Given everything that’s going on in the world right now, there are two things triathletes should be thinking about: keeping clean and conserving what they’ve got. Am I advocating triathletes to bathe in a bucket of bleach and hole up in a hoarded toilet paper fort? Nope. But in a time when things feel chaotic and unpredictable, it’s important that we get to maintain at least some level of control (something triathletes are known for) and be sure to appreciate the things we have. In this case, I’m talking about keeping your bike clean and mean so you can ride that thing happily until the wheels literally fall off. Ask any mechanic, and he or she will tell you: A clean bike will last vastly longer than a dirty one. Ask anyone who rides a lot, and they’ll also give some advice: A clean bike rides better, making you want to ride more often. Something most of us want to do.
Below we’ve collected a few tips on how to keep your bike clean, but if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to cleaning your bike, check out our story here.
How Often Should I Clean My Bike?
Just like your training plan, think periodization and polarization. You should be doing little things to clean your bike just about weekly (more is fine), but then put a date in your calendar every month or so to do a deep clean. At the beginning of each season (or the end if you’re super dedicated/thorough), you should plan on a ground-up clean. We’ll get into what each of those levels mean, but it’s super important that you keep a baseline of bike cleanliness so that when it is time for that deeper clean, you’re not chiseling out from underneath multiple layers of goop. Ickiness aside, if you only clean your bike once every three months or worse, you’ll actually be wearing down components quicker than if they were clean. Remember, we’re all about conservation now, so you want each part to last a long time!
How Much Should I Clean My Bike?
Very much. No, in all seriousness, I know people who do a full clean after almost every ride, and while I may mock them publicly, I envy them privately. When we go riding together, they’ll be shifting effortlessly and silently, doing their best to enjoy nature while they politely smile and try to ignore the sound coming from my rear derailleur. Realistically, your weekly clean should look like a quick wipedown of any sweat (if you’re riding indoors) and/or running your chain through a shop rag with a bit of degreaser on it. Once it’s dried, hit it with some light lube and wipe the excess off with a different dry rag.
Your monthly deep clean should involve blasting it with a hose (not a pressure washer!), wiping everything down, running your chain through an actual cleaner, drying it, and then re-lubing and removing excess lube with a dry rag. You’ll want to invest in a bunch of shop rags that you can get at almost any hardware shop for nearly nothing.
For that pre-season deep clean, we won’t go into the step-by-step details, but take a look at the quick and dirty checklist below:
- Remove all drivetrain components (chain, cassette, and chainring), soak them overnight in a serious degreaser
- Remove/change derailleur and brake cables (not as hard as you’d think)
- Scrub your rear derailleur pulleys with a degreaser-soaked toothbrush
- Spray down and soap the entire bike with a light degreaser or cleaning foam
- Re-lube your chain, brake/derailleur cables, pulley wheels, front and rear derailleur pivot points, pedals, and anything else that spins a lot (leave your BB, headset, and hubs unless they’re serviceable and you know what you’re doing)
- Wipe off all excess and reassemble; it’ll literally feel like you have a new bike!
- Bear in mind that with new cables, you might need to tighten brakes and derailleurs as you ride the first week or so, but otherwise, you’ll have one happy bike
Is There A Difference Between Cleaning My Bike When Outside Vs. Inside?
Yes, sort of. For our complete guide to cleaning and protecting your bike when it’s trapped inside beneath you on the trainer, check out our story from a few months ago. For the TL;DR crowd, it’s incredibly important to keep that pain-cave-bound bike wiped down and coated in a light lube to prevent sweat from corroding weird little spots you wouldn’t expect. When outside, cleaning and protecting the drivetrain takes a higher priority given the road grime and elements those moving parts are exposed to. This is even more important if you ride in the rain or snow, or on roads with sand, dust, or loose pavement.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best products for cleaning your bike:
Best Light/Mid-strength Degreaser For Cleaning Your Bike
Pedro’s Pig Juice
$6 (4 ounces), Competitivecyclist.com
This is an excellent (and not super expensive) midweight degreaser that’s safe enough to use on your weekly cleaning without worrying about it overstripping your chain or other moving parts. While you can save more harshly concentrated degreasers for your major clean, Pedro’s Pig Juice does great in a chain cleaner contraption (below) as it’s not too intense and is biodegradable for everyday use.
Best Heavy Strength Degreaser For Cleaning Your Bike
Morgan Blue Chain Cleaner
$10 (500mL), Morganblue.net
This is a heavy-duty chain cleaner that many professional tour mechanics use. Ideally, you’d pour this into a container (feel free to dilute a bit) with your drivetrain components and let it soak for a few hours for that super deep clean. Because it’s so strong, be sure not to drip it on other parts of your bike (hubs, BB, headset), as it has the potential to remove heavy grease from those areas that are hard to regrease.
Best Washer For Cleaning Your Bike
Muc-Off Pressure Washer
Ok, I know I said above that you shouldn’t use a pressure washer, but this one is different. Specifically calibrated to work with bike components, this pressure washer plugs into your hose and an electrical outlet to output a max of 100 psi—just enough to clean, but not enough to blow out bearings’ grease. Better yet, this magical machine can be used in conjunction with Muc-Off’s “snow foam” to coat your bike in a dirt-grabbing foam before rinsing off, grime free.
Best Chain Scrubber For Cleaning Your Bike
Park Tool Cyclone Chain Scrubber
This is one of those tools you’ll either get now or later. While a rag does an ok job of cleaning your chain from the superficial road grime and grit, you really need to get in between the nooks and crannies of each link to truly keep your chain in good order. This machine will literally pay for itself in a year or more, as it’ll prevent premature wear and tear on your chain and as a result your even more expensive cassette.
Best Light Lube For After Cleaning Your Bike
ProLink Chain Lube
$9 (4 ounces), Backcountry.com
This is a mechanic favorite for a reason—you can use this lube on your chain, your cables, pretty much anything that spins quickly. While it works well in all conditions, this lube truly excels in the dry-ish conditions that most triathletes train in (as opposed to super mucky mountain bike trails). Again, if you coat your parts in a lube like this, you’ll quickly extend the life of your moving stuff.