I know there are people out there who LOVE to clean their bikes. I am not one of those people.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a nice clean bike, but not enough to actually want to clean it every time!
I am one of those riders who truly likes to hop on and ride with as little fuss as possible. Honestly, I even feel like checking the pressure in the tires is a bit of a nuisance at times. I just want to go!
I do realize it is actually important to clean your bike and your chain/drivetrain on occasion, but I need this process to be easy and quick.
In this article you will find a simple, step-by-step process to keep your bike squeaky clean. This way, when you are ready for your next ride you truly can just jump on and go!
Why You Should Clean Your Bike
At first glance, your bike might not even look that dirty, so you might be wondering why cleaning your bike is even necessary.
Now obviously if you have been mountain biking or riding on some dirt roads in the rain your bike will be covered in mud and will get everyone and everything around it filthy. In this case you really should clean your bike as soon as you get home.
Even if your bike isn’t visibly dirty, though, it could still benefit from a nice rinse, some soap, and a wipe-down. Particles on our bikes can scratch up the frame, and there can be grease on it too that isn’t really noticeable unless you take a closer look.
For example, my bikes are stored in the garage or the basement. This is fine, but it does mean they are more likely to collect dust and cobwebs in these places than they would if they were inside the house.
Even when it’s a season where I am riding regularly I find my bikes can get a little dirty just from where they are stored. Removing excess dirt, grime, and grease will extend the life of your bike, and keep components from getting rusty and gunked up.
You also want to make sure that you regularly clean and lube your chain. We have a handy guide for this, too!
So, How Often Do I Need to Clean My Bike?
To some extent it depends on how often you ride, and how dirty your bike gets.
Literally every time you come home with your bike totally filthy you should clean it. This happens with mountain bikes and cross bikes a lot.
You really don’t want that mud sitting there and getting caked on. This can make it harder to clean and also shorten the lifespan of your frame and drivetrain.
Road bikes are a little different. If you didn’t really get your bike super dirty you don’t need to clean it each time…at least I don’t! Shoot for a good cleaning once a month or so.
OK, so now that you have determined that your bike needs a wash, let’s get into our step by step guide to suds up that bike and get it clean!
The Step by Step Process to Cleaning Your Bike
Step 1: Get Your Materials Together
You really don’t need a lot to clean your bike, especially if you aren’t going to be cleaning the chain. Below is a list of essential and optional items to use to clean your bike.
I used these awesome bike cleaning products by Motorex Oil of Switzerland. Motorex* has an entire line of cleansers and lubricants just for bikes. They were exceptionally easy to use (thank goodness because the instructions weren’t always in English!).
I realized in retrospect that the bucket the products come in actually makes for a handy washing bucket too (I just used the trusty blue one that my husband keeps in our garage).
So, here is what you need:
- Bucket of water and soap. Any clean bucket will do! If you don’t feel like buying a bike specific soap, Dawn dishwashing liquid works great as a cleanser/degreaser.
- Rag or Sponge
- Park Tool Brushes* (optional)
- Microfiber cloth (optional)
- Bike stand* (optional)
Step 2: Prep Your Bike
Put your bike on a stand/position it, take off everything you don’t want soaked, and lightly use a microfiber cloth to remove any dust/cobwebs.
I can’t tell you how easy it is to forget to take off the stuff you don’t particularly want dripping with water, like your little seat pack!
Bike lights and bike computers are designed to get wet, but you want to actually clean under them so it’s good to remove these as well.
Position your bike. I just put mine up against the garage door because I was lazy. It’s truly easier to put it on a stand if you have one. I had to keep turning it around because I didn’t break out the stand and I regretted it, but you can certainly wash your bike without the stand if you don’t have one.
Finally, before I involve water I like to very lightly use a microfiber cloth to dust off any cobwebs/particles/hair. This way I am not just pushing them around with a wet sponge.
I learned the hard way after cleaning many a bathroom that this is a very helpful step. If you don’t have a cloth or rag you can always just grab a couple paper towels for this step.
Step 3: Rinse Your Bike
IMPORTANT: If you are not cleaning your chain/drivetrain, you want to pretty much AVOID these areas when rinsing and washing. You don’t want to get them all squeaky clean if you aren’t going to be lubing up your chain after the wash.
The name of the game here is to get all of the surface dirt off of your bike. Your method is going to depend on how dirty your bike is.
If your bike is truly filthy you will likely want to use a hose. Mine was not, so I simply wet the sponge with clean water and gave the bike a light wipe down.
If you do use a hose, be very careful. Some advise against it altogether because it can cause the dirt to scratch the paint, or push gunk into components/bearings where you don’t want gunk.
Be sure to use the hose on a “shower” setting, not a “powerwash” sort of setting for the reasons mentioned above, and be especially mindful of more delicate areas of the bike.
Step 4: Wash With Soap and Then Rinse Again!
Now comes the fun part…actually washing your bike! Grab the sponge and dump it in the soapy water, and go to town.
I used the Motorex bike clean, so I actually just had a damp sponge and sprayed the cleaner right on the bike.
I wash from top to bottom, starting with the handlebars. I like my handlebars clean.
I don’t wear gloves while cycling and I hate touching grease/sticky stuff. I am not sure why my handlebars get so sticky, but they do! I suppose it could be residue from the bike tape or from my sugary bike snacks. Anyway, as a result, the handlebars are always my biggest priority.
Get that soapy water over all of the parts of the bike you are cleaning, but again, avoid the chain/drivetrain if you aren’t doing a full chain clean and lube.
Feel free to grab those optional Park Tools brushes too, especially for any particularly stubborn dirty spots. Make sure though that you separate the brushes you use for the drivetrain from the ones you use for everything else.
Otherwise, you are just going to be smearing bike grease all over your bike. This will NOT give you the outcome you desire.
Once you are confident that your bike is clean, go ahead and do another rinse. You can just use a rinsed sponge with water like I did, or you can spray it down gently with the hose.
Step 5: Dry, Dry, Dry!
I like to give my bike a once over with a drying cloth after I wash it. You can also let it dry naturally, but be sure you at least give it a couple bounces on the ground.
The bounces get the water out of nooks and crannies where it can cause damage. This is especially important if you used a hose to rinse your bike since you are more likely to have water in places you don’t want it to stay.
That’s pretty much it!
Cleaning your bike is truly a simple, easy, and yet essential part of bike maintenance.
I mean, I don’t think that a clean bike actually makes you go faster…but it sure can feel like it! At the very least it’s just so nice to walk up to your super clean bike and admire your handiwork.
Your bike has been with you through so much. The least you can do is make an effort to prolong its life and keep it clean!