The London Cyclist guide to cleaning your bike even when you’ve not got the room to do it

Guide to cleaning your bike

Keeping your bike clean when you’ve not really got the room to do it is a pain. However, it is something that should be in your calendar at least once a month. It should be one of those things, you shouldn’t even think about having to do. “Oh, it’s the first of the month – time to clean the bike.”

Why is it so important? Let me just create an image in your mind. You are riding along and road muck gets trapped in your rear cassette. As the chain spins round at high speed that muck slowly but surely grinds away at the components. With each ride you take you are getting your bike one step closer to having to go in for an expensive repair.

However, it’s not just about scaring you with images of a worn out bike and expensive bike shop receipts. There’s also a real joy to be had in looking after your bike. Getting the dirt off with a thorough scrub and then proudly displaying it in your hallway or out on the roads.

If that’s not enough a clean bike is well loved by bike mechanics when you take it in to a shop and it also makes it far easier to complete repairs at home without getting dirt everywhere.

Anyway, by now if you are still reading this you probably don’t need much more convincing of the importance of a clean bike, so let’s get on with things.

The bits you are going to need to clean your bike


Pedro's Degreaser

Pedro’s was one of the first companies in the bike industry to specialise in a green/eco-friendly approach. With their Green Fizz degreaser you can spray on and then wipe away the dirt. Alternatively, any degreaser mixed with water (one part to ten or less usually) will do.

A set of brushes

Set of brushes

The Muc-Off Cleaning Brush set will clean up even the most neglected of bikes.

Chain cleaning tool (optional)

Chain cleaning tool

We recommend this one from Halfords that isn’t too pricey and gets the job done.

Also: A sponge, a set of cloths, a bucket, a small flathead screwdriver, an old toothbrush and some grease.

How to clean a bike when there’s no space to do it

One of the things that has stopped me previously from keeping my bike clean is the fact I live in a flat without access to a garden. There are a couple of ways around this. One of them is to use a bike shop such as MiCycle which will let you use their bike wash.

The other option is to buy a big bucket and then do a second run back up to your flat to grab some clean water. Obviously, make sure your bike is secured when you do this. Having someone run away with your clean bike would be less than ideal.

Step 1 - Clean the frame

1. Start by cleaning the frame using some degreaser and a sponge.

Step 2 - Chain clean

2. Scrub the chain using a bristle brush and a small amount of degreaser mixed in to a hot bucket of water.

3. Alternatively, if you have a chain cleaning tool then poor the degreaser in to the chain cleaning tool and run the chain through several times until the muck comes off.

Step 3 - Scrub wheels

4. Scrub the wheels clean using a brush and hot water with degreaser. Make sure the rims are completely clean.

Step 5 - Cleaning rear mech

5. Using a flathead screwdriver to scrape out the rear mech. Scrub it using an old toothbrush or a brush mixed in with hot water and degreaser.

Step 6 - Cable clean

6. Set the rear gears in to the largest rear sprocket and then shift down in to the smallest rear sprocket without spinning the wheel. This will free up plenty of inner cable to allow you to pop it out and give it a clean.

Step 7 - Applying grease to the cable

7. Wipe down the cable which is normally hidden inside the cable housing using a soft rag. Dry it off and then apply some light grease using your fingers.

Step 8 - Cleaning front mech

8. Using the hot water and degreaser get to work on the front mech. Use the old toothbrush to get to the hard to reach places.

9. Clean the rear sprockets using a flathead screwdriver and scrub it down using a bristly brush.

10. Wash away all the degreaser and muck using clean water. Then wipe the chain clean using a soft rag. Massage each link so that it comes really clean.

11. Proceed to go over the components that you’ve cleaned using the clean rag to give them a decent final scrub.

Using some polish on the frame

12. For that extra special touch using a soft duster and some polish and give the frame some love. It’ll make it much harder for dirt to stick to your bike next time.

The next step is to let the bike dry and then re-apply lube where it is needed.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.


29 Responses to The London Cyclist guide to cleaning your bike even when you’ve not got the room to do it

  1. Anna 10/05/2012 at 11:16 am #

    Yay, I love those! Thanks for that Andreas!
    I remember the first time I ever cleaned my bike a couple years ago I used your manual from back then and felt very empowered 😉

    • Andreas 10/05/2012 at 11:19 am #

      Thanks Anna – think it was due for a bit of an update!

  2. Owen 10/05/2012 at 12:48 pm #

    I recommend Sheldon Brown’s technique for chain cleaning. Pricey and time-consuming, but very worthwhile. I try to do this once a week.

    • Andreas 10/05/2012 at 2:02 pm #


      • Owen 10/05/2012 at 2:23 pm #

        PS – Great tip on accessing and cleaning gear cables. Will give that a go tonight.

    • tom 06/02/2014 at 5:27 pm #

      Are you completely mental? How much time have you got on your hands!! Too much 🙂

  3. bish 10/05/2012 at 2:11 pm #

    what perfect timing – I’m new to riding and just noticed this week how fugly my previously pristine bike had gotten over the last two months.


  4. Tim80 10/05/2012 at 3:55 pm #

    When I bought my bike, I was advised to clean the rear casette with a brush, wash off and spray WD-40 on to remove any remaining water then lube with a heavier oil. I find that if I clean the bike often enough, simple car wash fluid and hot water (applied neat to the drivetrain) is perfectly adequate but something more aggressive (and polluting) is needed if done less often!

    • Andreas 10/05/2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Fortunately quite a few of the companies now have bike degreases that are eco-friendly. Back when I bought my degreaser (2 years ago) had no idea about them but they are pretty common place now.

  5. Goonz 11/05/2012 at 11:13 am #

    I live in a flat with no real garden access either. I cleaned my bike once and had to keep running upstairs to get fresh water whilst my bike was locked up.

    Just as I was coming in for a fresh bucket a group of hoods came walking by and seeing my freshly cleaned bike lingered close by waiting to see whether anyone came back for it. I had to make a quick dash and grab of water and peg back downstairs and make my presence known.

    Not ideal but you have to do what you have to do.

    • Andreas 11/05/2012 at 11:56 am #

      All about the improvised solutions – I found I only had to run up once for fresh water and bribed my friend by saying I’d clean his bike if he stood guard!

      • Hugo 10/08/2013 at 7:44 pm #

        How about just getting a second bucket so you don’t need to worry when needing a refill?

  6. PaulM 11/05/2012 at 11:17 am #

    Living out in the country, my local lane gets really mucky after rain and I find that in winter I have to clean the chain at least weekly – otherwise there is an expensive chain replacement coming up quite quickly, and an even more expensive replacement of varous sprockets etc. I use the Parktool cleaner and I can certainly recommend it, pricey or not. I use Fenwicks degreaser – like flourescent pink washing up liquid but very effective, though you have to wash it off thoroughly with water as I gather it can be corrosive if left. Curiously, I use exactly the same toothbrush as you do for the sprockets!

    Although I have a garden, and a hose, I never use it on my bike, even when we are not in the middle of a “drought” (eh? is that an ark I see being built next door?). I had an expensive hub gear replacement because the pressure of the water from the hose penetrated the SRAM 3 spd on my Brompton, and all I could get in replacement was a Sturmey Archer which I don’t like as much. So now I just use a jug and a bucket.

    Finally, after the chain is dry and you oil it, remember to wupe off the excess oil – last time I forgot, and in a day or two I had a nice cake of grinding paste all over my chain!

    • Andreas 11/05/2012 at 12:01 pm #

      I’ve been using Fenwicks too but as soon as it runs out I’m feeling the “eco friendliness” with the Green Fizz degreaser. From what I’ve read it is just as effective.

      That’s incredible that a normal hose pipe caused damage to the SRAM. I thought only a high pressure washer could do that.

  7. ChrisB 11/05/2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Having built my bike out of parts from three different old/discarded bikes I’m rather proud of it so I kind of like to have it shiny clean. I live in a first floor flat with no access to a garden so I actually disassemble the bike and thoroughly wash all the separate parts.

    A lot of the time when I reassemble the clean bike I find that there are little tweaks here and there that I didn’t get right the time before and generally end up with a shiny clean bike and improved performance.

    I wouldn’t advise disassembling your bike for cleaning purposes unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Mistakes and oversights can prove rather costly.

  8. Dave 11/05/2012 at 4:54 pm #

    I hate to admit it but I give the local handwash guy two quid to steamclean my bikes and then replace lost dirt and lubricant with 3 in 1 oil.

    if not being eco friendly was a crime, would that constitute a hanging offence?

  9. will 11/05/2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I always use kerosene scrub in using a brush (greenhouse heating fuel) widely available from diy centres
    is perfect for removal of grime from metal bits. tip put some cardboard underneath the bike to catch the drops. afterwards clean the bike and reoil the chain

  10. Gaz 12/05/2012 at 11:19 am #

    How has no one said it yet?


    Not the most cost effective way to clean your bike, but a bloody easy one!

    • Toni 14/05/2012 at 9:19 am #

      I agree Gaz!! They work wonders for those lazy times when a proper clean isn’t necessary. Not only do they get rid of my waterproof mascara, they get rid of oil and grease and muck just about everywhere on my bike too! Love them!!

  11. Gordon 13/05/2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Owen please read the entire page, this was posted April 1st, there is a disclaimer at the bottom stating this is a JOKE, for your own safety please stop stripping your chain and stop advising people to do the same as this is very dangerous, there is a link on the same page to the proper chain cleaning page.

    • Owen 14/05/2012 at 10:11 am #

      OH MY GOD! Thanks Gordon! I’m do glad you pointed that out, I genuinely hadn’t realised that it was a hilarious and ludicrous joke. I actually thought it was real. I actually did spend seven or eight hours every Sunday taking my entire chain apart. I feel so stupid now, for reading something on the internet and taking it completely literally. Why can’t I understand irony? What is wrong with me?

  12. Gordon 14/05/2012 at 12:45 pm #

    have you read the list of harmful affects his recommended cleaning fluids and lubes have, that’s even funnier.

  13. Cycle Assist 15/05/2012 at 9:53 am #

    Another great blog post, thanks! Its amazing how many things you can use a toothbrush for! One of the best all round cleaning tools in my opinion.

  14. Matt 15/05/2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I would say start cleaning with the dirtiest (the chain) and finish with the cleanest (the frame) since you will be transferring dirt from one to another during cleaning.

    The chain cleaner? Get the original: surely you can’t get anything cheaper.

  15. Jonathan 15/05/2012 at 1:35 pm #

    That was a really good reminder and I cleaned my bike chain the next day…the strange noise it had been making and which I was thinking would have to be investigated by a bike shop has gone!

  16. Scouserinlondon 21/05/2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Great post thanks for sharing. There’s a couple of things I do slightly differently on my bike. The main one is that I use the Mickle Method to clean my chain.

    Read more about what the hell that is here

    Essentially I clean my chain with a rag quite regularly (once a fortnight) and only apply a tiny bit of lube when it becomes necessary. If the chain is in decent shape then I take it off (using a quick link) before washing the bike in the way described. If of course my chain is horribly dirty then I’ll use a chain bath with de-greaser, but to be honest I’ve not had to do that for ages.

    The only other slightly obsessive thing I do is to give the cassette a good spray with GT85 before getting in between the teeth with an old T-shirt. Only takes 5 mins and makes the whole drivetrian stay cleaner longer (and it looks ace).

  17. Matthew Eldridge 10/09/2012 at 8:35 am #

    I actually don’t care if I don’t have any room to do the cleaning. My bike is one of the most important things I have… I would never let it down! Hehe, but I haven’t tried cleaning this way actually… so I guess I should start with getting all the things I would need. Thanks for the share, man!

  18. Stuart 29/05/2013 at 4:27 am #

    I find the best thing for cleaning the cassette is an old butter knife, perfect for scaping the hardened crud off & wrapped with a piece of rag (old t-shirt) its great for getting the remaining greasy gak off & making you casstte all new & shiny looking, I have one that I keep in my cleaning kit that gets used regularly. (It must be a butter knife not a regular dinner knife). keeping you drivetrain clean increases component life by a considerable amount so definately worth the effort. 🙂

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