How to clean your bike (and why you definitely need to)

hands on a bike cog

After a winter spent riding on wet and dirty roads with mud, grit and other debris being thrown up onto your bike it’s almost certainly in need of a good clean.

Any dirt or grit that’s on the moving components of your bike can start to wear and damage them. You’ll also notice how much quicker and smoother your bike feels to ride after giving it a good clean and oiling the chain.

Equipment

  • Clean rags (old T-shirts that you’re going to throw away will do)
  • A small brush (you can use an old toothbrush)
  • A large, soft brush or a car sponge
  • A big bucket of warm, soapy water (washing up liquid works well)
  • Special bike degreaser (this will make cleaning particularly dirty parts of your bike like the chain and cassette much easier. We like Green Oil, available in our shop)
  • Chain oil
  • Some disposable containers (old yogurt pots are great for this).

Let’s face it, it’s unlikely that you’ve been cleaning your bike every week as is often recommended in winter. You’ve probably decided it’s time to give your bike a clean after noticing the thick layer of mud it’s acquired. It can be a revelation when you remember that parts of your bike were originally silver rather than black or brown.

1. Before you start:

Give yourself a big pat on the back. The next 20 minutes probably won’t be the most fun but you’ll be doing your bike, and yourself, a huge favour. Keeping your bike clean and well-oiled will help it last longer and ride smoother in the meantime. Plus nothing can beat the feeling of satisfaction you get after completing an onerous task.

2. Getting ready:

Wear old clothes, this'll be messy. You might want to use a pair of disposable gloves to stop your hands getting filthy. Or if you rub a little vaseline over your hands, paying particular attention to your nails (where oil tends to get trapped), it’ll create a coating which will make your hands easier to clean once you’re finished.

Set your bike somewhere stable and make sure it's not going to fall over, use your kick-stand or lean it against a wall. Of course if you have a bike stand then you can use that. It’s good to set up somewhere the water can drain away.

3. Degreasing:

Pour a little degreaser into a pot. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions you may want to apply the degreaser then let it sit for ten minutes. Use your toothbrush to gently scrub your chain and cogs with degreaser. You should see a visible difference as the parts go from dark and oily to shiny and clean. If you'd prefer then you can buy chain cleaning gadgets that apply degreaser and scrub the chain at the same time.

4. Getting the cogs completely clean:

It’s a good idea to change gears while cleaning, this means you can access all the cogs and clean them fully. If it’s been a while since you last cleaned your bike there will probably be a real build-up of grease and muck on your cassette.

Tip: An efficient cleaning method is to place your toothbrush against one of the teeth of the cogs and gently turn the pedals backwards. As the cog rotates you’ll be able to clean all the teeth as they pass. This also works well when clean cleaning and oiling the chain. You do need to be careful not to go too fast though or you run the risk of flicking dirt up.

5. Soap and rinse:

Once you’re satisfied that the dirtiest parts of your bike are nice and clean it’s time to move on to the frame. Get your bucket of warm, soapy water and liberally wash all the mud and grime off your frame with a sponge or an old cloth. Start at the top and work down then repeat the process with a bucket of clean water to rinse the soap suds off. 

It’s a good idea to give the rim of your wheels a quick scrub with a soft brush. Make sure there’s nothing stuck to the inside of your brake pads and give them a quick clean too.

6. Re-oiling:

Now it’s time to lube up the moving parts of your bike. It goes without saying that you should be careful not to get any oil where it shouldn’t be (such as on your brake pads or wheel rims). To oil the chain drop a sparing amount of bike lubricant onto the chain links as you slowly turn the pedals, stop oiling once you get back to the start of the chain. Next, lightly lubricate the rear cassette.

Leave the oil to soak in for five minutes or so and then wipe off any excess. Excess lubricant will attract dirt and cause it to stick to the chain. If necessary, lightly oil the bike's other moving parts like the brake levers and gear shift levers. Oil sparingly and wipe up any excess with an old cloth.

7. Time to dry:

Bounce your bike up and down carefully to dislodge some of the water then either let it drip dry or towel it down with some old cloths.

Cleaning your bike offers a good opportunity to check for any signs of wear or damage; brake pads that need replacing, worn tyres, wheels not running true and so on.

Try the “M check” - a simple way to make sure your bike is safe to ride.

Or check out our spring maintenance checks for your bike.

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