"Can we bump the ride to 2:30 instead of 2 pm?" I texted Dave at 2:15. "I've got something important to wrap up before I can meet you."
After pushing send, I stretched my chain out on its side across the workbench, one end hooked onto a small tack pushed into the wood countertop and the other held taut with my right hand. In my left was a tired, blackened brush missing half its bristles. If it wasn't for my burning and watery eyes, I would have seen the mist of aerosol brake cleaner hanging in the air as I furiously scrubbed the faded gold chain. Just a few minutes earlier, I had been using a small pick to go at the tiny nooks and crannies of my narrow-wide chainring, probably looking and sounding a lot like my semi-rabid Shiba Inu when she's chewing on another itchy spot. Before that, I first used a very specific flat-head screwdriver to scrape my already-clean pulley wheels clean and then cleaned them again with a clean rag that I sprayed with brake cleaner.
Then I staggered outside to lay down on the grass for twenty minutes while airing out my shop.
I wrote a thing from my high horse awhile back about how more of us should be working on our own bikes
. In it, I said that you'll (maybe) save money, have more mechanical sympathy, and blah blah blah about something or other. But I also mentioned that, unlike a lot of people, I really do enjoy cleaning my drivetrain:
I love that when I lift my bike up onto the repair stand after an especially dirty month of pedaling, its cassette and chain can look like they've been at the bottom of the cat shelter's only litter box for the last month. But a mere three hours later and it's been removed, scrubbed clean until my fingertips ache, reinstalled, and drip-lubed one roller at a time with a bottle of delicious Dumonde Tech lube that I've written "LEVY" and "NOT YOURS" on with a black felt marker to remind my thieving girlfriend not waste any on her always dirty drivetrain.
As much as I'd love to go through that ritual before every ride, stripping the chain of lube that's crept in between the rollers, plates, and pins with high-pressure industrial solvent is an end-of-the-month job and would be counter-productive in the long run to perform more often. Instead, I do the same forensic polishing of the chainring and pulley wheels before almost every ride, but simply give the chain a dry wipe-down and lube an hour or two before I head out. Wiping off any and all excess Dumonde Tech from the chain and every tooth on the ring and both pulley wheels is the last thing on the list before rolling out the door thirty minutes behind schedule.
"Maybe you need a quicker pre-ride ritual," the same lube-stealing girlfriend said while I grumbled about having to rush. "You're awfully crazy about your chain. Maybe you shouldn't be so particular..." she followed up with, tailing off at the end to make sure I could hear her eyes rolling as she walked away. Upon a bit of self-reflection, she might have a point of some kind, especially when I consider that my life could be burning down around me and I'd probably be half-clueless just so long as my drivetrain is shiny and shifting perfectly. Someone with more insight than I have would probably tell me there's a deep-seated reason for that, but we're let's keep this surface level, please.
Thing is, while I might be a little anal-retentive about my drivetrain, I'm relatively careless about how the rest of the bike looks just so long as it's set-up correctly and nothing is about to rattle off. It's in front of me as I type this, looking a bit sad and currently covered in a 5lb layer of dust and mud. You'd find tired, faded paint and plenty of scratches if you were able to wipe any of it away... which you probably can't because it's epoxied to the frame thanks to a thick coating of drink mix from a summer of soul-lifting adventures. It appears to be a hot mess, sure, but do you know what else it is? Absolutely dialed; the suspension is running perfectly, the rotors aren't even thinking about rubbing, and my tires and pressures are bang-on where they should be.
And unlike my friends who spray their bikes off after every single ride, mine doesn't make the slightest creak or groan. My advice: look after what matters, and yes, you should definitely be cleaning your bike when it's super dirty. But instead of trying to drown it with a garden hose, give your bike a cursory dry wipe-down and focus on what matters, which is being able to see your reflection in your chain.
So yeah, I guess I'll admit that I can be a little
particular about cleaning my drivetrain bits. I asked a couple of friends their thoughts, hoping to learn that they too enjoy scrubbing a chain on a sunny Saturday afternoon. "I check suspension pressure and sag before every ride," My Buddy Wayne replied. "I just have to clean the dirt at the hub and spoke junction," Matt told me. "You're f*cking crazy when it comes to your drivetrain," Dave answered.
Dave is probably right, but aren't we all a little picky about something? When it comes to your bike and the other gear you use, what are you maybe a little too particular about?