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Bike love: how to clean and care for your bike 

Bikes are synonymous with joy. And while that’s true, they still need a little work on your end to stay running smoothly. Don’t worry: you only need a few specialized tools, and the ones you do need to buy are pretty simple. This little investment of time, tools, and effort will help your bike last years longer and even preserve its resale value when you move on to a new rig.

First: a clean bike is a happy bike. 

While you can always take your bike to a shop for a proper cleaning and inspection, we at Geartrade are staunch do-it-yourselfers whenever possible. So for day to day cleaning, here’s a list of what to gather. All these things can be purchased at your local bike shop, and often you can find them on Geartrade too.

  • A bike repair stand (not mandatory, but if you do this often enough, it’ll start to sound really nice)
  • A set of bicycle cleaning brushes
  • A chain scrubber
  • A bottle of chain degreaser (aim for an eco-friendly brand)
  • A bottle of chain lube
  • Rags or sponges
  • A bucket
  • Dish soap
  • Warm water

Now, here are the steps to complete—easy peasy:

  1. Fill a bucket with warm water and add a couple drops of soap.
  2. Chean the drivetrain first. (“Drivetrain” means the chain rings, rear chain cassette, derailleur, and chain!) Use the chain scrubber or a rag with the degreaser solution to clean the chain. Use brushes with the solution to clean the cassette and chain rings. Rotate the bike’s pedals as you hold a rag around the chain to remove all the grit.
  3. Now, clean the rest of the bike with the soapy water, starting at the top and working down. Between the rags, sponges, and brushes, you should be able to get the grit and grime out of most areas of the frame, fork, and wheels.
  4. Then give it a good low-pressure rinse—no need to scour the poor thing with a high-pressure hose. Higher pressure hoses can create more problems than they’re worth, as water gets beyond seals and into the cables.
  5. Dry it off. A dry rag works. You’ll look super profesh if you use compressed air from a hose, but just remember to avoid pointing anything high-pressure towards bearings, pivots, fork seals, etc.
  6. Lube your chain so it can glide smoothly. Go with a “less-is-more” approach. Excess lube attracts dirt and grime, and makes it so you need to clean your bike more often. When lubing your chain, apply the lube while pedaling the pedals, so it works the lube into the entire chain evenly. Make sure to wipe away any excess lube from the chain and any areas it may have dripped onto.

Ta-da! You’ve got a shiny-clean bike that’s ready to roll smoothly. But you get extra bonus points (safety! longevity!) if you also give the bike a full inspection while you’re at it.

Your last step: the look-over. 

As long as you have your bike sitting there, give it the “ABC” look-over, which stands for Air, Brakes, and Chain.

  1. Air: Check your tire inflation—the correct range should be written right on the side of the tire.
  2. Brakes: Squeeze both brakes one at a time, having a look to make sure they’re engaging fully. You don’t want any unsafe surprises out there!
  3. Chain: Inspect your work lubricating and cleaning the chain. That sucker should glide low-friction-like.

As you go, have a close look at every screw on the bike to make sure nothing is rattling loose. You want to run a tight ship!

And finally, take a gander at your pack or saddlebag to make sure you have your spare tire tubes or patch kit, air pump, tire levers, and multi-tool. If you’re planning a longer ride, consider additional tools and components, too, such as replacement chain links, a chain tool, duct tape, and tire pressure gauge. And, snacks. Always pack a surprise emergency snack for when the going gets rough and you discover a forgotten Snickers bar stowed among your tube patch kit while you sit haplessly by the side of a trail in a rainstorm wrenching on a tire lever.

That is the official bike gospel of Geartrade.

Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.