Your bike, just like you, needs a wash after it plays in the dirt.
Yet, bike wash stations at local trails can be all too rare. Why then are bike wash stations an important part of the infrastructure for urban trails? What styles of bike wash stations are there? How do you get one?
Get your sponges out and suds up as we dive into bike wash stations!
Why a bike wash?
The question: why is a bike wash station a good idea at an urban trail system (or any trail system, really)?
Many will suppose it’s to wash the mud off your bike. But given the fact that most trail systems close when the trails are too wet, there shouldn’t be any mud that needs to be washed off. Obviously, this isn’t true in the Northwest United States or on trails with waterway crossings. If the majority of the nation follows the ‘wet trails are closed trails’ mantra, then what purpose does a bike wash station serve?
There are trail systems in desert environments that have fine dust and washing a bike post-ride will help get the dust out before it has a chance to migrate into sensitive locations of the bike. And it’s true that regularly washing a bike is good for the drivetrain and brakes. However, this type of washing can usually be accomplished at home, either in the yard or in a tub.
No, the most important reason to wash your mountain bike is invasive species. Urban parks especially are rife with introduced species. From kudzu to buckthorn, invasive species can choke out native plants and lower the biodiversity of any natural area. What makes this worse is that until recently, many land managers didn’t attempt to remove invasive species. Even now, in many cities, invasive species removal isn’t exactly on the top of the list for the parks departments.
Invasive species propagate through the spreading of seeds and sometimes their seeds can be quite hardy. Removing the seeds by spraying down the bike, especially the lower half, can often whisk away stragglers. In some locations, invasive plants are tough and fibrous that contain the seeds on the stalk somewhere. Here more effort is required to ensure parts of the plant haven’t been jammed in the cassette or derailleur assembly or wrapped around brake parts or spokes.
Bike wash styles
There are two main styles of bike wash stations: roll-in and suspended.
Roll-in style of bike wash stations usually utilize some method to hold the bike “standing up”, either with a wheel loop, a handlebar wedge or seat hoop.
The advantage of the roll-in style is obvious. No lifting or manhandling the bike to get it into place to wash it. Roll-in style bike wash stations also allow for relatively unobtrusive bike wash stations, as often no parts of the station are higher than the bike itself.
However, roll-in style bike wash stations have some disadvantages. Because the bike is remaining with the wheels on the ground, that means that those washing have to bend over to really get at components near the ground. That would include drivetrain, brakes and hubs, three areas where invasive species seeds could be residing. Also, because the bike is placed with the wheels as the component supporting the bike, the person washing the bike can’t remove the wheels to clean brakes, cassette or suspension linkages.
Suspended bike wash stations utilize some method to suspend the bike, usually by the seat, the frame, handlebars or some combination thereof.
The advantage of a suspended station is pretty easy to see, the bike being lifted off the ground, with bits that need the most attention closer to the hands doing the washing. That means that wheels can be removed, allowing simple access to brake calipers, cassette and suspension linkages. These suspended bike wash stations are less fatiguing to use because users aren’t having to squat or bend over to wash the bike. They often keep the user from getting too wet also, as the user isn’t having to spray in the down direction toward the bike (with the inevitable backsplash).
The big disadvantage of suspended bike wash stations is obvious. It does require some man handling to get the bike up off the ground. The other issue is the method to suspend the bike. Depending on the method, it can put stress on the seatpost, the frame or handlebars. For dropper posts especially, off kilter stress forces are not ideal. For carbon components, clamping is never good.
Which type would be best for your trails would likely depend on the goal. Do your trails need the users to give the bike a quick bath after (or before, more on that in a moment) after a ride to wash off grime or invasive species picked up along the trail? Then a roll-in style might be best. Is the trail adjacent to, or part of, a campground? If so, a suspended style might be better as you want to encourage good bike maintenance.
Bike wash construction
So how does one get a bike wash? Buy or build it. That is a simplistic answer, but it’s the best in understanding that there is no “standardized” bike wash station.
Commercial bike wash stations, from companies like Fixation, are often very slick with a myriad of interesting options. From timed switches to even the ability to have coin operated washing (just like a car wash). These units will also meet all the relevant public infrastructure requirements, like ADA, for example. However, all this comes at a cost, a hefty one at times. By the time you factor in labor to mount these units and the associated infrastructure, a single bike wash could end up costing well north of $5,000.
The build it option can be much cheaper, often by orders of magnitude. Also, they can be built in whatever style you desire. It’s hard to point out the perfect bike wash station, by it’s also hard to ignore some good ones, like this one from Seth’s Bike Hacks:
When to wash?
So, when should you get users to wash their bikes? The easiest answer is before and after a ride.
If the worry is about introducing new invasive species to your trails, a quick spray down of the tires and lower bits of the bike should be enough, before it goes out on the trails. A bike should be washed after it comes off the trails if the worry is about introducing invasive species to other locations.
The problem is that due to trail layouts, locations of water services or cost, it’s unlikely that there would be a way to make this happen. So, it’s best to focus on bikes leaving the trails. Why? Human nature. Getting on the trails will be the primary desire for users and they might be tempted to skip the “before you ride” wash. But they aren’t likely to skip the “after you ride” wash. Often this becomes a social moment, a time to swap war stories, in other words. If you can normalize the washing to be part of the “end of the ride” routine, you can at least slow, if not prevent, the spread of invasive species to other systems and (hopefully) they will return the favor.
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