When you return home from a tough old slog over the hills, 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.
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 derailleurs 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
What you need for cleaning your bike
Finish line brush set
To really clean out all the nooks and crannies specialist brushes are needed. This set from Finish Line has everything you need to sort out those jockey wheels, get at the inside of the driveside crankarm, as well as all those other hard to reach places.
Chain cleaning tool
LifeLine Pro Chain Cleaner
Ian take a copious amount of degreaser alongside some serious elbow grease to make your chain sparkling clean. A dedicated chain cleaner makes the job so much easier and less wasteful. Just pour the used degreaser into a bottle once you’ve cleaned the chain and the sediment should settle to the bottom. So long as you pour carefully - so as not to disturb the sediment - you should be able to reuse the degreaser next time you clean your bike.
Muc-Off Nano Tech Bike Cleaner
This cleaner is safe to use on all parts of your bike and effectively removes all the muck you end up collecting. It’s also bio-degradable, so you won’t be harming the environment with nasty chemicals when cleaning your bike.
Fenwicks Concentrated Bike Cleaner
If you have a large number of bikes to clean, this concentrated cleaner will keep you going. It comes in a litre bottle and dilutes with ten parts water, so you’ll be good for 11 litres of cleaning fluid.
General Cleaner by Guy Martin
This is perhaps the best option for the environment as the cleaning fluid is fully biodegradable and not tested on animals. But what makes this stand out is that no water is shipped, coming with a capsule you pop into the bottle and you fill it with water yourself. Thus it massively reduces its carbon footprint because water is quite heavy and takes a lot of fuel to transport. The cleaner is also safe for use on anodized part, disc brakes and rubber seals.
Muc-Off Chain Cleaner
To cut through the grime of the chain, a dedicated degreaser is often needed. The aerosol can makes it easier to get it in those hard to reach places - just make sure not to be overly enthusiastic when spraying and get it in your bearings.
Degreaser by Guy Martin
This offers the same environmental benefits as the general-purpose cleaner by obviating the need to transport water in lorries. The chemicals themselves are also equally environmentally friendly and vegan-friendly. Coming in a liquid form, it will also work nicely with a chain cleaning tool.
Green Oil Wet Chain Lube
Wet and dry lubes refer to the conditions they should be used in, rather than the consistency of the lubricant itself. As a wet lube, it more viscous and will cling to the chain tenaciously, even in the pouring rain. However, in the dry it will have a greater tendency to attract dust. This lube has been specifically designed to be biodegradable so will not harm the environment when it comes to scrub the chain down and reapply.
Finish Line Teflon Plus Dry Lubricant
As a dry lube, this works by suspending wax in a watery solution. When applied to the chain, the solution will evaporate and leave a waxy film, thus lubricating the chain. It is also very effective at repelling dirt, making it a good choice for dry and dusty riding. It is less durable than wet lube though, so will need more regular applications.
Developed and licensed by the Boeing company, this aviation grade lube combines the best points of both wet and dry lube. It leaves a waxy film after application which repels the dirt, but it won’t get washed off in the rain.
Microfibre Cleaning Cloths
If you don’t dry your bike after cleaning, you risk leaving streaky water marks all over it. A microfibre cleaning towel will avoid this and not leave any lint on your pride and joy.
Faithfull General Purpose Bucket
You probably already have a bucket you can use, but if you don’t, this is a cheap and reliable, no frills option.
All in one kit
Dirtwash Cleaning Bucket Bike Cleaning Kit
If you’re missing most of the items on this list and just want what you need without any fuss, you can get a whole cleaning kit with the products you need all included.
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.
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?
- 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.
Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.
When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.
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