How to Clean Your Road Bike | Barton Haynes

Bart Haynes here in sunny San Diego, continuing my August series on bike maintenance to celebrate the winding down of the cycling season, which may be sooner or later for you depending on where you are. In this article, we will take a 10,000 foot look at bike cleaning, including:

  • How often to clean your bike
  • Supplies needed for cleaning
  • The 5 minute clean
  • The long clean
  • The annual maintenance clean

Let’s take a look.

How often to clean your bike

How often you should clean your bike depends a lot on how often you ride, but here’s my general recommendation that should cover periodic and everyday cyclists:

  • Five minute wash every time you ride
  • Full wash once per month OR before each race
  • Full bike maintenance once per year

If you ride more often, you might consider doing a full wash a bit more often, and if you ride less you can do a full wash less often. At the least, you should perform bike maintenance once per year and do a quick clean after every ride.

Supplies for bike cleaning

Cleaners are abundant for bikes. You can either purchase a bike cleaner, or simply use diluted dish soap/water. That being said, here’s what you will need to clean your bike:

  • Clean rags
  • Brushes – several sizes, shapes, and stiffnesses
  • Water
  • Bike cleaner/dish soap
  • Degreaser
  • Chain lubricant
  • Bike stand (optional)

The five minute wash

The five minute wash should be performed after every ride, be it on a road ride or a trainer ride. It not only always keeps your bike clean, but it will make your long clean a lot easier. Here’s how:

  • Wipe your frame down with your cleaner
  • Make sure any gunk is out of your chain, front chain rings, and rear cassette – remove as necessary
  • Make sure any marks, scuffs, and gunk is cleaned off your petals, wheels, etc. 

The point of this clean is like tidying up your room – make sure things look fine and nothing is too dirty. 

The long, full cleaning

The long full cleaning involves using all of your bike cleaning parts to clean:

  • Chain – clean the chain of lube with your brush and rag, then re-lubricate
  • Front chain rings/rear cassette – clean just like your chain, getting rid of gunk and re-lubing
  • Brake levers – apply a drop or two of lube
  • Brake cables – inspect for damage and lubrication level, especially in wet conditions
  • Wipe down seat, frame, handle bars, etc. with your cleaner
  • Wipe down metal wheel frames with cleaner

This whole process will take about 30-60 minutes, depending on how dirty it is.

Performing annual bike maintenance

Annual bike maintenance should be performed at the end of the cycling season, right around fall. There are two way of doing this:

  • Pay someone at a bike shop
  • Do it yourself

One option takes less time but costs money, the other option takes time but costs little. If you decide to perform this maintenance yourself, here’s how:

  1. Remove the brakes, stem, front fork, crank, and bottom bracket
  2. Inspect each part of excessive ware or damage
  3. Thoroughly degrease/clean each part (you can soak greased parts in a degreaser), including your frame, with your favorite bike cleaner
  4. Replace warn/damaged parts
  5. Lube each part and put back together

This will likely take a few hours (or a bit more), but it’s a good way to get to know your bike in intimate detail. 

Best wishes and happy cycling!

-Barton Haynes