Even though your bike may look somewhat clean after you’ve ridden it a bunch of times, there is more damage being done than you may think by not washing it. For example, the build-up of grit in the chain grinds away at your drivetrain. Particles nestled in the brake pads scrape grooves into the rims or brake rotor. Dirt, grime and various debris eat away at your tires.
By routinely washing and maintaining your bike, you can extend the life of these and other parts of your bike. As a bonus, they’ll also perform better!
Your safety is at stake here, too. The ritual of washing your machine forces you to inspect it closely before disaster strikes. Failing joints, hairline cracks, frayed cables, or worn brake pads might elude our attention if we don’t crane our necks and squint, a habit that naturally goes with washing and drying the bike.
It is also strongly suggested to clean your bike before winter storage. You’ll be happy you did this come springtime!
10 Steps to a Clean Bike
- Degrease drivetrain: Spray your drivetrain with a bike specific drivetrain degreaser like Finish Line EcoTech Degreaser, including chain and everything it touches such as front chainrings, cassette and rear derailleur pulley wheels. When spraying the sprockets, avoid spraying directly into the hub. Let sit for five minutes.
- Prepare bucket: While waiting for the degreaser to penetrate the layers of grimy build-up, fill a bucket with sudsy water. We recommend warm water if possible, with a few drops of liquid dish soap (Blue Dawn works best). (For a quick wash after every 2-3 rides, though, you can simply use a spray-on/wipe-off bike wash spray such as Finish Line Super Bike Wash.)
- Scrub and rinse drivetrain: With stiff-bristle brush, scrub chain, chainrings, cassette sprockets and derailleur pulleys while slowly rotating crank arms. Keep fingers well clear of gnashing metal teeth. Once the grime is removed, rinse with hose on low-flow until water runoff is clean. Be sure to avoid spraying water into wheel hubs and bottom bracket (where crank arms attach to frame.)
- Scrub wheels: With a separate (non-drivetrain) soft-bristle brush and sudsy water, scrub wheels, including rims/rotors, hubs, spokes and tires. On the tires, be sure to check for and carefully remove any embedded glass, pebbles or other particles that can eventually make their way to the inner tube and leave you with a flat tire. Also check for deep cuts or serious wear in tires, indicating that it’s time for replacement. (Check out our tirecollection if you find yours are in need of replacing)
- Wash frame and parts: Using sponge and sudsy water, wash handlebar, stem, saddle, seatpost, brake components/pads, frame and fork, checking scrupulously for signs of damage or routine wear and tear that may indicate replacement. For smaller nooks and crannies, use a soft-bristle brush.
- Final rinse: Using low water pressure, rinse bike from top to bottom to remove all residual grime.
- Dry: Dry chain and gears with a rag. Dry everything else with clean towel.
- Lube chain: After allowing chain to air-dry a bit (or with compressed air), slowly rotate cranks while applying chain lube. Once you have applied a thin coat, continue to rotate cranks about 10 more revolutions to work the lube into all links and bushings. Wrap rag around chain while rotating cranks to remove excess lube that tends to attract unwanted dirt and dust.
- Check brake pads: After you’ve removed any grime built up around your brakes, take a moment to inspect your brake pads to see if they need to be replaced. If using disc brakes, replace them if they're thinner than 1mm or if they got grease or oil on them (they'll squeak loudly). For rim brakes, replace them if the built-in grooves are worn down. For compromised braking power, check to see if it is necessary to remove any road grit or glazed over surfaces. (Remove grit with a pin. Remove glazed over surfaces with a light sand paper.) Wipe clean with a towel.
- The finishing touch: Spray bike polish on all tubing such as frame and fork. Let sit for 10 seconds. Then wipe off with a clean rag to achieve that nice shiny-as-new finish.
For all your bike care needs, check out our collection.
Once you’re done, it’s time to admire your handiwork for a moment and then get your bike dirty again on your next adventure!