How To Clean Your Mountain Bike

Clean your mountain bike.
Clean your mountain bike regularly. © roy.susan via Flickr

Cleaning a mountain bike sounds daunting. But it's actually not that hard. A mountain bike doesn't need to sparkle in the sunlight; it's just going to get dirty the next time the sun is out anyway. But a regular cleaning routine can prevent problems down the road. Plus, a clean bike will last longer and improve performance.

Prepare For a Dirty Job

Cleaning your bike is a messy job! Don't even think about wearing your favorite shirt—or any shirt you don't want covered in grime.

Putting on a shop apron and rubber gloves isn't a bad idea, either. Oh, and if you thought you could do this inside four walls, you thought wrong. Unless you're in an area where black grease won't look out of place.

Collect Cleaning Supplies

Before you get to scrubbing, make sure you have the appropriate supplies. Park Tool recommends the following materials:

  • Bicycle cleaning brush
  • Repair stand
  • Chain scrubber
  • Degreasing solvent
  • Chain lubricant
  • Rags and sponges
  • Two buckets
  • Biodegradable dishwashing liquid
  • Water hose

Both buckets should be filled with hot water as warmer temperatures will clean the bike better. Dishwashing liquid should be mixed into one of these buckets. As you clean your bike more often, you'll be able to decide which tools from the list above you can't live without.

Scrub, Scrub, Scrub

Clumps of mud, leaves, sand and other grime should be wiped clean from your bike after every ride.

Why? It can destroy drivetrains, brakepads and shifting. Plus it's heavy, and if you're like me, you want to shed every possible pound before shreddin' the trail.

After obvious souvenirs from the trail are removed from your bike, place the bike in a repair stand if you have one, wipe the whole rig down with soapy water and apply degreaser to the drivetrain.

Removing the wheels will allow you to clean areas that are typically unseen. Brushes, rags and sponges should be used to get rid of mud and other grit. Just remember to gently scrub your bike down. You don't want to damage your paint job!

Don't neglect your chain and rear cassette. You can either manually clean the chain by gently scrubbing with a brush (a toothbrush works well for this) and water right where it meets the rear cassette, or use an on-the-bike cleaning machine, which clips over the lower part of the chain and bathes the chain in solvent. Backpedal the chain through a rag drenched in degreaser once it's scrubbed clean.

Wash all areas of the bike down with a biodegradable soapy water mix. Then rinse it down with a hose. Note: high pressure water hoses are NOT safe to spray your bike with. Use a garden hose on a gentle setting and don't spray water into the bearings.

Lube & Grease

Once your bike is dry, your chain, cables, levers, shifters, derailleur pulleys, pivot points and brake bosses need to be lubricated. So as not to invite more dirt for a ride, wipe off any excess lube after application.

Give your bike a little grease at this point too. Pay attention to the pedals and seat post.

Remove both the pedals and seat post, then apply the grease where metal makes contact with metal. In the case of the pedals, grease is applied to the threads that screw into the crank arms. 

Tip: Don't have a repair stand? Don't worry! Just lay your bike against a wall, hang the seat over a thick tree branch to suspend it in the air or use a bike rack.