not be used on the top of an aged saddle." I guess the question is what is aged... dried and crusty or a few months old? I like the beeswax method myself.
    – dafew
    Dec 7 '16 at 20:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.