How to (Really) Clean Your Bike
Because your outdoor cycling workouts will improve with a well-oiled machine.
Your bike is out of winter storage, but in order for it to perform optimally, it probably needs a good scrub down. “Cleaning your bike promotes its longevity,” says Ryan Zagata, President of Brooklyn Bike Co. “It also provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the mechanical parts of a bike that often go unchecked—like brake cables and chains—but that still need regular maintenance to ensure safe [and efficient] riding,” he adds. Don’t just grab a hose and spray down the bike; not only will that lead to rusting, but you’ll overlook the specific cleaning that is needed for each part. Properly taking care of your bike requires a yearly in-depth tune-up, but here's a primer on how to give it a decent at-home cleaning.
“Left untended, your chain will return the favor by making you work harder to get up to and maintain speed,” says Zagata. “It is far and away the most important part to clean—and the most overlooked." Zagata recommends cleaning it once monthly in warmer months, but if you’re one of the brave winter riders, clean the chain every other week to rid of corrosive salt and other seasonal elements. The good news here is that cleaning chains is easier than you’d guess. Prop the bike up, get the right degreaser for the chain and use a brush to gently scrub it clean. Once you re-grease it with lubricant, be sure to wipe away any excess globs so that they don’t collect dirt and grime.
“Your best bet is to soak a cloth in warm water and wipe the frame down,” Zagata says. He adds that people will oftentimes hose their bikes down the way you do with a car, which has the unintended consequence of saturating parts of the bike that shouldn’t be waterlogged and are specifically designed to keep out water (hubs, bottom bracket, derailleur).
Cleaning your adjustable seat post will prevent it from rusting and sticking in place. As you remove the seat, our expert recommends using black electrical tape to mark where it was locked. The electrical tape should stick to the greased metal. Remove it entirely, and use a dry rag to wipe clean everything below the tape. Then, apply some bike grease with a gloved finger to the inside of the frame’s seat post. Slide the seat back into place after removing the tape, and lock it in. If any grease collects at the top of the post, just wipe it away with your rag.
Bike Saddle and Seat Cover
If you have a leather seat, use a leather brush and some light dish soap to scrub the saddle. Zagata says to follow with a damp rag to wipe away any soap residue before allowing to dry. If you have a gel seat cover, fill a bucket with cool soapy water; laundry detergent might work best. Soak the cover for ten minutes, then scrub with clean rag. Rinse, pat dry with a towel, and then let it air dry. If you have a Lycra cover, scrub it with a cold damp cloth. Let it air dry, then protect it with a waterproofing agent.
Your secret weapon here is lemon furniture polish (which also works on bike frames). FYI, Zagata advises to do this outside so it doesn't leave any residue on your floor. With a clean rag, rub the polish in the direction of the tape. For fresher stains, just act fast with a simple wet wipe.
Pedals can be a bit of a different beast, because every bike maker builds their pedals differently. The process can be pretty involved, as this tutorial for Shimano SPD pedals proves. But for a light cleaning, most experts agree that warm, soapy water and the gentle scrub from a toothbrush will keep them clean.