Cleaning Routine for Bicycle Maintenance

Maintain a road-worthy bicycle with a simple cleaning routine.

1 / 2
Following a simple cleaning routine will diminish any ware or rust damage your bicycle incurs.
2 / 2
“Bike Pocket Maintenance” by Mel Allwood is a clear and comprehensive handbook geared towards every bicycle owner, from the novice mechanic to the advanced. With helpful photo illustrations and a glossary of technical terms, the handbook serves as both a checklist and a how-to guide for bicycle maintenance.

Bike Pocket Maintenance by Mel Allwood (Carlton Books, 2017) is an essential step-by-step guide for all essential bicycle maintenance and repairs. Allwood is a bicycle enthusiast with experience working for Brixton Cycles Co-op in south London, UK, and who prefers the simplicity and independence of a bike over a car. He notes that his knowledge and passion for cycling is rooted in the necessity of navigating the busy streets of London. The following excerpt is a cleaning routine to maintain your bike’s functionality.

Cleaning your bike is the best time to spot worn or broken parts. Beware of jet washes though. Power hoses can leave your bike looking very shiny without much effort, but, no matter how careful you are, they force water in through the bearing seals, flushing grease out. This shortens the lifespan of bottom brackets, headsets, and other components radically. As a principle, start with the dirtiest bits and work up to the cleaner ones. That way you minimize the amount of re-cleaning you may have to do.

  • Start with the drivetrain: the chain, sprockets, chainset and derailleurs. If the chain isn’t too dirty, clean it with a rag.
  • If your chain is too oily and dirty to respond to this treatment, give it a thorough clean. You can do a very respectable job without removing the chain from the bike, which is a lot of trouble and can weaken the link you remove. For the best results with the least fuss, tip a little degreaser into a small pot. Use a toothbrush or washing- up brush dipped in degreaser to scrub the chain clean. A chain-cleaning box is a good investment, making this job cleaner and quicker.
  • Sprockets and chainsets need regular cleaning too. They’re close to the ground and exposed to whatever’s going around. If they’re oily and dirty, it’s worth degreasing them. Oil is sticky and picks up dirt as you ride along, wearing out the drivetrain. As above, use a little degreaser and work it into the sprockets and chainset with a brush. It’s very important to rinse things very carefully afterwards to remove all traces of degreaser. Also, dry components carefully. Be careful not to get degreaser into bearings.
  • Once everything is clean and dry, relubricate the chain. I prefer drip oils to spray types because you can direct the oil more precisely. Drip a little onto the top links of the bottom stretch of chain all the way around. Don’t use excessive amounts of oil. Leave the oil to soak in for five minutes, then carefully remove excess with a clean rag. Don’t worry about relubricating other drivetrain parts as they need no more than is deposited by the chain onto the sprockets.
  • Next, clean the wheels. Muddy tyres are best cleaned by riding your bike along a tarmac road (with your mouth shut) once the mud is dry. Use a sponge and bucket of warm soapy water, hold the wheels upright to keep water out of the hubs, and sponge the hubs and spokes clean.
  • Rim brakes work much better on clean rims. They pick up dirt from the ground and from the brake blocks, which stops the blocks from gripping the rim effectively, causing both rims and blocks to wear out prematurely. Green nylon Brillo pads are ideal for this job. Wire wool is too harsh but nylon gets detritus off the rims without damaging the braking surface. While you’re there, check for bulges or cracks in the braking surface. These indicate that the rim is worn out and needs replacing urgently. If your rim has rim-wear indicators, check them now too.
  • Disc rotors, the alternative braking surface, also work much better when clean. It’s important not to contaminate them with oil. Use Finish Line disc cleaner for disc rotors. If they are oily, clean the rotors with isopropyl alcohol (from a chemist), which doesn’t leave a residue. Don’t be tempted by car disc cleaner – this leaves a residue that cannot be scrubbed off by the brakes.
  • Brakes next. For rim brakes, release the V-brakes by pulling back the black rubber boot and pulling the curved metal noodle out of the hanger on the brake unit. Clean the block surfaces. Use a small screwdriver or knife (carefully) to pick out shards of metal. If the block surface has become shiny, use a strip of clean sandpaper to roughen it. When looking at the brake blocks check they aren’t excessively or unevenly worn. Most blocks have a wear-line embossed onto the rubber. If the blocks originally had slots, make sure the slots are still visible. Once they disappear it’s time for new brake blocks.
  • For disc brakes, wipe the calliper clean. Check hydraulic hoses for oil leaks. There should be no trace of oil at any of the connections. Also check for kinks in the hoses. Look into the rotor slot on the calliper and check that the brake pad is at least 0.5mm (1/50 inch) thick.
  • Clean and oil the parts of your cables normally trapped inside casing.
  • For rear cable brakes, follow the black casing back from the brake lever to the frame. At the cable stop, pull the casing forwards to release it from the cable stop and wiggle the brake cable out of the slot. Use the same method to release the other sections of casing. Run a clean rag over the part that’s normally covered by outer casing. Relubricate each section with a drop of oil. Refit the outer casing.
  • Repeat with the gear casing. You need to click your rear shifter as if changing into the highest gear, then push the derailleur away again. This creates enough slack in the cable to pull a section of casing out of its cable stop. Repeat with all the other sections of casing, cleaning and oiling – especially the last loop of rear derailleur cable. This loop is nearest to the ground and tends to collect dirt. Refit the outer casing.
  • Pull the front derailleur out over the largest chainring, click the shifter as if to change into the smallest sprocket, then release the casing in the same way. Clean, oil and replace.
  • Pedals are often forgotten, even though they get more than their fair share of mud and abuse. Use a small screwdriver to clear all the mud from around the release mechanism. Make sure you do both sides of both pedals. Mud gets forced into the springs every time you clip in with your shoes, building up until you can no longer clip in and out properly. Lubricate the moving parts sparingly with a light oil, like GT85 or WD40.

Clean the frame and forks. You need a sponge and a bucket of warm water to rinse everything off afterwards. All components work better and last longer if they’re not covered in grime. Finally, a quick polish. Wax-based polish helps stop dirt sticking to the frame, keeping it cleaner for next time. Saddles also benefit from a polish – you might as well while you’ve got the polish out. Refit the wheels, reconnect the brakes. This is a good time to pump up the tyres, just to finish the job off neatly.

More from BikePocket Maintenance:

Reprinted with permission from Bike Pocket Maintenance: The Step-by-Step Guide to Bicycle Repairs by Mel Allwood and published by Carlton Books, 2017.