6 steps to properly clean a bicycle

July 28, 2015

Whether your bicycle is a three-speed relic or an expensive mountain bike, keeping it clean makes for longer life and better performance. When you wash your bike, always inspect the tires for wear and tear. Bent rims can create small pinches that grow over time if tires aren't inflated to recommended levels.

6 steps to properly clean a bicycle

1. To make cleaning easier

  • Consider buying a bicycle work stand. It will stabilize the bike as you wash it and let you take off the wheels if you want. Work stands can be bought from bicycle shops.
  • Another alternative is to suspend your bike with ropes from a strong, low-lying tree branch.
  • Leaning the bike against a wall is OK, in a pinch, but makes your work more cumbersome and your bike more likely to topple over.

2. Knock it off

  • Start cleaning a bike by knocking off any visible dirt with a stiff-bristled brush.
  • Then use a garden hose on low pressure to rinse the bike. You want the water to trickle out, rather than spray with force, because water under pressure can force grime into the chain and other moving parts.
  • For the same reason, never use a power washer or put your bike through a car wash.

3. Degrease the drive train

  • The hardest parts to keep clean are the chain and the other parts of the drive train — the pedals, derailleur, rear hub and such — so tackle them first.
  • If it looks as though it's going to be a really dirty job, wear a pair of gloves.
  • Then apply a degreaser, and clean the chain, a few links at a time, using a soft cloth.
  • Move the pedals forward to work on a new section of chain.
  • Once you've cleaned the chain, carefully remove it from the chain ring (also called the chain wheel) — the metal wheel whose pointed teeth keep the chain in place.
  • Using a small screwdriver, carefully remove any caked-on gunk caught between the teeth.
  • Then slip a cloth between them, rubbing it back and forth as if you were flossing your teeth.

4. Now wash the entire bike

  • Use a big sponge and 50 ml (1/4 cup) of dishwashing liquid mixed in a bucket of warm water.
  • Don't forget the seat and its underpinnings, handlebars and handgrips, and make sure you don't miss the brake levers and under the fork that connects the handlebars to the frame.
  • Wash the wheel rims and tires.
  • Gently soap the drive train to remove any residue from the degreaser.
  • Rinse the bike completely with a garden hose and then ride it in the work stand to slough off excess water.
  • Towel off the bike and ride it a few blocks to shake off more water, then towel it off again completely.

5. Lubricate the chain

  • Use an aerosol lubricant, sold at most bicycle shops. Turn the crank backwards as you spray.
  • Lubricant attracts dirt, so use it sparingly and wipe off the excess with a soft cloth.

6. Wax the bicycle

  • Wax a clean bike for much the same reason that you polish a new pair of shoes. The wax protects the bike and deflects dirt, keeping your ride looking good. This applies whether you ride through puddles in your neighbourhood or down a mountain at breakneck speed.
  • Bike waxes, available in paste and liquid form, are sold at any bike shop.
  • Following the instructions, apply wax with a soft cloth, being careful to hit the bike's various tubes, joints and other hard-to-reach spots.
  • Or try an easier approach: Spray your bike with a common aerosol furniture polish that contains wax.
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