mobile repair

How to Clean a Bicycle

                                                        The Bicycle Fixer

                                                           Mobile Bicycle Repair and Service

                                                                  Maple Valley to Mercer Island

                                                                         Seattle to Snoqualmie


Yuk! Bicycle Cleaning

Who really wants to clean a bicycle? I do! Cleaning a bicycle, chain cleaning and washing the rest of your bicycles' drivetrain are the most important things you can do to extend the life of your bicycle parts and check the integrity of your frame, fork and components at the same time. Consider team race mechanics clean bicycles everyday in season. As a professional race mechanic myself, I've had to wash wheels either every day or several times / week of the road racing season for about 6 months plus cleaning bicycles and wheels as a team mechanic for a cyclocross team and that's for another 4+ months in the fall and winter ( bbrrrr!!!)

So maybe you've wondered how to clean a bicycle or how to perform bicycle chain cleaning. Below is picture and list of some commonly used products professional race mechanics use for washing a bicycle. It's not rocket science and you can learn to do this in about 15-20 minutes. Like anything, it takes some practice. 


  •  Bicycle repair stand ( if one isn't available lean the bike against a wall outside )
  •  Bucket of warm sudsy water (Race mechanics like Dawn liquid dishwashing detergent)
  •  2 nylon scrub brushes ( 1 for the wheels, tires, handlebar tape and seat, and one for the cassette and chainrings)
  • 1 round nylon brush that can fit under the saddle and brake calipers
  • Park Tool GSC-1 Gear cleaning brush or some equivalent for cassette gears and front sprocket cleaning
  • Toothbrush, used will do (They’re also good for spreading tubular glue on rims)
  • Simple Green cleaner (bicycle chain cleaner or other water soluble cleaner)
  • Chain Keeper (see pic of homemade version below. An old hub with a set of cogs on it will also work. Also available is the Pedro’s Keeper for about $20.
  • Hose or bucket of clean water
  • Car washing sponge
  • Old clean towel, rags and polishing cloth
  • Flat file (to clean rim brakeshoe faces)
  • Pledge spray polish (note: Finish Line Showroom Polish is Pledge). For frames with a matte finish, use high percentage (at least 70% 90 is better) isopropyl alcohol to clean the frame/fork 
  • WD-40. Yes, WD-40


So the question is "how to clean a bicycle?" Place your bicycle in the bicycle repair stand. Shift to the big ring in front and 2nd or 3rd smallest cog in back (smallest if using Pedro’s keeper). Remove the wheels and place chain keeper in rear dropouts (see pic). If you own a bike with a rear thru-axle then buy a Park Tool DH-1 Dummy Hub (cost about $26) or use the thru-axle. First, mist the whole bike with water. Spray original Simple Green cleaner on the chain, chainring(s), derailleurs and brake calipers. Do not spray near bearings! Leave chain on big ring. Let soak. Note: if you clean your bike regularly just spray some WD-40 on a rag, run the chain through the rag a few times. That should remove the vast majority of old chain lube. Note for disc brake-equipped bikes, keep all bicycle chain degreaser away from the brakeshoes.  


Grab a nylon brush or cassette cleaning tool brush and scrub cassette/freewheel with Simple Green cleaning solution. Simple Green HD is the best but will discolor titanium cogs over time (and possibly make them brittle). Use the sponge or hose to rinse off the cassette. If the cassette doesn't come up clean after this apply Simple Green once more and scrub with the brush. Using a hose with a nozzle can force water or the dirty degreaser into your hub and/or the cassette body so just rinse lightly.  Don't be too concerned if it doesn't sparkle. If there's still some buildup of junk between the cogs, the toothed end of a gear brush like the Park Tool GSC-1 will help remove most of it.

Do not rinse with a high pressure stream! Wet the wheels, take the clean nylon brush and scrub the tire sidewalls and rims with the soapy water. Rinse lightly and inspect for cuts in the tread. Bicycle tires encounter everything the riding environment and weather can throw at them so inspection of the tires is crucial. In fact, an inspection after a ride is not a bad idea. If the cuts are shallow and only a few millimeters long, keep an eye on them after each ride.  If you find any glass shards or something similar, you can remove them with tweezers. If the tire loses air after this, remove the tire and tube, inspect the cut on the inside of the casing and replace the tube and tire as needed (knobby tires as those used in cyclo-cross and on mountain bikes hide fine wire very well so you might have to run your hand inside the tire casing a few times to find the culprit).  If the hub shells and spokes are dirty you can wash them with a round brush(see pic), rinse, knock the wheels tires lightly against the ground to remove most of the water, then set the wheels aside with the cassette leaning towards the ground.

Return to the frame and start with cleaning the bicycle chain and chainrings with the undiluted Simple Green (or a 4/1 solution of Simple Green HD). Place that old toothbrush (or Scotchbrite pad) on the lower, inner run of the chain and turn the cranks several times to clean away the old lube, road grime/aluminum oxide mix . Also scrub the side-plates. They don’t have to be perfect. If you have fenders like the bike in the lower pic, just spray the undersides with Simple Green and use the drivetrain brush to loosen the dirt and residual junk.Scrub the chainrings with the brush used on the cassette (or the Scotchbrite pad). For the tight spot behind the crankarm, use a small brush or the GSC-1. Use a toothbrush or a small bottle brush to clean the inside cage plates and linkage of the front derailleur and the linkage and pulleys of the rear derailleur. Rinse the drivetrain but do not use a high pressure stream. You just want to rinse off the dirty degreaser.

Grab the sponge from the soapy bucket and clean the frame from the top down. Take the clean brush and scrub the top of the saddle, bar tape, then the bar and stem. Use a small, round brush to clean under the saddle and under the brake calipers.  Use a nylon brush to go over the brake caliper arms.

It’s best to use warm soapy water on the bar tape. Even white handlebar tape can come back fairly clean. Brush the tape back and forth (sideways will start to tear or curl the tapes edges). The other option here is spray the tape with Simple Green then scrub with the clean brush.

Once you’ve cleaned everything, rinse the bike lightly with a hose or use another large sponge and wring out clean water over the frame and components. Wipe with the old clean towel.  You can lightly mist the chain with WD-40 to help dispel the water. A trick here for bicycle racers. If you're racing in a stage race and clean your bicycle after each stage, if the next stage is a criterium or very short circuit race in dry weather, do not lube the chain with your everyday lube at this point but run the chain through a rag to remove any leftover junk. The next morning lightly apply the WD-40 one more time. Wipe off the excess and go race. The WD-40 will work as a chain lube quite sufficiently for a few hours and make chain cleaning easier later. A note about using WD-40 as a bicycle chain lube, mechanics abhore the use of WD-40 as a chain lube. I'm not suggesting using it as a replacement for your regular chain lube. Use dry chain lube for drier conditions and a wet lube guessed it, wet, harsher conditions. Personally, i use dry lube all the time but then I'm a bit of an idealist and keep my chain chains clean by wiping them off often.

While you’re at it look at the brakeshoe faces for small imbedded chunks of metal/grit (some shoes are worse than others at picking up road junk).  The brakeshoe faces will look black (if the shoes are other than black to start with) due to aluminum oxide picked up from aluminum rims.  You can use sandpaper (or a flat file) to clean the brakeshoe surfaces. If you don’t, it can make brakes eventually squeal and eat away at the brake track surface of the rim until it prematurely fails.

Now, spend some time looking over the entire bicycle frame, especially around the bottom bracket where the chainstays and down tube/seat tube are attached to the bottom bracket shell. If you see anything that looks like a crack or the start of one, spray that spot with the Simple Green and wipe it again. If it’s surface dirt or leftover sticky drink, it will go away. Maybe it’s just a crack in the paint but if you can’t be sure bring the bike it to a qualified bicycle shop mechanic to look it over. A bike shop can link up with the bicycle frame manufacturer to see if it’s a possible warranty issue.

If everything looks good, install the wheels. Remember those disc brake rotors, now is a good time to wipe them off using clean rag sprayed with Isoprpyl alcohol. It's not a bad idea to check your bicycles chain wear also. Shift chain to small rear gear and also on large front sprocket. Use a Park CC-2 or CC-3.2 or similar chain wear checker. If it's worn replace it (0.5% -.75% wear), otherwise lube the chain. Use drip type chain lube (no spray) on both sides of every other link on the inside lower run of the chain. If any drips onto a rim or tire, wipe away immediately. Spin the cranks backward slowly several times. The lube will be picked up by the sprocket teeth and allow the rest of the chain to be lubed. This is also a good time to add chain lube to the gap between the rear derailleur pulleys and the pulley plates (steel covers). You'll probably get some bicycle chain lube on the frame or rear wheel so wipe it off . There's absolutely no need to over lube.  Drip the chain lube onto any pivot of the brake calipers and derailleurs, let soak and wipe away excess.  If you have derailleur cable housing barrel adjusters on the downtube add a spot of grease or anti-seize to them. Turn the bike over in the stand and drip some chain lube into the bottom bracket cable guides. Again, wipe away excess lube.  If the frame, fork and parts are still a bit wet, use an old towel to wipe away any excess water. You're finished! And that's how to clean a bicycle! 



A clean bicycle



A quick ride of a few blocks will help remove any leftover moisture on the bike.  About every 3-5 washes, mark your seat-post height with electricians tape, remove the seatpost and apply grease to the post and reinsert into frame. Use a torque wrench to measure torque of seatpost bolt. If the frame/seatpost is ti or carbon then read the directions on applying carbon paste or anti-seize to seatposts.  Now go enjoy your ride!

If after reading this you’d rather have someone else do it or just don’t feel you have enough time, please contact me through the website contact page or call me at 253-486-7468. I would love to help you take care of your bicycle. The costs are on the website “service and rates” page. If you have any comments, questions or tips to post, feel free to do so on my Facebook Business Page.  If you’d like to see me do this on a YouTube or Facebook video let me know.          


The Bicycle Fixer


Safety ~ Efficiency ~ Enjoyment


It's Your Bike!

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