The Dirt on Riding:  Bike Cleaning 101

By Mark Burke….Those that know me know that I’m a bit of a clean freak.  Jeff Coup kept reminding me yesterday that my bike was getting dirty.  Thinking about the finer details of bike washing may put me in the slightly crazy bucket, but I can live with that.  Thinking about the small details is part of the enjoyment of the sport for me. Mountain bikers aren’t the only ones who need to think about bike washing.  In fact, the big, clunky dirt that collects on your frame, isn’t the worst kind of dirt.  But, getting ride of it, is a big part of making your bike more appealing to own and ride (at least for me).  


Here’s my bike washing setup.  It’s just one of many ways to do the job.  If it helps anyone, great. I am sure other members have tons of great ideas as well.  So, ask around.

First, a good bike stand is a must.  Considering the investment we make in our bikes, a work stand is a cheap but much needed investment.  Other tools:

  1. Hose.  In the winter, I have a short section that’s easy to drain to avoid freezing. 
  2. Small bucket.
  3. Small, medium stiff brush.  Be sure it isn’t so stiff that it would scratch your expensive painted wheels.  But, it also has to be stiff enough to clean dirt from your wheels.  So, no scrub brush but no horsehair.  
  4. Cleaning towel.
  5. Large microfiber drying towel. 
  6. Simple Green concentrate.
  7. Simple Green in a spray bottle. 
  8. Park Tools chain cleaner.
  9. Part Tools cassette brush. 


I’ll keep the process simple.  Mix some SG in the bucket. 

  1. Remove all lights, computers, and bags. 
  2. Spray SG on the drive train. Use the brush on the cassette and chain rings. 
  3. Use the chain cleaner. 
  4. Hose off. 
  5. Rinse the whole bike.
  6. Spray the tires and wheels with SG.  Use the brush to clean the tires.  Use the towel to clean between the spokes. 
  7. Rinse.
  8. Wash the remainder of the bike with the towel.  I get into every area, especially the small places.  Take your time.  
  9. Use the brush to clean your pedals.  And, grab your shoes.  They were on your ride as well.  So, they will be dirty.  Use the brush to clean the cleats.  Remove the insole and give the outside a good scrubbing.  
  10. Rinse the bike and your shoes.  
  11. Dry everything. 
  12.  Clean the lights and computers and their mounts. Lots of dirt gets trapped in the tiny spaces and groves in these items. 
  13. Clean your saddle bags. 

I won’t go into the details, but now its time to re-lube.  Hit the pivot joints of the derailleurs. Lube the chain and pedals and cleats.  Before you park the bike, bounce it on the ground a few times to shake loose any water hidding in the small spaces.  

My test for a job well done is that if the bike looks like it was just assembled, I’ve done a top-shelf cleaning.  I don’t remove the wheels every time I clean my bikes, but I do do it every two to three times.  Also, I use a simple rule to determine if I need to clean my bike.  If it’s dirty, it’s time for a wash.  

Ride on.  Keep it clean.  

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