HOW TO WASH YOUR MOUNTAIN BIKE LIKE A PRO
Keep your ride squeaky clean
Regular maintenance is the best and simplest way to keep your rig running in prime condition. Washing your bike is part of a good maintenance regimen. Not only will your bike be sparkly and bright, but high-wear (and sometimes high-priced) components, such as chains, cassettes and chainrings, will see longer intervals between replacement. Plus, your machine will run smoother and quieter.
• Bike repair stand
• 5-gallon bucket or equivalent
• Garden hose and spray handle.
• Kitchen sponges, preferably with Scotch-Brite on one side (a good way to reuse old ones before they head to the landfill)
• Soft-bristle brush for frames, rims and disc rotors. The Finish Line brand is great.
• Hard scrub brushes—long handle style for chainrings and drivetrain, two brushes—one for cassettes and chainrings, the other for tire treads. (Our favorite brand is Libman and can be found in almost any grocery store.)
• Cassette brush (brush on one end, plastic hook on the other. Park makes a great one)
• Chain keeper (as simple as a small piece of PVC pipe that can go over a thru-axle or a purpose-made roller like the ones from Feedback Sports and Pedros)
• Old toothbrushes (minimum two) for getting into nooks and crannies
• Small bottle brush, 1/2-inch diameter or less
• Clean rags
• Basic shop tools (chain checker, Vernier caliper, plastic tire levers)
• Disc brake bleed blocks
• Degreaser (Pedro’s Degreaser and Muc Off Degreaser are among our favorites)
• Dawn dish soap (the go-to of most professional mechanics) or other purpose-made bike wash, such as Muc-off or Finish Line
•Chain lube of choice
Another bonus of a good wash is the opportunity to spot potential problems before you’re on the trail and they ruin a good ride. Any wear item is fair game for a look-over once the bike is clean. Bonus: a clean bike makes a close-up inspection easier on the eyes.
Items to look at include tires (look for torn knobs, side-wall slashes, scrapes or abrasion and any other damage), chains (wash time is the perfect time to drop a chain-checker in to look for elongation that can hasten wear on the cassette), chainrings (broken teeth, worn or bent teeth and loose, broken, or missing chainring bolts), and brake pads (pad thickness and wear.)
Cassettes are the hardest item to check for wear. Look for loose and bent cogs. A good rule of thumb is three chain replacements to one cassette replacement (YMMV). It’s also a good time to look over cables and housings for cracks or splits, worn or frayed cables, and weeping hydraulic fluid. Give suspension linkages a bit of a wiggle to assess bearing and/or bushing play. Turn the cranks once the wheels are off the bike to feel for crunchy bottom bracket bearings, and do the same for the headset. Pitted headset bearings will “snap back” to center once the weight of the wheel is removed from the equation. While you’re at it, check the wheels for loose spokes and both the rotors and wheels to see if they are true. Finally, check the thickness of your rotors with a Vernier caliper (most rotors have a minimum thickness stamped on them and, believe it or not, they do wear out.)
Washing a bike is pretty straightforward. You put it in the stand, soak it down and scrub it up. Sounds simple, right? It is. But, a methodical wash helps with the above maintenance checklist and also means you won’t get done and find spots that you missed of caked-on mud or grime. This method takes about 45 minutes from start to finish.
Step 1: Into the Stand
While you don’t technically need a repair stand to wash a bike, it really helps. It’s easier to keep the bike still while you’re washing it, and it’s a bit safer, too. (No one likes busted knuckles or cuts from slippery metal bits.)
Once you have the bike in the stand, start by removing the wheels and set them aside. If you have thru-axles, put them back in the frame and fork so they don’t go missing or end up getting stepped on. If you have a chain keeper (purpose made or PVC tube), you can hang the chain on it and install that now.
Now is also the time to pull the brake pads. This is an optional step, but if you really want to do things right, it’s a good one to take. It makes checking the pads for wear easier. Once the pads are out, measure them with a Vernier caliper and compare the thickness against new ones (replace at 50 percent or more wear). Put them aside in a small dish or parts bin for safekeeping. Having them out also allows you to get a toothbrush up in the space where the pads sit in the caliper to wheedle out built-up brake dust, grime and schmutz that may keep the pistons from actuating in a smooth manner. Install your brake-bleed blocks so you don’t accidentally pull the brake lever while you’re scrubbing and push the pistons out of their bore. If the bleed blocks won’t fit in the caliper because the pistons are sticking out too far, use the plastic tire levers (never metal ones, they will cause damage) to gently push them back into the bores.
Step 2: Ready, Set, Scrub!
Fill your bucket with water and add soap or bike wash. Gently squirt the bike down with water to get everything wet. Don’t blast it. Aiming a heavy stream of water at critical areas like bottom brackets, hubs, suspension pivots and seals or headsets is asking for trouble. A gentle stream of water poses little risk of infiltration or water ingress to those areas. And, you’re gonna maintain those items at regular intervals, too, right? Right!
Grab your sponge. Start at the handlebars and stay away from the greasy bits for now. Wash with the soft side of the sponge. Make sure you get under the bars, around controls and under the stem. Rinse the sponge as needed and work your way methodically along the frame from front to back and back to front again, finishing with the fork. Don’t forget under the saddle, and don’t shy away from the brake calipers. Rinse gently and repeat.
Grab a second sponge and use the Scotch-Brite side. Apply degreaser to the chain as you would chain lube as you rotate the crank backwards. Wrap the sponge around the chain like a taco and continue to rotate the chain through the sponge. Now, do it again after rinsing your sponge and chain. Your chain should be close to clean at this point, but do this step multiple times, swapping to soap for the last go-around. Gently rinse between takes.
Next, grab the longer-handled, stiff-bristle brush and get after the chainring and rear derailleur. Use the degreaser and then Dawn to get all the grime and gunk off the drivetrain. You may have to swap between sponges and scrub brushes to get the nastiest bits. Spin the cranks while holding the brush against the chainring, and then the pulley wheels to get to the caked-on muck. Swap to the sponge and more soap for a final clean. Give it all a rinse.
Before this next step, listen up: Never use the same scrub tools (sponges, toothbrushes, etc.) that you used for greasy things like chains and drivetrain bits on your brakes—ever! Keep extra sponges and toothbrushes aside for components like brake calipers, rotors and rims/tires. Same goes for the soft-bristle brush we’ll use for the wheels.
Last step on the frame is to use a toothbrush or small soft-bristle brush to get into nooks and crannies. Pull the bleed blocks from the calipers. Put some soap on the brushes and scrub around inside the brake calipers. Get into small voids around linkages and swingarms. Swap between sponges and brushes as needed. Gently rinse everything one last time.
Step 3: The Wheels
Give both wheels a soaking with water so any dried-on mud gets saturated. Starting with the tires, use one of the stiff-bristle, steam-iron-shaped brushes (the other is for the cassette, so don’t mix them up) to loosen up any caked-on mud and dirt on the tread. Riders in dry or desert areas may not have this problem, but if you live where it’s wet and muddy, it’s a distinct possibility. Continue scrubbing around the tire to get all the mud off. Now, swap to the softer-bristle brush. Apply soap to the bristles and scrub the rims, tire sidewalls, spokes (stay away from the cassette) and rotors. Use a sponge to get to the hub shell and a toothbrush (have we mentioned it should be one that wasn’t used on the drivetrain?) to get into the area behind the rotor and the hub flanges. For the rear wheel, finish with the cassette. Use the steam-iron-shaped brush you held back for this use. Put the degreaser or soap on the bristles and scrub the cassette in a back-and-forth ratchet motion until any goop or grime stuck between the cogs is gone. The cassette brush, with its plastic hook, is helpful for getting leaves, twigs and grime out from between cogs.
The last step is to use the small bottle brush. Put a little soap on it and scrub the inside of the axles. Modern bikes with thru-axles have a tendency toward galvanic corrosion from moisture or sweat seeping into this interface. This step gets any crusty bits out.
Give everything a rinse and check for any spots you missed.
Step 4: Buttoning Up
Once the bike is dry, it’s time for reassembly. If it’s a sunny day, letting the bike sit in the stand in the sun for about 10–15 minutes, followed by a wipe down, is usually sufficient. If it’s damp out or wet, use clean, dry rags to wipe everything down. Run the chain backwards through a dry rag to grab any excess moisture. Pull the brake-bleed blocks and replace the brake pads. Get a tiny bit of bearing grease and apply it to the shaft of the thru-axles before installing the wheels. Install the wheels. Give the brake levers a pull to reset the brake pads and adjust the calipers as needed. Finally, lube your chain.
Step 5: Go Ride
Rubber side down!