It’s spring, and that means spring cleaning. Specifically, cleaning your bike. Either you’ve been riding in the winter, in which case there’s dust and road grime and all kinds of other nastiness on your bike, or you haven’t, in which case you’re ready to tune up for warm weather. Either way, your bike could probably use a good wash. Here’s what you’ll need and how to use it.
The elephant in the room
No matter where you go on the internet or who you ask, you’ll find someone telling you UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES to use a car wash sprayer on your bike. It’ll get water in the bearings, blast dirt deep into the crevices of your moving parts, and ruin everything. Equally common, however, are people who will tell you that they’ve heard all that advice, done it anyway, and things turned out fine. In fact, the crew over at GCN did a video about this very topic, and found that it’s not as easy to get water in your bearings as people think, and it certainly won’t happen without some serious effort.
Now, we here at Planet Cyclery won’t officially endorse blasting your bike in the car wash, nor do we accept responsibility if you ruin it in doing so, but certain employees (me) have done it before and everything seemed fine afterwards. Now, on to less controversial methods.
You will need:
You might need:
Step 1: Prep
Take off all your accessories. Computers, lights, saddlebags, frame pumps, bottle cages, etc. Set them aside. Fill a bucket with water. Set the bike up somewhere you don’t mind getting messy (not your living room), because there will be all kinds of crap dripping off it for a little bit. If you have a stand, now’s the time to use it. If your bike has holes into the frame for electronic shifting components, internal cable routing, or bottle cages, make sure you cover them. You don’t want water inside your frame.
Step 2: Dirt
If you’re washing a mountain bike or a particularly dirty road/gravel/cross bike, there may be chunks of actual mud on the bike that are just going to mess everything up. First step is to get those off. Using gentle pressure on the hose and a soft brush, spray the whole bike down to get all the bits and pieces out of the way.
Step 3: Grease
Coat the whole drivetrain in either general degreaser or a specific drivetrain cleaner. Don’t be shy: get it all over every surface of the crank, chain, cassette, and derailleurs.
If your chain is extra nasty — like, in my case, if you can’t tell what color it was when you bought it — now’s the time to bust out a chain washer. Several companies make these, and they look something like this:
This is a little machine that uses various brushes and sponges to clean every nook and cranny of your chain and get it running like new. Fill it up to the fill line with the drivetrain cleaner, clamp it on to your chain, and pedal backwards until the liquid in the bottom is black and you internally chastise yourself for letting your poor bike go so long between cleanings.
Step 4: The rest of the bike
Again using the gentle sprayer on your hose, or just a sponge and a bucket, wet the whole bike down. If you’re using dish soap, you can squirt some in the water and start wiping and brushing all the surfaces of the bike, focusing on the brakes, the area between the brakes and the frame, and the spots between the fork and downtube, downtube and seat stays, and any other little corners that are hard to get to. If you’re not using dish soap, spray the whole bike with bike wash.
Step 5: Wait
If you’re in a hurry, you can skip this step, but if you’re not, this is a good chance to take five minutes, make a cup of tea, and let the bike wash and drivetrain cleaner soak in and do their thing.
Step 6: Rinse
Use the gentle cycle on your hose or a bucket of clean water and rinse the whole bike, drivetrain and all. All the dirt and grease should fall away with the soap, though you might notice some spots you missed and have to give them a quick wipe.
Step 7: Dry
Dry the frame with a microfiber or chamois cloth or, if you don’t have those, paper towels. Be careful with paper towels, though. Little bits of them can get caught in cable routing or drivetrain parts and jam things up. Once the bike is mostly dry, let it sit and dry completely before doing the rest.
Step 8: Lube
It’s very important, once the bike is dry, that you re-lubricate the bike chain. The exact lube you use is a matter of much preference and debate, but most people say to lube a few hours before you ride and to get the entire chain coated. Don’t just wash the grease off and go for a ride though, that’ll age your chain much faster than it needs to.
Step 9: Extra stuff
These aren’t vital for the performance of your bike, but they can be good for long-term longevity and/or sparkling good looks. A bike finish, sprayed over the frame and wiped down, serves like a car wax to protect the paint job (and make it shine). A drivetrain protector will repel dirt and extend the life of your components. And if you’re really doing a full overhaul, it might behoove you to take off brakes, pedals, cranks, bars, and seatposts and give them a dab of grease or carbon paste to keep things moving smoothly. Or not moving, as the case may be.
And that’s it! Of course, you don’t have to do a deep clean every time you wash your bike. Most of the time you can just give the frame a quick wipe down and keep the drivetrain clean. But when it’s been a while and you really want to be thorough, now you have the tools for the job!