How to clean your mountain bike, chain and transmission and yet still have a life.

I don't go mad when cleaning my bike. If I get 90% of the mud off, and the transmission runs smoothly within 20 minutes of getting home, then I'm happy. You can get to the 90% clean level with very little effort, hence leaving you with time to get on with other, far more interesting things in life - like post ride food and beer. Getting the last 10% off takes far too much time and effort for me, so I rarely bother unless that area is about to be taken apart or I know the next few rides are going to be dry. Or if I feel like being a bike tart, which is more often than I care to admit. But do you really need to clean hubs?

Anyway, here's my little guide to getting to 90% clean with very, very little effort.

First the fun bit; go and get your bike muddy. You can skip this bit if you are lucky enough to live in California, but for those of us in more temperate regions, such as here in the UK, then getting it muddy involves nothing more than going for a normal ride.

Here's my bike after a relatively dry run out. And I'm not being ironic here either, or being pithy for blogger effect; this is my bike after a run out on a nice dry day. I avoided mud and puddles as much as I could as well.

Here my bike isn't actually that muddy, but is still pretty minging. Certainly if I left it like this, and the mud dried, it would be a horrid mess the next time I took it out. Indeed here in Surrey some of the trails are predominantly chalk so if I left it to dry a lot of my bike would be rock solid next ride.

Now I like my first task when I get home to consist of running water straight from the hose all over my bike. The mud is still wet and at this stage, if I'm quick, I can get over 80% of the mud off without using any chemical cleaners at all. As you can see in the image below, most of the mud washes straight off if it is still wet. Let it dry and this first cleaning stage can take ages. I've never used a pressure washer on my bike, and try and avoid using degreasers as much as possible. Both reasons lie behind liking bearings to contain grease. [And yes, I should be running more than 15psi in those tyres. Tubeless innit!]

The last 10% of the mud removal takes a bit more effort, but still there's no real need for chemical cleaners. A good old brush suffices - and a small toilet brush is the best. Bucket of water, brush and away you go; scrub away Dear Reader, especially that mucky transmission. OK this method isn't sticker friendly, and I don't scrub away at any suspension, but it's the best way of getting grit and sand out of all the transmission nooks and cranies. As you scrub, totate the cranks backwards and you'll clean most of the chain.

And on the subject of chemical cleaners, most of them are pants anyway and not worth the money. Just buy some car shampoo for the bike, and some degreaser for the chain.

Scrub, scrub, scrub.

For the front rings I put the chain on the biggest sprocket to clean all of the rings plus the side plates of the chain. You have to brush inwards otherwise the chain keeps coming off. Use loads of water, and don't forget there's two sides to a chain, so clean the inner plates as well as the inner faces of the chainrings. Really get in there; the chain pushes the mud into just about everywhere.

Now I use a relatively thin chain lubricant, one that washes off easily post ride. Most of my spins out are around 20 to 24 miles and this is fine with such a thin lube. For longer or wetter rides I use heavier lubricants, and these take a bit more effort to clean off. The best way of getting the chain clean with the heavier oils is to remove it entirely then put it into a plastic bottle with your favourite degreaser, shake it, then leave, followed by a rinse and dry. Personally the thinner lubricant means less faffage.

You could also buy one of those little scrubbing machines that clicks on to the chain. Fill it with degreaser and away you go. Personally I've had mixed results with those things and find them messy. I'm not convinced they work any better than a brush, plus whilst the brushing method uses a lot more water, the scrubbers use quite a bit of degreaser, which goes everywhere. They are good for removing heavier oil though.

As you can see 90% clean is clean enough for me, and there is still quite a bit of cack left here. Sometimes I do go a bit mad and clean all the gunk out, followed by a strip and regrease of bearings, but for now this is good enough. Here in the UK it is winter now [basically any day between May 1st and the following April 30th], so kind of not worth going into ultra clean mode. The caliper by the way I run the hose over to get rid of any bits of sand stuck in there. The rotor gets a good brushing. And yes, that is a 140mm rotor. Works for me.

Here I'm pulling the chain from side to side slowly - by doing this you can feel if there is still any sand or muck left in there. If there is, it feels graunchy and this needs to come out. I just run the hose over it again whilst back peddaling. If it is difficult to get out, then I'll resort to chemical cleaners but for the main water will do the job.

Today it started to rain as I was cleaning, so I resorted to a chemical dryer - good old WD40. If it had been a dry day I'd have run the chain through an old rag to get rid of the water. You have to have the chain dry prior to lubing. No point otherwise. Well unless you're stuck out in the boonies. I'm pretty careful with where I spray this, and only used this angle for the photograph. Most of the time I spray it onto a cloth, then run the cloth over the bike. WD40 and calipers does not a good mix make. You have been warned. [Actually I quite like WD40 as a polish - gives a machined, almost industrial look to the bike.]

Nice and 90% clean. Actually the transmission is 100% clean; no sand, no grit, no old lubricant either. It needs lubricating before the next ride out. Again I do this before the bike goes away.

Don't go mad with lubricant. You only need to lube the rollers. With a wet lube like this, one drop is often enough - although this particular one requires two drops. If you're using a dry, wax based lube then only apply when you're sure there's no water hiding in there. Apply one drop per roller, then leave to partially dry. Then lube again. And don't knock dry lubes - they are often effective in the wet as well if applied correctly - as in days prior to the ride. Indeed I mainly use a wax lube; if the ride looks like it's going to be minging, then I'll just apply a ceramic dry lube over the top.

With a wet lubricant I tend to run the chain through a dry rag after lubing - don't want any on the side plates or on any outside part of the chain. Does nothing there other than collect muck. And I don't waste this lubricant infused rag either; wipe it over your stanchions to clean them, or polish the frame with it.

This is what I'm currently using for wet and dry conditions. I'm not convinced it works that well, and it stinks. However it is really easy to clean off post ride, leaving a lovely drive chain that can be flushed through with nothing more than water. I can also buy it at Tesco's when getting the weekly shopping.

Top tip: If you're out and about on a wet ride and your chain has lost all lubrication, and is starting to chain suck like mad, or shifting becomes poor, then switch to a water based lubricant mid-ride. Sorry, water based I hear you ask? Yeah - start riding through the deeper puddles and get your chain really wet. This washes off the chain sucking mud and water is a better lubricant than a) mud, and b) nothing at all.