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Bicycle cleaning and maintenance in 2 easy steps

In this article I’m going to explain how to perform proper bicycle cleaning and maintenance. In particular bicycles which are considered vintage or retro since these older bikes in general need more care.

In this case I’m cleaning a 1998 Cannondale Killer V. I bought myself this beauty of a bicycle and both the frame and fork are in pristine condition with only small blemishes. I was very eager to ride it, so decided I would take it for a spin in wet conditions knowing full well I would spend more time cleaning the bike afterwards than I would riding it.

Video Tutorial

How to prevent bicycle cleaning and maintenance

Normally the best way to prevent your bicycle from getting prematurely dirty is to not ride in wet conditions. This may sound silly, but skipping a ride in the rain means your bike stays clean.

You simply pick up more dirt quicker and this in turn wreaks havoc on your drivetrain especially. For those interested I have an entire article dedicated to cleaning your drivetrain.

Step 1. Cleaning your bike

If you really can’t wait riding, like I couldn’t, start cleaning the bike immediately after your ride. This ensures that the mud doesn’t dry and can be easily rinsed off with a hose, which is the first step in bicycle cleaning and maintenance.

wd 40 bike cleaner

I prep the bike and especially the drivetrain with WD-40 bike cleaner. Let this stuff soak in for a couple of minutes after applying. It will loosen grime and dirt from your frame and bike components.


Let it be known that I’m not a fan of using a hose on a bike, especially not a power washer. But there’s not a better way for quickly cleaning a bike of mud.

The reason I’m not a fan is that especially where older bikes are concerned, the seal on bearings isn’t tight enough to prevent water from seeping in. And if you decide to spray with force onto either hubs or bottom brackets there’s no telling what water damage might occur.

towel dry

I towel dry the entire frame afterwards. Making sure to wick away the moisture by applying pressure with a towel, not by rubbing. A simple rinse usually doesn’t take away all of the grit on your bike.

Extensive rubbing with a towel to dry the frame would leave tiny surface scratches all over it. Repeat this process a couple of times and your frame will have lost its luster and look dull.


After the bike has dried I use a big brush to clean away the sand on everything except the frame! Brakes, cranks, derailleurs, even the tires get a good wipe.

baby wipes

Wet towels or baby wipes are used to clean the entire bike again. I take extra care again with the frame. Alternating between using bare hands and the wet towels to wipe away remaining sand and grit. The towels are more effective to clean derailleurs and other components and get in between hard to reach areas.

cleaning rims

I also clean the rims, taking proper care of the area where the brake pads get into contact with the rim. This improves braking performance, prevents squealing, and decreases rim wear.

Especially the rear wheel gets dirty on the drive side since chain grease will get slung onto the rims making for a nasty cocktail of grease and dirt.

I’ve written a specific post about cleaning white or skinwall tires.

cleaning hubs

I’ve always hated cleaning hubs. It’s difficult to get your hands in between the spokes. But proper bicycle cleaning and maintenance means the entire bicycle is cleaned.

paper towel

I’ve started using paper towels to clean the frame as the last cleaning step. Wet towels leave dry marks and paper towels are ideal in removing these making sure the risk of surface scratches are minimized.

Step 2. Maintaining your drivetrain

After the cleaning is done the drivetrain probably needs some love. Since I use sewing machine oil on the chain (considered a wet lube), riding in wet conditions will ensure this lubrication will mostly be gone leaving the chain exposed.

If I ride in wet conditions regularly I use Forte Red Chain Grease for its stickiness. The downside of using that stuff is that it’s much more difficult to clean when you do decide to perform that task.

chain scrubbing tool

I clean the chain with a chain cleaner tool, a piece of equipment I consider indispensable for proper chain cleaning. And instead of expensive chain cleaner fluid I use white spirit which I basically reuse every time.

sewing machine oil

The entire chain gets a proper spray of the sewing machine oil. This stuff is fantastic in penetrating in between the rollers of the chain where it’s most needed. After the lubing I wipe the excess on the outside away where it’ll do nothing but attract dust.

For a more complete cleaning I also take off both cassette and crankset and clean them in mineral spirit as well. Obviously that’ll take you even more time.

And that’s how I perform proper bicycle cleaning and maintenance! 

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