You just came off the trails, and from the seat to the spokes, the handlebars to the rear rack, your mountain bike is a mess. Now it’s time to clean it down and dry it off to store for later.
A lot of people don’t clean their mountain bikes, and you might be surprised to find that it’s actually a safety concern if you ignore it. Your bike can malfunction, and we’ll explain how in just a moment.
You absolutely have to keep your mountain bike clean and clear. A bit of mud on the outside of the chain guard is no big deal, but it’s when dirt and debris get into the chair and brake lines that we have a problem. Let’s run you through the steps on how to keep it clean.
Why is it Important to Keep a Bike Clean?
To prevent damage to your bike, lower your risk of injury, and make your ride as smooth as possible. Bike chains muck up from dirt and dust very quickly on mountain biking trails. The dust you kick up rises and sticks to your chain, slowly clumping the grease and creating a blockage.
Then the chain gets harder to work, and if you keep it up, you put stress on the drive and anywhere else the chain interacts.
This can lead to expensive damage, but it also means that a malfunction is more likely to happen when you least expect it—presumably when you’re on a trail or riding very fast. Keeping your mountain bike clean is a must.
Is Cleaning a Mountain Bike Different?
It can be more difficult than cleaning a street bike, but it’s not ridiculously different. Both will have gears, drives, and hand brakes.
Dismantling sections of your mountain bike will be similar to dismantling street or BMX bikes, so if you can do it to one of them, you can do it to all of them.
Can You Damage Your Bike By Washing It?
Yes, you absolutely can. Even though you’re washing down your bike and applying more lubricant afterward, you can still get water into hard-to-reach areas on your bike such as bearing areas.
That’s why you’ll find a lot of bike lubricants come in pressurized cans with small hoses, similar to compressed air that’s used to clean computer parts and electronics.
These lubricants will get into your bearings to help you keep them moving as intended. But it’s not just a lack of lube after washing your bike that can damage it.
You have to be careful not to use too much water pressure. You never want to use a pressure washer to clean your bike since it can exaggerate damages in the metal of your chains or rotors, and it can peel paint or finish off of basically any metal.
Pressurized water will also strip grease off of metal far beyond what you actually need.
When you clean your chain or rotors, you want to get clumps and dirt out: we’re not trying to make it bone dry, otherwise, we’ll go through a ton of lube to lubricate it later. Avoid pressurized water or any detergent that’s not safe for use on metal.
Bike Cleaning Supplies
Before you start cleaning, you need the right supplies. This is everything you should need to clean your mountain bike:
- Bike Cleaning Kit: This is a series of brushes that work well for different angles and help you clean your bike faster than if you were just using a standard brush. This is our favorite kit. You don’t want to spend a lot on them since they’ll be going through the ringer every time you use them; basic works.
- Degreaser: You won’t need this every single time you clean your bike, but for those deep cleans, this is important. Degreaser is mostly the same no matter which one you go with, so this basic bottle will get the job done just fine.
- Bicycle Lube: After you strip down the grease on that chain and clean it, you have to apply clean lube to get it going again. This lube is extremely inexpensive and does the job for most mountain bikes.
- Rags: Some old cotton cloths from around the house should work well to clean your bicycle chain, as long as you don’t expect to have them back. You could also use disposable shop towels since they’re designed to soak up grease and oil.
- Miscellaneous: Depending on the elements of your bike, you may need leather cleaner if you replace the seat, special rubber cleaner for the handlebar grips, or backup spare parts for brake lines. Just be sure that you have everything you’ll need to clean and potentially fix your bike.
Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning a Mountain Bike
#1 Clean Your Drivetrain
Depending on how dirty your chain is, you’ll want to do one of two things:
- Use a chain cleaning device
- Use degreaser and a brush
We prefer the latter. If you use the kit we recommended in the previous section, you’ll see that there’s a multitude of brushes included in the package.
You should make sure that you use the exact same brush for your drivetrain every time. This is to prevent grease/lube from getting into parts of your bike where it doesn’t belong.
After you’ve degreased the drivetrain and you’re sure you got most of it off, proceed to the next step.
#2 Clean Your Brakes
Using shop paper towels or a rag, wipe down your brakes and do your best to remove every bit of grease and dirt that you can.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but we want to get the bulk of it off. Use degreaser to get around the rotos as well to make sure you’ve got everything.
#3 Hose it Down
Now we’re going to actually get the bulk of the dirt off, starting with… all of it! Use a hose and spray down your bike. You want a bit of pressure, but nothing too hard.
Spray the drivetrain, the rotors, basically everything. Start at the top so the dirty water can run down the bike and onto the ground.
If it’s really dirty, you can use a detergent solution. Just be sure that whatever you’re using is safe on metal. Let that sit for about 3-5 minutes before you hose it down.
It’s very important to have plenty of air on either side of the bike while it dries. Metal doesn’t rust that quickly, but the longer that your bike spends wet, the higher chance it has of rusting. We want it to air dry as fast as possible for later steps.
#4 Back to Scrubbing
Using the appropriate brush, scrub the wet mountain bike frame and any parts that need it.
If there’s detergent on the bike, this will loosen the remaining muck and dirt, and if you don’t need to use any, that’s okay too. A quick scrub should take care of everything that remains.
#5 Rinse Your Bike
Use that hose again, except this time we’re going to rinse all the detergent, dirty water, and remaining dirt off of the bike so that it’s squeaky clean.
Be sure that you move your tires to get in between all the treads (otherwise remaining detergent is going to clump up really fast when you get back to the trails).
#6 Dry it Off
Take a dry raga and go into hyper-dry mode. Get the wheels, treads, rotors, chain—dry everything off so make room for lubricant.
While drying, you can also apply a layer of silicone spray (similar to shoe waterproofing spray) if you wish. This can help future dirt either not stick or come off easier, and it adds some nice gleam to your bike as well.
#7 Lubricate Everything
Your bike has been cleaned, dried, and now it’s time to make it feel brand new. Use lubricant on everywhere that the manufacturer booklet says.
Pedals, chain, etc., just be careful that you don’t get lube where it doesn’t belong. Most notably, on your braking surfaces since that would interfere with their functionality. There you go; you’re done!
Cleaning Your Bike the Right Way
Keeping your bike clean is imperative to its functionality, otherwise, it could fall into disrepair, or fail you when you need it most. You want to prolong your bike parts for as long as possible to prevent spending money on more parts, repairs, or a new bike if the failure leads to catastrophic results.
Be sure to clean the chain and lube it up after every ride, but if you’re hitting a hard trail and coating your bike in a layer of dust every single time, you really ought to clean it thoroughly to prevent long-term issues from popping up.
Last Updated on May 29, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic