I don’t know about everyone else, but this is how I clean my bike

One thing that many beginning cyclist fail to do is to show some love for their bike and clean the chain as well as the drive train. Bike maintenance is often overlooked until someone points it out to them. A few days (OK 2 weeks ago) a go a friend of mine asked how to clean it after seeing one of my posts. Lucy, this is how I clean my bike. There are a zillion ways of doing it and they all accomplish the same thing, a clean chain and drive train.

First of all you will need some basic tools. You do not need to go out and buy bike specific stuff to do this as simple household items will work just fine. Lets run through the list:

  • bike stand
    • hang from tree or flip bike upside down if stand is not available
  • clean shop rags
  • degreaser agent
    • I use Simple Green degreaser that you can find at supermarket
    • I use both the foam and the liquid spray type
  • sprocket brush
  • chain cleaner cartridge
  • water hose
  • gloves if you don’t want to get your hands dirty

The basic concept is to clean the chain and everything that it comes into contact with. That means the front and rear cassette, front and rear derailleurs and the chain itself. With that in mind, this is how I do it.

The very first thing I do is get the water hose and spray everything down. If the bike is muddy, then hose of much of it off and use a wet rag or sponge to the rest off. I then use the Simple Green foam version and spray the chain, cassette and rear derailleur. Let it soak for a few minutes to let it do its magic. You may have to respray as needed.

Here are a few pics of the chain cleaner and the sprocket brush. They are pretty much self-explanatory on how to use them but I will cover that in the section below.

A chain cleaner is real important to get. This one is from Park Tools but there are other brands out there that will do a good job cleaning the chain. I happen to use this one to clean the chain with. I fill the reservoir with water and mix in some of the Simple Green liquid into it. You clamp it over the chain at the bottom and spin the crank. I usually give it 30 revolutions and a high tempo. Repeat as needed. To make things easier, be sure that the chain is in the outer most sprockets for both the front and rear, so change gears as needed.

Once done, use one of the clean rags to get the rest of the grime off. Just grip the chain at the bottom with the rag and turn the crank. You will need to move the rag around to a clean spot several times. Ideally you should not get any black stains on the rag but good luck with that. I keep at it until the stain has that watered down look to it.

At this point you can lube it or wait till the rest of the drive train is cleaned. I usually wait till every thing else is cleaned.

Depending on how dirty or muddy the rear cassette is determines if I will use the sprocket brush or not. Usually if you are a mountain biker that hits the dirt trails often, even after it rains, then you will need this or something similar to get out all the mud. For roadies, it usually after riding in wet conditions.  I have it in my toolbox and use it as needed.

The next thing to clean is the derailleur sprockets. Those little wheels under the derailleur. Many people just do the chain and call it quits, but the derailleur is one of the most grungiest places on the bike! There are several ways of cleaning these and you need to be careful as something can get caught in the chain and sprocket. You can use either the sprocket cleaner or a clean rag.

Before starting anything else you will want to spray the sprockets with some degreaser. This is where a foam type degreaser works well. Let is soak and start loosening the grease and grime. When ready you can use the sprocket brush and press the bristles on an exposed side and turn the crank. Just firmly hold the bristles as you spin the crank slowly. Repeat on the other side of the sprocket. Be sure to rinse bristles often and go at it some more. Be sure to do the same for the other sprocket making sure to get both sides. This the same procedure if you were to use a rag. Just find an area where you can press the rag against the sprocket and turn the crank. Be careful not to get the rag caught in the chain and sprocket. Move the rag to a clean spot and repeat and be sure to do the other side of the sprocket. You will find a lot of grunge in this area! The more adventurous people would take the chain off and clean both the chain and the derailleur wheels but I don’t.

Once done, give both the front and rear derailleurs a wipe down with a clean rag. With the front derailleur give the inside of the cage a wipe too. Wipe down the front cassette as well as you can. You are now ready to clean the rear cassette. With a clean shop rag, I slide it between gears and work it all around the cassette. You can slowly turn the crank to move it around. Do that for each gear and shift gears to move the chain out-of-the-way.

At this point get the water hose and rinse everything off and pat dry the frame and everything else. The last step is to simply apply lubricant to the chain and wipe of the excess and you are done. Run through the gears to see if everything is OK. At this point you should have a shiny clean chain ready for more pedaling adventures.

To take thing further, this is a good time to take a closer look at your bike while it is up on a stand. Spin the wheels and check for trueness. What do I mean by that? Simply check to see if there are no side-to-side wobbles in the wheel. You will notice it by looking at the brake pads. When the tire is spinning, the rim should stay at an equal gap from the pad. If you notice that on certain sections of the wheel the rim is closer or further from the brake pad then your wheel is out of true. Sometimes it is minor problem and other times it warrants getting it aligned properly.

Check the spokes and make sure none are bent, broken or loose. They are the culprits for the wobbliness in the wheel, get it fixed ASAP. Take it to the bike shop and show it to them. I usually use a twisty from a loaf of bread and wrap it around the spoke in question.

Next check the brakes. Are the brake pads in good condition? Do they open and close properly without sticking? Is the mechanism clean of any dirt and small rocks? Clean it out if needed. Clean the frame underneath the fork and any mounting brackets.

Last thing I do is to run through the gears slowly one gear at a time. I’m pretty sure that you would notice a sticky gear while riding but it does hurt to check it again at this point. It may need some minor tweaking or not.

Oh before I forget, check the pedals for any signs of unusual wear and that they spin freely. Nothing as bad as sticky pedals!

At this point you are done. Make any notes on problem areas and talk to your local bike shop about them. These checks are entirely optional but I recommend in doing them. It gets you familiar with your bike and how it feels when everything is working properly. Like I said before, there are a zillion ways of cleaning the bike, but this is how i clean mine.

Love your bike!

3 thoughts on “I don’t know about everyone else, but this is how I clean my bike

  1. Pingback: Texas Bicycling Blog and News Roundup for August 6th « Texbiker.net

  2. I just did this very thing last night. Timely post. It’s also a good reference for newer cyclists who might think cleaning is just running a rag over the chain.

    • Thanks, some of my friends were asking about how to clean the bike, so for those that were not able to attend our Bike Maintenance 101 club meets, I wrote this up for them.

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