Depending on the riding conditions and the terrain you ride, you may need to clean your bike up to once a week or even after every ride.
Cleaning a bike can take anywhere from five minutes to hours depending on the intensity of the clean.
Most often though, spending 30 minutes to clean your bike is a great middle point where you’ll feel dramatic effects in how your bike moves but not spend tons of time on marginal cleaning gains.
You’ll need some specific bike cleaning tools to do the job well. Fortunately, many of these tools are common household items or are inexpensive and easy to find.
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Ideally, you’ll have some sort of bike stand so you can spin your wheels freely to clean your drivetrain. Whether you are using a mechanics stand, a hub stand, or a bottom bracket stand, the most important piece is that your wheels can spin freely.
You’ll also need one or two buckets that can easily hold a few gallons of water. Some riders use one bucket and fill it two times while other riders prefer using two different buckets throughout the process.
In order to clean your drivetrain, you’ll need a biodegradable soap or degreaser. Biodegradable dish soap works well or there are many bike-specific degreasers on the market that can help you achieve the cleanest bike.
If you are cleaning your bike outside, it is best to use biodegradable soap or degreaser so the suds do not contaminate nearby water sources.
Ideally, you’ll need two large car sponges and a few smaller brushes for cleaning tight spaces. There are bike-specific brushes available or any small soft-bristled brush will suffice.
In order to clean your drivetrain sufficiently, it can be helpful to have a hard bristled brush that can cut through the grime buildup on a drivetrain.
When you set your bike up in the stand, it’s best to start with one bucket with just an inch or two of warm water and soap or degreaser.
Start with either spraying the bike off with a gentle hose or wetting the bike with a sponge in order to remove the largest chunks of dirt or grime. It is important to use a gently hose as opposed to a pressure washer in order to avoid spraying water into any of the greased bearings or the suspension.
Once your bike is wet from either a gently hose or a sponge, let’s focus on the drivetrain.
Starting with the drivetrain, use a harder bristled brush to paint over your entire drivetrain with the concentrated soap/degreaser in your bucket. By painting over your chain, cassette, chainrings, pulley wheels, and derailleur, you’ll be able to remove the majority of the grease.
Let this degreaser sit on the drivetrain for a few minutes while you start washing the rest of your bike.
Depending on how greasy the water in your bucket is, either start with fresh water and additional soap/degreaser or simply add water to your existing bucket.
Now that you have more water with a lower concentration of soap or degreaser, use a large car sponge to wipe down every part of your bike, starting at the top and moving to the bottom of your bike.
Now that the degreaser has had time to work through some of the grease on your drivetrain, we can scrub the drivetrain as well. Using a hard-bristled brush, one that you only use for a drivetrain, start spinning your pedals and cleaning the chain and cassette as they spin.
It can be helpful to use a flat head screwdriver to remove the gunk from the pulley wheels on your derailleur as well.
After cleaning your drivetrain, take off both of your wheels and use a small soft bristled brush to clean the nooks and crannies of your bike that a sponge can’t reach. Be sure to scrub the inside of your fork and the small spaces surrounding the linkage.
Using the same sponge, clean your wheels, paying attention to each spoke, the sidewalls of your tires, and the hubs.
Now we need to thoroughly rinse all the soap or degreaser off your bike. Starting at the top, rinse your bike with a gently hose or a sponge and clean bucket of water. Be sure to use a gentle spray while still reaching every part of your bike.
Rinse your wheels separately and then put wheels back onto your bike.
Next, using a clean rag or towel, dry your bike thoroughly. This is also a great opportunity to check for any scratches or nicks in your frame.
Be sure to thoroughly dry your stanchion to prevent water from seeping into the seals.
If you’re riding a carbon bike, you can use a carbon polish as well which can add an exciting shine back into your bike. If you are using carbon polish, be sure to avoid getting polish on any part of the stantions.
Now that your bike is clean and dry, we can go through and check for any loose bolts. The goal of this is not to tighten every bolt, but rather to check if any bolts are significantly loose.
If you are unsure if a bolt should be tightened, such as bolts on the derailleur, leave them alone or check with a professional. Other bolts, such as bottle cages, headset bolts, or linkage bolts should all feel snug without being tightened to aggressively.
If you have a torque wrench, you can test the torque of each bolt. If not, only change bolt tightness if the bolt feels significantly too loose.
Since we have de-greased our drivetrain, we need to use the proper lube to re-grease it. Depending on your riding condition, use either a wet, dry, or wax lube on your chain.
Wet lube, as the name suggests, is best for wet or muddy riding conditions. Dry lube is optimized for dry and dusty conditions.
Wax lube can work well in a variety of conditions if applied to a clean and dry chain. After you cean your bike is a great time to use a wax lube!
Some riders also choose to spray some WD-40 on the pulley wheels and derailleur. WD-40 can also be used to clean foam grips that may have accumulated dirt.
At this point, your bike should be clean, dry, and properly lubed. You’re ready to ride again!
Emily Schaldach is a professional cyclist from Colorado. She grew up racing mountain bikes and competed at the University of Colorado, Boulder where she expanded disciplines to race downhill, road, and cyclocross. Emily is currently on the Firefly Bitchstix Cycling team, also known as Team BitchnGrit, and competes primarily in cyclocross and gravel events.