How to Clean Your Bike in 5 Minutes (or MORE) After a Ride in the Rain

If you’re a real cyclist, you’ll be cleaning your bike after every few rides and definitely after any ride when you get caught in the rain. I deliberately ride in the rain both ways to work (thank you, Vancouver weather).

Sometimes I don’t have all the cleaning tools nor all the time to properly clean my bike, so to prevent problems I give my bike a quick dry down with a paper towel or whatever I can find as soon as I arrive at work. I leave my trusty cyclo-cross in a dry room for a few hours until the ride back home in muddy gritty rainy conditions (I love it!), after which I give my bike a more thorough clean.

Yes, You’d Better Be Wiping Down Your Bike

Cleaning your bike after a ride in the rain is about more than just looking good. Cleaning helps expensive components last longer and keeps all the parts running smoothly. 

Looking like you don’t know how to take care of your bike should be reason enough to break out the soap and chamois. (Vanity is as good a motivation as any.)

If you like to outsource, you’ll want to take your bike to the shop for a deeper cleaning at the end of the season (they will take the whole machine apart, clean it and put it back together, hopefully in that order).

The routines below are perfect for keeping your bike in working order after a rain and throughout the season (and most importantly, making sure you don’t look like a dork).

5-Minute Cleanup: What Do You Do With Your Bike After Riding it in the Rain?

Follow this quick and painless routine for cleaning your bike after a wet ride to keep it looking and working like new:

If you have a stand, use it:

If you have a Euro-style stand, that is easiest because you can spin the bike without getting yourself or your bike dirty. A seatpost stand or a DIY stand works well, too. Or simply lean the bike against a wall and get to work.

Wet it down (again):

TOP DOWN: If you’ve freshly come in from the rain, there is more than just water on your bike.

  • Just like washing your car or your body, you want to hose off the bike starting at the top and working your way down, applying soapy water with a rag or sponge.

If you wash your bike all the time, you likely won’t need to scrub much.

If this is a new practice for you or you’ve let your poor bike marinate for a few days after a muddy ride, you’ll want to scrub away all the grit and grime from the frame, wheels and drivetrain. 

NOTE: Use some caution if applying water with a hose because the pressure might send water into places where it shouldn’t be (bottom bracket, bearings), but so long as you’re not using an industrial-grade power washer you won’t do any damage to your bearings, frame or anything else (unless your bike is already disintegrating). 

Wipe it down:

I usually wipe down the saddle and handlebars with a damp cloth or paper towel instead of dousing it, and avoid soaking anything that is water absorbent, especially if I need to ride the bike again within a few hours. 

WHEELS: Also if you have the time and space to do a proper cleanup, remove your wheels. With the wheels removed, use a rag or wet sponge to clean the rims and brakes — aim for the inside of the brake calipers and brake pads (don’t get oil on the brake pads or wheel rims).

  • If your brakes are super gunky, try a brake cleaner to remove oil, grit and grease, and rehydrate your pads. Pay close attention to the brake surface, where residue from the brake pads collect. If soap doesn’t take it off, a little rubbing alcohol will do the trick. Or maybe it’s a good time to change your brake pads.
  • Give your bike a light rinse to remove the soap from the wheels, frame and components, then put the wheels back on the bike. 

Make sure to clean the spokes, hubs and tires.

Rinse it off:

If you’re outside: Once the bike is clean of road grime, rinse off any remaining soap and dry off the bike. Be sure to use a separate rag for cleaning and driving the drivetrain, to minimize grease transfer to places that should remain free of grease, such as your rims and saddle.

Or if you’re in an apartment with no space to hose a bike without making a regrettable mess: you’ll need a bottle of WD-40 Bike Foaming Wash or some other foaming wash, a brush and a couple of clean rags.

  • Using a foaming spray instead of a good ol’ bucket of soap and water means less mess, but the trade-off is a slightly higher cost in time, money, and effort (but you’re from the city so you should be used to that).

From Dirty Drivetrain to Changed Chain:

  • If you have time, you might want to remove the chain and let it soak.
  • I usually just go over the chain, cassette and gears with a paper towel because that’s all I have at work, but ideally use a stiffer brush to try and get any sand and road build-up off before it gets too comfortable there. 
  • I save the greasy fun parts of the bike for last: Wash away the grit from the chain and re-lubricate it. 

Cleaning and lubricating the chain, aka performing basic chain maintenance, is critical to extending the life of your drivetrain and keeping your bike as quiet and smooth as possible:

  1. This will keep your bike functioning properly and your expensive parts from rusting.
  2. Rusted links will fuse and skip teeth, wear down your drivetrain faster, and cause the chain to weaken and break at critical moments.
  3. There’s no bigger dork than the discombobulated cyclist standing on the side of the road with a bike and a bike chain wrapped around what it shouldn’t be.

The most important step is to finish cleaning the drivetrain and apply a lubricant. 

Start by using a degreaser to remove excess grime that wasn’t dealt with by the soapy sponge. I use ProLink Finish Line’s Speed Degreaser or a less-messy, apartment-friendly solution like Park Tools’ Chain Gang. Regardless of which you choose, your chain should be grit- and grease-free afterwards. 

  • Dip an old rag or a toothbrush into a separate container with a small amount of degreaser, then focus cleaning the front and rear derailleurs, the chain, cassette and crank. A little degreaser goes a long way. 
  • After everything is clean, the final step is to apply a quality chain lube like Dumonde Tech or WD-40 Bike (if you’re anal-retentive use a dry lube when it’s dry out, a wet lube when it’s wet; if you’re not, just use an all-purpose lube).
  • I use ProLink Chain Lube and I don’t spray, I drip or brush a little of the lube onto the chain and wipe with a paper towel or rag.
  • Apply a lubricant to the chain and rub a few drops to any other points where the cables enter or exit the frame.

Once you’ve applied some lube to the chain be sure to wipe off any excess; we only care about what gets inside the chain links, as the lubricant on the outside only serves to attract more dirt and grime.

Dry Your Bike:

While carbon won’t rust, any parts made of steel should be dried thoroughly. Grab a paper towel or towel dry the bike as best you can.

  • Tip: If you decide to polish your bike with a spray, remove the wheels. If polish gets on the braking surface, it’ll reduce friction — a potentially dangerous situation.

Why polish your bike with a protective polish that contains a moisture dispersant and a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene)?

  • This will expel water from the bike, thus preventing corrosion.
  • This will keep the paint really shiny. 
  • It’ll also make your bike easier to clean, as dirt won’t stick as easily.

Enjoy the Interval of Clean.

Whether you have 5 minutes or 20 minutes to wipe down your bike, it now looks better and works better than it would have otherwise. Bask in your bike’s impressive matte glow.

  • Clean Rags or Chamois,
  • WD-40 Foaming Bike Wash,
  • Park Tool Chain Cleaning Kit,
  • Finish Line Easy Pro Brush Set,
  • Finish Line Speed Degreaser,
  • ProLink Chain Lubricant,
  • Work Stand

At minimum: A paper towel, WD-40, and 5 minutes

Is Cycling in the Rain Bad for the Bike?

While fenders can help to keep you and your bike from becoming a complete disaster, you will want to wipe down or at least dry off as much of your bike as you can before leaving your bike to marinate in road muck.

And sometimes you leave your bike sitting out in the rain all day. Neglect! But it happens. So, what do you do to help your bike forget about that day and keep your bike in great shape?

  • Keep all the moving parts well oiled. Lubricating your chain is an easy part of do-it-yourself bike maintenance. Note that even if you only ride on roads there will be more dirt getting on it than flowing away, so you’ll need to give the chain a good clean, let it dry, and oil it. This should stop the mechanicals getting too rusty, some screw heads will rust but not too badly.
  • Wet rims don’t brake as well, especially if the wet isn’t pure, so after riding off the first stop may take longer (and be noisy). If the rain has stop it may be worth applying the brakes (carefully) once or twice right after starting your ride, to get the rims dry.
  • Get a waterproof saddle cover, then take it off when you want to ride – so much more comfortable than a wet saddle, especially if the saddle has stitching which lets the water in. This is better than a plastic bag, because you can leave it on, and only remove it if it’s wet. Alternatively, get a saddle with a plastic surface, then you can just wipe off the rain.
  • If you’re expecting really heavy rain, your lights might not take it (as I found out recently) so you might want to take them with you (of course you might want to anyway so they don’t get stolen). This is for removable lights; if you have lights that are meant to be installed permanently (for dynamo use), they will generally be watertight.
  • If you ride in the rain, then keep the bike in a shed on a damp day, it won’t dry out properly for hours anyway, so the actual outside storage isn’t much extra punishment on top of the ride (assuming of course that it’s wet all day)

Is Leaving Your Bike Out in the Rain a Bad Idea?

Leaving your trusty steed sitting all forlorn out in the rain, or leaving it to drip itself dry after a quick and dirty ride to the store in a rainstorm has all sorts of bad consequences, aside from giving all the impression you’re a total dork (rule #1 in the admittedly vain world of cycling: don’t look like a dork). 

What happens when your bike sits for a period after being out in the rain? Steel rusts. Nuts and bolts solidify and become brittle as they oxidize. Your bike becomes the sad image of neglect.

The oily water and other questionable substances on the road can leave some corrosively gross residue on your bike frame and components, which can affect the way your bike performs and how long it lasts.

  • Leaving sweat on your carbon fiber frame can eat through clearcoat; 
  • letting grit accumulate on your drivetrain can accelerate wear on expensive components like your chain and cassette; 
  • and any leftover dirt on your expensive carbon rims after a rainy ride will etch unwanted grooves the next time you reach for the brakes.

Cleaning your bike is an easy thing to ‘forget’ to do. The dirt is mostly superficial and it’s just going to get dirty again anyway, right? False. Well, yes it will get dirty again but that is irrelevant. 

So yes, please do clean your bike after riding in the rain. A bike does not look nicer after a drive in the rain, as a car might. 

One reply on “How to Clean Your Bike in 5 Minutes (or MORE) After a Ride in the Rain”

[…] With the right clothing and right attitude, riding in the rain can be more fun than you might think. (The headaches often come once you’ve stopped riding and have a look at what the muck on the road has done to your bike, but we’ve got that covered.) […]

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