With outdoor gear that’s designed to be pushed to the limits and endure a bit of mud and trials, it can be hard to discern how often you’re supposed to conduct routine cleaning. After recently purchasing a new mountain bike and taking it for a ride, a friend of mine asked me how often he should clean his own bike. After each ride? Once in a while? If you’ve wondered these same questions, keep reading for a breakdown on mountain bike cleaning.
When it comes to how often your mountain bike needs to be cleaned, there are a few factors to consider. How often your ride and where you ride are among these factors. I’ve known people who hardly ever clean their bikes or components, and simply strap their ride to a bike in between trips. Still, I’ve known some who wipe down and re-lube their bike and chain after each ride. Unless you hit the trails each time you head out and collect a lot of water, mud or dirt, there’s not really a reason to re-lube and clean your train or drivetrain after each trip. The same can be said for those riders who ride their bikes only once in a while.
You can spot-check the chain by standing beside your bike and lifting the rear wheel off the ground. Then, use your free hand to slowly rotate the closest pedal, inspecting individual chain links for dirt buildup, rust, or links that don’t bend easily as they pass through the rear derailleur. Also, check for insufficient lubrication by listening for squeaks while riding. If you find any of these things, then your chain needs a spot-clean.
You can spot-clean the chain while it's still on your bike if you want. It’s smart to brush out the links with a firm brush, like an old toothbrush. Also, re-lube the links from time to time with chain lubricant, then be sure to wipe off excess lubricant with a clean, dry rag. (Over-lubricating can actually attract new dirt.) If a more thorough cleaning is required, use a chain-cleaning tool that can be attached to your chain for a quick, deep clean.
Every month or so, you should give your bike a deeper clean. Do this by completely removing your chain with a chain-removal tool. Brush it thoroughly and completely immerse it in a chain solvent to get rid of grime that brushing can't remove. Then, let the chain soak until most of the dirt is gone from the links and bushings. Dry the entire chain with a clean rag and make sure that the solvent has completely evaporated. After all this, you can then re-lube the chain and reattach it to your bike.
If you aren’t quite sure about cleaning, you can take your bike to a bike shop and have them do it for you. If you do this, though, I suggest watching, if possible, so you can learn. Regular maintenance on your mountain bike, especially if you put it through a lot on the trail, will extend the life your bike’s components and will go a long way towards keeping it performing optimally.