We know, we know. Cleaning your mountain bike isn’t exactly the most fun part of life as a mountain biking enthusiast. Unfortunately, it is one of the most important things about riding, and often one of the most overlooked as well. While mountain bikes aren’t ‘delicate’ machines, they do require special care and treatment when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. Spraying the whole bike down with a hose and calling it a day isn’t quite going to cut it. So, partially in celebration of our new DIRT mudguard, we’ve put together a handy cheat sheet on proper mountain biking cleaning.
Clean rags: Whether you go out and buy rags or just use old t-shirts, you’ll need plenty of these for wiping, cleaning, and drying.
Brushes: Our vote here is old toothbrushes. They’re going to be small enough to get into those cracks and crevices, while also being cheap (or free). Also, try to find one larger brush with soft bristles.
Water: You’ll need water, but you need to use it carefully. Water can do pretty bad damage to bearing systems and other fine parts on your bike.
Soap: You can definitely buy bike-cleaning soap, and it works great. But, if you aren’t feeling that, we suggest diluting some gentle dishwashing soap.
Bike stand: Easy to forget, but super important. This will allow you to better position the mountain bike so you can get into all the nooks and crannies.
Degreaser: You really want to buy a bike-specific degreasing agent to clean your mountain bike. Avoid harsh chemicals like kerosene or turpentine, and instead, choose a solvent that
Chain lubricant: Don’t just use any old lube for this -- you’ll want to reach for the bicycle-specific lubricant to clean your chain. Keeping a clean chain is going to extend the life of your entire drivetrain, so it’s a particularly important supply.
You can get wet or dry lubricant, and your choice should be determined by the conditions in which you plan on riding. Wet lube is best for rainy or wet conditions, as it’s stickier and is less likely to be rinsed off in the rain. When using wet lubricant, make sure you wipe away any excess -- because it’s sticky, dirt and debris will also stick to the lubricant if the excess is left on the bike.
Dry lube, on the other hand, works best for dry riding environments like clay or sand. Dirt sticks less to it, but rain will easily rinse it away.
Part By Part
Frame: This is the most straightforward piece to clean. Use a bucket of warm, soapy water and a gentle brush to lightly scrub away any surface dirt. Generally, this step is going to include the handlebars, headset, seat post, front fork, top tube, seatstays, and brakes. While you’re cleaning the brakes, keep the soap away from rotors and brake pads. Work from the top down during this step, and finish with the chainstays and chain rings. After this, use a bucket of clean water (no soap!) to rinse the parts that you’ve scrubbed. Dry the bike with a clean rag.
Chain: As opposed to the frame, the chain is probably your bike’s most delicate piece. To clean a lightly soiled chain, you can just use a rag and some degreaser. For more dirty chains, you should invest in a chain-cleaning device (trust us, they’re worth it). Once your degreaser dries, apply a few drops of lube, moving the pedals to apply this to each link. Let dry and wipe away any excess.
Wheels: Try to use a big, soft brush for your tires and rims so that you can really get in there without breaking your back. Use a small amount of soap diluted in water, and start with the valve and valve stem. Scrub around your wheel, the spokes, and the hub. Repeat this as needed and let your wheels air-dry.
Derailleur/Brake Levers: Be sure to do this after washing your frame. Apply a couple of drops of lube to your lever pivots and barrel adjusters. You should do this regularly to ensure that they are functioning properly. Check your cables for these parts often, as well.
Derailleur/Brake Assemblies: There’s a lot going on in these little guys. They are made of many tiny, moving parts, so it’s important to give these a look-over. Apply lubricant as needed, but keep it away from your brake pads.
Bonus Step: Polishing!
If you really want to razzle and dazzle, give your bike a nice polish. You’ll want dedicated bicycle polish for this -- your bike deserves it. Remove the wheels from the bike and put it up on the stand. If you’re using your bike in muddy or wet conditions, look for a silicone-based polish. The silicone will make it harder for dirt and grime to stick to your bike. Apply the polish to a cloth and rub it onto the frame gently. NEVER spray the polish directly onto your bike -- overspray could get into your braking system.
If cleaning your bike sounds like a daunting task, there are a few steps you can regularly take to keep things tidier on a day-to-day basis. First, we suggest a mudguard, like the recently-debuted DIRT mudguard. This small piece of equipment is going to keep debris and dirt from spraying into the components of your bike. That alone will help keep things tidy ‘under the hood’. We also suggest a simple dry-rag over your entire bike after every ride. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy -- just take a few minutes to get your bike looking ‘clean enough’ and glance over all of its components. The longer you let dirt and grime sit on your bike, the harder it is to remove when cleaning time comes.
That’s It!We know it’s not a ‘simple’ process, but cleaning your mountain bike regularly is absolutely crucial to the overall functioning of your machine. It’s going to keep things running smooth, which in turn will keep you from having to replace components every other week.