How To Clean A Mountain Bike

Author: Alex Bristol

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You’ve just taken your mountain bike out on a challenging trail and it’s caked in mud so now you’re wondering how to clean a mountain bike?

Well, look no further because we’ve got all of the information you need in this article from the proper techniques to clean your entire bike as well as some other tips on keeping your mountain bicycle clean in any future excursions. And as a side note – if you’re looking for your next conquest then check out our article on the top 10 mountain bike trails for you to try.

Maintaining your mountain bike can be a chore but if you want to keep it in good condition then you’ll have to take this side of the hobby seriously otherwise you’ll find yourself replacing your mountain bike more often than you’d like which can become very pricey.

Hardtails mountain bikes are easier to clean and maintain as there are fewer moving parts and you can find out more about hardtails at ‘what is a hardtail mountain bike?‘. Whereas other types such as full-suspension bikes not only cost more but have more parts that you need to keep clean and in repair.

Read on and you’ll have your mountain bike like new in no time.

Do Mountain Bikes Need Cleaning?

Knowing how to clean your mountain bike is one thing but do you even need to go through with the cleaning process in the first place?

Well, as is ever the answer, it depends. If you’re frequently riding in wet or muddy conditions then your bike frame is going to wear and tear.

If you do get your mountain bike dirty then you’ll have no option but to get your bike clean from the disc brakes and rims to potentially needing to clean the entire brake.

The kind of built-up grime your bike attracts depends on the weather and the terrain. For example, sunny and dry conditions won’t bring much more than some dust which can easily be removed whereas torrential rain and mud can potentially leave your bike getting clogged.

A women riding a road bike down a dirt road

Why Bother Cleaning Your Mountain Bike?

Cleaning your bike is encouraged but you may still be thinking about why it’s necessary and what would happen if you didn’t bother with cleaning it.

Well, here are three reasons you should clean your mountain bike:

  1. Upkeep: If you’re like me and are always itching for when the next cycling contest or trail adventure is on the way, you should consider cleaning your bike regularly. This is because, after mud and dirt gather on components such as the frame and chains with no cleaning to relieve the build-up, it begins to add to the weight of your bike, and worse yet, dry mud has the potential to cause alloyed parts to peel off, leaving your bike exposed to rust.
  2. Easier Inspection: It may seem obvious but when your bike is clean, inspecting it for faults becomes a whole lot easier. For example, you can easily spot cuts on tires, broken cables, leaking oil seals, weak frames, and even faulty cables on a clean MTB. Keep your bike clean and you’ll be able to ensure it’s running at optimal performance at all times which saves money and in some cases, you.
  3. Aesthetic: Let’s be honest, a filthy bike isn’t going to turn any heads. If you roll up to events with friends and your bike is covered in dried mud you’re not going to fit in with the other riders who likely value their bikes. in some cases, you may even be turned away as your bike could be considered unsafe.
Three people riding bicycles along a tree lined road

What You’ll Need To Clean Your Mountain Bike

Before we get started on the cleaning process, you’ll need to know what equipment to get to make sure you’re cleaning your bike in the very best way possible.

Before you get all of these things though, find a good place with plenty of room for your bike so you can clean it easily and with enough area to place the items you’ll need. You can wash your bike at the local bike shop or in your garden is a preferred area for most riders.

Besides that though, here’s a list of the things you may need:

  • Brushes – You’ll need a variety of soft and firm brushes to remove dirt from the surfaces of your bike. Look for varying sizes of brushes too so you can get into all the tight spaces within the bike chain and other intricate parts.
  • Soap – Obviously you need something to do the actual cleaning and diluted soap to clean the frame should do the trick. Any multipurpose soap can also work, or you could even buy a preformulated bike cleaner if you want to be thorough.
  • Water and a hosepipe -This is needed for any rinsing but you should avoid using a high-pressure hose as the excessive pressure can damage your mountain bike’s bearing systems. A garden hose will do the trick.
  • Clean rags or cloths – These will come in handy for both cleaning and drying. You can also use them to wipe grease or oil on the bike for lubrication.
  • Degreaser – Gummy parts will require a degreaser to remove any grime. Try to find a bike-specific degreaser that’s eco-friendly for your bike chain and be sure to avoid turpentine.
  • Chain lubricant –  Lubricant will help make your drivetrain last longer so long as you don’t use excess lube. Always apply bicycle-specific lube oil to a clean chain though. It’s also worth noting that there are two types of lube: wet or dry. Wet lube is the best to use when you’ll be riding in wet conditions but check out our guide on the best mountain bike chain lube for some recommendations and extra tips.
  • Bike Stand – This is going to allow you toposition the bike at a comfortable height while you’re working on it which makes life easier for you in terms of cleaning as well as preventing your back from giving out. It will also allow you to turn the pedals or remove the wheels so you can clean all the moving parts.
Cleaning products for bikes

How To Clean Your Mountain Bike: Step By Step

  1. Area Prep – As we mentioned above in things you’ll need it’s important to find a good area to clean your bike in. A place with good drainage is always ideal such as a garden and ensure your workspace is well lit. You may think you need a pressure washer but we wouldn’t recommend it as you can end up stripping important grease from bearings and damaging your suspension.
  2. Bike Positioning – It will be a great help to use a solid bike stand so that your bike is off the ground. This way, dirt doesn’t splash back onto your bike. Assemble your bike stand and if you can find one that spins 360 degrees.
  3. Equipment Prep – Now it’s time to get your gear together. Find your bucket and then, get two brushes, a soft and a firm one, along with a hose connected to cold water and some cleaning products. You can use anything from cheap washing-up liquid to dedicated bike wash products. Be wary of car wash products though as these can be too strong for your bike and contaminate your bike parts.
  4. Rinse – Firstly, mount your bike on the stand and rinse it with cold water working from top to bottom so any dirt drains downwards away from the bike.
  5. Soft Brush – Next, fill your bucket with warm soapy water and take a clean, soft brush. Apply washing liquid directly to your brush with warm water and foam the bike starting at the front working down the bike from the top.
  6. Firm Brush – Now switch to your firm brush with warm water and directly apply washing liquid to the brush. Then scrub onto the tires removing dirt from between the tread and around the sidewall and rim.
  7. Inspection (Tires) – As we said, a clean bike is much easier to assess for damage. Inspect for any damage such as cuts, torn blocks, or thorns as you go. You should be able to identify any problems by looking out for bubbles in the soap that may indicate a slow puncture.
  8. Drivetrain – Now we move to the drive train and the cassette. Start by removing any grass, sticks, and other debris caught between cogs or stuck onto jockey wheels then scrub with the firm brush and cleaner.
  9. Rinse and Inspect Again – After that rinse the bike again using the hose or soft brush from top to bottom, inspecting the bike again for any damage to the frame, components, and wheels. As a tip, rotate the pedals at the same time allowing water to run down freely through the links on the chain and chainrings.
  10. Repeat (optional) – This next one depends on how dirty the bike was, if you’ve been ripping through some seriously rough terrain then the above process may need to be repeated until the bike is thoroughly clean.
  11. Deeper Cleaning – If you want to be thorough, and you should, then remove the wheels in case the bike was extremely dirty. Pay particular attention to the jockey wheels and chain ring as they can hold compressed dirt and grime. You can get a chain cleaning device too if you’re having trouble with the chain. This is vital because a dirty drive chain causes added friction and wear and is more likely to lead to problems occurring. Make sure to clean carefully around the suspension seals too as grit can cause some pricey problems to arise.
  12. Rinse Once More – Thoroughly rinse the bike to ensure soap or products are not left on as this can cause problems. A free-flowing water hose or a bucket of clean water and a soft brush is much kinder on your bike.
  13. Dry – Now that’s all done you can remove the bike from the stand and place it in a dry area where it’s warm and can dry. Also a lint-free dry rag or paper towel may be used for removing excess water.
  14. Polish – You’re nearly finished! Just polish your frame using a silicone polish with a microfiber towel. This is because if your mountain bike is used in wet or muddy conditions, it will make it harder for mud to stick. Always apply polish to a lint-free cloth and rub it into the frame, never spray directly as you run the risk of over spraying onto your rotors and contaminating the brake pads. Cycle the forks and rear shock through their stroke to push any dirt away from the seals and finally wipe it off. Then as a finishing touch, lube the stanchions with a specific suspension lubricant or a dab of fork oil.
  15. Storage – As soon as the bike is dry it’s really important to lube your drive chain, wiping off any excess afterward. Hang your bike front wheel up by a hook if you can keeping the brake levers higher than the calipers so the lubricating oil in the forks can sit on the foam seals keeping them moist for smooth action straight away.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I clean my MTB?

It’s best to clean your MTB after every hard ride or two. However, your bike needs a deep clean when you ride in the rain or any muddy terrain.

However, if you have an electric mountain bike, ensure you clean it every week if you ride through sand, snow, rain, and mud because the dust and grime can interfere with the E-MTB battery’s performance.

How Do I Clean My Full-Suspension Bike?

Full-suspension bikes can be harder to clean as they have more parts to them but if you follow the step-by-step guide above then you should face no issues while cleaning them. if you’re looking for a new full-suspension bike then check out our guide on the best full-suspension mountain bikes under $2000

Is it OK to wash my mountain bike?

For mountain bikes, you should clean your bike after every muddy ride or every couple of weeks with regular use in dry climates. However, with proper bike washing techniques, using a hose and a bucket of soapy water is the best way to get your bike sparkly and clean!

Is it bad to wash your bike with water?

When used carefully, water can be a handy tool, but be careful as water, especially when coming from a high-pressure hose, can cause damage to sensitive bearing systems throughout your bike. Use diluted dishwashing soap or preformulated bike wash cleaner for frame cleaning.

How often should you oil your bike chain?

We’d recommend cleaning and lubricating your bike’s drive chain at least once every month to maintain optimal performance and protection. The chain and drivetrain are typically the dirtiest parts of your bike, and this dirt is bad news for bike longevity and performance.

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