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Common wisdom dictates that bikes, especially those used in the rain or in the winter, should be washed frequently to prolong component life, but I honestly cannot see how. I am aware of the following:

  1. drivetrain cleaning and chain rotation is obviously necessary
  2. cleaning braking surfaces used to be important for rim brakes, although with disc brakes and sintered pads, which are preferable for nine bikes anyway, I find it best to let them sort themselves out
  3. cleaning the sidewalls of tubulars used to be a thing, although modern unvulcanized sidewall tires don't really need it in my experience
  4. sweating on an indoor trainer can corrode the front end of the bike

But is washing the bike, eg soft rag and cleaning foam, useful for anything other than vanity, when done in addition to biannual full maintenance? Does it prolong the life of derailleurs or other mechanicals? Do any components have failure modes related to being dirty, other than the chain, cogs and sprockets?

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  • It can prolong the life because you'll think "ah, I just cleaned the bike, if I ride it today it'll get dirty again so I better take the tram"... Commented Apr 28 at 11:40
  • I live in a region where the local mud/loam clings very hard when wet and becomes superhard when dry. With that one has to clean between the mudguards and wheel or the wheels won't move at all when the mud is dried, same for the brake. (And I use a chainglider for the drivetrain) Other than that, the chain gets some cleaning when I change winter/summer tires and everything else gets cleaned basically only when I repair/replace things. Of course, rain also washes off dirt to a "steady state thickness" Commented Apr 29 at 18:55
  • Some local bike shops refuse to take in dirty bikes, so you'd have to clean it before bringing it in.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 3 at 10:45

1 Answer 1

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You are asking if washing more than the drivetrain has any benefit?

In the winter you want to remove salt to reduce corrosion (even aluminum corrodes), especially from drivetrain parts since they are often made from steel. All year you want to remove dirt/sand stuck everywhere as it can get onto the drivetrain or into other mechanical parts(e.g bearings). It is also useful to clean off reflectors on tires and pedals and clean the lights. A good clean also often discovers other (e.g mechanical) issues before they become critical of any sort.

That being said, my belief is that over-zelaous cleaning has low reward, can work against its purpose(e.g by removing grease where it is hard to replace without removing parts) and is a waste of time unless you just want it to look good or it makes you happy to have a clean look.

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    Could even argue a squeaky-clean bike looks MUCH more attractive to thieves.
    – MaxD
    Commented Apr 28 at 13:20
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    @MaxD .Yes, my list of points was not exhaustive. Cleaning agents, oil and such is also somewhat environmentaly harmful, so zealous cleaning is in that regard also not a good thing.
    – WornChain
    Commented Apr 28 at 14:46
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    I ride year round and the roads here get lots of salt and I’ve seen zero corrosion on my Shimano 105 5600/5700 and Ultegra R8000 parts without any washing. My bikes are stored in the basement which is relatively humid. I have some surface corrosion on some bolts (e.g. bottle cage, stem, saddle clamp). The only component which actually failed due to corrosion were some DT Swiss aluminium spoke nipples.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 28 at 15:40
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    Agreed - don’t clean obsessively. Spray off everywhere to remove sand/grit. Relabel drivetrain (Teflon spray). Run drivetrain using a thin flat blades screwdriver to remove muck embedded deep in derailleur, on jockey wheels & front cogs. Store in low humidity place where it will dry out (drip dry, then cold, dry garage works all year in southern UK ) Commented Apr 28 at 17:00

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