Here's the lowdown on how to keep your bike road bike clean and running smoothly for years to come

When you return home from a tough old slog over the hills and dales, often the last thing you want to do when you get in is clean your bike.

However, without regular cleaning, the drivetrain will become mucky, parts can begin to corrode, and you’re a lot more likely to find you’re struggling with seized components, un-cooperative gears and squeaky brakes.

Cleaning your bike properly takes minutes, but doing so regularly could save you the cost of a whole new groupset later down the line.

How to clean your bike: step by step guide

1. Rinse the frame down

Start by giving the frame a basic wipe. Use a sponge and a bucket of water – don’t be tempted to blast it with a pressure washer as this will force water into the bearings.

Clean your bike after every ride to get the most from it. Photo: Jesse Wild

Image: Jesse Wild

Spray the bike with a bike cleaning product, and leave it for a couple of minutes – see the back of the bottle for the optimum length of time.

Then, with more clean water, use a soft bristled brush to give the bike a scrub.

Don’t ever be tempted to substitute the bike cleaning product and soft brush with washing up liquid and a kitchen sponge – this can result in a scratched or even colour faded frame.

2. Clean the rims and brake pads

Give the rims on your wheels a good wash and wipe, and (if you’re using rim, not disc, brakes) wipe the pads to make sure there’s no crud on there that could erode the braking surface.

3. Use degreaser on the derailleurs and chainset

Next, spray the deraillieurs and chainset with a degreasing agent and give them a good (but gentle) scrub. It may be easier to take the chain off the chainring to do this.

4. Use degreaser on the cassette and chain

Spray more degreaser over the chain and cassette – and give them a scrub. Using a gear brush really helps you to get into the cassette cogs.

If the chain still looks grimy, use a chain cleaner – simply fill the unit with a degreaser, snap it on and rotate the pedal backwards to feed the chain through. Dispose of the degreaser safely when you’re done.

5. Rinse the frame, dry and lube the chain

Rinse the soap suds off the bike, dry the chain with an old rag and apply chain lube to the chain and the pivot points on the derailleurs

Can cleaning your bike properly negate the need for a winter bike?

A lot of riders like to have a winter bike set up for trudging through the driving rain and general muck involved in logging off-season miles. This bike will generally be made from a heavier and cheaper material than the summer beast, and is often fitted with mudguards and puncture dodging resilient tyres.

bicycle mudguards

A traditional winter road bike wears mudguards and is often made of aluminium or steel

The sad truth is that very often these hard working winter bikes receive half as much maintenance attention as our summer ready race bikes. This certainly shouldn’t be the case – the long suffering mile munchers are often experiencing twice as much hardship each week than the thoroughbred race machines will come across all year.

Of course, it’s always worth bearing in mind that if a rider can be dedicated enough to clean their bike after every ride, there’s actually very little need to lug around the trusty winter steed in order to keep the summer bike in good condition.

Unless you’re after the ‘train heavy, race light’ effect or simply want a more comfortable set up for the winter, with a proper cleaning routine in place you could skimp on a winter bike, leaving more cash for buying upgrades and more space for bike storage. Just make sure you can bear to fit mudguards for club runs or risk being very unpopular.

Whichever bike you choose to ride, a wipe after every ride and weekly deep clean will keep it all running smoothly regardless what the weather throws at you both.

Bike cleaning FAQ:

What products do I need to clean my bike?

Use a bucket with water to clean your bike, not a hose

Use a bucket with water to clean your bike, not a hose

  • Bucket – avoid a hose or jet wash
  • Sponge or soft bristled brush (no kitchen scourers!)
  • Gear brush: this has bristles on one end and a serrated plastic on the other, for reaching between the cogs
  • Chain cleaning tool if the chain is very dirty
  • Bike cleaner, degreaser and chain lube

Why should I clean my bike?

Cleaning your bike regularly will help keep it running smoothly, and it also gives you a chance to give the frame and components a quick once over, giving you a much greater chance of spotting potential problems (such as a crack in the frame) before they develop.

Plus, as the video proves, it takes less than seven minutes (even if you stop to explain every step!)

How do I clean the chain on my bike?

As outlined in the ten steps above, the chain needs to be cleaned with a good degreaser. Spray or wipe it on, leave it to soak in, and then wipe off with a rag. Once you’re happy that the chain is clean you can dry it with a clean rag and apply a thin layer of chain lube. Don’t forget to give the same treatment to the chainrings and cassette!

How do I prevent the chain on my bike from rusting?

Dry it down properly after its wash, and apply chain lube. This will prevent rust from building up and will also keep the chain running smoothly.

Can I use WD40/GT85 to clean my bike?

WD40 and GT85 are both degreasers.  They will dislodge thick muck, grime and dirt – so it’s good to use when you’ve got a lot of built up grease on your chain and gears, or a stuck part that’s become rusted. It will get everything looking very shiny. It isn’t a lubricant – so you do need to use a chain lube after use and you shouldn’t get them near your rims or brakes.

For more information on chain lube check out ‘wet or dry: which chain lube should I use?’

Can I clean my bike with baby wipes?

Baby wipes are very mild and therefore won’t do your bike any harm.

They’re great for giving your frame a quick wipe down between proper washes, especially if you don’t have easy access to outside space. They won’t get deep into built up oil as a proper degreaser will so baby-wipe washes shouldn’t replace the proper treatment.

Can I use a pressure washer or hose to clean my bike?

You can – but it’s really not a good idea. The jet will get dirt off the bike, but it’ll also push water into the bearings and cause them to age more quickly.