Mountain biking is an exhilarating activity that takes you across rough terrains. The mountains and hills you encounter can be a variety of surfaces, most notably dirt and mud.
These will inevitably get on your bike while you ride, which, if left, can put wear and tear on the bike. Cleaning your bike after a ride will protect the paint and prevent buildup on the gears and tires.
How to clean a mountain bike after a ride? Well, I have a simple guide! There are some concrete steps you can take to properly clean your mountain bike after a ride to keep it functioning in top condition:
- Find A Washing Location
- Acquire Proper Equipment
- Rinse Your Bike
- Scrub the Bike
- Chain Cleaning
- Component Cleaning
- Dry Bike
- Check the Tires
This guide will direct you on the most effective way to clean your mountain bike after a ride. Keeping your bike clean prevents premature damage to your bike that may result from the build-up of dirt and mud. Especially in the gear components and chains, this buildup can limit functionality if left on the bike for the next ride.
Steps to Cleaning a Mountain Bike After a Ride
Cleaning your mountain bike can be made simple by following some important steps in the cleaning process. Taking the time and care to clean your bike after a ride will help to get the most life out of your bike.
It will also allow your bike to function more efficiently, which equates to faster rides for you 😉
Step 1 – Find A Washing Location
Finding a place to wash your bike may be one of the simplest or most difficult steps depending on where you live. For those with easy access to a hose and water source, there should be no problem cleaning your mountain bike.
For those who live in apartments or areas without yards, this may prove to be a little more difficult. Some apartment complexes offer car washing stations which could be a good place to clean up your (other) ride.
Because mountain bike trails are known to be muddy, many trailheads will have hoses or washing stations for you to clean your mountain bike. Bringing the necessary gear and items to clean your mountain bike will make this much easier than bringing a dirty bike all the way home.
If there is not a place to wash your bike at the trail, you can often go to a bike shop.
Most bike shops will not have a problem letting you wash your mountain bike for free. You should still bring the necessary tools and equipment as they will be able to provide the water and hose.
You can also get any necessary replacement items or ask any questions about how to best clean your mountain bike from the experts.
Step 2 – Acquire the Proper Equipment
There are multiple pieces of equipment and materials you will need to clean your bike and others that will make this process much easier. Mountain bikes are financial investments, and keeping them in their prime condition will require the proper materials as not to damage your bike.
Bike Cleaning Necessities
These are tools you should definitely have for cleaning your mountain bike. You will get a lot of use out of them, especially if you plan to rough it through the mud and dirt frequently.
- Hose: A water source is essential for rinsing down your bike and allowing you to wash away the soap and dirt from the bike. A hose is the most efficient way in which to do this. Having different hose heads may be helpful for different pressure settings, but a house with no head will also suffice.
- Brushes: You will need multiple brushes to properly clean off dirt and mud from your mountain bike. You should have at least two brushes, one that is soft and one that is firm in order to tackle different levels of muck and different areas on the bike. Smaller brush heads will also be able to reach more difficult areas. Park Tool makes a fantastic brush set (click here to see them) that would be the perfect starter set if you don’t already have some.
- Cleaning Product: You can use cleaning solutions that you dilute with water and cleaning sprays to get off dried-on dirt or lots of mud. These solutions should have simple ingredients or be designed for bikes to protect the paint and the materials the bike is made of. Try to avoid chemical-rich products and make sure you wash them off thoroughly if you do as they can take away from the finish and coloring.
- Microfiber Towel: You will need something to dry your bike with once you wash it. Use a microfiber towel as standard towels may be too rough and cause scratches on your bike. They are also able to absorb more water, picking up even the smallest water particles. They can be used over and over and hold their effectiveness over time.
- Polish: After cleaning, you can use a polish to protect the bike materials and paint. Silicon polishes are the most durable, and they make your bike easier to clean in the future. Dirt is less likely to stick to polish.
- Degreaser: This product will be able to clean the metal components of the drive train much more effectively than soap will. It helps to get off the grease and difficult buildup that results after frequent bike use and the accumulation of mud and dirt. These will take off lube, so make sure you have that handy for after.
- Bike Chain Lube: Your bike components, including the chain, need to be lubricated as they are metal parts that shift and move to make your bike work. Bike lubes can be found in bike stores and should be used after you wash the bike when the factory lube comes off with the use of a degreaser.
Bike Cleaning Simplifiers
While these are not mandatory for a good bike cleaning, they will make your life much easier and can help you get the most out of a clean.
- Bike Stand: Mountain bikes typically do not have a kickstand, meaning you will have to prop it up on something when setting it down or cleaning. The best way to clean a bike is on a bike stand as you can access all areas of the bike with ease, and water is able to drip down for drying. Here’s a link for more details about one that I particularly love!
- Bucket: If you plan to use a cleaning solution, mixing it in a bucket with water is the easiest way to go about it. You can dip your brushes and sponges into it for easy cleaning.
- Extra rags: Having extra rags available is always a good idea to deal with excess water and any spills of materials or chemicals you are working with.
Step 3 – Rinse Your Bike
The first thing you should do when starting the bike cleaning process is to wash it down with a hose. This will help get the initial dirt and mud off the bike before you need to scrub.
You will want to start from the top of the bike and work your way down so that debris will make its way down and not touch the parts you just washed.
An important thing to remember about rinsing in any stage of the mountain biking cleaning process is water pressure. You do not want to use too much pressure as it can cause damage to the bike.
Too much pressure may push dirt and debris into the drive train, which will be very difficult to remove and cause greater damage. Operate at a little above a mist with the hose.
You can then rinse the components separately by getting closer and maintaining the same pressure. Work specifically on the drive train to keep surrounding bike dirt away from these areas.
This is also a good time to hose off the tires that may be filled with dirt and mud. You will not have to focus on these during the rest of the cleaning, but try to remove bigger chunks now while you are wetting down the rest of the bike anyways.
Step 4 – Scrub the Bike
When scrubbing your bike, you’ll make use of a larger and softer brush for scrubbing the frame, a medium-sized brush to tackle more difficult spots and challenging angles, and a small brush to work on the drive train and additional metal components.
You can also use a toothbrush as your small brush option for easy maneuvering.
The smaller brushes will let you get in between the frame and the bike components with better visibility and allow you to get all the dirt and grime off the bike. This is also the time when you will apply soap or cleaning spray.
There are two ways to apply your cleaning solution, (1) diluted with water, and (2) using a spray directly on the bike. Both are suitable options for cleaning your bike, and it really comes down to preference.
You can use regular soap and water, but a bike-specific cleaner is going to be more effective in getting the dirt off and protecting the paint and frame.
With cleaning solutions in a bucket mixed with water, you can dunk your brush in and start scrubbing the bike. Make sure that you do not scrub too hard, just enough to remove the dirt without putting wear or scratches onto the frame.
With a good brush, you should not have to worry about this, but heavy pressure from both water and scrubbing is not needed.
The other option is using a spray-on cleaner. These can be much simpler and use only the amount you will need as you will spray it directly onto the bike. You do not need to scrub immediately.
You can leave the solution on the bike for a couple of minutes to work its magic. After you leave it for around 5 minutes, start to scrub and rinse with water regularly.
This cleaning can be completed for the frame, wheels, and seat. You will tackle the smaller components and chain separately. If the dirt or mud is still on there, you can try to rinse off and go back and repeat the process.
Especially if these have been dried on there, it will take a bit of time to remove this gunk.
Picking Cleaning Material
When choosing your cleaning materials, you will want to opt for a milder solution or at least make sure you get it all off after scrubbing. Some cleaning products may be too harsh for the bike.
Avoid using car cleaners, which are made of heavier-duty materials and paints. Look for bike-specific cleaners that will allow you to clean without damage.
Cleaning solutions versus sprays should not make a difference in the quality of clean, but most bike cleaners are concentrated. You will need to dilute them as to not damage the bike with the strong chemicals inside.
Most cleaners are heavy in chemicals to get rid of the muck, but not always necessary. Try a biodegradable bike cleaner that will be less harsh on your bike and better for the environment.
Do your part to make bio-conscious decisions, especially when participating in an activity made possible by nature!
Step 5 – Chain Cleaning
You need to keep your chain clean for the bike to properly function. Especially in muddier winter months, the chain will most likely need to be cleaned after every use. Build-up may damage the chain or not allow it to work with the drive train.
To clean the chain, you will need:
- A rag
- Bike degreaser
- Bike chain lubricant
Cleaning the chain starts with a rag and a degreaser. For most cleaning situations, you can put a degreaser onto a rag and hold the rag against the chain. You may need someone to help you with this step.
Slowly pedal the bike while stationary to move the chain in its full rotation and, therefore, clean the entire chain.
For deeper cleans, you can also take the chain off the bike and submerge it in the degreaser. You can put it in a bottle and shake to remove the grease and then let sit for around 20 minutes.
Letting it sit will help tackle the smallest parts that are hard to reach.
This should be done only in the most severe cases. Most rides will not require you to remove the chain for a full cleaning. This is only if you let things go too far in the wrong direction 😉
Using degreasers will take away the factory lubrication that allows the chain to move smoothly from the pedals through the drive train. You will need to use bike chain lubricants to return it to a functioning lubricated state.
To do so, take your lubricant and squeeze steadily on the top side of the chain. Do this as you pedal to reach every part of the chain. Do this for one full rotation.
This will successfully lubricate your chain again and make your bike ready for your next ride! Make sure that you wipe off excess lubricant once you do the full rotation.
Excess lube will allow for more dirt and debris to be attracted to the chain and cause even more buildup. The chain should be dry before you apply the lubricant.
Step 6 – Drive Train Component Cleaning
The chain is not the only important part of the bike’s system that can get dirty. You will also need to clean the rest of the drive train, which includes the cassette, derailleurs, and front chainrings.
These all work together to make the pedaling power translate into the movement of the wheels.
Let’s quickly share what these do and why they need to be cleaned:
- Cassette: Located on the rear wheel, it is the collection of circular metal disks (known as sprockets) that help control the gears on your bike. These must remain clean for easy shifting during a ride.
- Derailleurs: This technology helps to move the chain from one sprocket to another, helping in the process of moving between gears. This should be clean to move efficiently and help carry the chain where you want it.
- Front Chain Rings: This is located on the front wheel and controls the attachment of the pedals. This mechanism allows the pedals to transfer energy to the chain, which allows the wheels and bike to move. This can be particularly susceptible to mud as the front of the bike makes first contact with the ground downhill and over bumps.
You can use a degreaser on these areas to get the chain clean, as well. This should be done while avoiding the breaks as to not reduce their effectiveness.
Make sure you wash off all the degreaser once you have cleaned it. You can then rinse it and use soap in these areas for one more cleaning cycle.
You will not need to lubricate these areas as you have already done so far for the chain. It will be able to move through these other components of the drive train easily.
Toothbrushes also work well here for getting to all the teeth in the sprockets.
Step 7 – Dry the Bike
This may not seem as crucial, but drying the bike is an important step in cleaning your bike. You want to get all the excess water off of the bike as the moisture can mess with the paint and leave unwanted spots or marks.
You can leave the bike in the sun to dry and use a towel for excess water that may linger.
If you do not have access to a sunny day, opt for a microfiber towel. This will allow you to completely dry the bike as well as prevent any scratching from a towel that is not as smooth or soft.
Microfiber towels have many more fibers of cloth that allow for greater absorption of water. Plus, they can be reused after washing, making them great for consistent bike cleaning.
The most important parts that should be dried are the drive train. Make sure these are dry before you lubricate them.
All metals parts on your bike should be checked closely for dryness as they are the ones most susceptible to rust. Rust will compromise the function of the drive train and call for premature (and avoidable) replacement.
You may need to gently shake or wiggle your bike to get off excess water that may be trapped. This will help to dislodge water and let you know which areas are still wet. You can follow up in these areas with a towel to help get the rest of the water-free!
Step 8 – Polishing
Polishes and waxes are designated for the frame of the bike. They are used to protect the frame from the elements and to make it easier to clean in the future.
You will want to be using a silicone polish or spray for the best protection. Polishes are best for bikes that will be subject to lots of mud and wetness. This debris will be much easier to get off on a polished bike.
If you plan to ride in much drier or dustier conditions, you should avoid polish. Dust and dirt will often stick to the bike.
To apply polish on your mountain bike:
- Spray into cloth: You do not want to spray directly onto the bike as it may get onto the brakes or rotors and impede their function. Always spray onto a lint-free cloth and rub down the bike’s frame.
- Choose polish over wax: Waxes will not be as effective in protecting your bike from chips and scratches as well as a polish.
- Find bike-specific polish: Not all polishes are created equally. Look for a polish that will work best with your specific bike material and that is recommended for mountain bikes. You can find these in bike stores and online.
This step will help to extend the life of your mountain bike as well as increase its appearance. It will allow the bike’s paint color to shine as well as aid in protecting the paint and bike frame materials from the elements.
This is not a mandatory step in the cleaning process, but I include it as it makes for a better bike care routine long-term!
Step 9 – Check the Tires
You do not need to focus too heavily on making sure the tires are sparkling clean but can use a hose to get off large pieces of dirt and mud. The tires will get dirty again right after they are rolled on the ground.
While you do not have to worry too much about cleaning, you should take note of their health and pressure. Cleaning may help identify potential tears and holes.
After riding down hills and hitting rocks and bumps, your tires may need to be filled with more air. If you do not have a way to do this at home, a local bike shop will fill the air in your tires for free.
There are gauges that will tell you what level your bike tire pressure is at. For mountain bikes, the tires should read between 25 to 35 psi.
Tire pressure for mountain bikes is important to get the desired stability and grip out of our tires. These levels will fluctuate based on preference but should stay within these ranges.
Too low of a pressure can be damaging to the rim, while high pressures will make the ride feel harsher with less contact to the ground in each rotation.
Speaking of checking, you should also take a quick look at the bolts and bearings on your bike. This can be done as you examine your newly cleaned bike.
You do not have to do it after every ride, but making sure the bolts are tightened will prevent breaks and missing bike parts when you are riding. This can be difficult to spot when the bike is covered in dirt or mud.
Step 10 – Bike Storage
If you plan to store your bike after use, the most ideal positioning is on a hook. This is because it allows any last water to drain off and keeps the lubricating oils smoothly situated on the drive train.
If you do not have a hook, try storing it indoors or out of the elements for longer-lasting paint and no water damage.
Placing it in an area that has low foot traffic is ideal to help avoid dings from being bumped into.
Now Get Out There Again!
Now that you’ve learned the proper steps in cleaning the mountain bike, you can take it back out on the trail and get it dirty again.
Mountain bikes will inevitably get dirty with the terrains you take them through, making cleaning a frequent process in the sport. This should not deter you from getting out there as this process can be quick and easy once you master it.
Obtaining the necessary equipment and materials to clean your bike is the hardest part. Once you have these things, you will get a lot of life out of them and not need to replace them frequently.
Cleaning your bike is essential in making sure your bike is protected from buildup that can damage the bike and cause unnecessary wear and tear.
So, get back out on that bike, have fun getting it dirty again, and bring it back for a solid clean!