Just as crucial as performing day-to-day maintenance procedures, keeping your bike presentable is a sure-fire way to increase the service life of your components and stay on top of any issues that may develop. Regular, thorough washings provide a chance to look for cracks in the frame, keep an eye on drivetrain wear, and notice any parts that loosen up before catastrophic failure results. As you probably expected, there is a right and a wrong way to give your bike an effective scrub down—the wrong way will do more harm than good, while the right way brings to life the old adage “A clean bike is a happy bike!”
Proper bike cleaning is much easier with the help of a few accessories, which you should own as a dedicated cyclist. These include; a repair stand, chain cleaning machine (faster and more thorough than using a brush, but is not a deal breaker if you don’t have one), scrub brushes, cleaners/degreasers and polish, and lubricant. A bucket to fill with soapy water is also a good idea to have on hand.
Placing your bike in a repair stand makes the job much easier, granting access to the nooks and crannies where grime accumulates. After clamping your bike in the stand properly—at the seatpost, with the right amount of torque so as not to crush it—shift into the biggest chainring, remove the wheels, and give the bike a light spray with your hose nozzle set on shower or mist. Don’t forget to get under the saddle.
Here’s a big secret that a lot of people will get very upset about: feel free to use the full power of your hose, just don’t aim it directly at any bearings and/or seals. Avoid shooting water directly into hubs, the bottom bracket, derailleur pulleys, and headset. Also, keep the full power of the hose away from shift and brake levers. Use control and common sense, and as long as you don’t force water into any sealed component your bike will be fine. Spraying your chain with full power from directly above as you turn the cranks is an effective way to quickly clear debris.
After an initial spray down to loosen the dirt, I like to spray the whole bike with Finish Line Super Wash in order to prevent oxidation of bolt heads and metal drivetrain parts while you work your way through the bike. Be careful not to get any of this spray on disc brake pads, You can either cover the calipers with plastic, or better yet, remove the pads with the wheels. Just be sure to insert blocks, because you will inadvertently depress the brake levers during the cleaning process.
If you are going to use a chain cleaning machine, now is the time. Follow the cleaner’s directions for a sparkling, efficient chain. Next, use cleaner to spray down the bike again or fill your bucket with soapy water—use a non-detergent dish soap—and take a soft bristled brush to the frame, cockpit components, and crank arms. Be sure to get in the rear triangle, under the bottom bracket and down tube, and in any tight-clearance suspension linkages. Use a heavier degreaser like Finish Line Speed Clean Degreaser and a stiff bristled brush to clean greasy drivetrain components, including derailleur pulleys and linkages, chainrings, and cassettes. To detail cassettes, hold a rag tight and work its hem back and forth in between each cog.
Rinse the bike off with a gentle spray of water from the hose, and spray with cleaner one more time before wiping down with a soft towel. By finishing up with spray cleaner and not water, you won’t need to worry about metal parts, including chains and bolts, oxidizing. Finally, scrub rim brake pads with something abrasive such as a Scotch Brite pad or even steel wool. Wipe rim brake pads thoroughly with rubbing alcohol so no residue remains. Give rim brake pads some light attention from medium grit sandpaper in order to remove any embedded objects.
Let’s clean those wheels. Spray with water, then your cleaner, and scrub with a soft bristled brush. Or, scrub with soapy water. Scrub the tires, spokes, rims and brake track if applicable. After scrubbing, rinse off the wheels and wipe down the tires and rims, being sure to get in between spokes. Last, wipe disc brake rotors and rim brake tracks thoroughly with rubbing alcohol as the final wheel-cleaning step—there should be no residue left on those surfaces. Dry with a soft towel.
Even though your bike is now glowingly clean, you still have some work to do. If you removed the disc brake pads, replace them along with the wheels now. Lube your chain well with appropriate lube, and apply a drop of lightweight lube to derailleur pivots, under pedal axle seals, and to suspension pivot points. Wipe all these places down well so they won’t collect dirt.
Now get out there and ride that mean, clean machine!