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How To Clean a Mountain Bike

Muddy mountain bikes

In garages across the globe, the timeless words have been passed along, over and over, in every language known. “Take care of your rig, and your rig will take care of you.” Often prefaced by a hitching up of grubby weekend jeans while wiping greasy hands (with an equally greasy rag), the message does ring true every time—even if the delivery can be a bit corny. A bike that’s been inspected and well-maintained will perform better, be safer, and last longer. So washing and/or cleaning your bike is always worth it. Not only do you end up with a quieter, more efficient ride, but you’ll be able to check for emerging issues along the way. 

This guide will teach you how to wash a mountain bike. On top of making it look pretty, it'll help you to keep your bike working well for longer. We’re not suggesting you spend more time cleaning than riding, but incorporating a quick clean-up into your routine will make your bike—and you—happier with the whole experience!

Tools for Washing Your Bike

Be it in a bucket or a hose, a little water goes a long way. So instead of blasting the dirt off with a pressure washer (which can work too—if you’re careful), think of the water as an agent to loosen and rinse dirt away. 

A little will go a long way, whether it’s a specially-formulated bike wash or a few drops of dish soap from under the kitchen sink. 

Brushes / Sponges
Clean those nooks and crannies with minimal effort. 

Shop Towels / Rags
You can never have enough rags, and having a plentiful supply will help dry your bike afterward. If you don't have dedicated rags, cutting an old t-shirt into a few pieces will do the trick.

Bike Lube
Once you're done cleaning, you'll need to add a little lube to keep that drivetrain running smoothly. Depending on your local riding conditions, you can go for wet or dry lube.‚Äč

Bonus Tools

Bike Stand
Getting your bike up off the ground can be huge for visibility and ease of access. With the ability to spin your wheels and drivetrain, you can work (and clean) smarter, not harder. 

If you’re an aggressive lubricator or going in for a deep drivetrain clean, a degreaser can make your life much easier.


Steps to Wash Your Bike

1) Spray Bike With Water

Start by spraying the bike down with your hose. You don’t need pressure-washer aggression to get most of the dirt off your frame. A slow stream and gravity will do most of your work. However, be careful around bearings and suspension seals if you use a high-pressure stream. Your bike was designed to be water-resistant, but it’s not waterproof. Full submersion or ingress through seals can lead to problems down the road. 

2) Scrub-a-dub-dub!

Wash your bike. Really, it’s that simple. Get behind its ears and between its toes. Often, all you’ll need to do is clean the drivetrain and wipe your fork stanchions. Other times it may take some elbow grease. The minimum goal is to remove grit from moving parts, but you can zen out and spend an hour with a toothbrush if you like.

Pay attention to your drivetrain: that’s where the magic happens, and often that’s all that really needs cleaning. Try taking off your wheels to get to those hard-to-reach spots, too. There are great bike-specific brushes and cleaning tools, but old toothbrushes and cheap sponges work too. A bucket and a couple of different brushes can be just as effective as anything. 

3) Rinse Bike

Get rid of the soap, dirt, and grime. Same deal as the initial wet-down: don’t go overboard. Just wash your bike clean of dirt and soap.  

4) Wipe / Dry Bike

Wipe any excess water from your bike with a shop towel or rag. Wiggle it and bounce your tires on the ground a few times. Turn it upside down and sip a beer or your alternate beverage of choice for a minute. Then, ride around the block, shifting gears for a bit of blow-dry action.

Whatever you do, ensure your bike isn’t “put away wet,” as it can lead to rusting. 

5) Lube Drivetrain

Now is the time to reapply any lubes you may have stripped during the cleaning process. A little bit of chain lube, a dollop of suspension oil on a fork stanchion, and your bike is comfy and ready for storage.

Hopefully your next ride is sooner than later!

How Often Should You Clean Your Bike?

The goal is to show up to the trailhead with a well-functioning and mechanically sound bike. Depending on where you live and your local riding conditions, that could mean anything from wiping down the drivetrain once a week to full-on scrubbing with soap and water after every ride. 

If you can incorporate cleaning your bike into your post-ride routine, you’ll have the most success. Procrastination can lead to neglect, so get on it, get it done, and know that your bike is ready and waiting. Hoping to clean it later, before you ride again, is infinitely more difficult for most. 

One of the side benefits of routine cleaning is checking your bike for mechanical issues: cracks, loose spokes, and shifting issues can be identified and diagnosed before they cause significant damage. 

As you wash your bike, look for loose spokes, wiggly bits, and anything that seems out of order. Mechanical problems don’t tend to go away unless they’re attended to, and finding them before they become a bigger issue is key. 

Remember: a clean bike is a happy bike, a quiet bike, and a safe bike. Now go out and get yours dirty!

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