How to clean your bike
Whether at home or on tour, keeping your bike clean is an important part of maintaining its function and performance over the long term. While there are specialized tools and cleaning products available, I prefer to use this simpler approach. The items needed to clean your bike with this method are easier to find, even when you’re not at home. Read on for my preferred method, developed over years of working as a mechanic on our tours.
What you need
- Dish soap
- Microfiber cloth, towel, or rag for washing the bike
- Scrubbing brush
- Chain lube
- A 2nd clean microfiber cloth or rag for the drivetrain
With those materials in hand, watch the video showing how to proceed, or scroll down if you prefer the written version.
We’ve broken down the cleaning process into 10 simple steps:
- Rinse your bike
- Prepare your wash bucket
- Wash your bike
- Chain lube
- Clean the chain
- Clean the chainrings and pulley wheels
Get the whole bike wet, but be careful not to spray high pressure water into any of the bearing in the wheels, bottom bracket, or headset. Lightly rinse the drivetrain.
Put a bit of dish soap into a bucket, and then fill with water.
Dip your cloth into the soapy water, and use it to wipe down your bike. Start with the less dirty parts like the frame, and then move on to the wheels. Dip the cloth into the soapy water again frequently, and rinse the cloth off if it gets too dirty. Don’t use the cloth on disc brakes, and don’t clean the drivetrain yet.
Quickly rinse the bike, just so that the soap won’t dry while you clean the drivetrain.
Dip your brush into the soapy water, and use it to clean any hard to reach areas, like under the downtube, around the derailleurs, and so on. Then you can use the same brush to clean your drivetrain. Use it to scrub the gears and chain, but just quickly, as you will clean these again later on.
Rinse the drivetrain, and then rinse the whole bike again in case any dirt or soap was left there. Be sure to lightly rinse the brakes as well.
Let the bike dry before moving on to the next step. If the sun is out, move the bike to a sunny spot and it will dry quickly. Otherwise let it sit overnight.
Hold the bottle over the chain, and squeeze it very lightly so a slow drip of oil comes out. Spin the pedals while you do this, until the whole chain has a light coating of oil on it. Then spin the pedals a few times to distribute the oil. The oil only needs to be on the top or bottom of the chain, not the sides.
With a clean microfibre cloth or rag, clean any remaining dirt and excess lube from the chain. Hold the cloth around the chain while you spin the pedals. You can do this first quickly, and then again where you hold the pedals in place, and scrub back and forth on one section of the chain at a time. Move the pedals a bit, and repeat, until you’ve worked your way through the whole length of the chain.
Wipe off any excess oil from the chainrings. Then clean the pulley wheels. Press the cloth firmly against the pulley while spinning the pedals, but be careful not to catch the cloth in the drivetrain or pinch your fingers.
Done – now all you have to do is go and ride your bike!