Bike Drivetrain Cleaning

Person cleaning bike

Remember, a clean bike is a fast bike. A drivetrain free of dirt and debris extends the life of your components and gives you a few extra watts on race day. A few watts isn’t much in a super sprint, but it certainly adds up in an Ironman! It’s important to clean your bike every two to four weeks, and especially before race day.

Everyone has a slightly different method for cleaning a bike. The steps outlined here are what I’ve found to be fastest and more effective. Additional steps, such as the removal of the rear cassette, should be completed during a deep clean. The steps below are recommended for routine maintenance.

Supplies List

You will need the following supplies:

  • Your bike
  • Bucket
  • Car wash soap
  • Old towel
  • Simple Green (or plain dish soap)
  • Bike lube
  • Paper towels
  • Car wash sponge
  • Cheap tooth brush
  • Latex gloves
  • Garden hose
  • Plastic wrap or a plastic bag (if you have electronic components)

Step 1: Prepare your Bike

If you have a bike stand, use it! Do not clamp down hard if you have a carbon frame. If you do not have a bike stand, no problem! Just flip your bike upside down so it rests on the handlebars. Put on your latex gloves. Next remove the rear wheel’s skewer or thru axle. Then remove the rear wheel. Your chain should now be loose and easier to work around.

Step 2: Hose Down

If you have lights or electronic components, I like to put a plastic bag or plastic wrap over them. They are water resistant but don’t enjoy a blast of water. Lightly wet your drive train (derailleurs, crank and chain). Also wet the cassette attached to the rear wheel.

Step 3: Scrub

Grab your toothbrush and pour 6oz of Simple Green plus 6oz of water in your bucket. Using dish soap with 12oz of water is a good alternative. Scrub the chain’s top, bottom, inside and outside. Rinse and repeat at least twice until the chain looks new again. Scrub your front crank teeth the same way. Scrub the front derailleur opening gently. Scrub the two rear derailleur wheels on both sides. Rinse and repeat. I like to take a paper towel between scrubs to also pull off some of the bad grime by hand. Give one last rinse to be sure the 50/50 Simple Green is entirely cleared off. Simple Green is very strong and should not be left on for long periods! Paper towel off the entire drivetrain and check that everything looks shiny and clean.

Step 4: Cassette Cleaning

The rear wheel’s cassette is also part of the drivetrain. Scrub each cassette ring and tooth until they shine as well. Rinse thoroughly.

Step 5: Rinse and Wash

Now that the drivetrain is clean, lightly hose off the entire bike. Dump the 50/50 Simple Green and rinse out your bucket. Use the car wash soap and sponge to lather up the frame, wheels, tires and front fork. Do not get the handlebar tape, lights or seat too wet. Rinse off all parts and towel dry.

Step 6: Lubricate

I like to take one final paper towel over the chain so I know it’s dry. Next add a light amount of bike lubricant to the chain as you spin the crank by hand. The key is to lubricate each roller on the chain. Be conservative with the amount of lubricant used.

Step 7: Reassembly

Reattach your rear wheel, and flip your bike back over. Guarantee both brakes work properly, your rear skewer/axle is set, and the bike shifts properly.

Now you’re all done with a very clean bike!

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