Keeping your bike clean is essential for optimal performance and longevity. A dirty bike with grease, dirt, and grime buildup leads to increased wear and tear. Not only that, but who wants to ride a filthy bike? Follow this comprehensive guide to learn how to deeply clean your entire bike frame and components. With the proper cleaning techniques and products, you’ll have your ride looking showroom shine in no time.
Features of a Thorough Bike Cleaning
- Removes stuck-on grime, grease, mud, and road debris
- Makes the frame, wheels, drivetrain, and components shine
- Extends the life of your bike by reducing wear
- Creates less friction for optimal performance
- Prevents future rust and corrosion issues
- Regular cleanings allow you to inspect parts for damage
- A clean bike is more aesthetically pleasing to ride
Gather the following supplies before getting started:
- Bucket of warm water mixed with a bicycle-specific cleaner or mild detergent
- Stiff-bristle brush for scrubbing
- Old toothbrush for hard-to-reach areas
- Clean rags or microfiber cloths
- Degreaser for the drivetrain
- Chain lube
- Tire brush
- Scrub pad or sponge
- Hose or pressure washer (optional)
- Bicycle stand or ability to flip bike upside down
Step-by-Step Cleaning Instructions
Follow these steps for a sparkling clean bike from handlebars to spokes:
1. Prepare the Bike
Start by shifting the chain into the smallest front chainring and back cog. This exposes the entire drivetrain for cleaning. Use a bicycle stand or carefully flip the bike over so the handlebars and seat are propped up. This allows access to the entire frame.
2. Clean the Wheels and Tires
Spray down the wheels and tires with water or bike wash solution. Use a tire brush in a circular motion to dislodge any embedded debris in the tread. Scrub the rims with a stiff brush, getting into the brake track area. Rinse thoroughly.
3. Address the Drivetrain
The drivetrain collects the most gunk, requiring special attention. Start by thoroughly spraying the front chainrings, rear cassettes, derailleurs, and chain. Apply degreaser and let it sit for a few minutes to penetrate built-up grease and oil.
Tip: Lay down newspaper to prevent degreaser runoff onto the floor.
Use a stiff-bristle brush and get into every chain link, cog notch, and cranny of the derailleurs. Rinse, repeat degreasing if needed, and thoroughly rinse again.
4. Scrub the Frame
Use soapy water and a scrub brush or sponge over the entire frame, including the handlebars, headset, seat post, and pedals. Get into awkward spots like around brake and shift cables with an old toothbrush.
Rinse thoroughly with clean water. Repeat scrubbing on any stubborn stains.
5. Detail the Components
Use a rag and soapy water to wipe down every component on the bike: the saddle, seat post, stem, handlebars, brake calipers, etc. Scrub shifting and braking mechanisms with a small brush.
Rinse and dry everything with a clean towel.
6. Lube the Chain
After fully degreased and dried, the chain needs fresh lube. Drip lube over each link while slowly pedaling backward. Thoroughly wipe off excess lube with a rag.
7. Dry and Inspect
With the bike flipped back over, dry the frame and components. Inspect everything, checking for any worn or damaged parts now clearly visible with all the built-up grime removed. Replace any deteriorated parts.
Give it a final wipe down and shine. Your bike looks brand new again and is ready to ride.
Cleaning Tips and Tricks
Follow these additional tips for an even deeper clean:
- For stubborn drivetrain grease, let the degreaser soak for 10-15 minutes before scrubbing.
- Use an old toothbrush dipped in degreaser to clean between sprocket teeth.
- Q-tips help clean hard-to-reach areas like brake pivots.
- Rinse detergent immediately so it doesn’t dry onto the frame.
- Dry with a chamois cloth to prevent water spots.
- Electrical contact cleaner helps clean grimy brake and derailleur pivots.
- Remove pedals and water bottle cages for easier cleaning access.
- Handle carbon fiber gently when scrubbing to prevent damage.
- Use a pressure washer for a deep clean but never aim directly at bearings or electronics.
How Often to Clean Your Bike
- Casual Riders – Every 5-6 rides
- Enthusiasts – Every 2-3 rides
- Extreme Conditions – After every wet or muddy ride
- Before Periods of Storage – Thorough cleaning before stowing bike away
Clean more frequently in wet, muddy, winter conditions. Even quick rinses prevent buildup between deep cleanings.
Benefits of Regular Bike Cleanings
Don’t neglect regular bike washings. Here are the advantages of consistent cleaning:
- Extends component life by reducing wear
- Prevents rust, pitting, and corrosion
- Ensures shifting and braking operate smoothly
- Decreases needed pedaling effort
- Makes it easier to inspect parts for damage
- Better prepares bike for storage
- Improves aesthetic appearance
A clean drivetrain also needs less frequent replacement than a gunked-up one. Overall, keeping your bike clean saves money in the long run while improving performance.
What About Pressure Washers?
Pressure washers speed up the cleaning process but can damage parts if not used properly. Follow these tips when pressure washing:
- Keep washer at least 12 inches from bike
- Never aim directly at bearings, electronics, seals
- Adjust to a wider, less powerful spray pattern
- Avoid high-pressure blasting of components
- Lubricate chain and gears after drying
Always clean and lube the drivetrain after pressure washing. The intense blasting removes lubricants.
Bike Washing Do’s and Don’ts
- Use bike-specific cleaners and degreasers
- Scrub gently around paint chips to avoid enlarging damage
- Rinse detergent immediately before it dries
- Lube the chain after cleaning
- Wipe down and inspect the bike after washing
- Use harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach or engine degreaser
- Power wash bearings, seals, and electronic components
- Forget to re-lube the drivetrain after degreasing
- Let water sit in frame tubes or penetrate bearings
- Twist or bend cables when scrubbing
DIY Custom Cleaning Solutions
Specialized bike cleaners work great but you can also concoct your own solutions:
- Bike Soap – Mix a couple tablespoons of biodegradable dish detergent with water in a spray bottle. Gets the bike clean without being harsh.
- Degreaser – Try a 50/50 mixture of water and citrus-based cleaner like Simple Green. Let it soak before scrubbing.
- Spot remover – For tough grime on the frame or components, make a paste of baking soda and water. Rub gently, let sit, then scrub.
Rinse thoroughly after using any cleaning mixtures.
The Importance of Proper Drying and Lubrication
Once washed, it’s equally important to properly dry and re-lube the bike. Trapped moisture leads to corrosion and component damage.
- Dry thoroughly with a shammy cloth, compressor air, or leaf blower.
- Immediately apply lube to the chain, pivot points, and derailleurs.
- Wipe dust and dirt off rims, rotors, calipers.
- Spray frame, handlebars, brake levers with a silicone or Teflon-based polish.
Proper drying and lubrication keeps components working smoothly and extends the clean bike’s lifespan.
Professional Bike Cleans vs DIY
While you can thoroughly clean a bike at home, professional bike cleans have advantages:
- Mechanics have industrial-strength degreasers for the drivetrain.
- Access to high-pressure washers speeds up the process.
- Professionals inspect and tune components after washing.
- Some bike shops offer free cleanings with a tune-up service.
However, basic at-home cleanings coupled with regular tune-ups are usually sufficient for most riders. Talk to your local bike shop about their cleaning services and pricing.
Safety Tips When Washing Your Bike
- Use lukewarm soapy water to prevent damage from hot water.
- Avoid spraying water into bearing areas.
- Dry bike promptly after washing to prevent corrosion.
- Spin cranks backward when hosing bike to prevent water from entering bottom bracket bearings.
- Don’t use gasoline, kerosene, acetone, or harsh solvents that can damage paint.
- Wear eye protection when using pressure washers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What areas should I avoid spraying when pressure washing my bike?
Avoid direct pressure washer spray on bearings (hubs, bottom bracket, headset), suspension parts, brake calipers, electronic shifting components. The force can push contaminants and water into sealed areas.
How often should I lube my bike chain?
Lube the chain after every wet ride or about every 100-150 miles in dry conditions. Wipe off excess lube after application. Over-oiling attracts dirt and grit.
What’s the best way to clean disc brake rotors?
Don’t use any greasy degreasers or lubricants near rotors. This leads to brake squeal. Lightly wipe grime from rotors with rubbing alcohol. If deeply embedded, use fine-grit sandpaper to gently rub contamination free.
While it takes time and effort, a complete bike cleaning is well worth it for performance, protection, and pride in your ride. Follow these tips and techniques to safely wash away built-up grime from even the hardest-to-reach spots. Establish a regular cleaning routine based on how often you ride. Your bike will thank you with smooth running, long-lasting components and that satisfying shine of a freshly detailed ride.