Mountain bikes are for trailing the muddy unpaved roads, which means dirt is inevitable.
However, mud, dust and debris can impact your bike's performance should you neglect cleaning and maintenance. It could even decrease the longevity of your chain and drivetrain.
Check out my step-by-step guide below on how to clean a mountain bike below so that you can get back on the trail.
Here’s how to clean a mountain bike:
- Set up your station.
- Rinse and foam.
- Clean the drivetrain and tires.
- Clean the chain.
Of course, I won’t leave you high and dry with just those steps.
More in-depth info coming up; but first, you need to get prepared.
Before you get started, there's a list of supplies that can help you get your mountain bike clean:
- Brushes: Get yourself a couple of brushes in different textures and sizes. They help you get into the hard-to-reach spots, removing grime and dirt. An old toothbrush will do if you can't get a hold of brushes.
- Clean rags: Having a couple of clean rags on hand lets you tackle grease, oil and other wax-related tasks, as well as drying.
- Degreaser: Find a bike-specific decreaser that can remove excess and old grease from your chain. Opt for an environmentally-friendly solvent, although a home-made baking soda and lemon combination is the most ethical option.
- Soap: You can use diluted dishwashing soap or a specific bike cleaner for the frame.
- Bike polish: Polishing your bike makes it harder for dirt and mud to stick to the frame. Opt for a silicone polish.
- Water: Be careful using a high-pressure hose as it can damage sensitive bearing systems. Instead, use a garden hose.
- Bike stand: This isn't necessary, but it helps you position your bike higher, making all the parts more accessible. You can turn the pedals and even remove a wheel if needed.
- Chain lubricant: Keeping the bike chain lubricated extends its lifespan. There are two types of oils to choose from: wet and dry. Wet lube is optimal in rainy conditions, whereas dry lube excels in dry regions. Consider where you live and which choice is best for you.
How To Clean a Mountain Bike: Step-By-Step Guide
Keep in mind that you don't have to do every step daily, but I'll explain that with each step:
1. Set Up Your Station
- Find a good spot, ideally with decent drainage near a water source, be it a garden hose or tap.
- Then, set up your bike stand if you use one. A great advantage is if the bike stand can swivel—this allows you to turn your bike as needed without having to walk around it. If you don't have a bike stand, don't worry, you can still clean your bike, but be mindful of splashing dirt.
- If applicable, get yourself a small table to place all your supplies on, such as soaps, cleaners, lubricants and brushes. It helps to stay organized.
2. Rinse and Foam
- Fill your bucket with cold water, or use your garden hose.
- Proceed to rinse your bike from top to bottom, working in small increments to loosen as much dirt as possible.
- Next, fill your bucket with warm water.
- Apply a dot of soap to a soft brush, and dip in the water.
- Scrub the bicycle, working from top to bottom.
Try to lather up the whole bike, from the front to the back and downwards. Working from top to bottom prevents dirt from dripping onto the parts you've already cleaned.
3. Clean the Drivetrain and Tires
Note: While you're scrubbing, look for any signs of damage, like torn blocks, cuts or thorns. If bubbles form, it could indicate that there's a slow puncture in your tire.
- Grab a firm brush.
- Saturate it in warm water.
- Apply your soap.
- Begin to scrub the tires, removing dirt from the treads, sidewalls and rims.
- Now move onto the drivetrain and cassette. Try to remove any sticks, grass or other debris that might be caught between cogs or in the jockey wheels. Use a firm brush and soap to scrub it clean—though you may need your hands to remove larger pieces.
Ensure you get all the dirt off—the chainring and jockey wheels are crucial components and, when dirty, decrease your performance and the bike's lifespan. You should also aim to keep these parts clean, meaning that following every trip, brush the dirt off.
If you notice a lot of grease on the cassette that won't come off with soap, hold the degreaser for now. It's better to degrease after you've rinsed off any soap.
Once everything is clean, grab your bucket or garden hose and rinse your bike thoroughly. You want to remove all the soap residue, as it can cause problems with some of the bearings.
While rinsing, you can use a soft brush to scrub off any remaining residue. But avoid pressure washers.
5. Clean the Chain
It’s imperative you keep the chain clean as it's susceptible to rust and other damage.
If your chain only has a small amount of built-up grime, hold a rag around the chain as you cycle the pedals backward.
For really dirty chains, a bike chain degreaser is your best weapon. It will do a much more thorough job without the mess.
- Remove your bike from the stand.
- Place it in the sun or a well-ventilated area.
- Grab a clean cloth and wipe the headset, frame, seat post and suspension.
- While you're drying your bike, inspect it to ensure that everything is clean.
- Then allow your bicycle to air dry for about 30 minutes before moving on to the next section.
Once you've finished cleaning, it's essential to take a few minutes to do some maintenance:
Get your bike back on the stand and remove the wheels—if you're unsure how to remove them, just leave them be. Taking the tires off simply helps you do a more thorough job.
Apply a bit of polish to a clean, lint-free cloth and work it into the frame. If the polish is a spray, never administer it directly to the frame as you could hit the rotors and contaminate the brake pads.
2. Oil the Suspension
It's essential to lubricate the suspension to ensure that it runs smoothly.
- Use fork oil and wipe a generous amount around the stanchions’ bottom parts.
- Cycle the suspension through its compartment a few times before wiping it clean.
3. Lubricate the Chain
Once you've cleaned the chain and stripped it of old grease, it's crucial that you apply lubricant.
- Apply a few drops onto the chain, ensuring that there's some on each link.
- Allow it to dry.
- Then wipe off any excess to avoid attracting more dirt.
Look to lubricate your chain when it looks and feels dry or makes a squeaking sound. A great tip is to apply lube on wet days, as it prevents the chain from rusting.
Note: Also check if the chain is tight at this point. If you’re unsure how to do this, check out my guides on how to remove a bike chain and how to put a bike chain back on.
4. Lubricate the Derailleur Levers, Cables and Brakes
Lubricating the brake and derailleur levers and cables is vital to keep them functioning properly.
Apply two drops of lube to the lever pivots and barrel adjusters once in a while and following a cleaning session.
The same goes for cables. Check them frequently to ensure they're functioning well, responding and translating your commands.
5. Check the Tire Pressure
Tire pressures can drop significantly over time, giving your bike a sluggish, hard-to-ride feel. However, it's the perfect time to whip out the tire pressure gauge and assess the condition of your wheels following a cleaning session.
A tire-pressure gauge is quite affordable, and it's a great tool to keep at home in the garage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should You Clean Your Mountain Bike After Every Ride?
You should ideally clean your mountain bikes after every few rides, especially if the weather is wet. Your mountain bike consists of several moving parts that can quickly get compromised by dirt and debris.
However, it's also imperative that you use mild products and steer clear of power washers, as these can damage your bike.
Can I Use WD40 to Lubricate My Bike Chain?
WD40 is a water-displacing spray, working to prevent rust, but you shouldn't use it on your bike chain as lubrication. It could dry out the chain, causing damage as you ride. Instead, invest in a proper bicycle chain lubricant.
Knowing how to clean a mountain bike is imperative if you're often out on the muddy trails. Dirt and debris can affect how your bicycle performs and its longevity.
Fortunately, cleaning your cycle is easy, but I recommend investing in the proper tools, like a bike stand, soaps and brushes. Remember to lubricate the chain and all other moving parts to keep them functioning.