How to Clean Your Bike Without Water

November 09, 2016

A clean bike is happy bike. It also performs better, saves you money, and makes you feel good every time you climb aboard. Here's a comprehensive guide to cleaning your bike without water, to get it showroom sparkling.

Start with the chain and jockey wheels

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Before you start cleaning the chain it's a good time to check your chain to make sure it isn't worn out, there's not much point cleaning it if you need to replace it! Here's a quick guide to help you inspect your chain, and fit a new one if required.

There's no need to take the chain off and the old school method of using kerosene-based cleaners or petroleum distillates is not advised. They are simply too harsh and will cause damage to your components if not washed off properly. Most modern day drivetrains will be 11 speed, operating at a fine tolerance, so you need to take great care when working with your drivetrain.

A flannelette or lint-free cotton rag is the best option along with a bike specific degreaser. Spray the degreaser onto the chain liberally and also onto your rag. Grab the bottom rung of the chain, and create a kink in the chain, this will help clear dirt and grime from the links. Back pedal the chain through the rag and you will see the dirt and grime start to accumulate. Continue with this process, changing to a clean section of the rag once the current section gets too dirty.

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Ensure to spend some time on the jockey wheels during this process. If you don't, the dirt and grime that is sitting on the wheels will make its way back onto the chain. To do this, wrap a clean section of the rag around the jockey wheels, being careful not to get it snagged in between the chain and wheels, and back pedal.

Continue this process until you get a clean rag. This may take multiple passes depending on how dirty your chain is, so don't rush. You'll know when your chain and jockey wheels are truly clean when you can run it through your rag and there is no residue.

Clean the frame

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To clean the frame you need to take off both wheels and remove any lights, computers, tool bag, and any other attached components or equipment you have on your bike. To make it easy to get the rear wheel off put the bike into the lowest gear possible, this will take the tension off the chain and give you some slack to play with.

Avoid the temptation to get out the hose or pressure washer for this part. It is best to use a spray on cleaner, as pressure washers or hoses can get water into bearing surfaces and present problems down the track.

A diluted bike wash solution is the best option for washing your frame. Avoid using any petrochemicals, otherwise known as petroleum distillates, because they are too harsh and can strip paint. With whatever solution you use, ensure that no residue is left behind that could cause harm to your bike.

Spray the solution onto your frame and use a rag to thoroughly clean all the surfaces. Pay close attention to hard to reach areas around the fork, rear triangle, bottom bracket, bottle cages and brakes.

If you have an electronic groupset be careful around any junction boxes, batteries and cables.

Cleaning your wheels

Now that your frame is sparkling it's time to move onto your wheels. Whether you have carbon or alloy wheelsets the process is much the same, although it's best to make sure your carbon braking surface is totally dry before putting them back on the bike, otherwise you will have that all too familiar carbon squeal.

Use the same solution you did for your frame, wiping down the braking surface, spokes, and hubs.

Cleaning the cassette

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While you have the wheels out of the bike, it's a good time to clean the cassette. Depending on how dirty your cassette is, it may need to be pulled off and cleaned separately, although if you apply this guide frequently, you won't need to worry about that.

Again, a bike specific degreaser is the preferred option over a kerosene-based degreaser. A kerosene-based degreaser may damage components and also create problems when trying to re-apply lubricant if there is any residue left over. If you have any petroleum distillates left on a bearing surface, it will drive away any lubricant you try to apply. This will obviously cause issues with premature wear and tear on your components.

Spray the degreaser onto your cassette and flannelette rag. Wedge the flannelette rag between the cassette sprockets, rotating the cassette around and cleaning each sprocket as you go. Depending on the amount of dirt on your cassette, you may have to change sections of the rag you are working on, and apply more degreaser to the rag.

After the clean

It's always good to apply lubricant once you have thoroughly cleaned your bike. Depending on the lubricant you are using, you may need to do this more frequently than others. A lighter chain lubricant is designed for riding in good conditions, whereas some types of lubricant will be more heavy duty and suited to riding in average to poor conditions.

Regardless of the lubricant you are using, always apply to the bottom rung. Never spray up or down the cassette, or on the top rung. As you pedal the lubricant will be forced outwards, and into the chain. If it is anywhere but the bottom rung, you will end up with a mess all over the seat stays and chain stays.

Once you've let the lube seep into the chain, run it through a rag several times without putting a kink in it. This final process won't remove lubricant from the chain links where it is needed, it will simply remove excess lubricant from the outside of the chain that would otherwise fly off and end up making a mess of your rear wheel.

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Handy Tips for cleaning your bike

  • Shift your bike into the small chainring and smallest cassette sprocket to make it easier to take off the rear wheel.

  • Inspect your bike as you go, looking out for cracks or any other damage, and any holes in your tyres.

  • Use lint-free rags.

  • If you have carbon wheels, make sure the braking surface is totally dry before putting them back on your bike.

  • Chain manufacturers have different ways of measuring chain wear. Get your local bike shop to inspect yours with every service.

  • While you are cleaning the chain, vary your pressure by pressing on the sides and top of the chain.

  • Select the right chain lube for your riding and vary it depending on seasons and road conditions. Dry lubricant is primarily used for good riding conditions, while wet lubricant is better for harsh riding conditions.

  • Always lubricate the bottom rung of the chain, spraying away from the bike.

  • The more frequently you clean your bike, the better it will perform, and the less it will cost you on servicing and replacing components.


Thanks to the team at BikeFix Mobile for helping get this video together. If you're in Australia, check them out here https://bikefixmobile.com.au/

We hope this How-to has been handy, be sure to check out other BikeExchange Workshops 'How-to's' here;


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