Clean & Lube Your Bicycle

by Raymond Parker on April 30, 2011

in Technical

Keep it clean and save money

Take care of your velo investment. A little elbow grease and oil pays dividends over the long term.


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Start with soap & water

A simple bucket of warm, soapy water is the foundation of bicycle ablution. Any liquid car wash will do the trick. If you use dish soap, note that it often contains salt, so rinse well.

Sponge the frame, making sure to get in all the nooks and crannies. Use a retired toothbrush to reach difficult spots, such as behind brake calipers and cranks.

For stubborn grease and grime try a spray cleaner, like Simple Green.

Removing wheels will make your job easier. Wash them separately.

Rinse with water. Don’t use high pressure hoses or steam cleaners and do not direct water into hub and bottom bracket bearings.

Dry with an old towel.

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Lubes, degreasers & polishes

Be kind to the planet and your health; use a citrus degreaser to clean the drive-train, rather than petroleum-based solvents.

Chain-cleaning devices are available, but I know no better way than the manual method: Apply degreaser with a rag. Spin the chain through the rag. Use the trusty toothbrush to dislodge crud from between links. Repeat rag cleaning—an old sock is perfect.

Alternately, removing the chain will make this job easier and more thorough.

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Long-bristle cassette brush

The cassette should receive special attention. Degreaser, toothbrush and special long-bristle brush will help. For final buffing, use hems, torn from t-shirts, to “floss” between cogs. Again, this procedure is best performed off the bike.

If the pulleys on the rear derailleur are particularly encrusted, use a flat screwdriver to dislodge detritus. Spin the pedals as you hold the screwdriver lightly against pulleys. Use toothbrush with degreaser and clean rag for final cleanup. Floss between component parts.

Follow the same procedure for front derailleur and cranks.


Now you’re ready to lube. There are a variety of bicycle lubes on the market, formulated for different conditions. I choose either a dry or wet lube, favouring the latter, here in the “temperate” rainforest.

Drip lube onto the top of the lower run of chain (closest to the ground) as you rotate the chain backwards. Then run through a rag to clean off excess. Don’t over oil

Cables and pivot points on derailleurs and brakes get a thinner, low viscosity oil, such as Tri-Flow.

Wipe off excess lube, clean up any mess on frame, etc. and you are ready to finish up with a wax or silicone polish.

Step back and admire your shiny new bike.

Go to VeloGarage

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John FD Evans June 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Found your website to be interesting, informative and well balanced. (I might even give my chainset and cog a clean this weekend after watching your @Clean and Lube your Bicycle’ video!. I ride a 1980 Carlton ‘Clubman’ built at Harry Hall Cycles, Manchester with TA chainset, Campagnolo gears, Campag small flange quick release hubs and Weinemen 27″ x 1 1/4″rims, Cinelli bars, Brookes saddle etc. The brakes are Mafac ‘Competition’ centrepull and I’m looking for some replacement brake lever covers (black rubber). Do you come across them in Canada? I see the odd pair on ebay either in questionable condition or at an inflated price. We’ve been to Vancouver on a couple of occasions and loved the place. Regards, John

Raymond Parker June 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Thanks, John. Gratified you like VeloWeb.

Sounds like a nice bike you have there. I just checked with a local shop that stocks vintage parts, but no luck. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for you. Unfortunately, these things are getting more expensive as demand for restoration parts grows.

I lived for a short time in Manchester … originally from Wolverhampton.

I lived in Vancouver for years. Used to be a civilized place.

John FD Evans June 18, 2011 at 2:43 am

Thanks for your efforts, it gets more and more difficult to source spares as time goes on but there’s still plenty of life left in the old bike yet (as long as I can resist the ever pulling temptation of the shiny gleamy machines I see on the internet and local bike shops!! – David Yates Cycles is worth a Google).
I used to live in Bredbury near Stockport and in the ’60s and regularly cycled in the Peak District, a favourite run would be via Poynton to Macclesfield, over the ‘Cat and Fiddle’ to Buxton and back down ‘Long Hill’ returning home through Whaley Bridge, New Mills, Disley and Marple. It gives me nose bleeds thinking about it; it often rained and as cycling jackets were in their infancy we used to wear Capes which had ‘nil’ wind resistance. I moved to the South Lakes in the mid ’70s where the runs tend to be shorter due to the hilly nature of the area (small by comparison with BC).
My prize possession in those days was a pair of second hand ‘Detto Pietro’ cycling shoes which were much coveted by my friends; they were a size too small but I used to suffer in silence and often wore them in the street which did the shoes, cleats and me little good, you could here me tapping along half a mile away!.
Regards, John

Raymond Parker June 18, 2011 at 11:59 am

Yes, as I recount towards the end of this page, I cut my (chainring) teeth on the South Shropshire Hills, where it seems they situated roads to take advantage of the steepest topography! Much of rural UK seems to follow that protocol.

I’m familiar with Dave Yates’ work. An English bike store owner down the road has one of his early frames and I visit Dave’s site.

Did you see my Detto Pietros?

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