Bicycle Cleaning Tips to Keep your Mountain Bike in Top Condition

I used to let my mountain bike get really dirty and grimy before doing a good bicycle cleaning. Not only did my bike shift poorly, but I found out later that all that grit and grime is really bad for all the moving parts and causes faster wear and tear on the drivetrain of the bike.

Another problem with waiting so long to do a bicycle cleaning was that it was a real pain to get my mountain bike clean. I had to use a ton of degreaser and other harsh solvents, which tend to be messy and may not always be very good for your lungs, the environment, or the bike.

Quick Clean the Drivetrain

I have found that if I take 5-10 minutes a couple times a week or after every couple rides to quickly clean the drivetrain, I don't have to use the heavy duty bicycle degreasers very often and when I do a more thorough bicycle cleaning, it is much easier.

No need to put your bike in a stand for this type of bicycle cleaning. Just prop it up against a tree or something so you have access to the side the bike chain is on and your pedals are free to move backwards.

After each ride, I do the following:

  • Wipe off the chain (A) and other parts of the mountain bike drivetrain, including the jockey wheels (B), deraillers (C), cassette (D), and front chain rings (E).

  • bicycle-drivetrain A. Chain

    B. Jockey Wheels

    C. Deraillers

    D. Cassette

    E. Chain Rings

  • To wipe off the bicycle chain (A), I just hold on to the chain with a rag and turn the pedal cranks backwards. Then I wipe off the jockey wheels (B) by squeezing the teeth with the rag while turning the pedals.

  • Next, I quickly wipe off the front and rear derailler (C), cassette (D), and front bike chain rings (E). To get in between the cogs of the cassette, I fold a rag, slip it between the cogs, and move it back and forth sort of in a flossing motion to get rid of any build-up. This also works well for getting between the chain rings.

  • After this quick wipe-down, if the bicycle chain is still dirty, I then put a small amount of bicycle lube on the chain and then wipe it off really good again. This usually takes off the rest of the grime.

  • Finally, I put a little bit of lubricant all the way around the chain again, wipe off the excess, and I am ready to go for next time!

  • If you frequently do this quick bicycle cleaning and lubricating, you don't have to use a lot of lubricant. Overlubricating just causes more dirt to stick to the bicycle chain and clogs up the drivetrain.

Heavy Duty Bicycle Cleaning

It's a good idea to do a more heavy duty bicycle cleaning every few months or whenever your mountain bike has a build-up of grime. I always use a bicycle repair stand like this because I can get the bike up to my level and don't have to strain my back, plus I can turn the pedals and wheels freely. If you don't have a bike stand, you can stand the bike upside-down on its seat and handlebar. Be careful if you do this so you don't scratch the tops of your handlebar. It is a good idea to put a towel or something under the handlebar.

Since you are getting up close and personal with your mountain bike while you are cleaning it, it is a good time to notice areas that may need repair, such as a crack in the frame or other potential malfunctions.

If you do the quick bicycle drivetrain cleaning outlined above after almost every ride and don't overlube the chain, you should be able to do pretty much all of your mountain bike cleaning with the following:

  • Garden hose
  • Bucket of hot water and mild soap
  • sponges and brushes
  • Rags

If you haven't been doing the frequent quick cleaning, you will probably need use a more heavy duty bicycle cleaner on the drivetrain. I don't use bicycle degreasers often, but when I do I tend to use the citrus degreasers because they are easier to dispose of and don't harm the environment. Avoid getting the degreaser on painted areas of your bicycle too much because it can eat away the paint, especially the citrus ones. Some people like to use diesel fuel to get off the grime because it is organic and can be recycled, but there are mixed opinions on whether or not this is good for the bicycle.

  • First, I rinse off my whole mountain bike with a hose. Avoid using a high-pressure sprayer when washing your mountain bike because this forces water into the frame tube and bearings. Just let the water trickle down onto the bike.

  • Then, I scrub the bicycle and wheels with a soapy sponge and use brushes to get into the more difficult places. There are certain types of brushes that are made for cleaning your mountain bike and are shaped in ways to get into the tight corners. I have this Park Tool Brush Set, but the Pedros Pro Brush Kit is also good. It is cheaper than the Park Tool brush set and you get an extra brush and a bag to store the brushes.

  • Taking the wheels off makes it easier to get into little nooks and crannies on the bike. It is also easier to thoroughly clean the cassette on the rear wheel when it is off the bicycle.

  • Lightly spray degreaser on the chain, derailleurs, chainrings and cassette cogs. Brush them with the degreaser until they are clean. Don't put degreaser on the painted parts of your bike unless the directions say it is safe because it can eat away the paint. Avoid getting degreaser in areas where there are seals or bearings or on your shocks or brakes

  • When my bicycle chain is extremely dirty, I use a bike chain cleaner that clips onto the chain. It has a reservoir that holds bicycle degreaser and brushes that scrub the bike chain as you turn the pedals and the chain moves through the cleaner. The Park Tool Chain Gang Cleaning Kit is nice because it includes the degreaser and a brush.

  • You can also take your bicycle chain off and then clean it with solvent, but this takes longer and is much less convenient than using a bike chain cleaner because you have to take the chain apart. If this is not done right, it can cause parts of the bicycle chain to weaken and break. For more detailed information on how to clean your bike chain, please visit our Bicycle Chain Cleaning page

  • bicycle-cleaning

  • Rinse the bike and wheels off with a low pressure hose. I usually use soft rags to dry my bike, using separate ones for the drivetrain. Then I put the wheels back on if I haven't done so already. Make sure the drivetrain is totally dry before lubricating it.

  • After your bike is dry, lubricate the bicycle chain by dripping or spraying lubricant into each of the chain's rollers. Lightly wipe off the excess with a rag. Put a little lubricant into the pivot points of the brakes, derailleurs, and pedals.

  • Wipe off any excess lubricant so it doesn't collect extra dirt.

That's it! Your bicycle cleaning is done and you and your mountain bike are ready to hit the trail!

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