Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

If you want a smoother running ride without making any upgrades, the secret is to just clean your bike so that the mechanical parts are moving as they should.

You could send it to your favourite mechanic to get it done, but if you've got time to tinker about you can learn to clean it yourself. Whatever your cycling discipline, you can't deny the satisfaction of knowing you've taken care of your bike yourself.

You can get away with just cleaning the important parts, but a full wash down should be part of your regular post-ride plans, Take the wheels off the bike and wash everything, beginning with the underside of the saddle and working downwards. 

Scroll down to read our straightforward walkthrough guide on how to clean your bike in 16 easy steps.

Once you're done, here are some other top tips:

Add a drop of lube to your brake lever pivots - they dry out too and work better with some liquid love. Ditto the shifters. For SRAM gears, simply unscrew the top caps and drop a few drops on the spring and cable nipple. With Shimano, undo the plastic grub screw and put a few drops inside before replacing the grub screw.

If you love your bike, show it off even more by taking a soft duster and some nice polish and giving the paintwork a buffing. Apart from making the bike look shiny, it also helps make it harder for dirt to stick to the frame the next time you're out on a ride. 

1 SCRUB CHAIN

The chain is the most important part of the transmission. Fill a bucket with hot water, wearing rubber gloves will help you use hotter, more effective water, then add regular washing-up liquid. Alternatively use a pre-prepared bike cleaner. With the chain in the biggest gear, apply the mixture vigorously using a stiff bristle scrubbing brush, to see a bright, shining chain emerge.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

2 DEGREASE CHAIN

With the chain free from dirt, apply a biodegradable degreaser and allow it to soak into all the chain links. This will remove any debris and sticky residues you can’t see, and make for a free-running chain. Rotate the cranks backwards a few times to get the degreaser right into the links. Allow to drip dry, or wash off with clean water.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike
Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

3 WIPE CHAIN

Use a soft rag to wipe the chain completely clean, you’ll be surprised what still comes off a clean-looking chain. Try to massage the links, moving them through as wide a range of movement as possible – this helps expose the sections of link normally hidden from view.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

4 LUBRICATION

Apply lube only when the chain is clean. Lube as little as possible, with as light a lube as we can. Use a dripper bottle so it’s easier to apply accurately and with minimum wastage. Coat the whole chain, spinning the cranks to force the lube into the links. That’s where lube is most useful, not coating the outside plates as many believe. Wipe any excess lube away with a rag.

5 SCRAPE OUT REAR MECH

There’s no point in having a free-running chain if the jockey wheels of your rear mech are completely bunged up. Use an old spoke or the blade of a thin, flat-bladed screwdriver to carefully hook out any old grass and oily gunge that has become trapped between the jockey wheels and the mech arm side plates.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

6 SCRUB JOCKEY WHEELS

With the serious grime gone, use a little degreaser and an old toothbrush to scrub the jockey wheels, and insides of the mech arm. It’s possible to unscrew the jockey wheels from the mech arm, but we don’t recommend you do so unless you’ve got a thread lock to use when reinstalling the pivot bolts. Sadly, we’ve seen too many rides ended by bottom jockey wheels falling out.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike
Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

7 LUBE JOCKEY WHEELS

Re-lube the jockey wheels. They really only need the very lightest touch of lube, as they will pick up enough from the chain through use. Remember these little wheels attract a lot of dirt, and with lube being sticky, it doesn’t pay to make matters worse by overdoing it. Wipe the excess away with a rag. They should look dry.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

8 UNCLIP CABLES

Set the rear gears into the largest rear sprocket and then, without letting the rear wheel spin, shift into the smallest rear sprocket. This will free up a bunch of inner cable and allow you to pop the outers from the slotted cable stops on the frame. With the cables now fully unclipped from the frame you can inspect, clean, re-lube and reinstall everything.

9 WIPE CABLES

Slide the outers to expose the previously covered sections of inner cable. Give the entire inner cable a wipe-over with a section of rag that has been soaked in degreaser. If you come across any sections that are rusty, replace them with a new inner cable. Most dry cables can be reinvigorated with a little bit of light grease.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

10 LUBE CABLES

The best way to apply grease evenly to a cable is to first apply the grease to a clean (lint-free) rag. Holding the rag in one hand with the greased section between thumb and forefinger, gently pinch the section of inner cable in the rag and draw it through. The idea is to allow the grease to get into the fine strands of the cable without creating any excess blobs of grease.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike
Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

11 SCRUB FRONT MECH

Front mechs always suffer from neglect. They’re hard to access and are often jammed full of dry mud, and have pivots drier than a Jacob’s Cracker. The first thing you can do to get your front mech swinging happily again is to apply steaming soapy water and give it a good clean. Use a small toothbrush to get right into the parallelogram and underneath the band.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

12 WIPE FRONT MECH

Give the mech a good going over with the rag. Use a thin strip of rag to thread though the body of the front mech; this allows you to floss the body. Don’t overlook the inside of the front mech cage, as these get pretty grubby from rubbing the chain all day. After a couple of minutes you should have a gleaming front mech.

13 LUBE FRONT MECH

Use the lube dropper bottle to apply a few drops of lube to all the pivots on the front mech. These take a lot of load, and can use all the help you can give them to remain mobile. Shift the mech into the smallest chainring and then work the parallelogram with your fingers to get the lube worked right in.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

14 DE-GUNK REAR SPROCKETS

The rear sprockets are the final port of call on this bicycle maintenance tour. They’re full of technology to help faster shifts, but also full of grease, mud and grass. Pick the worst lumps out with an old spoke or the blade of a thin, flat screwdriver. You’ll be surprised what hides in those tight spaces, even on expensive open versions.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike
Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

15 SCRUB REAR SPROCKETS

Get the hot soapy water on them and get scrubbing with a brush. Really stubborn grime can be shifted with a dose of degreaser and another hit with the scrubbing brush. Getting to the backs of the sprockets can be tricky, but it’s really worth persevering, as the cleaner you make it, the harder it is for new mud to stick.

Bike Maintenance 101: Cleaning Your Bike

16 WIPE REAR SPROCKETS

Give the sprockets a floss with your strip of rag. This helps dry the sprockets, and also buffs away any outstanding marks. The cleaner you can keep your sprockets, the faster they will shift and the longer they’ll last. Dirt acts like a grinding paste when in contact with any part of your transmission, so get rid of it.