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Basic Bike Cleaning Tips
Cleaning your bike is essential for extending the life of the components and for most mechanical interventions. But it needs to be done correctly and requires taking a few precautions.
The worst enemies of a bike are moisture, which washes away lubricants and facilitates rusting, and dirt, which acts like sandpaper, prematurely wearing down the drivetrain and brake pads. But both can be avoided with regular cleaning, especially the drivetrain, and it is not always necessary to use water. If there is no mud or dirty grease, you can clean the bike with just a cloth and a brush before lubricating. In this article we will take a look at:
How to clean a bicycle correctly with or without water. This depends on how dirty it is and the means you have for cleaning.
Tipsfor cleaning electric bikes.
How to oil and lubricate a bike, after cleaning.
How to Clean a Bike without Water
Used with precaution, water is not harmful to bikes, but it should be used sparingly and not all the time. Let's start by looking at how to clean a bike without water.
If the bike has just a light layer of dirt, this can be removed from the components by patiently using a rag or brushes in the following way. However, if it is caked in mud, never rub the frame or sensitive parts dry as this causes scratches and wear.
If the bike is covered in mud, grime and grease, it is best to clean the essentials and leave the rest for cleaning with water.
Let's look at how to clean the essential components.
If it's a suspension bike, start by cleaning the stanchions and seals, as well as the rear shock stem and seal, if there is one:
Wipe off dry dirt easily using a rag or soft brush.
Clean mud by removing it when dry, with care, so as not to scratch anything. The anti-friction treatment of the stanchions means that mud does not stick in the same way as to the frame, and it is much easier to remove.
If the stanchions have grease or oil residue, you can use a rage with a specific cleaner that won’t harm the plastic and rubber dust caps and seals.
The drivetrain is one of the most important parts of the bike and it’s essential to keep it clean. Even if you are unable to clean the rest of the bike, ensure the chain and chainrings are kept clean, whenever possible. Mud can be removed from the drivetrain with rags and brushes. An accumulation of grease is a bit more difficult, but there are also ways to do this without using water and without getting dirty.
The chain is the most important component to keep clean at all times. The easiest, quickest and most effective way is with a chain cleaner like the Park Tool CM5.3. All you need is to fill the reservoir with degreasing fluid and then pass the chain through it, where the rollers will do the cleaning.
If you do not have a specific cleaner, both the chain and the rest of the drivetrain can be cleaned with degreaser on a brush or rag. To facilitate this process, here are some tips:
If you use a brush, make sure you protect the brake rotor or wheel rim if you have rim brakes, as well as the floor. Because there will probably be some spray.
To clean thejockey wheels, change the chain onto a large sprocket for easier access.
To clean the cassette, it is easier to use specific brushes for removing the dirt between the sprockets, before applying the degreaser with a rag or brush. This is easier if you remove the wheel, first.
Cleaning the chainrings is much easier if you lift the chain onto the chainstay and leave the chainrings free.
Once all the components have been degreased, the excess degreaser can be removed with a clean cloth. If it is removed properly, the components will be in perfect condition for lubricating. However, if there is still degreaser on the surface, it will dilute the lubricant and cause it to function incorrectly.
Also check the different brake parts, cleaning the calipers, discs and pads or wheel rims. If you suspect there are grease stains, use a specific cleaning product, such as the Mammoth disc and suspension cleaner, which does not require water and once dry, leaves no residue.
You can see the whole process we have just described in this video:
How to Wash a Bike Correctly
Now we come to washing the bike with water, and we have to start with a basic tip: never use high-pressure hoses, such as those found at petrol stations and never submerge the bike.
Pressurised water penetrates areas with internal bearings, such as the hubs, headset, bottom brackets and swingarm pivot points, dissolving grease and ruining sealed and unsealed bearings. It also penetrates through the suspension cylinders with terrible effects and into the frame. So, if you want to use water to clean your bike, use a bucket or hose without pressure, to avoid damaging the bike, and with the least possible water consumption, so as not to damage the environment.
If, despite the warnings, you still end up using a pressure hose, due to lack of time or a because you have no suitable place to wash it, follow the tips below to minimise the risk:
Try to keep the spray gun at least one metre away from the bike.
Never aim the water jet directly at the axles, but keep it at a perpendicular angle.
Do not aim the jet directly at the stanchions and seals, because the water will get in.
Start washing the bike, following the steps below.
1. Degrease the Drivetrain
If it is dusty or muddy, clean it with a brush or rag before applying the degreasing cleaner. Try not to get the bike wet, or the degreaser will not work as efficiently.
The chain is the most difficult part to degrease and again, we recommend using a chain cleaner for the most thorough clean.
Once the mud and dust has been removed from the drivetrain, apply the degreasing cleaner, which normally comes in spray form.
Note! Do not apply degreaser to the bottom bracket area, as it can get inside and dissolve the grease. It is sufficient to clean this area with or without water, but never with pressure.
After applying the bicycle-specific degreaser, let it act for a few minutes, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Then use the brushes on the entire drivetrain to remove the grease, following the same instructions as in the section on cleaning without water.
Remember to cover the brake rotor and caliper when cleaning the drivetrain, to protect it from grease or water splashing and contaminating the brake pads.
2. Give the Bike a First Soak
This is necessary for softening and washing away the dirt, mud and degreaser. You can do this with a hose or a brush and a bucket of water, but never rub the mud directly on the frame, as this can scratch it. Try to wash it off with water.
3. Apply Cleaner to the Entire Bike
It should preferably be a specific cleaner for bikes, and used according to the condition of the bike:
If it is not very dirty, the cleaner need only be left to act for a few minutes before rinsing with water.
If it is very dirty or caked in mud, for example, you will have to use a brush to clean each part of the bike, to remove all the dirt.
If you do not have any brushes, you can use sponges. Whichever is used, try not to touch the brake rotor and pads with the same brush or sponge used for the drivetrain, as it may contain traces of grease.
If you do not have a special bicycle cleaner, use water and a neutral soap, keeping it away from the brake rotors, as many washing up liquids and soaps contain grease and traces of it may remain.
Cleaning is simplified further, if you use special brushes designed for each part of the bike, although these are not essential. However, we do recommend the Mammoth brush kit, as it is excellent value for money and includes a folding bucket for washing your bike anywhere and optimising the use of water. It is packable and takes up very little space.
Rinsing removes all traces of cleaner or soap. Use either a hose or bucket of water and a brush, but save water – it does not require much.
5. Dry all Components
Most of the water can be removed from the bike by bouncing both or one wheel on the ground. You can then dry it off with a chamois or an old cloth. If you want a shiny finish and added protection, you can apply products that will help keep the bike looking like new. If you don't have time to dry it thoroughly, at least dry the chain and drivetrain well, to avoid possible rust and to allow lubrication, as this is only possible if the drivetrain is dry. Before proceeding to this last lubricating step, you can watch how we clean a bike with water in the next video:
Electric bikes have components that require some extra precautions for cleaning.
Turn off the bike power before cleaning. Also do this when any maintenance work is required.
Never pressure wash an e-bike, this is even more harmful than on conventional bikes.
Leave the battery in place, as it not only has IP protection in the connection area, but sealed joints that withstand water from rain or washing. This way you can clean the whole exterior well.
Remove the battery and clean the inside of the battery housing if necessary, but only when the bike is clean and dry.
Never use wet items to clean the connectors. Use a dry brush and blow off dirt where possible or use a connector cleaner such as the Finish Line E-bike cleaner, which does not conduct electricity and evaporates quickly. Before reconnecting, make sure nothing is wet or damp.
Clean the motor compartment periodically, as well as the battery compartment. This area accumulates a lot of dirt.
Clean the speed sensor. Sometimes mud and dirt can accumulate and prevent proper communication with the bike, which can prevent the pedal assistance from working.
You can see how to do this in detail in the following video:
Greasing and Lubricating the Bike
The final stage is to grease and lubricate the bike each time the components are cleaned or when they show signs of needing lubrication. But it is important to do this correctly and use the right products. The chain and the rest of the drivetrain, pedals, controls and suspensions use oils or wax-based lubricants. Greases or carbon paste are used on axles, bearings and points of contact between materials.
Find out about the different types of lubricants and how to use them on the bike, in the following video: