Keeping your bike parts cleaned and lubricated is crucial for good performance. Lubrication protects moving parts from excessive wear caused by friction and helps keep rust and corrosion at bay. Excess lubricant should always be carefully wiped away before the bicycle is ridden so it does not attract dust, dirt, and other grime.

Basic Bike-Cleaning Supplies

These simple items address most cleaning and lubing tasks:

  • Clean rags: Keep multiples of these for grease, oil and wax-related tasks as well as for general cleaning and drying.
  • Gloves: Gloves will help keep your hands from getting stained by grease and will also assist with preventing contamination. These are very nice to have when lubricating or working on your bike but may not be necessary when cleaning.
  • Brushes: Have several sizes and shapes to get into hard-to-reach places to remove the grime that rinsing alone can’t get. Old toothbrushes and a dedicated toilet brush are great to have!
  • Water: Water is a great tool, but be careful of pressure and where you are spraying. High pressure water can cause damage to bearing systems located throughout your bike.
  • Soap / general cleaner: Use diluted dishwashing soap or pre-formulated bike wash cleaner for frame cleaning.
  • Degreaser: A bike-specific degreaser will clean up greasy parts like your bike chain. Choose a solvent that is easy on the environment, and dispose of all solvents properly.
  • Chain lubricant:  Properly lubricating your chain helps extend the life of your drivetrain. Always apply bicycle-specific lube oil to a clean chain.
  • Optional – Bike stand: This will allow you to position the bike at a comfortable height while you’re working on it. It will also allow you to turn the pedals or remove the wheels so you can clean all the moving and hard-to-reach parts. Bike stands can be quite expensive, but are definitely worth the money if you plan on doing most or all of your bike maintenance yourself.

What to Clean and How

Most dirty bike components can be cleaned by wiping them carefully with a damp or dry rag. Other components require occasional brushing, scrubbing and lubrication.

Washing your bike with a high-pressure hose can cause damage to sensitive bearing systems throughout your bike. So, when washing with water, do so carefully.

Cleaning your bike consists of four main steps:

  • Wash your bike frame
  • Clean and lubricate your chain
  • Lubricate your brake and derailleur levers
  • Lubricate your brake/derailleur cables and your brake/derailleur assemblies

Your drivetrain (front chain rings, rear cassette, rear derailleur and chain) requires the most frequent attention. Ensure that these parts are cleaned frequently and well to ensure they continue to function as intended.

Photo of person cleaning a bike frame.

Bike Frame

Use a bucket of warm soapy water and a brush to gently scrub off dirt and grime. Work from the top down, cleaning the handlebars, headset, top tube, seat post, seatstays, front fork and brakes. If you have disc brakes, try to keep soap away from the rotors and brake pads. You can use a specific rotor cleaner or rubbing alcohol to clean the rotors. Finish by scrubbing the chainstays, chain rings, cranks and cogs. Now use a bucket of clean water and brush to rinse all of the parts in the same order you cleaned them. Follow that up by drying the bike thoroughly with a few clean, dry rags.

Photo of person cleaning a bike cassette.

Bike Chain

Your chain is your bike’s most “at risk” lubricated part. Clean and lube it frequently to slow the rate of chain wear. To clean chains that don’t have too much built-up grime, simply use a rag and degreaser. After the degreaser has dried, apply drops of lube slowly onto to the chain, getting some on each link. Let the lube dry, then wipe off any excess lubricant so it doesn’t attract more dirt. In general, lubricate your chain whenever it squeaks or appears “dry.” Lubricating after wet rides will help keep your chain from rusting.

Photo of person cleaning a bike derailleur

Bike Derailleur

  • Levers – After washing your bike, apply a drop or two of lube to the lever pivots and the barrel adjusters periodically to keep them functioning properly.
  • Cables – Check them frequently (especially in wet conditions) and lubricate occasionally so that they can effectively translate your commands to the component groups.
  • Assemblies – These consist of a number of small moving parts. Keep an eye on their arms, wheels and pulleys so they don’t bind up or become rigid. Apply lubricant to the pivot points. Be careful to keep lubricant away from your brake pads.

While this guide has lots of information for the amateur cyclist, it is by no means a comprehensive guide to bike maintenance and ownership. Should you have questions about maintenance, look online, visit your local bike shop, or stop into the UREC Adventure Center. Thanks for reading, and we look forward to seeing you out there!