How to get a new bike (without actually buying a new one)

For the impatient:

  • Rub the dirt off the wheels with paper towels (or some rag you don't mind throwing away, because it'll get very dirty)
  • Grease the chain thoroughly to dissolve the soot adhered to it
  • Very gently rub the dirt off the chain
  • Grease the chain again
  • Wash your hands (many times) with warm water and gentle soap, perhaps a brush
  • Possibly moisturise your hands

And for the rest of you:

I try to pump the tyres in my bike regularly, like every week. It's something of a necessity with the Brompton's small wheels, which pick every small bump on the road.

The previous weeks had been very rainy, and it poured on me a few times when I was cycling. I thought: "oh hey, maybe this will help clean it, ha ha"... but I looked closely after finishing the weekly pump, and I saw that the rain was having the opposite effect: all the parts that are close to or in contact with the road were covered in dirt.

It's a very particular type of dirt. Not mud, as I don't cycle over any muddy track, but only urban settings. What is was is a layer of black dust which was covering every surface, and specially the surfaces that need to be shiny, like the spokes and the central wheel cylinder. It's... the London filth! 😂

The thing that worried me wasn't the aesthetic aspect per se but the fact that the surface that is in contact with the brakes was dirty, hence maybe reducing my braking abilities!

"Was there a way to get rid of all this dirt without using chemicals?", I wondered. I had attended a Brompton workshop a bit ago and they strongly advised against using soap on the bike as it can get into some of the mechanical parts and cause havoc.

I thought I'd try a simple test, and started to rub the side of the wheel with a paper towel. And... dirt started to fall off the wheel without having to use any chemical! I was encouraged by this, so I kept on. The towel was almost entirely black and I hadn't even finished with one side of one wheel, let alone started with the spokes. It was so satisfying to see all that sooty crust fall off and reveal the shiny wheel underneath! I used about five towels for the two wheels, and at the end they were thoroughly dirty.

It was very interesting to realise that the wheels are actually not identical, due to the gear mechanism being housed on the rear wheel. I have had the bike for almost three years and I hadn't noticed yet!

So wheels done, the next thing that was really dirty was the chain, which I had never cleaned—only greased it, again following advice from the Brompton workshop.

I could have searched on the Internet... but that would have led to lots of contradictory advice. So I just decided to bet on my idea, which consisted in:

  1. greasing first to loosen up the dry soot,
  2. then slowly and gently removing the dirt from the chain with paper towels (you don't want to tear the towel and leave bits of it stuck to the chain)
  3. and greasing again, because the cleaning maybe removed also the lubricant agent, and going around with a non-greased chain is not a good idea for so many reasons!
It was also quite mesmerising to see the chain become quite shiny again, as I removed the built-up dirt. Wonderful!

Then I spent a good 10 minutes cleaning my very dirty hands. Try as you might, the soot was getting everywhere once released from the wheels, and it was even worse when I started cleaning the chain, as it added greasy dirt to the mix. I think I washed my hands two times before I escalated: I filled the sink with warm water and soap, and left my hands to soak on it before I scrubbed them again. And again! Then the nails would have dirt also, so brushing was required as well. Once done, my hands were SO DRY. I think I moisturised them three times, as they fell like they were going to fall apart.

The perks of working in an office in front of a computer all day, I guess: your hands become useless for any manual work 😆

I was very excited to try out the bike after all these efforts. Would it offer a nicer or worse cycling experience? Would I have to bring the bike to the repair shop? Would the chain break halfway my commute?

The answer is: it felt like new bike day!

Pedalling felt super smooth, conjuring images of bucolic paths and quiet streets on a bright Spring day 😍🌿🌞🚲

I couldn't really notice any difference on the braking or gears, but since I didn't do anything that could affect the gear mechanism (as it is inside the gear hub in the rear wheel in my 3-gear configuration---here's more info as to how this works), it was quite expected.

Other tips

I used Viking chain lube which I bought on the Brompton Junction shop in Covent Garden, but I figure any cycling shop will be able to give you a suitable product.

If you have a Brompton bike, it's also a very good idea if you can attend a Brompton maintenance workshop at one of their junctions. You're not expected to become an expert, but you'll learn about how the bike works, which can help in noticing issues before they get serious, and understanding how to better adapt it to your cycling style.