It was a beautiful fall day in my garage when I decided to pull out the old mountain bike I had in storage for a while, to gear it up for a ride. This thing was so badly rusted and poorly maintained that I didn’t know what to do. So, it made me think.
Why do bikes rust? When a drop of water hits steel, aluminum, or any metal on a bike, an electrochemical process happens between the water and carbon dioxide in the air. As the acid in this compound is evaporated and the metal dissolves, it starts to corrode turning into what we see as rust.
It may come as a surprise to you that there are chemicals in liquids like acid rain, seawater, and the salt you see sprayed all over snow-plowed roads. In fact, these liquid forms speed up the process of rusting even more. Read on further to understand why this happens and more importantly how you can prevent this.
Why Do Bikes Rust?
I first should probably tell on myself. What I did not mention when I said, “I had it in storage”, was where I stored it.
No, It wasn’t in a garage neatly rested on a wall mount or tucked in a nice blanketed water-proof bike cover. Uh, yeah, it was outside, in the elements, naked and all!
Probably the number one reason why bikes rust is because someone ( including myself, guilty as charged) failed to care for and protect the bikes’ sensitive components.
Going back to the scientific reason why things rust has to do with the breakdown of iron in metal. This is called, iron-oxide.
Now before you tell me that aluminum bikes don’t contain iron so they don’t rust, hear me out first and I will get to that.
For Iron (which is found mostly in steel) to become an iron-oxide the combination of these elements need to be present:
It’s quite common for bikes and bike components to start the rusting process when left abandoned and uncared-for for several years.
If a bike and its components made of steel or aluminum are exposed to water and oxygen for that long of a time, the bike’s wind up being obsolete.
You can think of rusting as a chemical reaction such as what happens in a fire.
Like fire, iron and other metals will react to oxygen and water if left in contact with those elements for some time.
Remember the rusting process happens almost immediately, if left uncared, but unlike a fire, this will not cause the metals to go up in flames.
Metals that aren’t protected with a coated layer of some sort will definitely rust.
The only metals that are rust-resistant are as follows:
- Stainless steel
- Aluminum metal
- Copper, bronze, or brass
- Galvanized steel
Now, you may have noticed I said “rust-resistant” and not “rust-proof”.
The reasoning behind this is, just because one type of metal does not contain iron doesn’t mean it can’t corrode by some other oxidizing reactions.
Aluminum, for example, is one of the metals most widely used for bike parts due to being lightweight and cheap to produce.
Even more interesting, aluminum alloys are made of almost no iron, yet they can still oxidize.
Meaning, aluminum can still combine chemically with oxygen and corrode down at some point.
Best Bike Frame Rust Prevention Tips You May Not Have Heard Of
Most steel frames are going to rust over time, especially if you live near the beach, exposed to water and from salt if riding in the snow.
Unfortunately, some manufacturers don’t rust-proof bikes. So if you ride in all types of weather year-round, you might consider getting frame treatment.
You can use this frame saver product called Boesheild T-9 whenever you get a steel-framed bike and spray the inside of the frame and forks.
This product comes in an aerosol can and a spray straw so you can easily apply the solution inside the tubular frame and hard-to-reach areas of the bike frame.
FACT: When out in the rain or parking your bike out in the rain, inevitably you’re going to get rust.
TIP: When you get home let most of the water drain out of your bike by flipping it upside down but be sure to take the seat post out allow any trapped water to drain.
Another thing you can do about twice a year is simply to wax the frame.
If waxing the frame is not your cup-of-tea and you want more of a spray and wipe deal, then you can try using Bike Lust which is a silicone-based polish that will create a nice silicone layer over the paint and will prevent rust from forming.
Bike Lust is NOT going to remove rust that was already there, but it will prevent rust from forming. It will also create a nice shine to your bike, making it look newer.
Now, suppose you can’t get either one of these products online shipped to you because your country prohibits aerosols or something.
What you could use as an alternative is Boiled Linseed Oil (Available at most on Amazon or most hardware stores) which is an old-school product that was used to protect tubular aircraft structures way back in the day.
Linseed oil is basically flaxseed oil or flax oil, some might call it. It smells nice and is non-toxic.
Make sure to find the ‘Boiled Linseed Oil” because the raw linseed oil will not be quick-drying and will be a mess to work with.
This type of oil is best for treating a frame with the parts off.
So you’ll want to remove the wheels, cranks, seat post, stem, and it will require you to warm the frame up and the oil, which you can do by letting it sit in the sun.
If you try the boiled linseed oil way to pretreat your bike, it would be best to have someone help you and watch some Youtube, “How To” videos so you get a better understanding of how this works.
One Magical Hack To Remove Rust From Bike Handlebars
For most cyclists that have tape-wrapped or rubber-covered handlebars, you may not see that there is rust forming under there.
But if you truly have reasons that there is rust and or you’ve seen it then consider a few things.
If the handlebars are clearly rusty and compromised in any way, then you are better off just replacing them with a new bike handlebar.
Now, if the handlebars have just surface rust, which is most common then this will be an easy fix.
The number one magical solution to removing the rust off your handlebars is using some tin foil and Coke Cola.
I know it’s crazy right that what we drink and put into our bodies can actually be a rust removal agent.
In the following tips, you’ll find that this will work with steel or chrome-plated handlebars. Here is what you need and how to do it:
- Bottle of Coke Cola
- Aluminum Foil or Steel Wool Pad
- Small plastic container
- Water (To rinse off the handlebar)
- Take the Coke Cola and pour it into the container
- With the foil, rip off a nice size sheet that you will fold into a pocket-size square
- Take the folded piece of foil and dip it into the Coke Cola-filled container
- Then, simply start rubbing this on the part of the handlebar where the rust is
- Rinse/wipe down the handlebar with water and a clean cloth
- Repeat these steps if necessary to remove all the surface rust
It really doesn’t get any simpler than this when removing rust from a bike handlebar, but look at another case scenario.
As mentioned earlier, most cyclists, who have road, track or drop handlebars on their bikes are not going to see corrosion as you might see on handlebars with just rubber handles.
If you have drop handlebars covered in bar tape, you may not realize that your handlebar underneath all that tape could corrode.
What causes them to corrode underneath is bodily sweat and or water that may get trapped if not taken care of over some time.
There’s a great solution for that as well that I found here in this YouTube video below. Shane Miller goes into detail showing you how to prevent bicycle handlebar corrosion and how to protect the handlebar before putting it back together.
One Unconventional Way To Remove Rust From Bike Parts That No One Is Talking About
To be really honest with you, there are so many ways to remove rust from metal.
The many ways vary from using WD-40 and aluminum foil, lime juice and scouring pads, baking soda and vinegar, salt and you name it.
Problem is, No. 1, “ain’t nobody got time for that” and No.2, these solutions when combined are toxic and acidic which may do more harm than good.
One of the safest and easy solutions you can rely on to remove rust from bike parts is Metal Rescue Rust Remover by Workshop Hero.
I’m with you that you can’t believe everything on the internet, but when it comes to this solution for rust removal, Metal Rescue is legit.
Check out this video which shows a demonstration of how their product removes rust from a bicycle wheel.
In that video Workshop Hero shows just how safe and easy it is to restore a rusty old bicycle wheel. They even leave the rim liner in to further emphasize that.
Their solution is safe on paint, plastic, rubber, chrome, and as they say, “everything but rust”!
You can soak your entire bike frame, freewheel cassette, pedals, handlebars, and nuts and bolts with no need to scrub or agitate the solution.
As stated in the video, this solution works best at room temperature or warmer.
Another added benefit to using this solution is that Metal Rescue does not etch the metal or dissolve/convert the rust. It just does a good job removing the rust only.
Once the rust is removed, which is typically within 12 hours (24 hrs for best results), the metal will be bare and can rust again, but not quickly. So you’ll want to be sure to coat, paint, or treat the metal before storing it away again.
The Cheapest Solution To Keep A Bike From Rusting Outside
When water, oxygen, and moisture meet each other outside, you best believe that your bike sitting out there will rust given enough time.
So, what can you do to prevent rust in this situation? Don’t buy a bike cover because they will not protect the bike due to its thin material and are difficult to tailor to your specific bike.
A better solution is to fully cover your bike with a fitted 8 ft. x 10 ft. silver tarp and tie together all the corners near the front and rear of the bike.
Silver tarps are good at reflecting infrared rays and keeping things insulated, allowing air to flow in and out but not water.
The parts to worry about the most when a bike is left outside are the steel parts like gears, chains, cables, and bolts.
These will rust when exposed to constant moisture from being outside.
Here’s what you want to do to prepare your bike before covering it with a tarp and tying it down:
- Give the bike a good wash, but avoid using acidic detergents
- Make sure to dry the bike completely and allow it to dry in a room overnight
- Lube your chain and cassette with a good water-resistant chain lube
- If the bike has a steel frame, make sure to seal any scratches or nicks
- Get some car wax, like the one sold in a can, and rub all over the frame and forks
- Check on the bike weekly for possible washing and prevention of rust
I understand that some may not have a shed, garage, or covered bike storage so this solution to store your bike outside might be ideal for you.
If at all possible though, your best bet to prevent rust on your bike would be to store the bike in your room even if you have to remove all the parts and place them in a box.