Tag Archive: bike cleaning

Easy Bike Cleaning

Disclaimer: What follows in this article are personal practices based upon casual research, others people’s advice, and my own experience over the years as a bike commuter. Here at, we realize that each person does things differently, and we encourage diversity and constructiveness of thought. So if you have some of your own methods on bike cleaning/ maintenance, feel free to comment.

RL put it quite well for me when I suggested a refresher on this topic: “…be prepared to get some people saying that your technique is wrong. Chain lube and lubing, as the “Elder Statesman” (Jack) had once said, ‘is like the topic of religion, everyone does it differently.’”

A perusal of the current online content regarding “bike cleaning tips” (1) will generate an enormous array of practices, products, and recommendations. However, an initial review of the literature, including an excellent article by our own Jack “Ghost Rider” Sweeney (2), reveals a few common themes in the arena of bike cleaning. Throughout the years, I have practiced these themes on my own bike, and with the same components over the past 3 years (7000+ miles), the bike has been running pretty smoothly. That being said, those of you who ride double, triple, quadruple or more the distance of what I do may have a different cleaning routine, and appropriately so.

So looking at the top 3 relevant hits on (1), I lay out some of the techniques that “many” people will agree on (3,4,5)

1. Avoid jets of water for the initial “rinse down.” If you must use a hose, use a gentle SPRAY.  Jets of water can force water and debris into bearings, the drive train, etc. making them wear down faster.

2. Use a degreaser. Lots of brands.

3. Wash down your bike with water, soap, and a soft bristled brush.

4. Use chain lube. Lots of brands.  Brief explanation about dry versus wet lube:
– A dry lube’s basic purpose is to be applied wet but dry off to form a smooth, dirt-repelling coat on your chain. They can be wax-based or teflon based. However, these lubes can wash off in wet weather.
– A wet lube is a hydrocarbon based lubricant that stays “wet” on the chain and is more resistant to washing off, so it is better for wet weather. These can be petroleum or plant based.

The frequency of cleaning is critical; cleaning your bike once the symptoms of severe drive train wear appear is moot. The entire point of cleaning is to perform it frequently and consistently enough to delay the onset of component wear. The past year has allowed me to commute about 80 miles a week (16 miles a day, 5 days a week), and with these distances, I found that I cleaned my bike about once a month (~every 300 miles on paved roads, SoCal weather, a.k.a. no weather). The first signs I pay attention to that signal the need for cleaning comes from the drive train:

1. Chain starts to get noisy
2. Shifting is not as smooth.
3. The beginning of a grime layer depositing on my chain and cogs.

Once these start to appear, it’s time to clean. Here is my routine:


1 large soft bristle brush
1 old toothbrush
Large sponge
Soft lint-less cloth
Screw driver (Flat head)
Latex gloves (to keep your hands cleaner)

Degreaser (Simple Green featured in this article)
Gentle dish soap (NOT dishWASHER detergent)

General bicycle lubricant (Tri-Flow)

Chain lube (Finish Line Dry)

1 1.5

1. Degreasing: I like Simple Green. I spray it on thick along the drive train (chain, front gears and derailleur, rear gear cluster and derailleur). It stays on as a very satisfying foam layer. I let it sit for 5 minutes, and in the meantime, you can prep for the next step.

2 3 4

2. Get some soapy water ready in a nice big bucket. Some are proponents of warm water, and I agree that this definitely helps loosen dirt and grime better. But for me, cold water is easier to get and cleans fine. I use a gentle dish soap like Palm Olive (NOT dishwasher detergent). I then get a large brush and toothbrush ready.

3. Take large brush and scrub the chain, rear and front derailleurs with the soapy water. Use the small toothbrush for detail work in the drive train. Do this several times. Change the soap water in between washes as needed.

4. Change sides on your large brush to the cleaner side (the side that hasn’t been scrubbing the drive train as this side will be dirty) and use the cleaner side to scrub wheels, frame, basically everything else. Or you can always get a different brush.

9 8 1112 13 14

5. Change water in bucket. Do not add soap this time. Using your large sponge, soak up a bunch of water and squeeze the water onto your bike, rinsing away the soap and debris. I find that a sponge allows me to direct a gentle stream of water for effective rinsing without generating any potentially damaging jets. Sponges also help me conserve water instead of pouring bucket after bucket to rinse the bike.

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6. Get your bike clamped to a work stand.

7. Rear derailleur detail: Personally, I have never needed to diassemble the pulleys on a rear derailleur for cleaning.
– Using a screw driver, gently place the flat edge flush onto the walls of the pulley and freewheel as you do this, allowing the screw driver to gently scrape off the grime that has accumulated. Do this for both pulleys and both sides.

6 7

8. Clean and dry your bike with a soft cloth towel. Use 2 different towels: one for the drive train and another for everything else.
– To dry the chain, freewheel the chain as you hold the chain with your towel.
– Pay attention to detail: use this opportunity to look at your bike more carefully. If you see any dirt or grime on the frame, wipe it off with the towel. Clean the wheels, spokes etc.

18 19

9. Lube time:
– lube your chain: wet or dry, freewheel the chain as you drop the lube onto each link. Wipe excess off! Dry lube should dry, but wet lube stays wet, and if you have too much, it will spray everywhere, especially your rear wheels when you start pedalling fast. This will make for ineffective and very NOISY rear braking.
– Apply bicycle lubricant to front and rear derailleur moving parts and springs, moving parts of your braking mechanism, as well as your CABLES. To apply lube to cables, just put a couple drops of lube onto your gloved thumb and index finger, pinch the cable, and run your fingers along. Don’t overlube, and if you do, wipe away excess.

20 21

22 23

10. Test run your bike by riding around the block a bit, making sure your shift through all of your gears, allowing the lube to settle in and penetrate the moving parts.

11. Enjoy the smooth ride. Tailor the frequency of your cleaning based on how much you ride.

Do good and ride well.



1. Google search terms: “bike cleaning tips.” Search performed August 17, 2013

Review: Cleaning products from Finish Line and White Lightning

I hope everyone has been enjoying their winter commutes…and I hope everyone has been staying on top of winter bike maintenance!

As many of you in colder climates know, road conditions can take a real toll on our bikes at this time of year: from sand to slush to salt and snow, there’s a lot of nastiness we have to contend with on our routes around the city. Regular (meaning at least weekly, or sometimes DAILY, depending on conditions) maintenance makes a huge difference in how our bikes ride over the winter and could mean the difference between pedaling to work or having to catch the bus.

In my neighborhood, I have salt to contend with — as I live near a very high concentration of U.S. servicemen and women, the roads in our area are heavily salted. After all, the military needs to get to work on time in any weather! All that salt is brutal to bike drivetrains, though…a day or two of neglect and you’re looking at a frozen, rusty mess that may not be salvageable.

In the interest of keeping things clean and functional, the good folks at Finish Line and White Lightning both sent cleaning products for us to try out.


First up is the Finish Line “Starter Kit 1-2-3“, consisting of a small bottle of multipurpose degreaser, a small bottle of Teflon-based dry lube, and a handy cleaning brush. The degreaser is mixed with water and the stiff-bristled brush is used to scrub the chain, cogs and chainrings. Finally, the lube is applied and allowed to set.


The brush and diluted degreaser made short work of the chain and gears…the bristles on one end of the brush scrub three sides of the chain at once and also get both sides of the chainring, while the long, stiff bristles on the other end reach down into the cogs and derailleur bodies to scrub out embedded grime. The degreaser itself seemed to work quite well in dissolving caked-on crud:


I should add at this point that I rarely clean my chain in this manner during more temperate months — I’ve long been a user of “homebrew” (1 part synthetic motor oil to 3 parts mineral spirits), which both cleans and lubricates the chain. In the interest of cleaning off the salt and creating a bare, clean chain to try out the Finish Line dry lube, I strayed from my normal maintenance routine. The lube provided in this starter kit seemed to do an adequate job in keeping my chain quiet and smooth, and also seemed to attract less grime than the wetter solution I usually use. That’s a plus when the streets are covered with grit and salt crystals. I could get about 75-100 miles between applications with the Finish Line lube in these miserable winter conditions, so I’m suitably impressed.

Next up is the White Lightning Bamboo Cycle Wipes. I got the single-use packet to try out. Inside the packet is a woven sheet about 5″ x 7″…made of waffle-textured bamboo. It’s saturated with a mild solution to cut grease and grime. Here I am starting with a really yucky bike:


I gave the bike a good once-over, and it came out quite nicely. These Cycle Wipes were especially effective at cleaning tire sidewalls and the brake tracks on my rims…where so much grossness accumulates after a wet, slushy ride. Here’s what my baby looked like after a good wipedown:


I was pretty amazed at these Cycle Wipes — they cleaned the whole bike and got snagged repeatedly on teeth and other pointy bits, yet never tore or shredded. The single wipe simply kept on absorbing dirt. Still, I would have liked to have another one on hand to really pretty things up, but hey, my bike’s just going to get dirty again in a day or two!

Here’s the long-suffering wipe after a hard workout. You can see that it survived some pretty rough treatment:


The Finish Line degreaser and the White Lightning Bamboo Cycle Wipes are both 100% biodegradable, a plus in my book. The Finish Line starter kit retails for around $20.00 — with 3 to 4 degreasings and a whole season of lubing possible with the amounts provided, that’s a decent deal. The White Lightning wipes come in a variety of packages, from a 6-pack box of single packets to a 25-wipe canister. I believe the single packets retail for less than a dollar apiece, and other reviewers report that they can be washed and reused for general purpose cleaning (although I didn’t try that). Keep a packet in your saddlebag for quick roadside cleanup or in your shop toolbox to keep your bike shiny and fresh…the cleaning solution is gentle enough for skin and tough enough for grimy parts.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.