Cleaning your bike is an easy thing to put off — it’s mostly superficial and it’s just going to get dirty again anyway, right? False. Leaving your bike dirty has all sorts of bad consequences aside from looking like a total dork (rule #1 in the admittedly vain world of cycling: don’t look like a dork). Leaving sweat on your carbon fiber frame can eat through clearcoat; letting grit accumulate on your drivetrain can accelerate wear on expensive components like your chain and cassette; and any leftover dirt on your expensive carbon rims after a rainy ride will gouge canyon-esque grooves the next time you reach for the brakes.
These choice examples should be reason enough to break out the soap and shammy. You should be cleaning your bike after every few rides and definitely after any ride when you get caught in the rain. The good news is that with modern bikes and modern tools it’s a total breeze. Though you’ll want to take your bike to the shop for a deeper cleaning at the end of the season (they should tear the whole thing apart, clean it and put it back together) the options below are perfect for keeping your bike in working order throughout the season (and most importantly, making sure you don’t look like a dork).
Have a backyard or driveway, a hose, some soapy water and a bike stand? Congratulations, this is going to be a breeze.
1Put your bike in the stand: A Euro-style stand works best here (because you can spin the bike) but a seatpost stand or leaning the bike against a wall works fine too.
2Hose ‘er down: Just like washing your car you want to hose down the bike, apply soapy water with a brush and scrub away all the grit and grime from the frame, wheels and drivetrain. So long as you’re not using an industrial-grade power washer you won’t do any damage to your bearings, frame or anything else (bikes these days are really well made). That being said, if you want the bike to be ride-ready right after cleaning it’s best to avoid hitting the handlebars or saddle with water. Go over the chain and gears with a stiffer brush to try and get any lingering grime off. Once the bike is squeaky clean, rinse off any remaining soap and dry off the bike (be sure to use a separate rag for the drivetrain).
Or if you’re a City Dweller… The good news about living in a city: you’re in hub of civilization and can probably get really good Ethiopian food. Downside? You’re not going to be hosing off your bike any time soon. What you’re going to need to do instead is grab a bottle of WD-40 Bike’s Foaming Bike Wash, a brush and a couple of shop rags. The process is largely the same as using soap and water but should involve less mess and slightly higher costs (but you’re from the city so you should be used to that).
3Focus on the Drivetrain: Now that your bike’s nice and dirt-free it’s time to do a deep clean on the chain and re-lubricate it. Lubing the chain is absolutely critical to extend the life of your drivetrain and keep your bike as quiet and smooth as possible. The easiest way to clean the chain is with a powerful degreaser like Finish Line’s Speed Degreaser or a less-messy, apartment-friendly solution like Park Tools’ Chain Gang. Regardless of which you choose, your chain should be grit- and grease-free afterwards. The final step is to apply a quality chain lube like Dumonde Tech or WD-40 Bike (if you’re anal-retentive use a dry lube when it’s dry out and a wet lube when it’s wet; if you’re not, just use an all-purpose lube). Once you’ve applied some lube to the chain be sure to wipe off any excess; we only care about what gets inside the chain, as the stuff on the outside only serves to attract more dirt and grime.
4Marvel in the Clean: 20 minutes later and your bike is a gleaming monument to human achievement. Go grab a beer.
Tools of The Trade
Lance Armstrong famously wrote that “It’s All About the Bike”, and the same goes for the importance of your ride-cleaning gear. Here’s what you’ll need:
Shop Rags, $25
Park Tool Chain Cleaning Kit, $24
Dumonde Tech Chain Lubricant, $9
Finish Line Speed Degreaser, $12
WD-40 Foaming Bike Wash, $14
Finish Line Easy Pro Brush Set, $19
Feedback Sports Sprint Work Stand, $270