How to Clean Your Bicycle

Prolong the life of your bike and enjoy a smoother riding experience by cleaning regularly. To really be able to lubricate your bike and give it a full safety check, you need to clean it off.

This week we take you through how to clean a bike without using any special tools or taking it apart. Frequent bike cleaning can not only prolong the life of a bike, it also provides a much smoother riding experience. Clean chains move and shift easier and they don’t wear the sprockets as quickly. A good cleaning also brings back that shiny look to your bike which is nice!

Due to all the grease that comes off the bike, I recommend doing this outdoors in clothes you don’t mind getting oil stains on. If you haven’t cleaned your bike in a while, I would allocate around 30 minutes to an hour to finish the clean. If your bike is in a much better condition, or you chose to just clean one part, then it will not take as long. You’ll need a bucket with warm water, a toothbrush, a brush, rags and sponges and biodegradable degreaser (and maybe a small screwdriver for stubborn grime).

Chain

It is usually best to start with the dirtiest part of the bike, usually the chain due to the nature of the greasy grime. To start cleaning the bike chain, get a wet brush and scrub the bike chain making sure to get in between links. Run the chain through a damp cloth.

Chain cleaningChain cleaning

If after these first two steps there is still dirt on your bike chain then you will need to apply some degreaser. This is likely to be the case this time of year or if you haven’t cleaned your bike in a while. Spray a biodegradable degreaser onto the chain and allow it set for 5 minutes. Then use your brush to go over the bike again. This time the dirt should come off. The toothbrush is useful if you need to get in-between each chain link.

Clean chain!

Then using a clean dry rag, go over the chain, massaging each link. Be sure to get off any remaining degreaser.

Gears and Cogs

The rear sprockets and derailleur also need cleaning in a similar fashion. Start using hot water and a brush. If this is not enough spray on some degreaser. Once the degreaser is set, scrub it off using your brush. It is often useful to carefully use a small screwdriver to get to any dirt wedged deep inside the sprockets.

Cleaning cogsRemoving gunk from cogs

Use a wet cloth to floss in-between the sprockets and get any dirt remaining out of them. For the jockey wheel, you should also use a brush to remove the big chunks of dirt. Again, a thin screwdriver can help get any stubborn dirt out. Make sure you focus your attention on both sides of the derailleur, not just the side facing you.

Wipe down cogs

The chainrings can be cleaned in a similar fashion. Use your brush with warm water and then a toothbrush to get to the hard to reach places. Again, use a cloth in a flossing motion to get any dirt trapped in-between the different parts.

Cleaning front chainrings

Frame

To clean the bike frame I have often found baby wipes to be highly effective at removing grease. Otherwise, simply use a damp cloth. It is best to avoid adding cleaning liquid to the water as it contains salt, which can rust the frame if not removed fully. Cleaning the frame also allows you to check areas where cables rub. Brake and gear cables which contact the frame can wear through the paint in time, particularly with folding bikes such as Bromptons. It is worth keeping an eye on this as these areas could rust.

Frame cleaning

Wheels

Hubs should be wiped down. They tend not to accumulate much actual grease, but if they have you can use a small amount of degreaser, although not on a hub with internal gears. Spokes can just be wiped of also, just run down one and up the adjacent one for increased efficiency.

Cleaning wheel rims

The rims of the wheel should also be cleaned using a clean cloth to ensure the brake pads have a good braking surface. The same goes for the brake pads themselves, which can gather dirt causing them to be less effective. You want to be careful to avoid getting any lubes or degreasers on the braking surfaces.

Finally

Depending on bike usage, this cleaning process can be done in stages or as one full job. For example, I probably clean my chain twice a year at the beginning of autumn and mid-late spring. I wipe down the frame fairly frequently though as it is quicker to do it frequently rather than let grime build up. I also like to keep my bikes fairly clean from a practical point of view as well. They are all stored in my flat and I carry them in and up stairs. I don’t want a dirty bike rubbing on my clothes or furnishings. My Brompton probably gets the most cleaning as I carry this against my leg pretty much every time I use it.

Lube chain to finish

Follow the lubrication guide to re-lubricate those parts of your bike that you need to. Check out our highly rated bike doctor app for more maintenance guides.

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5 Responses to How to Clean Your Bicycle

  1. Mark 13/11/2015 at 11:44 am #

    My advice to clean a chain, cassette and chainrings would be just go for the degreaser rather than try without. Using degreasing solution is better than the spray type too – it’s cheaper, you don’t waste so much and it’s better for the environment. I would use chain cleaning machine, but if you don’t have one a toothbrush is best to get the grime off the chain, cassette and chainrings. Rinse the degreaser off with water and then use GT85 to get rid of the water, use a cloth to remove excess GT85 and then apply oil – again removing excess with a cloth.

  2. Suffolker 13/11/2015 at 3:09 pm #

    I live beside the sea, and, after cleaning/washing them, one thing I always do with the frame paintwork, aluminium bars, levers, light housings, chainwheel, rims on hub and hydraulic bikes (not rim brakes, of course) etc. is to apply a thorough covering of motor car polish. My preferred polish is Simoniz Original Wax, but I guess any decent one will do.

    It sheds water well, protects paint and metal, and dirt is easier to get off without too much paint scratch. I also like my cycles to look shiny and clean, but perhaps that’s not so desirable if you’re leaving a cycle outside in some places.

  3. Bikesy 13/11/2015 at 5:51 pm #

    Good article, interested to see what you think about the chain baths? Do you use them, I like them in theory but have yet to find a really good one that is simple to fill and use without making a mess everywhere.

  4. David 15/11/2015 at 11:38 am #

    A chain cleaner filled with kerosense cleans chains very very quickly and does a better cleaning job than degreasers. Better than degreasers as its an oil. Then refill chain cleaner with chainsaw oil which is very sticky oil.
    Dirty kerosense can be recycled a few tines by running it through coffee filters.

    This method takes much less time than dgreaser/chain lube method. Gears and everything wipe clean with no effort.

  5. John Cattrall 30/11/2015 at 8:22 am #

    If you’re riding regularly, then a removable KMC link and a 2nd chain will make your life much easier. Just switch out one chain for the second chain and properly degrease the removed chain in a degreaser bath (or a bottle/jam jar). Leave that one to soak then hang it to dry, before replacing on the bike and re-lubing.

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