This entry is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. These posts certainly aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with 2 and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming and staffing. Click here to learn more and get involved.
I went 5 years without thinking much about bike maintenance or repair. I figured, hey, if ain’t broke don’t fix it. I was frugal, but mostly lazy.
After learning this 15-minute bike wash technique, I’ve saved time and money. Keeping my bike clean–especially my chain–has prevented my bike from rusting, maintained my shifting, and minimized the amount of bike grease buildup on the right legs of my pants.
While some folks religiously and meticulously deep-clean their bikes, I stick to my lazy ways and wash my bike after every major rain or about once a month, whichever comes first.
- Liquid degreaser: I use SimpleGreen. It’s affordable, non-toxic, and biodegradable.
- Bike lube: Click here for Bicycling magazine’s review of lubes
- Rags (old T-shirts make great ones)
- Bucket or wide bowl
- Used toothbrush
Be sure you’re wearing clothing you’re willing to get messy, and consider plastic gloves if you want to avoid grease-stained hands.
Turn your bike upside down in a backyard, patio, or driveway space. If you don’t have access to outdoor space, put down some towels or newspaper in your kitchen, soap up your steed in your bathtub, or ride to your local car wash.
Step 1: Rinse
Rinse with the hose, showerhead, or your bucket of water to get rid of the big dirt and the grit. This rinse is important because any bit of gravel or sand left behind will scratch your paint when you go to scrub.
Step 2: Scrub
Spray or lather up your entire bike with degreaser (using a 1:1 water:degreaser solution) then scrub the dirtiest parts first, like your drivetrain. Use your toothbrush or any other bike-specific scrubbers on your chain, chain ring (front gears), and sprockets (rear gears).
After you’ve given your drivetrain a thorough scrub and removed all the gunky buildup, use the rag to get into the nooks and crannies of your frame.
Step 3: Rinse
Rinse gently while removing as much of the degreaser as possible. The more degreaser left around, the more dirt it will attract later on
Step 4: Dry
Dry your bike thoroughly. The bike experts recommend drying off your bike, especially the drivetrain, every time they’re out in wet conditions. Rusting is bad news. I keep a hand towel by my door and where I store my bike.
Step 5: Re-lube your chain
Lube up your chain while your bike is still upside down. It’s nice to get a good rhythm here. Hold the lube bottle in one hand and hold your pedal with the other. Rest the tip of the lube bottle in the middle of one of your chain lines, then start to slowly turn the pedal so that you’re getting a drop of lube in every chain link.
After you’ve lubed up every chain link, rotate your pedal a couple times so the lube settles down into the chain. Don’t shift here, just rotate the pedals. I used to shift my gears around thinking I needed to get lube in the gears and the derailleur (the mechanism that shifts your chain). But no, the chain is the only part that needs lubing.
Step 6: Remove the excess lube
This is essential! Take the rag you used to dry off your bike and remove as much lube as you can from your chain. The most time efficient technique is to lightly hold the rag around the chain while slowly pedaling with the other hand.
Things I’ve Learned Along the Way:
- Never use WD-40, ever
- Don’t spray your bike down with too much force or you’ll waterlog your parts
- Always remove as much lube and degreaser as possible or your bike will quickly collect more dirt
- Cleaning your bike is like changing a flat tire: We all have different approaches and tips to share
- Remember to appreciate your smooth-shifting, good-looking, squeak-free ride!