Remember way back when your mountain bike was pretty and shiny and new? Come on, you remember. Before you abused it against rocks, sand and trees? No?
Well that bike is still there, just waiting to be made all pretty again. If you can’t remember back that far, then I think it’s time you did some bicycle cleaning.
Cleaning your mountain bike doesn’t have to be a complicated process, it can take you as few as 10 minutes to do once you really get the hang of it and your bike will be thanking you for it.
Seriously, you may not have known this, but bicycles are as emotional as you and I. If you don’t ride them, they feel lonely, abuse them and they feel angry. But at all times your bike is begging you to help it feel pretty.
I know you want to help it out, so here’s how.
Stuff You Need For Bicycle Cleaning
- A degreaser and cleaner – I like to use Simple Green
- A clean rag for drying your bike off
- A stiff bristle brush – I use one from the automotive section of WalMart
- A soft bristle brush – another item that I picked up in the automotive section of WalMart
- Bicycle Chain Lubricant
Once you have the stuff needed to give your bike a good cleaning, you’re going to want to find a good spot to do your bicycle cleaning. So long as you can get you’re bike to stand up on it’s own it will be fine. I like to use my Park Tool Repair Stand because it makes everything convenient. However, in the past I have leaned it against an outdoor wall or a tree while doing my cleaning.
Step 1: Pre-Soak
This first step in bicycle cleaning is actually optional and not required. Some people prefer to just go straight into their degreaser so that it’s not watered down, others like me prefer to start with a quick rinse. I don’t see a lot of difference between the two ways, the biggest reason that I do a pre-soak is that it knocks off a lot of the loose dirt and dust.
Anytime you are spraying your bike down with water be sure that you don’t use a high pressure hose or adapter. These high pressure systems can actually break the seal around your bottom bracket and in other places. Though I’ve never seen it happen, I don’t have the money to go around breaking bottom brackets all willy nilly because I wanted to test that. I recommend using a standard garden hose along with a simple garden attachment that has the “rain” spraying nozzle. This ensures that the water gets pretty much everywhere and at a pressure that is low enough to not harm your bike.
Step 2: Degrease and Scrub
Your next task is to take your degreaser, Simple Green for me, and spray down the entire bike. Be sure to really spray around the derailleurs, the cassette and chain as these areas are always the dirtiest. Let the degreaser sit for a minute or two and then grab your soft bristle brush and scrub down the frame. Knock off any clumps of dirt, wipe off any grease and make sure to be thorough.
Don’t forget to pay special attention to the underside of the frame, underneath the cranks and behind the front fork. This is the area where you’re front tires fling dirt and there is always several hardened clumps of dirt back there for me.
Step 3: Rinse
This is the easy part, just grab your water hose again, or even a bucket of water, and rinse the entire bike. It always entertains me to see the color of the dirt that comes off when I give it the rinse. If I ride at Northshore then it drips off red, Erwin Park is a grey, and Tyler State Park is a brown. Each of those trails has a different soil type and you can see it when you clean your bike after a ride.
You are also going to see a bunch of black muck coming off when you rinse the derailleurs and cassette. This is from all of the grease that has mucked up and gotten extremely soiled. But this isn’t even half of what will need to come off, and that brings us to…
Step 4: Degrease & Scrub The Drivetrain
The rest of the bike is clean, now we just have the drivetrain to really get cleaned up. When you rinsed the bike you should have seen some black-ish water coming off your derailleurs, cranks, chain and cassette. Well, there will be much more.
Take your degreaser, again its Simple Green for me, and spray down these parts really heavily. Give it a good soaking with degreaser. Then, take your hard bristle or steel bristle brush and start rubbing down the cassette itself. The best way I have found to do this is to press your brush up against the rear of the cassette on top of the chain and spin the cranks backwards. This rotates the cassette underneath the brush and all you have to do is move the brush up and down the cassette to make sure you get every bit of it.
I also like to be very meticulous and thorough, I will use the same process to clean the small cogs on the derailleur hanger. Again just placing the brush on top of the cog and spinning the cranks of the bike backwards. To get these parts really clean though takes some manuevering.
Step 5: Re-Rinse
Everything is clean, now you just re-rinse your bike, especially the drivetrain. At this point your bike should be dirt free and your cassette should be a shining silver color, no longer black or grey colored.
Step 6: Drying The Bike
Grab that clean towel and start drying off your bike. This is the last step and an important one. Especially if you ride a steel framed bike. If you let the water sit on a steel frame there is a chance that it could begin causing rust to accrue on your bike. I know you don’t want that to happen.
Some Additional Helpful Tips for Bicycle Cleaning
Once you finish cleaning your bike you need to apply some fresh chain lube. Check out this tutorial on how to lube your bicycle chain.
To really get the chain clean you can use a Park Tool Cyclone Chain Scrubber. Though I haven’t used this personally, that is only because I haven’t had the spare cash to use to get it. I think these are great and will be purchasing one in the near future to make cleaning the chain that much easier.
Having a repair stand really does help. It keeps your bike stabilized while you can do your scrubbing without worry of it falling over. My Park Tool Repair Stand is one of the best things that I’ve ever bought for taking care of my bike.
A lot of bicycle companies make cleaners for your bike. I choose Simple Green because it’s easily accessible. If I run out I just go to WalMart. But you can also try out the Finish Line Super Bike Wash or Pedros Green Fizz Bike Cleaner if you prefer something bicycle specific.
I hope this helps you continually maintain your bike. Keeping it clean will make your parts last longer, keep your bike smiling, and make sure that you look like you’re riding the best looking bike around. If you have any other tips on cleaning your bike then please leave them as a comment so that other people can benefit from your knowledge.