How to clean a Brompton bicycle

A grungy sound coming from ‘somewhere below my saddle’ may just be what started my near-obsession with cleaning my Brompton. I’d only had my Brompton a short time, so to be told this worrying noise was simply caused by dirt under the rear guard was something of a shock, although given the fine (and damp) sandy/gravel surfaces I’d been riding it on, not too much of a surprise on reflection.

Mind you, Melbourne’s streets often don’t seem much better. A light rain shower and your brake pads to sound like sandpaper pressing against rims dirty from road grime. Some heavier rain and there’s sand washed all over the roads from tram tracks – along with other gutter muck.

Hmmm, a bit of mud accumulating there! The coating of #MelburnRoobaix mud went far beyond the girt accumulated on my usual commute

Hmmm, a bit of mud accumulating there! The coating of #MelburnRoobaix mud went far beyond the girt accumulated on my usual commute

It’s definitely time to clean your bike.

To do a thorough job, I allow myself a couple of unrushed hours. Cleaning my Brompton is a task I find relaxing and very satisfying, so I like to take my time. I do, however, appreciate that not everyone finds their zen in this fashion.

Pleasure or chore, cleaning your Brompton regularly means you’re giving it a close up inspection and potentially identifying a problem when it’s small rather than when it’s bigger and more costly to fix. A loose nut, a wobbly spoke, a bit of glass worming its way deeper into your tyre…

There are many ways to clean your Brompton. But first, here’s what NOT to do:

How to kill a Brompton - You should NEVER do this to you Brompton or direct any kind of hose toward your B's sensitive parts! #BromptonTorture #ICantUnseeThis

How to kill a Brompton – you should NEVER do this to your Brompton or any bicycle.

You do NOT want to get water in your hubs, nor do you want to force water into any other sealed parts such as the lower bracket, bearings or hinges.

Here’s what I prefer to use:

Brompton cleaning essentials

  • A clean, soft cotton rag to wipe off the dirt and grime. You can use paper towels if you have to, but you’ll go through a lot more.
  • Tooth picks to get dirt and grime out of hard to reach crevasses
  • Bicycle-specific wash for harder to clean bits and to wipe over the frame at the end
  • Brake & Metal parts cleaner for the seat stem – use with a separate, clean rag
  • Chain lube to re-lubricate the chain (heavy or light, depending on conditions)
  • Superglue to patch any holes in my tyres when I dig out fragments of glass
The other essential bit of kit, whether you use it on your Brompton or around the house or to open a beer, it's good to have.

The other essential bit of kit, whether you use it on your Brompton – or around the house – or to open a beer… It’s good to keep a toolkit in your frame.

Working from top to bottom, front to back, leaving the dirtiest parts (the sprocket(s), chainring and chain) until last, I clean or wipe over everything I see until there are no spots or smudges.

Don’t let the apparent simplicity of the front half of the bike misled you into thinking there isn’t much to clean. There are plenty of nooks and crannies around the brake calipers, getting the rag under the forks to do the guard properly, and don’t forget to polish up the headset and wipe grease from around the hinges.

Guaranteed to be dirty after any ride, the bottom bracket is easy to clean from the left side of your Brompton. Ensure the rag is clean if you wipe out the saddle stem tube.

I find a bit of bike wash on the rag really helps get some stubborn muck off the pedals.

The left (non-chain) side is always a bit cleaner (or less-dirty) so I do that side first. Release your rear triangle so you can inspect the frame from all angles as there is a lot to clean at this end. The spokes are much more likely to be dirty on the rear wheel due to their proximity to the chain, so definitely give them a wipe before you get to the hub.

After cleaning the frame parts, brake calipers, mudguard and struts on the chain side, it’s time to look at the chain tensioner and sprockets. A lot of grime builds up here, and there’s not much point trying to clean your chain if it’s just going to keep collecting grime from this area. Taking off the chain tensioner is not something I do every clean; you can still clean the sprockets to some extent with the chain tensioner still in place.

If you do take off the chain tensioner, why no go the whole hog and remove the wheel entirely. That’ll give you the best access to the inside of the rear triangle and the underside of the mudguard to clean!

If you have to take off your chain tensioner or rear wheel, it's a great opportunity to clean those hard to reach places

If you have to take off your chain tensioner or rear wheel, it’s a great opportunity to clean those hard to reach places

Chainring next; back, front and teeth.

And finally – the chain! Rub your cloth back and forth along the chain until it’s clean. If there are still globs of grim in between the links I use a tooth pick to poke them out. When I’m done cleaning off the grease, I re-lubricate my chain, wiping off any excess lube with a clean part of my rag.

Re-attach the chain tensioner, put the Brompton pump back on and your Brommie is clean again! If you didn’t do it before, now is a good time to check your tyres for glass and other foreign objects that might be about to cause a puncture. This job is much easier if you fully deflate your tyres first; when you squeeze the sides of the tyre it makes it much easier to pry the glass out of the tread with a toothpick or pair of tweezers. Seal the hole with a dab of superglue. Be careful not to flick glass into your eyes!

Check for glass and foreign objects

Check for glass and foreign objects

Wipe over with a squeeze of bike wash on a clean rag because you’ve probably touched something clean with dirty fingers somewhere, and you’re done!

So that’s how I prefer to clean my bikes, but when it rains on the way to work I have only a fraction of that time to clean up, so in 20min I’ll grab a few paper towels and towel off the water from my Brommie, making sure to give a quick wipe over the:

  • inside of the front forks
  • bottom bracket
  • rear triangle and just under the guard where grit builds up
  • rims, from & back (I usually wipe over the Stermy Archer hub and rear spokes while I’m there anyway)
  • chain (and re-lube if required)
Arriving after a wet commute - time to wipe down my Brommie

Arriving after a wet commute – time to wipe down my Brommie

I don’t have anything fancy to wash my hands with at work, but I’ve found a bit of chain lubricant does wonders to lift the grease and grime, before a squirt of liquid soap or washing up detergent finishes the job.

Rub in a small amount of chain lubricant where your hands are dirty, before adding soap, to clean your hands properly after cleaning your bike

Rub in a small amount of chain lubricant where your hands are dirty, before adding soap, to clean your hands properly after cleaning your bike

Now both you and your Brompton are clean again, it must be about time to go get dirty!

Almost like new again

Almost like new again

Happy riding! 😀

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About Dayna

I'm interested in nature, hiking and photography - but these have been somewhat overwhelmed by a new passion... my Brompton folding bikes! You can follow me on Twitter: @daynaa2000 or @Brompton_MEL Or find me hanging out most Saturdays at Velo Electric & Folding (http://velocycles.com.au/folding-bikes/) or on a Melbourne Brompton Club ride! (https://melbournebromptonclub.wordpress.com)
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6 Responses to How to clean a Brompton bicycle

  1. Clare says:

    Great info Dayna

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent and very thorough article Dayna. And very timely, as I need to give mine a proper clean prior to a trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. baudmania says:

    Brilliant detailed run-through!

    I have a citrus-based hand cleaner with pumice – sourced from Bunnings. Great to wash your hands afterwards. (The tip is to apply prior to wetting your hands).

    You left out one piece of equipment you make good use of – a bike workstand. This holds your bike solid, as well as give easy access to the underside etc and keep it at a less back-breaking height.

    Oh… and I can attest to Dayna’s skills in this arena! Almost like a bought one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dayna says:

      Yes, the stand is a great way to save your back if you’re going to spend a long time cleaning your bike.
      But I used to use a small table in our courtyard – my folded Brompton only JUST fit on it, but it was enough. And when all else fails, a footstool is very, very handy as a seat when getting ‘down’ and dirty.
      But (as you say) a pretty good workstand doesn’t cost a lot and is easily available online.
      😊

      Like

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