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One of the questions we see very often—especially among newbie MTBers—is, “How do I wash my bike?” It’s not as hard as you might think, though there are a few words of caution necessary to ensure your bike stays in tip-top shape. Make no mistake, mountain bikes are hardy pieces of modern engineering and they’re made to get dirty. Don’t be afraid to get out there and get rowdy, and don’t feel ashamed if you don’t clean your bike at the end of every ride.
1. Set Up a Wash Station
The obvious first step is setting up a place to wash your bike. You can go as basic or as fancy as you’d like here—either use a purpose-built bike repair stand or simply lean it up against the nearest wall or tree. There’s no right way to create a wash station—though some might argue there are wrong ways—just do what works for you and fits your budget.
Beyond a place to wash the bike you’ll need some pretty basic equipment: a bucket, dish soap, brushes and rags, and a hose with a sprayer attachment. Again, you can go as high or low tech as you want here when it comes to the types of brushes and cleaning implements you use. Some of us just use and old toothbrush or simple bottle scrubber to get into the tight places around and frame and drivetrain, while others prefer to go all out with something like Park Tool’s Chain Gang Cleaning System. You really can’t go wrong either way.
If you want to take your cleaning to the next level, ditch the dish soap and grab you some bike-specific cleaner such as Muc-Off.
2. Washing the Frame and Wheels
Have you ever hand-washed a car? Washing your bike is essentially the same procedure. You’ll start by spraying the entire bike down, using low- to medium-water pressure to knock off as much of the worst grime and mud off of your frame, wheels, and components. Just make sure you remove anything you don’t want to get soaked such as your seat bag and frame pump. If you don’t want to get your saddle too wet, just don’t spray it down.
Caution: Be especially careful about spraying water into any part of your bike that has bearings—your bottom bracket and wheel hubs. Don’t use high-pressure water, and try not to spray water directly into the bottom bracket, hub ends, or anywhere else with a bearing seal.
Just like washing a car, squirt some dish soap into your bucket and fill it with water. Now get ready to use the brushes and rags you have on hand to suds up your bike. Just be sure to not use a brush with hard or super-stiff bristles on your frame or any other part of the bike that could get scratched. Lather your trusty bike up, scrub all the dirt and grime off, and rinse it clean.
When it comes to the wheels and tires, just be as fastidious as you choose. If you want to scrub the knobs of your tires clean go for it, just realize that cleaning the tires isn’t all that necessary unless you’re also taking the time to inspect your tread and search for potential problems like punctures or cracks in the sidewalls.
Once you’re satisfied that you’ve cleaned your bike as best you can, hose it down one more time and get all that soap off.
Not sure what some of the words in this article mean? Be sure to check out our Glossary of MTB Terms and Slang.
3. Cleaning the Drivetrain
Now we come to the drivetrain—collectively the front chainrings, the chain, derailleurs, and the cassette. It’s ok if you’ve already soaped up and rinsed off these parts, we’re going to give them a little bit deeper clean.
First up, it’s a good idea to spray the drivetrain down with a degreaser. Again, you can use a specialty bike chain degreaser like WD-40 Bike, but we prefer something you can get at almost any store such as Purple Power. Degreasers are simple solvents that help remove excess grease and oil from your drivetrain. Spray the degreaser onto the gears and chain, then use a brush with long bristles to get down in between the sprockets, teeth, and chain links.
Be careful to not overspray and get degreaser on your brake rotors or pads as this can make the brake’s surfaces slick and—at least temporarily—lessen your stopping power.
Once you’ve fully degreased and cleaned the drivetrain, hose the entire area off one more time. Feel free to soap the drivetrain up one more time to get it extra clean before rinsing.
4. Drying it All Off
Now that your bike is all shiny and clean it’s time to dry it off. Let’s keep it simple here folks. Unless you’re worried about water spotting, just let the thing air dry in the sun. Alternatively, you could wipe it down with a soft cloth or towel, or if you really want to expedite the process you can blow it dry with a leaf blower or a compressor-powered air gun.
If conditions are cloudy or not all that warm, you’ll probably want to go ahead and wipe the bike down to prevent rust from setting in. If that’s the case, focus on the chain and other moving parts. You can also pick your bike up a foot or so off the ground and drop it onto the tires a few times to knock water out of places you can’t easily reach with a cloth.
5. Lubing it Up
Once the drivetrain is completely dry, make sure you re-lube your bike chain. If you haven’t already, choose a lube that’s made for the conditions in which you typically ride. Check with your local bike shop to find out what’s best for you. WD-40 is not a lube, it’s a solvent/degreaser. Do not use WD-40 as chain lube (although WD-40 DOES make bike-specific lube products).
Shake your chosen lube’s bottle as directed, then apply a thin layer to the chain as you backpedal. One time around is probably good enough for an application. After you’ve gotten the lube on the whole chain, keep backpedaling for several more rotations to work the lube into the chain. If you have the bike hanging from a work stand or something similar, crank the pedals forward and shift up and down through the gears to lube the cassette and chainrings.
Wipe off any excess lube with a clean rag by backpedaling again while you hold the rag lightly against the chain. This step is just as important as cleaning your drivetrain because excess lube will make grime build up on the chain more quickly.
6. Go Get Dirty!
Now that your bike is clean, there’s only one thing left to do: go ride it! Seriously, we don’t clean our bikes to keep them showroom fresh, we clean them to extend the life of the frame and components. Your bike was made to get dirty, so do your duty and go shred your favorite trail.
For a deeper look at washing your bike, check out this great video from GMBN:
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!