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How to Clean Your Bicycle

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

How to clean your bicycleThanks to my dad, I learned about taking care of stuff at a young age. When I was a kid, once a week my dad used to line up all our shoes and polish them. I loved watching scuffed, dirty shoes transformed into shiny, clean ones. Caring for my shoes not only kept them looking new, it helped preserve the leather making them last longer.

A road bike is no different, except it costs a lot more than a pair of shoes. If your bike breaks down due to neglect, you could end up stranded a long way from home or worse, injured.

Why Keep Your Bike Clean?

If you want to keep your bike cruising in top form it needs to be kept clean. Bikes are very durable machines but we ride them outside where dirt and grit can adhere to the lubricated parts. Dirt acts as a grinding agent to the moving parts on your bike and increases the wear.

Another advantage of frequent and regular cleaning is you can notice in advance problems that could otherwise go undetected. For example, cracks in the frame or welded joints.

Regular cleaning keeps all the parts running smoothly, prevents breakdowns, and extends the life of your bike.

How Often?

If you ride several days a week during the spring, summer and fall seasons, thoroughly clean your bike from top to bottom at least once a month. If you ride every day do this twice a month. Some keeners do it weekly.

Setting It Up

Unless you’re a bike mechanic you probably don’t have a repair stand in your garage. To wash your bike you can lean it against a wall but it’s easier on your lower back if you suspend it. If you have a trunk-mount bike rack you can suspend it from that.

Another option is to make a wall mount in your garage out of two by fours, or suspend your bike from the rafters on ropes. Don’t flip your bike upside down and rest it on the seat to wash. Soap and water can seep into the bearings in this position.

Remove accessories such as the cyclometer, seat bag, and bell. Now you’re ready to start.

Cleaning Equipment

Before cleaning your bike assemble the following:

  • Plastic bucket
  • Sponges (at least two)
  • Biodegradable dishwashing detergent and degreaser
  • Soft cloth or chamois
  • Hard-bristled brushes (assorted sizes)
  • Cassette scraper or pipe cleaners (assorted sizes)
  • Bike lubricant (ask your local bike shop if you should use wet or dry lube—this depends on how you use your bike)

Cleaning Your Bike 

Begin by gently rinsing your bike with water from a hose or pouring water from a bucket. Start from the top and work down. Remove any mud and loose dirt before applying a sponge, otherwise you may scratch the paint. Now apply the soapy sponge and wash your bike, starting at the top and working down.

Never power wash your bike. Using a jet spray nozzle can force water inside the frame where it will rust, and it also drives grit into bearings.

Washing your bike is the ideal time to inspect it. Check brake and derailleur cables for any fraying or rusting. When cleaning the tires check for signs of tread wear and sidewall cuts that can lead to flat tires. Check the bike frame for cracks or other signs of metal fatigue.

Once you’ve washed your bike, rinse it gently with clean water and then dry it with a clean cloth or chamois. You can polish the frame with a furniture polish such as Pledge. Spray a little on a soft cloth and wipe it on the frame of the bike.

Cleaning The Drivechain

how to clean a bicycle Hearing the term “drivechain” may be enough to make you reconsider the wisdom of taking on the challenge of cleaning your bike. But the worst thing that can happen cleaning the drivechain is that you’ll get your clothes and hands dirty—so make sure you wear old clothes.

Use a degreaser on the chain. It doesn’t have to be a special bike chain degreaser. Any all-purpose degreasing product that you may already have at home, or can pick up at a hardware store will do. If possible use a biodegradable product. If you want to buy a chain specific degreaser, Park Tool makes a good one.

Work from the bottom of the chain. Apply the degreaser to a clean rag (have another rag handy in case you need it). Wrap the rag around the chain and turn the crankset to run the chain backwards. Keep moving the rag to a clean spot. Repeat this until the chain is clean. Depending upon how dirty the chain is, you may need to put some degreaser on a small brush (an old toothbrush works well) to scrub the chain between the links. Be patient. Ideally you want your chain returned to its pristine-like-new colour.

Cleaning the Cassette and Cogs

how to clean a bicycle

To clean the cassette I use a brush and pipe cleaners. You can purchase pipe cleaners at most hobby stores. Get a variety of sizes. I spray on the degreaser and then rub a pipe cleaner back and forth between the cogs. It works like a charm.

Now clean the other parts of the drive train, the derailleur and jockey wheels (those small wheels on the rear derailleur). A small pipe cleaner is a good tool to use on the jockey wheels, where there’s limited space.

Lubricating Your Bike

If you take a look at your chain from the top, you’ll see little rollers. You want to put one drop of lubricant on every single roller. Just go through the whole chain drop, drop, drop, drop all the way through. Do one section then crank your chain backwards, do another section, crank backwards again until you’ve oiled the length of the chain. Once you’ve done that, take a clean rag and wipe off the excess oil. You don’t want too much lubricant on your bike because it attracts dirt.

Now run through all your gears front and back just to make sure everything is working well. It’s best to oil the chain the day or night before a ride. That way the oil has time to work its way through the rollers.

The last thing I do is oil the moving joints of the front and rear derailleur. Put a drop of machine oil on those spots and then wipe it with a clean cloth. Okay, you’re finished and ready to roll.

how to clean a bicycle

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