Bike Maintenance 101: How to Clean Your Bike
Bikes have a voice of their own. Every click, squeak, creak, grind, and snap is your bike trying to tell you something—namely that it needs attention, most likely in the form of cleaning and lubrication.
No matter where or when you ride, your bike will always have some sort of grime or dirt build-up to show for it. To keep your beloved masterpiece of engineering working properly, cleaning it regularly is a must. It prolongs the life of parts like chains, cassettes and suspension pivot bearings, and keeps things running fast and quiet. Yes, it’s hard to put the extra cleaning effort in after a long ride or as your riding posse heads to the local watering hole for a post-ride libation. But the relationship you can create with your bike through a regular cleaning is valuable, and even those lacking the full commitment of cleaning after every ride will benefit.
Just the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the different parts of your bike is a means to higher bike enlightenment. As you clean, you can’t help but notice how things look, how they work, and how they wear over time.
The cleaning process is the time for you to look your bike up and down. Are there cuts in the tires, kinks in the chain, a gnarly build-up of energy drink under your bottom bracket? Otherwise hard-to-notice things become very apparent when you get your nose six inches from your rig. Beyond saving a trip or two to the bike shop, you may also keep yourself from a long push home or an expensive repair that could have been avoided.
To clean a bike properly, there are some items that you should have on hand:
- Bicycle cleaning brushes: Toothbrushes work OK, but a Pit Kit designed specifically for bicycles will make your life easier.
- Repair stand:You can flip the bike upside-down, but a repair stand will hold the bike more securely and bring your task to a level that’s easier to see and work with.
- Chain scrubber: A shop rag works too, but a chain scrubber just works better.
- Degreaser: Lots of options. I’ve had great luck with Finish Line Citrus Degreaser.
- Chain lube: Chain lubes are often optimized to work in specific conditions. “Wet” lubes will perform best in wet, muddy conditions while “dry” lubes are designed for dry roads and dusty trails. Keep this in mind when selecting a lubricant.
- Sponges and rags
- 1-2 buckets
- Soap: Dish soap works great, but I like to support the bike industry.
- Water: Warm water is best.
- Rubber gloves:What can I say, I don’t want to ruin my manicure .
Cleaning your Bike, Step-by-Step
Wipe down the part of the bike—usually the seatpost or seat tube—that you’re clamping in the stand. This helps avoid unnecessary scratching of the finish. Now clamp the bike and set it at a height that’s easy for you to work on. The less you strain to reach the bike, the more inclined you’ll be to spend more time on it.
Fill a bucket with warm water and add a couple drops of soap.
Start with the drivetrain. Use the chain scrubber or a rag with the degreaser solution to clean the chain. Use brushes with the solution to clean the cassette and chain rings. Pedal the bike as you hold a rag around the chain to remove that last bit of grit.
Rinse the drivetrain. An old water bottle is great for the rinsing off the soap. High-pressure hoses can lend themselves to more issues than they’re worth in time savings. If there are some nooks and crannies that still appear dirty, try removing the wheels for an easier approach—not a bad idea for that super-gnar cassette or derailleur.
Clean the rest of the bike with the soapy water, starting at the top and working down. Between the rags, sponges, and brushes, you should be able to get the grit and grime out of most areas of the frame, fork, and wheels. Then give it a good low-pressure rinse.
Dry it off. A dry rag works; using compressed air from the hose will make you look pro, but again you want to make sure to avoid high-pressure anything pointed towards bearings, pivots, fork seals, and your eyes.
Lube ‘er up. While lube is crucial, I like to live by the idea that “less is more.” Excess lube just becomes dirt glue and can create more issues. I suggest reading the directions for the lube you’re using as certain types require a more or less precise application. For the chain, apply the lube and pedal the bike to work the lube into the chain before you wipe the excess off.
Remember, part of this exercise is to make yourself more aware of the how-and-why of your bike, so hopefully you were keeping your eyes peeled for any potential issues. Loose bolts, frayed cables, kinked chains, and cracked frames are best addressed now, not later. Even if the fix requires a trip to the local shop, you’ve potentially saved hundreds of dollars. A stripped crank or derailleur in the spokes is never a cheap fix. As for a frame crack, it’s better to be bummed out when you’re standing next to your bike than when you’re going wide open.
The better your bike works, the easier it is to ride. The easier it is to ride, the more you ride. The more you ride, the more you ride. It’s a vicious cycle that I hope you get caught in.