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20-minute bike clean

1 October, 2013

Iain Treloar runs you through some quick steps to keep your bike sparkling.

Photo by Richard Jupe

Photo by Richard Jupe

When bad weather creates mucky riding conditions, your chain and cassette are more susceptible to rust and wear, the underside of your frame can become caked with horrible gunk and your brakes are likely to leave ghostly grey residue all over your rims. For the best clean—assuming you don’t have a full line-up of tools—it’s worth taking your bike to a bike shop for a really thorough job. They’ll be able to take the chain off, remove the cassette and clean everything in a way that can’t be done with all the bits still on the bike. But there are some simple, speedy and affordable steps you can take to keep your bike looking good and riding well.


What you’ll need

  • Degreaser
  • Chain cleaning brush
  • Rags
  • Lubricant
  1. Wrap a rag around the chain stay, and then spray your chain and cassette liberally with degreaser, slowly turning the pedals backwards to circulate through the length of the chain.
  2. Grab your chain cleaning brush—a good example is the BBB Toothbrush—and, while still turning the pedals backwards, run the pointy end between the cogs on your cassette, to dislodge any accumulated grit. Run the chain against the tough bristles on the other end of the brush.
  3. More degreaser.
  4. Spin the chain backwards through a clean rag, to remove the grease and dirty degreaser from the chain. Move onto a fresh section of the rag, and continue until the chain is running through dry and clean.
  5. Although it is great at removing the grime from your chain, degreaser will also strip the grease from the rollers of the chain, making for a clunky ride. For this reason, it’s really important to reapply lubricant. If you’re mostly riding in good weather, a dry lubricant (usually wax or Teflon-based) is a good choice. If it’s off-road or all-weather riding that you’re into, a wet lube will adhere better in bad conditions. Apply whilst spinning the pedals backwards – you won’t need much, but it needs to circulate through all the links of the chain.
  6. Wait a few minutes for the lubricant to penetrate, and then wipe off any excess, especially on the side plates of the chain, as excessive lube attracts dirt.


What you’ll need

  • Hose with trigger
  • A bucket of soapy water
  • Sponge
  • Rags
  1. Spray the bike down. Don’t blast it—if using a high-pressure hose, you risk pushing the muck into the inner workings and bearings of your bike. A light-shower is ample.
  2. Using the sponge and warm soapy water, thoroughly go over the bike. Don’t concentrate too much on the chain, as you risk washing off the lube that you just applied so lovingly.
  3. Rinse the bike again to get rid of the suds and prevent soapy marks when it dries, and pat down with a clean rag to dry it off.
  4. If you’re feeling extra-tender, use a bike polish to give the frame some extra sparkle. Something like Pedros Bike Lust should do the trick, but avoid the temptation to apply to contact points like your seat and bar-tape, as a squeaky, slippery ride will be the inevitable irritating result.


What you’ll need

  • A rag
  • Emery paper
  • Flat file

The abrasion of wet brake pads on your rim, especially if those brake pads are dirty, will accelerate wear, but it’s relatively easy to keep them clean and improve your braking performance.

  1. Remove your wheels from the bike.
  2. Lightly work your way around the braking surface—but just the braking surface—with fine emery paper, which will clean the rim.
  3. While the wheels are out, if you’ve got the time and are struggling with gritty braking, check the pads for small pieces of embedded metal, pick these out and lightly file the flat surface of brake pads.
  4. With a dry rag, work your way around the rim, cleaning both the braking surface and the rest of the rim. The grey brake pad residue should come off easily.
  5. Reinstall the wheels.

Stand back and admire your newly sparkling bike.

Photo by Richard Jupe

Photo by Richard Jupe

Other helpful tips

  • If you have disc brakes, when cleaning your drivetrain, spray degreaser away from the rotors. Disc brake pads are susceptible to contamination, and a bit of care can avoid a ride punctuated with sharp squeals from your brakes.
  • Don’t apply any lubricant or grease onto the braking surface or pads of any brake systems. Ever.
  • It’s smart to wear a pair of disposable rubber gloves when working on your drivetrain, and remove them when cleaning the rest of the bike. This will save your seat and bar-tape or grips from unnecessary soiling later on in the cleaning process.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. GTGTGT permalink
    9 October, 2013 4:44 pm

    I reckon they’ve got the order of this completely wrong.

    1) Do the chain/drive-train first, but don’t re-lube until the very end.
    2) Do the wheels next, with them out of the frame (in my experience, degreaser is THE best way to get the brake pad residue off the wheels (and the back wheel will be covered in the degreaser from cleaning the chain)
    3) Do the frame next (incl. Clean sponge, soap & water for the seat, tape etc & rag with degreaser on it for the parts of the frame around the .) while you still have the wheels off the bike (easier to access under the forks etc.)
    4) Put the wheels back on
    5) Dry everything off (the pro’s use an air compressor)
    6) Re-Lube the chain (best to wait as long as you can to do this to make sure the chain is as dry as possible) – leave the lube bottle in your helmet so you don’t forget to do this before your next ride!!

  2. Cheryle Barker permalink
    10 October, 2013 10:21 am

    So you do not need to wash the degreaser off before re-lubing?

  3. GTGTGT permalink
    10 October, 2013 2:10 pm

    Sorry – spraying it off was inferred, I guess.

    5) Spray everything off, then dry everything off

    Oh, and never turn your bike upside down to do it, because all the dirty stuff gets into the under-seat area.

  4. Bicycle Girl permalink
    2 August, 2014 12:06 pm

    One thing not mentioned here at all — WHERE arer you supposedto do this? It sounds like a complete environmental mess. If you first spray your bikewith some chemical degrease, then hose that off with water, then the run-off is going to be toxic. How do catch that and dispose of it, or do you let itrun into the ground? WHERE? Is that legal?

  5. GTGTGT permalink
    5 August, 2014 8:57 am

    You’re not cleaning off an ocean liner. It’s about a 5 second squirt of degreaser from a can. You’d do more damage to the environment driving to Autobarn to buy the degreaser.

    I haven’t checked with the EPA, but they’re welcome to come to my place and provide some guidance.

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