Cleaning your bike after a ride can feel like a buzz kill but it doesn’t have to take forever. Follow these tips and you’ll get the job done quickly without damaging your bike.
1. Get your mountain bike dirty
One of the reasons people end up doing more damage than good while washing their mountain bike is because they wash it too frequently. Just because there is a little speckling of dirt on the down tube does not mean you need to bust out the scrub brushes… it’s a mountain bike people. But if your bike is truly dirty, give it a bath.
2. Find a place to wash it
For many people who own homes, this is easy: just haul out the garden hose and get washing. But for those of us who live in an apartment or who live the nomadic mountain biking dream, finding a hose isn’t always so easy.
Nowadays, many of the popular purpose-built mountain biking trail systems have a bike wash stand right at the trailhead: this is perfect! If your favorite trail doesn’t have a wash stand I suggest heading on over to your local bike shop. Most shops are more than happy to let you wash your bike for free. (If they aren’t, it might be time to find a new LBS.)
3. Find some brushes and rinse
Purchasing a brush set is relatively inexpensive, and if you are already heading to the LBS to wash your bike, why not buy one while you’re there.
Use the hose to rinse the mud off of your bike as best you can. In order to avoid ruining your rig, don’t spray high pressure water into areas that have bearings. The water can work its way in and wash the grease out.
You will notice 2 things in the photo below:
a) I am standing back away from the bike so the pressure isn’t too great.
b) This is just a normal hose, not a high pressure system (as compared to say the coin-operated car wash).
As I move in closer toward the bike and focus on the components, I reduce the pressure even more to turn the spray into more of a mist.
Bust out those brushes pictured above and scrub your bike down. I recommend the big brush for the frame, the medium-sized brush with hard bristles for hard-to-reach places, and the small brush for components, especially the chain and cassette.
You can choose to use soap if you would like, as it will definitely help with greasy, hard to clean areas. However, if I’m aiming for a quick wash in under 15 minutes, I’ll skip the soap and just scrub and use water. It still works pretty well.
Make sure to get all of the hard-to-reach areas.
5. Clean the chain
Having a clean frame is nice, but where it really counts is with your drivetrain and other moving parts. Take special care to clean the chain well.
6. Clean the cassette and other components
Be sure to get all of the grime out of the cassette, and clean the chain rings and derailleurs carefully as well.
7. Skip the tires
Part of our goal is to get the bike clean in the shortest amount of time possible. Toward that end, skip scrubbing the tires. I will usually spray them down with the hose to knock the muck off, but I won’t bother scrubbing and detailing them. Really, what would be the point? The tires are the first thing to get dirty again, and having a little red stain from the local clay is not going to affect performance at all.
Focus on more important parts like the drivetrain.
Take care to dry your mountain bike off. If I’m going quickly, I usually focus on the chain, components, and other moving parts, and I bump my bike side-to-side in an effort to knock the water out of the heads of the bolts so that they don’t rust.
Immediately after you think your bike is adequately dry, do a full lube-job. Make sure to lube the chain well, in addition to all of the other moving parts such as your derailleurs. Be sure to wipe away the excess lube after it has had a few minutes to soak in.
10. Get your mountain bike dirty
Mountain bikes aren’t meant to be looked at or ridden on the pavement–they are supposed to be lovingly abused on a dirty singletrack trail! Go ride, get dirty, and go back to step #2!
Following this method, washing my bike usually takes under 15 minutes, with the lube job taking an additional 5 or so. This is fast, simple, and crucial to keeping your bike in good operating condition.
How do you go about washing your bike?
Good article! Thanks for the tips much appreciated
Great tips. After looking at your photos I think I need to pick up a set of bike brushes – the old toothbrushes and sink scrubbers just aren’t meant to get in those hard to reach areas on a bike. I’ve also always wondered why my bolt heads rust so quickly – probably because I end up with water sitting in them after a wash like you mentioned.
I’m curious to know how often others do a full drivetrain clean – taking the chain and cassette off. It seems like the only way to get all the grease and grit out of a chain is to soak it in degreaser… Seems like I end up doing this every 300 miles or so.
I use a powerlink on my chain so I take the chain totally off before I wash it down so I don’t rust it up with water. Wipeing it down with a rag normally takes care of enough of the dirt on the outside of the chain and a quick lube job every 4-5 rides keeps the rollers nice and quiet. 200-300 miles would be a fair guess at how often I actually fully degrease the chain. But, I try to not do this too often. It really makes the chain noisy since it breaks down the grease inside the chain rollers and no matter what lube I use, nothing seems to work as well (quietly and long lasting) as the original grease that comes with the chain. I just wish SRAM and Shimano didn’t put it ALL OVER new chains. No need to have it on the outside of the plates.
I use a chain cleaning device (Park Tool) filled with Simple Green. Works great because the chain moves and flexes as it rolls through the brushes in the cleaning device to get all the grime out better – and you don’t need to remove the chain from your bike! I heard that some people use petroleum based fluid (kerosene or mineral spirits) to avoid rust, but Simple Green works well and is definitely easier to dispose of…
I just rinse my bike off with a water hose. Do a few bunny hop to get water out. And the lube the chain and derailleurs with tri-flow. Really cheap stuff that works. No fancy tools here. Although I do take my chain off every 3 months and put it in an old peanut butter jar with some mineral spirits and shake it up. Then in one with just water until nothing come off. Then I lube it up again! Keeps it clean!
A good tip to include is a spray on wax (avoiding the rotor) and go over the frameset, then towel off…It helps keep the dirt accumulation to a minimum while riding.
@Element – I’ve seen people spraying cooking oil on their bikes before muddy races. For general protection I’ve heard of people using Pledge furniture polish, spray on a rag, wipe onto frame.
eeesh, I recently took my bike to a car wash, I heard using high pressure wasn’t good for bikes, but I felt I had no choice since I didn’t know anyone nearby with a house to wash it and didn’t think of checking bike shops, and I kinda had to wash it before bringing it back into my apartment. I had just ridden in the rain and this trail was extremely muddy, ride didn’t last long because of it, really fine mud was deep into my gears, chain, couldn’t even pedal anymore, completely coveringing the tires, so I figured I had to use the high pressure wash to get it all out, it was really sticky too and hard to get off the bike even with high pressure, so I hope I didn’t mess up anything :/ The bike is 7 years old though so I wouldn’t mind getting a new one 🙂 Although it’s still in amazing shape so I should be more careful with it. Either way, I’ll try avoiding high pressure next time, thanks for the reminder!
As for water pressure, I set my garden hose nozzle to the ‘shower’ setting, and it works great without being too harsh.
LOL, what Goo said….I have to really work at it to get mine dirty. Usually the worst of it is the powerade on my downtube.
For a while I was cleaning a lot! Seems like when you have a new bike you want to keep it clean. But now, every couple rides or so I usually take a wet cloth to my stanchions and dropper seatpost and do a quick dry brush to the components and that’s it. I do a full wash every couple months or so, taking off the chain and cassette. I use Krud Kutter for my chain it works really well. Good brushes do make the cleaning process much easier.
My bike and chain usually get a through cleaning 4-5 times a year. Chain seems to last as long as everyones else’s. I try not to get it muddy, but have used car washes (carefully), and can do a descent job with a 1 gal jug of water. A water bottle makes a good squirter for hard to reach places. Just gave the tires a good rinse by riding through flooded closed roads in OH. I feel for those of you in the never quit raining areas. Looks like it’ll be summer before the trails get really dry. Well at least can put the bike washing tips to good use.
I usually spray it down using the shower setting as well on my hose’s nozzle. I have not used any soap or wax on it but it currently dirty and has been for quite a few rides. I like the dirty look on the mountain bike!
I’ve had two of those chain cleaning devices and won’t go back to them. The brushes just get gunked up quickly and smear the grease and grime around no matter what type of degreaser or cleaner I used.
For everyone that mentioned cleaning fork stantions: good point. I always try to do that, and I probably should have specifically mentioned that in the main article. Guess I was kind of lumping that in with “The cassette and other components.”
@GoldenGoose, Thanks for weighing in. I’ll bear that in mind…
No problem man, glad to be of service!
I do pretty much the same as goo. However, if you can’t get a majority of the fine crap out of the Cassette/Derailleurs, an air compressor does wonders in blowing that stuff out of hard to reach places. That is, if you have one or have a good friend that would let you use his, for a beer or two, of course. I use mine abd will blow out the chain, cassette, Rings, derailleur parts etc. You would be suprised at how much comes out. A couple of short puffs and it gone.
@muttonmark, That’s a great idea! Unfortunately, like you alluded to, must of us don’t have access to a good compressor…. unless you’ve got a legit shop set up in your garage!
Thanks for the tips.. :)…
Going to put it to use before i leave this weekend. 🙂
@mtbgreg1, come on over to michigan, bring me a few bottles of Fat Tire or Yuengling Lager, and we’ll get you taken care of. Plus, there is nothing like swapping “tales of the trail” while enjoying some barely pops with some good company.
@JAtrailing, No problem!
@muttonmark, Maybe someday! Do you live in da UP or the mitten? My family is in Central WI, and I’ve really been wanting to do some riding up near Marquette and Copper Harbor.
Great idea muttonmark. I have a 13 CFM air compressor with me all the time.
@mtbgreg1, I’m in da mitten, no? Mid-Michigan. Mostly flat trails with plenty of obstacles to make up for the lack of incline. I hear Marquette has some good trails, in fact I may be in a race up there in August, but I guess Copper Harbor is the place to be…Ride on brotha!!!
I usually clean my bike with a presser washer…good or bad?
Amazing information. Just what I was looking for!
Awesome, glad I could help, Jarrett!
I have been riding about 7 years now and I got kind of slack on cleaning and maintenance. This article is a really good reminder to do things that we know we should do…but often don’t! This is an older post I realize but thanks for the good tips.
I’m glad you found it a good reminder! And it’s ok if you comment on an old post, I always appreciate the encouragement 🙂
I keep my bike inside my truck sleeper, so it has to be fairly clean though I rap it up in a tarp. If it’s just got a little spatter I like baby wipes. I use compressed air too. 🙂
Some car washes have a “Dog Wash” and I was wondering if they would let me hose off. I’ll report back.
Is there any concern about getting soap on brake pads or rotors? My buddy says he had to take his bike in and have the brake pads repaired after they got soap on them during a wash.
Not that I’m aware of, but I could be wrong. What you DEFINITELY don’t want to get on your rotors is any kind of grease or oil. Keep the chain lube far away!
Another note on the air compressor. I hose everything off. If I’m feeling motivated I’ll use brushes. The only thing I really clean well and put any time and care into is the drivetrain. After everything is washed, I dry the drivetrain, bolt heads, petals, hubs, brakes, etc with a pancake compressor – which is easy and small to store and you can pick up new for 150 or so, and can normally find used on craigslist or a pawnshop for 20-80.00, depending on how new and pretty you want it to be. Great tool for drying. Then oil.
I wash mine with a mix of Simple Green and Meguires original car wash, using the water hose on shower. Lightning chain cleaning tool with Simple Green ($1.79 a bottle). Then bust out the compressor (thank you wife!!) and dry out all the small places and harware where water can sit. Then lube up real nice. I use the Lightning Dry Wax for the chain, love that stuff! I have used some polishes just to protect in the past, but that is once in a while. Speaking of which, I need to wash mine.
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Well it takes me about two hours. Take the wheels off, then wipe down the entire bike with WD 40 using paper towels/ kitchen roll, Spray the crank set with it, get into all the nuts and bolts with it, then wipe that all off. Then i’ll do the rims, spokes, hubs and cassette whilst avoiding the brake discs by wrapping them up in a plastic bag. I’ll spray the cassette with WD 40 whilst brushing it until all the grease and grime is gone. After all that i’ll lube the parts that need it with whatever i’ve got, it’s asually muc off wet lube.
So WD 40 is a little sticky. But wiping off the excess doesn’t hurt. And it leaves the bike looking nice and shiny !.
I’ll wipe down the frame maybe twice a week in the same way, but everything else maybe once a fortnight. Depends on how the weathers been. If it’s been raining, as soon as i get home with it i’ll dry the bike off and clean the whole thing, including lubricating everything.
The bike is a neon green Cube LTD 29er. And it looks totally awsome when it’s clean. And it still looks as good as new.
I do all this this often because i know from experience what water can do to all the exposed metal parts of a bike. I tend not to go out in the rain, but sometimes i’ll get caught out in it.
I’ve approved your comment since you’re free to disagree, however I have to respond and say that I think this is some of the worst advice I’ve ever read. WD40 attracts dirt instead of repelling it, and is therefore horrible for use anywhere on your bike! Even if you towel it off afterward, as you mentioned, it still leaves a sheen.
And if you apply it and then try to remove it all, exactly what is the point? It seems to me that you’re wasting about 2-4 hours of your life every week doing this. But if it floats your boat, so be it.
well those tips where excelent i got told by my local bike store that i clean my bike too much haha so those tips where quite helpfull 🙂
My bike is a 15 year old 2000 Specialized Enduro, with well over 30k miles on it. It still runs like new so I think I’m doing something right (Being a bike mechanic also helps). I usually skip using any kind of soap/detergent on my rig. With post clamped into bike stand, I just wet everything down gently with a hose, wait about 5min, then come back and hit it with the hose again. I do use a more powerful stream for derailleurs, cassette, chain, and rings (I really blast the lower chain with stream pointing down away from bike), taking great care not do directly spray at any bearings. I then take the bike off stand and bounce it on back tire several times, then put it back on the stand and let it dry in the sun. On cloudy days, I use a leaf blower to dry it off-again being careful not to point directly at bearings. After bike is dry, I use some paper towels to get any remaining residue/water off the rotors and chain, and and use an old towel to wipe down the stantions, frame, and rims. I lube a couple of hours later, to ensure everything is really dry. I use Boesheild T-9 bike lube. Works great for chain (esp. for wet/cold climates), mech pivots, cable, and even as a frame polish (just use just a little lube, it goes a long way, and make sure it completely dries to touch-else it will just attract dirt). If I’ve been on several really muddy rides, I remove the chain and soak it in mineral spirits, and rotate a clean one on to the bike.
I recently picked up a $20 sprayer at the hardware, 1-gal capacity, sold for applying sealer to decks and masonry… it came with a fan-spray nozzle but other than that, is identical to sprayers sold for garden use.
Works great for rinsing the bike off right at the trailhead, while the mud/grit is still wet, and the spray intensity is easily adjustable and just about perfect for dislodging dirt but not blasting through bearing seals. A gallon of water (I suppose you could add soap but no need to) does one bike easily and could probably do two with a little restraint.
I’ve found that mud on the bike is like poison oak on the skin, the sooner you can get it off the less grief you’re going to have later. It’s amazing how easily mud washes off while it’s still wet, and how slow it is to re-soften later after it’s dried and hardened.
Using a dry/wax based lube helps big time on keeping the drivetrain clean, no more need to degrease!
I rarely bother with cleaning my bike. Every now and then I’ll brush off the chain and wipe down the fork stanchions, but it’s rare I actually clean off the frame. Dirt on the frame aint hurting anything.
@Dustin Gaddis, I’ve found that it really depends on the area that you live in. When I lived on the Front Range, I rarely cleaned my bike either. But here in north georgia, there are streams and springs all over the place, and the red clay gets everywhere and just sticks to components!
As for the big chain cleaner machine, I’ve seen those and I really want one, but they cost $$…