Cleaning your bike will help to keep it running smoothly. It will be easier to pedal and change gear, and your brakes will be more effective.
If you use your bike for short trips in the dry, you won’t need to clean it often at all. The more you ride, the more frequently you’ll need to clean it.
Use hot water (as hot as you can manage) and car shampoo. Some people use washing up liquid or other detergent, but it contains salt which can damage the bike.
Start at the top of the bike and work your way down. Use an old sponge or washing up cloth to wash the bike. Use a small scrubbing brush to clean parts that aren’t easy to wipe down. Use an old toothbrush or nail brush to get to difficult areas. Pulling a cloth through parts can also be a good way to get to hard to reach places. Use a small flat-bladed screwdriver to remove build-up on the jockey wheels.
You might find it easier to remove the wheels before cleaning, and clean them separately. While you can get to the underside of the mudguards, clear out all the muck that builds up there.
It’s a good idea to wash your tyres, especially if your bike lives indoors. It’s easier to spot flints or bits of glass embedded in the tread if your tyres are clean; remove embedded objects with a pointy thing to help prevent future punctures. Give the wheel rims a good scrub because if you leave them dirty a bit of added moisture will turn it into a grinding paste that will eventually wear them out.
If you have the wheels out it’s an opportunity to thoroughly scrub the brake blocks so that any bits of grit or aluminium don’t damage the rims next time you apply the brakes.
Use cloths and old towels to remove as much water as you can to prevent rust. Be as thorough as you can with the chain. Go back to the bike a little later and towel down the chain again having moved the pedals. This will help prevent water pooling at the lowest point of the chain (especially important if you store your bike vertically). You might need to oil your chain afterwards especially if you use a dry lubricant.
To finish the job off, consider applying car wax to the painted parts of the frame to protect the paint and help keep your bike clean.
Note that if you have air suspension, remove as much dust and debris as you can from the barrel above the shock absorber. This will help prevent scratching which would reduce the life of your suspension.
Using a hose
If all you want to do is get some muck off after a muddy ride, you can hose your bike down. It’s much easier to clean the bike if you do it straight away than if you leave the mud to dry.
Don’t be tempted to use a power washer or even a jet nozzle on a hose. They are very effective and fast. But they can damage components and will eventually start stripping the paint from your frame.
In any case, don’t spray water onto the bearings. This can ruin the wheel. The same applies to the bottom bracket. Best to use a hose to get some of the surface muck off and don’t try to do a complete job. Use the routine cleaning method we describe above to perform a more thorough clean.
Use cloths and old towels to remove as water as you can to prevent rust. Be as thorough as you can with the chain. Go back to the bike a little later and towel down the chain again having moved the pedals. This will help prevent water pooling at the lowest point of the chain (especially important if you store your bike vertically). You might need to oil your chain afterwards especially if you use a dry lubricant.
WD40 can be very useful for getting water and muck off your chain and for getting grease off other components. However, it can cause problems:
- It is advertised as a lubricant, but it is inappropriate for oiling your chain. You need to use specialist chain lubricant to look after your chain properly.
- WD40 includes a degreaser that can remove lubricant from your chain. You should consider re-lubricating the chain after cleaning it with WD40.
- If you get WD40 on brake pads or the parts they contact, you can reduce their effectiveness. You should not therefore spray WD40 on your bike. Instead spray it into a cloth (you might want to wear gloves) and use the cloth to apply the WD40.
For a really filthy bike...
… there are specialist bike cleaning fluids and aerosols. But hot water with added car shampoo, and WD40 for any tough stuff will usually do a good job.