Let’s get this out of the way for you who have never done this and are concerned: You will not hurt the bike.
As long as you do not turn screws or bolts, drop large solid objects on your bike, or leave parts soaking in undiluted chemicals, you will not hurt the bike. You can pull on the chain, drop the chain off the front ring, and scrub front and rear derailleurs with a small brush. But just in case, here are some things to know.
- Never use WD-40 on your bike. WD stands for “water displacement” and will make it difficult for lubricants to stick to WD-40-treated metals. You want your bike clean and lubricated.
- Dilute concentrated cleaners like Simple Green or cleaners containing citric acid very well, since the chemicals react with aluminum and may cause it to weaken structurally (that said, I use citric acid cleaners but rinse parts really well).
- Always rinse cleaning agents from your bike frame and components after cleaning.
- Never spray high-pressure water near bearing areas like hubs or bottom brackets.
Here’s what you need:
- Water - hose or spray bottle
- Brushes - thin cassette brush or toothbrush, (also a cattail brush and soft-bristle frame brush are very helpful, but optional)
- Bike cleaner - bucket of dish soap and hot water or almost any bike cleaner or Simple Green and hot water
One more note before we get started: If you haven’t had a professional tune-up on your road bike in 12 months or 1000 miles (mountain bike would be more like 8 months or 500 miles), clean your bike up, make an appointment, and take your bike in. A mechanic will check your chain and tires for wear, make sure it’s shifting and braking properly, and that your spokes are properly tensioned. This 5-step bike clean-up procedure presumes that your bike is in good mechanical condition.
I go for the messiest part first, which is usually the chain. If you can remove the chain with a quick link, do so and soak it briefly in a Simple Green and hot water solution. Then scrub it with a brush and rinse it thoroughly before letting it dry in the sun or drying it with a hair dryer. Clean the other parts of the drive train while the chain dries. If you cannot remove the chain, using a brush and a solution of Simple Green and hot water, scrub the chain thoroughly. Scrub the chain rings and the cassette. Scrub the little pulley wheels on the rear derailleur making sure you remove any caked on grease and dirt.
If you have a road bike and do not have access to a hose, it’s probably best to wet a cloth with water and minimal bike cleaner, and wipe down your rims and spokes, being mindful that citrus cleanser left on your aluminum rims is not good for them. You can spray your rims with diluted solution from the bottle and use a soft brush, but make sure you rinse them well and wipe them down with a dry cloth afterward.
Same goes for the frame as the wheels. A damp cloth should do the trick unless you’ve been riding in the back pasture after a heavy soaker. Be sure to wipe around the bottom bracket where grease and grime can collect.
4. Finishing touches
I wipe down my handlebars, making sure to wipe in the direction of the bar tape on the road bike. At this point I take a clean cloth and make sure everything is dried off.
5. Lubricate the chain and spoke nipples
Once the bike is clean, you are ready to lube the chain. Wet lube and dry lube are both liquid, no matter what it sounds like.
WET LUBE is a wax lubricant that is usually recommended for riding in wet weather or if you live on the ocean and keep your bike outside. It allows a wax film to form on the chain, protecting it from rust. Wax lube must harden after application before you ride. You should not apply a wax lube right before you ride. Note that if you are riding in dusty areas, some wax lubes will cake up with dust and will not glide smoothly, while others shed dust very well.
DRY LUBE is more like the consistency of cooking oil and is often preferred by riders in dry climates (like San Diego). Dry lube may be applied immediately before riding.
Which is the best lube for you? Tell your local mechanic where you usually ride and ask for a recommendation.
If your chain is clean, you can put whatever you want on there to lube it. If your chain is not fresh-from-the-brush clean and it needs lube, you should re-apply whatever lube is already on the chain. The only way you can really hurt the chain is to not lube it at all.
Use Tri-flow with the needle-tube attachment to lube the spoke nipples every so often after you clean the wheels. This will keep the nipples from seizing up and preventing your mechanic from truing the wheels.
Enjoy your clean bike!