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Basic Maintenance: How to Clean Your Bike

A clean bike is a happy bike. Not only will regular cleaning help your bike last longer and perform better, but cleaning your bike is one of the best ways to really familiarize yourself with your its parts and how they work. Additionally, this is a great time to inspect your bike for any damage and for wear.

This in-depth guide details a cleaning and inspection that should be done once a month if you ride regularly, and takes about 90 minutes, including the Advanced Steps.

If you’re more crunched for time, doing steps 2, 6 and 9 every 100 miles or once a week, can do wonders to preserve your bike.

For a bike that’s about as clean as you can get it, we recommend following this guide in order.

 

You’ll need:

  1. Repair stand
  2. Shop rags
  3. Bio-based degreaser
  4. Non-corrosive cleaner (bike wash, non-bleach household cleaner)
  5. Rubbing alcohol
  6. Cog brush
  7. An unused (for paint), medium sized paint brush
  8. Chain lubricant
  9. An old margarine or hummus tub (for small parts, pieces)
  10. ADAVANCED STEPS ONLY:

 

The Rules—here are a few “must knows” before you begin:

  1. Never spray degreaser directly on to any part. Spray it onto the rag or brush. This will prevent the degreaser from entering bearings, springs and other places it’s not supposed to go
  2. Never disassemble any part you don’t know how to put back together
  3. If it moves, pivots or has a spring (except the wheels and cranks), it gets lubricant
  4. Never, ever, ever soak anything in solvent. Ever. For any reason.
  5. Never spray your bike with any pressurized water. Not even a garden hose. This can force water into places water has no business being.

 

 

STEP 1. INSPECTION & PREP

  1. Secure your bike in the repair stand, and inspect the frame and components for any damage. This includes cracks, deep dents, or very deep scratches in carbon fiber (this means scratches that you can see have torn the actual sheets of carbon fibers). If you find any damage, stop here and bring your bike to your local Performance shop to be evaluated before riding again.
  2. Remove the front wheel. Flip up the quick release lever on your brakes so the tire will clear the brake pads. If you have disc brakes, don’t worry about that.

 

STEP 2. THE CHAIN

The best place to begin cleaning your bike is with the dirtiest part, the chain. If you do nothing else, you should do at least this step every other week or so. For a more in-depth guide, click here.

WARNING:

Unless your chain is completely packed with mud, grit and grime, don’t take it off your bike. Removing your chain means breaking a link which can shorten overall lifespan. A chain break on a ride can cause a bad wreck, so if you do need to take the chain off, consult with a shop technician unless you really know what you’re doing. Different brands and types of chains have specific processes for chain removal which should be followed to avoid chain malfunction or failure, so make sure you check it out.

  1. Brush off the big stuff
    Clean off all excess dirt and water from your chain, sprocket set, chainrings, and derailleur pulleys using a brush or cloth.
  2. Degreasing
    Apply bio-degreaser to your chain, work it into the chain using a brush or chain cleaning machine, and then wipe off. Do not use alkali based or acid based solvents such as rust cleaners that can cause your chain to break. Also, do not let the solvent sit on the chain too long before rinsing it, as this can cause accelerated wear and/or chain failure.
  3. Hold off on applying lubricant, we’ll do that later.

 

STEP 3. REAR DERAILLEUR

  1. To clean your rear derailleur, first remove the rear wheel
    • PRO TIP: Before removing the rear wheel, shift into the smallest cog, so you know where to put the chain when you replace the wheel.
  1. Use a dry cloth to clear away any dust from the outside of the derailleur
  2. Spray a shop rag with a little bit of degreaser, then gently wipe the teeth of the derailleur jockey wheels (DO NOT get degreaser into the mechanism of the derailleur)
    • ADVANCED STEP 1: For a more thorough clean, you can remove the derailleur jockey wheels. Before proceeding, note how the chain threads through the derailleur. Before doing this step, make sure you feel comfortable with this level of disassembly—doing this step may require you to readjust the cable tension on your derailleur. Failure to correctly reinstall the jockey wheels can result in improper performance or part failure.
      • Using a hex wrench, first remove the lower derailleur jockey wheel, then the upper wheel.
      • Set them aside on a clean cloth or in your margarine tub, and keep the upper and lower wheels and their associated bearing covers separate so you don’t confuse them.
      • Clean each jockey wheel with a rag dampened with a bit of degreaser.
      • Put a small amount of chain lubricant around the bearing casing on each side of the jockey wheels. Wipe away any excess.
      • Clean the inside of the derailleur cage plates.
      • Place the jockey wheels in the correct positions, and secure them to the outer plate with the bolt (they are directional, so make sure they will be rotating in the correct direction—look for arrows stamped on the jockey wheels).
      • Rethread the chain correctly.
      • Install the inner plate and tighten the bolts
  1. Apply a small amount of chain lubricant to the derailleur pivot points, and wipe away any excess.

 

STEP 4. FRONT DERAILLEUR

  1. Using a rag dampened with degreaser, clean the inside of the front derailleur cage. If you can’t reach with your fingers, try using an old tooth brush.
  2. Apply a small amount of chain lubricant to the derailleur spring, wipe away any excess

 

STEP 5. CHAINRINGS

  1. Using a rag dampened with degreaser, wipe down each of the chainring teeth on the big, middle (if you have one), and small chainrings. Yes, it’s tedious, but it’s a good way to keep your chain clean for as long as possible, and prolong the life of your chainrings.
  2. ADVANCED STEP 2: If your chainrings are very dirty, or if you are having difficulty getting to them, you can remove them for a more thorough cleaning. Before doing this step, make sure you feel comfortable with this level of disassembly. Failure to reinstall the chainring bolts to the correct torque setting can result in the chainrings warping, improper shifting, or a cracked crankset.
    • Using a torque wrench, loosen the chainring bolts, noting at what torque level (Newton Meters, or nM) they release at. Place the bolts in your margarine tub.
    • Remove first the big, then the middle (if present) and then the small chainrings, taking care not to damage the teeth or the crank arms
    • Clean the chainrings with a rag dampened with degreaser and allow to dry
    • Reinstall the chainrings in the reverse order (first the small, middle, big). Make sure they are all facing in the correct direction.
    • Using a torque wrench, tighten the chainring bolts to the previously noted nM

 

STEP 6. CASSETTE

  1. Spray some degreaser onto your cog brush, then wipe down each of the cogs
  2. Use the hooked plastic end to clean the space between the cogs
  3. ADVANCED STEP 3: If your cassette is really filthy, you can remove it for a more thorough cleaning. Before doing this step, make sure you feel comfortable with this level of disassembly. Failure to correctly reinstall the cassette can result in improper performance or part failure.
    • Using a chainwhip and lockring tool, remove the lockring
    • Remove the cassette carefully, ensuring you maintain the order of cogs and spacers*
    • Starting with the smallest cog, clean each cog and spacer with a rag dampened with degreaser
    • Let dry, then reinstall the cassette in the correct order
    • Tighten the lockring down to spec

* PRO TIP: when you remove the cassette with all cogs and spacers in order, string a zip tie around them to keep them in order while off the bike

 

STEP 7. WHEELS

  1. Using a rag dampened with bike wash or household cleaner, wipe down the rims, hubs and spokes of your wheels.
  2. Wipe down the tires. Take this time to inspect them for signs of wear, such as visible threads or casing, flat spots, squared shoulders, or severe sidewall cuts. If you see any of these, it’s time to replace your tires.
  3. If you have alloy wheels, gently scrub the brake track or disc rotor with rubbing alcohol to remove grime, grease, and embedded rubber from the brake pads.
  4. If you like, you can use a rag dampened with degreaser to clean around the freehub area on the rear wheel. Take care not to let any degreaser get onto the freehub.
  5. Take this time to inspect your wheels. Hold your wheel vertically in front of you by the ends of the hub and spin it. View it with one eye to see if it spins straight.  A slight wobble is okay, but if it is very wobbly, bring the wheel to your local Performance shop to be trued.

 

STEP 8. BRAKES

  1. Using a rag dampened with bike wash or household cleaner, wipe down your brake calipers. Use your paint brush to get into any hard to reach nooks and crannies.
  2. For rim brakes, wipe down the brake pads to remove any residue and grit that can wear away a wheel’s brake track. Also take this opportunity to inspect your brake pads for signs of wear. If you see any metal poking through the rubber, it’s time to replace them.
  3. Apply chain lubricant to the brake pivot points, wipe away any excess.

 

STEP 9. FRAME, HANDLEBARS, SEATPOST, SADDLE

  1. Using a rag dampened with bike wash or household cleaner, wipe down your frame and parts. Areas to pay special attention to:
    • Inside the chainstays and seatstays
    • Inside the fork arms
    • Around the fork crown
    • Around the brake mounts
    • Around the bottom bracket shell
    • Under the saddle
    • Around your bottle cages
  1. Make you wipe down under the BB shell where the cable guide is. Sticky sport drink can accumulate here and affect how well your bike shifts.

 

STEP 10. SHIFTERS AND BRAKE LEVERS

  1. Using a rag dampened with bike wash or household cleaner, wipe down the shifters, levers and brake hoods to remove any sweat, grease, and sticky residue from sport drink or gels.
  2. Pull on the brake lever and use your paint brush to clear away any dirt inside (feel free to blow in there too to get out any dust).
  3. Apply a very small amount of chain lubricant to any visible mechanical pivot points or springs on the brake levers or shifters, wipe away any excess.

 

STEP 11. FINISHING UP

  1. Allow your bike to sit for a few minutes to let all the degreaser and cleaner dry—especially on the cassette.
  2. Replace the front and rear wheels
    • Remember to replace the chain on the smallest cog
    • Remember to flip down the brake quick release levers
  1. Lubricate your chain
    • Put the tip of the bottle nozzle just above one of the chain rollers
    • Slowly turn the crank to rotate the chain, ensuring that every roller gets a drop of lubricant
    • When you have lubricated the chain, turn the cranks so the chain rotates through the entire drive train about 5-6 times
    • Wipe away excess lubricant from the chain
  1. Test your bike's shifting by turning the cranks and depressing the right shift lever. In each chainring, shift up and down across the entire cassette If it is skipping or not shifting properly, adjust your rear derailleur using the barrel adjuster. If you’re unsure how to do this, consult our instructional article, or take the bike to your local Performance shop.
  2. Take your bike out of the stand, check the tightness of the wheel quick release skewers, check that the brakes function properly.
  3. Go for a ride and get it dirty again.

 

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