How to look after your hands when maintaining bikes?
Working as a cycle mechanic is usually a very pleasant experience, one gets to work on a large variety of cycles from clients. Hand maintenance is an essential part of my work, as I get MTB, full suss and rigid, road bikes, leisure bikes, kids bike. Some very premium bikes and some not so premium. They all get the same level of care and attention when maintaining them. Some turn up pristine for a full service, others essential come in for a full clean up first before servicing.
Whatever the condition they all need my pair of hands to work on them.
So when I work on a bike, my hands can go through a number of stages.
My hands get wet when cleaning the bikes using water, cleaner products and degreasing products, also all the muck and grease that is already on the bike.
They can get cuts and scratches when taking off components, like frayed cables, cranks, derailleurs, etc.
Sometimes they could even get hammered upon, when things get super tough and I get a bit clumsy!
Then later they get clean grease, antiseize or assembly compound on them.
Often my hands could get anyone of these stages or all of them depending on how I work. What doesn’t help me is that I am the sort of person who literally likes to be hands on. Commando if you like. So I sometimes get to work without any protection on.
Protection is the key way to avoiding some of these hand damaging stages. To ensure good hand maintenance, I have to start with hand protection.
Since getting into cycle maintenance, I had to learn abit about hand maintenance, so I have the following products, built up over time.
Initially I knew gloves was an answer, possibly the only answer, so I took some advice from a car mechanic friend of mine and invested in some good quality nitrile gloves, the type that are similar to medical professionals, but a bit thicker and stronger. I tried a few different brands.
Eventually I stuck with Black Mamba which I buy in a box of 200 and they give me very good feel and obviously waterproof and lasts quite a long time.
My hands do sweat in them over a longer period of time of usage. The protection from water and grease is brilliant though. But the sweating is a bit of an issue for me.
Another type of glove is the sort that are rubberised cotton. There are many brands out there making them these days. I tried the Finishline mechanics workshop gloves and found them to be very good for mechanical work. Their mid level price range proved too much for me, as I found out from Screwfix that some budget brand made some that were very similar at a fraction of the price.
They gave me a good amount of mechanical feel, but a sort of numbed out feel compared to bare hands, but they work well, as I don’t sweat in them, as they are breathable. Protected me from minor cuts and sharp objects, like frayed cables. But they can easily get wet, then the moisture fester in the gloves and with dirt and grease in the mix can become a horrible mess.
This is learnt from my Cytech course, where there was barrier cream in the bucket full. Essentially a moisturiser cream, it is made to protect the hand from chemical intrusion to your skin. Strangely, I couldn’t get any barrier cream from my cycle suppliers. However Amazon came to the rescue and I got a nice bottle that had a button release and controlled just the small amount for my hands, a little goes a long way.
The protection is obviously alot less on the mechanical front, as I can still easily get cuts and scratches as my hands has no extra layers to protect it, however I have brilliant feel for what I am doing. The cream feels like moisturiser to begin with, but quickly it is absorbed into the skin and feels pretty much like bare hands again. They protect me from chemical reaction quite well, good enough for cycle maintenance. Even with degreasers my hands where fine.
After working my hands were soft and easily cleaned, so ultimately it means I can work bare hands as I prefer.
Only use one of these?
So do I only use of these protection only? Well no, I find now I think a little about what I intend to do for a bike, then I chose the right type to use. So if I was only cleaning, I probably just use the nitrile gloves only. But if I was then moving onto strip down mechanical work, I most likely move towards the work gloves. Finally, doing reassembly when every thing is cleaned, I probably only use barrier cream as I get a nice feel and still protected from grease and other chemicals.
Washing is an essential part of hand maintenance. After I finish working on a bike, I tend to turn out my gloves then wash my hands with Swarfega hand cleaner, works brilliantly as any dirt and grease is quickly dissolved away. Sometimes, after a particularly dirty service, I may have to scrub my hands down with a nail brush.
After cleaning, I groom, well not really groom. I use E45 to provide some moisture back into my hands as the Swargfega can dry my hands out as it effectively degreases the dirt and grease on my hands, including the natural oils from out hands. So the E45 or any other moisturiser will help replenish them. Much like the bike, we wash off all the grease, then we put fresh grease back onto it.
This all sounds lengthy and drastic for hand maintenance, but ultimately it is necessary as I have had cuts and grazes that has caused my hands to swell or rash up. Sometimes it can even stop me working, which is less than desirable for clients.
Of course all this requires discipline, as I sometimes get so into the work I can forget to use protection, then later regret it.
That is my hand maintenance regime. Let me know (comments below) how you protect your hands when working on your bikes…