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Monday 7 September 2020

Bike cleaning

When did cleaning become so complicated. When I was young the only thing we had was dishwashing liquid and that was perfectly fine in a warm bucket of water with a sponge. That was despite the limitations of the paint at the time and steel frames.

Now paints are more resistant to, well..., nearly everything, plus frames are more likely to be aluminium or even carbon and yet people obsess, mainly on Facebook, about not using this or that because it's got salts in it or other stuff that might do this or that to whatever. I decided it was time to put down my opinion to counter the modern paranoia.

Don't wash the grease out of your bearings

This is one area that, I think, does need to be taken in to account. It's not easy to wash the grease out of bearings. You could do it by pouring neat degreaser in the bearings but, in my opinion, normal levels of washing are not going to be detrimental to the bearings. Using a jetwasher is a bit more of a risk, in my opinion. Directed at a bearing they could potentially force some of the grease out. I don't use one, I find our hose pressure is more than adequate to get wet mud off.

If I was to use a jet washer, I would make sure I only directed it at the bits of bike that do not have grease. Avoid the wheel hubs, bottom bracket and headset. I would also not use a jetwash on fork or rear shock seals.

For that reason, I would not use a jetwash to clean the cassette, even though I think that might be a time saver.

Cleaning the frame

Most of the time I just hose down the bike while mud is still wet and sometimes go over with a microfibre cloth. That does a fairly good job.

If mud is already caked on I'll use a detergent. I'm not fussy, I'm happy to use dishwasher liquid in warm water but I find that the pinky colour Muc-off is much less hassle because it just needs a quick spray on and wipe off.

Cleaning the cassette and drive train

This is a little more work. I'm not usually aiming for pristine but that would be the same principle with more effort.

I use a biodegradable degreaser. As far as I can tell it's just a stronger detergent. I soak the gears in this to loosen off the grub that builds up on and between them.

I scrub with a stiff brush and then a scraper to get the bulk off. From then onward I use a blunt pad saw blade to get between the sprockets and work my way round pushing out the oil soaked mud from all the holes. It's time consuming but I have not found a more effective way.

Cleaning the gears is time consuming, so I don't do this very often. I have found that most of the time, the chain pushes the mud out of the way, so as long as the gears still change properly, I tend to do no more than push off the excess grub with my fingers.

Lubricating the chain

After I clean the bike, I always oil the chain before putting it away.

I quickly dry the chain with a cloth before adding whatever oil I'm in favour of at the time.

In the winter, I tend to use Muc-Off wet lube. It's thick enough to stay on but not so thick that it picks up too much grub.

In the summer, I still prefer a wet lube. I am in England so it will still rain but I use something thinner, like TF2.

Cleaning brakes

I have disc brakes and have not had rim brakes for a very long time. I suspect that the principles of cleaning disc brakes also apply to rim brakes.

The brakes get hosed down with any normal clean which is normally enough. However, if I need to clean the brakes on their own, I will use Isopropyl Alcohol or Brake Cleaner, which is typically at least 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.

The discs are easy to wipe round with a CLEAN cloth, usually a paper towel. The pads need removing to clean those. I find cleaning the pads, less satisfactory. I'll post a separate article, at some point, on that subject.

Cleaning tyres

I don't try to make tyres look new, so I can't comment. I just wash off the mud with a hose and if I'm cleaning the frame, wash the tyres over at the end with the leftovers of the water or whatever I am using.

I ride a mountain bike, I expect it to be muddy looking most of the time.


I clean my bike so it is suitable for riding. I'm not after showroom shine.