Spring Cleaning! How To Clean Your Drive Train

Written by Ed Kilbourn, on April 14, 2023

Welcome to spring! It’s that time of the year again when we realize that we just might have ridden the ‘ol bike a little hard last fall and put it away wet… or at least a little dirty. Or, if you’re like many of us, you just couldn’t wait to get out and have been hitting the sunny, yet wet and dirty weather windows that are often featured in early spring. At any rate, it’s time to talk drivetrain cleaning! You don’t have to completely disassemble your bike to get a sparkling fresh drivetrain. You can, but you don’t have to! Here’s a quick, basic overview to help you get the bike cleaned, lubed and ready to go. First off, the “Do” and “Don’t” of drivetrain cleaning.

Do:

  • Clean often, clean easy. The more you can stay on top of your basic drivetrain maintenance, the quicker and easier it will be to always be running smooth. Once clean, you can extend deep cleaning intervals by wiping the chain down and “touching-up” the lube every couple of rides.
  • Round up your supplies. For a basic clean and refresh, you’ll need some hi-quality chain degreaser, stiff chain brush or chain cleaner, general bike cleaner, clean rags, sponge and hot water.
  • Use *low* pressure & avoid the carwash and pressure washer. Let the solvents and cleaners do their job. High pressure can force water past bearing seals and cause major damage.
  • Rinse and re-rinse. Residual degreaser (and bike cleaner) will negatively affect your chain lube and undo all your hard work.
  • Dry completely. Things need to be completely dry after cleaning or the lube can’t do it’s job.
  • Use appropriate chain lube. Select the right lube for conditions, type of riding, etc.


Don’t: 

  • Don't use high pressure! Again, avoid the car wash or your neighbor’s pressure washer! Average garden hose pressure, or rinsing from a bucket is plenty to help the cleaning solutions do their job and you won’t risk ruining your bearings, freehub parts and seals.
  • Don’t wait too long between cleanings! Routine, basic wipe-downs and lube “touch-ups” will make life much easier for your drivetrain and keep you running smoothly.
  • Don’t stop at degreasing the chain! When doing a full clean, make sure to clean the drivetrain and surrounding area with bike cleaning solution to remove road dirt and grime.
  • Don't run the drivetrain wet or lube the chain before it’s completely dry! Make sure everything is good and dry before you apply the chain lube. Any residual water can displace and/or thin down the lubricant.
  • Don’t use too much lube! It’s tempting but *more is not better*. In fact it’s worse. Residual lube can actually trap dirt and contaminants, creating a filthy “snowball effect” in your drivetrain.


Get started - Start by wiping down the chain with a clean rag while spinning the crank backwards to remove any loose grime and dirt. Once you’ve done that, apply the degreaser to the chain, cassette, derailleur, pulley wheels and chainrings. Use a good, stiff chain brush on the chain and cassette while spinning the crank backwards and apply more degreaser if needed. Get all four sides of the chain with the brush and make sure and get the chainrings with the brush as well. If things are really dirty, you’ll need to get down between the cassette cogs with the brush, so make sure you have one that’s narrow enough to get in between.

Once the degreaser has done its thing, rinse the whole drivetrain with hot water. A “bucket dump” works if you don’t have access to a hose with hot water. Another go-over with the brush may be a good idea, depending on how dirty things were and a re-rinse is always a good idea.

Clean - After degreasing and scrubbing the chain and gears, hit the whole area with a bike-specific general cleaning solution and sponge the area (or the whole bike) down with more hot water. This will make sure no dirt etc. will undo any of your cleaning work. Give it all another good rinse and use a clean rag to dry the drivetrain off as best as possible. You can also spin the crank backwards to “fling” water away from the drivetrain. Let the bike dry completely, leaving it outside in the sun if possible to help things dry out faster.


Lubricate - Once completely dry, it’s time to apply the chain lube. There’s a plethora of great lube options available and the best one to use will depend on where you intend to ride, and what the conditions will be like. We’ll list some of our favorites, along with suggestions for cleaners and brushes below. Apply the chain lube as per the instructions. This is important! It’s tempting to just squirt or spray it on and take off on a ride, but different lubes have different procedures to make sure they do their job to the fullest. Take care to read the instructions and follow them closely. 

Ride! - Now get out there and ride, and don’t wait too long to give a quick clean or a deeper dive if needed. Your bike will thank you and reward your efforts with many happy miles.

What to Use:
Cleaning Brushes/Chain Cleaner 

Degreaser 

General Cleaning Solution 

Chain Lube 

Don't Forget 

      • Bucket of hot soapy water
      • Clean rags
      • Sponge
      • Clean rinse water
      • Dry cloth

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