Cleaning bike drivetrain

Cleaning the drivetrain is an important part of maintaining your bicycle. This is because a dirty transmission rides less efficiently as dirt collects around the sprockets, chain and derailleurs which can compromise their function. Another reason why cleaning bike drivetrain is important is that the components will last longer when clean as dirt mixes with lubricant and acts as a cutting compound.

cleaning a bike drivetrain

Finally, a clean drivetrain looks nice!

cleaning a bike drivetrain

Cleaning bike drivetrain equipment

  • Bicycle stand – This is not vital, but makes cleaning much easier.
cleaning a bike drivetrain
  • Clean water – To rinse off the degreaser
  • Plastic floor mat – Either a dedicated product or any piece of plastic. This will protect the floor if you want to clean indoors.
cleaning a bike drivetrain
  • Gear cleaning brush – One end is plastic for scraping out the mud and oil mixture and the other side has a hard bristle brush for cleaning old grease.
cleaning a bike drivetrain
  • Brushes – It’s a good idea to get some brushes of varying sizes and firmness. You will need to degrease them after use.
  • Chain cleaning bath – By far the easiest, quickest and most thorough way to clean a chain while it is on the bike is to use a dedicated chain cleaning machine. The brushes are the part that wears so buy one with replaceable brushes.
  • Clean rags – These are used for wiping and drying. Moisture left on the drivetrain will lead to corrosion.
  • Degreaser – A chemical product mostly used for the removal of water-insoluble substances such as grease, oil, lubricants, corrosive products, abrasive dust and all other organic films. There are many products that will do this. We would recommend one that is manufactured just for cycles, most of them are biodegradable. Washing up liquid is a degreaser, but uses salt to control the viscosity, so could add to corrosion.
  • Small container. – This is for decanting some of the degreaser. 
  • Floss – this is a microfibre string used to clean rear cogs and chainrings.  It looks a bit like a shoelace. It doesn’t shred and it can be washed and used again and again.
  • Large cable tie, strap or string – This is to lock the rear wheel when cleaning the transmission.

Cleaning bike drivetrain preparation

Before you start, it’s always best to be prepared to make the job easier.

  • Move the derailleurs to the highest gears back and front. 
  • Remove the chain and put it in a container filled with degreaser. Soaking the chain not only helps to remove the dirt on the plates, but also helps to push the dirt from between the rollers where it is hardest to remove and where it causes the most wear.
  • Using a large cable tie, strap, or string lock the wheel to the frame so that it can’t spin.
  • If you have a disc brake, cover the rotor with a clean piece of towel or thick rag.

Cleaning bike drivetrain

Step 1: Cleaning the cassette

  • First remove the thick dirt from between the cogs with the plastic claw.
  • Dip the brush side of the gear cleaning tool into the degreaser and work on the cogs with the brush side of the gear cleaning tool.
  • Remove any remaining dirt by using the floss.
  • Rinse the cogs with clean water.
  • Dry the cogs with a rag.

Step 2: Cleaning the jockey wheels and derailleur

  • Scrape the thick dirt with a utility knife or flat bladed screwdriver.
  • Dip a hard bristle brush in the degreaser to clean the jockey wheels 
  • The body of the derailleur is painted or coated so will scratch if you use a hard bristled brush. Clean the rest of the derailleur with a rag or soft brush.
  • Rinse the derailleur and jockey wheels. 
  • Dry with a clean rag.

Step 3: Cleaning the front derailleur 

  • Dip your thinnest brush into the degreaser and clean it thoroughly. There will be some dirt that is oil from the chain and some that is thrown up from the terrain, especially if you don’t have mudguards. This will eventually cause your front derailleur to seize so it is important to get it clean.
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Dry thoroughly with a clean rag because it is easy for the front derailleur to seize, so it is important to clean and dry it thoroughly.

Step 4: Cleaning the chainset

  • Click the left hand shifter to the lowest gear. This will give you better access to the chain rings.
  • If the debris is thick or muddy, use the plastic claw on the gear cleaning brush to remove it.
  • Using the thinnest brush, dip it into the degreaser and clean between the rings.
  • Dip the floss into the degreaser and run it between the rings.
  • Use a bigger brush, dip it in the degreaser and scrub the rest of the rings. The crank arms are normally coated, so use a soft brush or a rag to remove the surface dirt. Hard bristles might damage the surface.
  • Rinse with water.
  • Dry with a clean rag.

Step 5: Cleaning the chain 

  • Using a hard bristle brush, scrub the outside of the chain. You can either do this in or out of the degreaser. Do both sides of the plates.
  • Drop it in a bucket or bowl of clean water and leave it for a few minutes to rinse it.
  • Dry it with a rag.

Step 6: Replacing the chain

  • Remove the cloth from around the disc rotor 
  • Remove the retaining device from the rear wheel.
  • Replace the chain.  
  • Pour the degreaser into the chain cleaning tool and follow the instructions on that tool. 
  • Replace the degreaser with water and rinse the chain and the cogs.
  • Dry it with a clean rag.

Now you have performed cleaning bike drivetrain and you are ready to hit the road!

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