Keeping Your Mountain Bike Clean

Mom always said “cleanliness is next to godliness” and your bike is no exception. Mud, grime, and grease buildup cause moving parts to wear out more quickly. Good maintenance keeps everything working safely and extends the life of your components.

A bike stand is a good (but not necessary) investment for bike maintenance. It allows you to work on your bike without bending over or kneeling on the ground, making maintenance more comfortable and easier on your body. It also gives you fuller access to your bike.

Clean the Bike Frame

Generally, you do not need to clean your bike after every ride. In fact, that much water and soap can be harmful. A quick wipe down with a dry or damp rag is often more than enough. If you ride in wet, muddy conditions or ride hard and often, your bike might need more frequent thorough cleanings.

If you are washing your whole bike, stay away from high-pressure hoses. These can damage bearing systems and even compromise the paint. Use a bucket of soapy water and rag or soft brush. Work from top to bottom, then rinse with clean water and wipe everything dry to avoid rust.

If you have disc brakes, keep any soapy water away from the rotors and brake pads. Instead, use a specific rotor cleaner or rubbing alcohol.

Clean the Chain and Drivetrain

The easiest way to clean your bike chain is to wipe it on all sides (front, back, top, and bottom) with a rag and biodegradable solvent. This method may take a little scrubbing, especially if the chain is particularly greasy.

If your chain is especially grimy, dial it up a notch with a toothbrush or chain scrubber tool. Use a bucket of biodegradable solvent and brush until the chain is clean then wipe everything dry with a rag. You can even take the chain off the bike and soak it in water and soap to help loosen grime.

Next, clean the crankset (the large chain rings on the front). Shift to the small ring then lift the chain off the small ring and let it rest on the bike frame (or you can take the chain off entirely if you prefer). Use the damp rag or brush to clean any dirt and grime off each chain ring and between the rings.

Clean the rear cassette (the chain rings on the back wheel). Remove the rear wheel and set it with the cassettes facing up. Use a clean damp rag. Fold the rag in a way that fits an edge between two cogs. Pull the rag back and forth. This will cause the cassette to rotate. Make sure you clean all the way around and between each cog.

To deep clean the rear cassette, remove the cassettes from the wheel and separate them. Soak them in cleaner then wipe everything clean and dry. This is not necessary very often, but when you notice buildup between the cogs it’s time to take more drastic measures.

Check the Derailleurs

Check the front and rear derailleurs and wipe off any dirt, grime, or excess lubricant. Make sure to clean the inside of the front derailleur as it’s possible for grime to build up over time. Make sure everything is aligned and the chain is not rubbing anywhere.

A note on cleaner: WD-40 is not a good lubricant or cleaner for your mountain bike. There are a number of bike-specific environmentally friendly cleaners on the market as well as home products like Simple Green, Lestoil, or standard dish soap.

Lubricate Necessary Areas

After everything is clean and dry, lubricate your chain and drivetrain with special bike lubricant. Lubricant reduces friction between moving parts, prevents rust, and reduces wear and tear. However, over-lubricating can lead to damaging components by attracting and holding dirt.

Apply drops of lube slowly so each chain link gets a little lubricant. Turn the pedals and shift the chain up and down all the gears to make sure the lubricant is evenly distributed. Let it dry, then use a clean rag to wipe off any excess lube so it doesn’t attract dirt.

Always avoid getting lubricant on the brakes as this will compromise them.

When lubricating a number of parts, remember the order you applied the lubricant. Start at the front of the bike and move to the back. Then go back to the front and gently wipe any excess lube in the same order you applied it.

Apply lubricant after any wet ride to keep away rust and when your chain looks dry or is squeaking.

A Note on Disc Brakes

If your mountain bike has disc brakes, as stated before, be vigilant to keep lubricant, oil, and cleaners away from the discs! A small amount of water and a clean cloth should be more than enough to clean them. If your brakes need extra cleaning, invest in disc brake cleaner for the safest and best cleaning.

Finishing Touches

For an extra clean finish, treat your bike frame to some bicycle polish. This will make your frame shine and protect the paint.

Throughout the process, pay attention to the condition of each bike part. Check the bolts to be sure everything is tight and secure. Use the pre-ride “M-Check” as a guide for inspecting your bike.

Do you have a bike cleaning schedule? Share in the comments!

Keeping your mountain bike clean


  1. This is an excellent piece of writing.I want my car to be shiny all the time, so I give it a regular wash. After each of these, I usually use a silicone polish to polish the bike frame, so that I can make sure the dirt doesn’t stick to the bike’s surface easily. Oil all the links and wipe off the excess to prevent dirt from accumulating. This is probably a great way to polish and clean mountain bike chains.

    1. Regular cleaning helps keep things nice for sure, Dalton. Doesn’t matter if it’s a car or bike. It’s important. Glad to hear you keep your stuff nice.

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