How to Clean Mountain Bike Gears – Step by Step


If you ride your mountain bike often, it is prone to accumulate dirt, grease, and mud. So you need to learn how to clean your mountain bike gears to keep your pedaling smooth and stress-free. In this article, you will learn the products required, the steps needed, and how to clean mountain bike gears.

To clean mountain bike gears, first, remove the chain from the bike and soak it in a degreaser and then, scrub the chain using a chain brush. Next, thoroughly dry the chain with a rag and apply drops of lube to the roller to reduce friction. Finally, reattach the chain to the bike. 

Clean mountain bike gears will make gear changing much smoother and prevent other problems from happening.
Clean and lubricated gears ensure a smooth and safe ride: Image Source: Redbull.com.

Reasons For Cleaning Mountain Bike Gears

The gearing system of your mountain bike has more moving parts than any other component of your bike. The presence of dirt in the form of grass, debris, sand, and mud affects them adversely. It is, therefore, good practice to clean them often.

Reasons to clean mountain bike gears include decreasing wear, preventing gear jumping and slipping, and preventing the chain from stretching. Mountain bike gears should undergo a light clean after every ride, and a deep clean every 500 to 700 miles. 

Reason 1. Decrease Wear

Wear occurs when the surfaces of the gear’s part start to deteriorate. Deterioration happens when parts of the gear repeatedly come in contact with each other, causing friction, and leading to it wearing out. 

Stones, pebbles, and other hard materials often find their way into the gear system of your bike. They come into contact with key parts of your gear and end up wearing out their surfaces. Regularly cleaning your gears helps decrease their wear.

You might be interested in learning how much a mountain bike chain costs to appreciate how much maintenance is worth. Be sure to take a look at our related article to find out more. Similarly, you should also know when to replace a mountain bike chain. So be sure to read that article too for more information.

Reason 2. Prevent Gear Jumping

Gear jumping occurs when your bike chain skips between gears while you're riding, or shifts twice instead of once. To prevent this, ensure that the bike gear is free of dirt. Make sure to check out our article about how to fix a mountain bike chain that’s jumping gears for tips to ensure smoother and more consistent gear shifting when riding.  

Reason 3. Prevent Chain Stretching

According to this article by Bike Radar, chain stretching refers to the increased pitch of the MTB chain as it wears. This is due to the accumulation of dirt particles between parts of a chain forming a paste with an existing petrochemical lubricant that causes pins, rollers, and bushings to lose integrity resulting in an overall elongation of the whole chain. You must regularly clean the chain to reduce chain stretching. In our article that explains how to fix a mountain bike chain that is loose, we explain in detail how a bike chain works, and how to tighten it. 

Make sure that your gears stay clean so that the chain of your mountain bike doesn’t get damaged.
A dirty gear cassette transfers muck and grime to the entire drivetrain, and can cause serious damage. Image Source: 123RF.

You might also find interest in learning how to install a mountain bike chain guide or how to fix a mountain bike chain that's jumping gears. If so, be sure to take a look at either one of these related articles for more information.

When to Clean Mountain Bike Gears

How often you use the bike and whether you ride on wet, muddy, sandy, or rough terrain determines when you should clean your mountain bike gears. Regardless of that, though, frequently cleaning your bike gears is essential.

The best time to clean mountain bike gears is right after a ride, especially if the bike was ridden on a muddy or dusty track. Mud, dirt, and sand, if not cleaned off the gears immediately, will collect over time and cause chain elongation, wear, and even breakage.

So, while there are no strict rules on the schedule to follow for cleaning your bike gears, it is advisable to clean your mountain bike gears after every ride especially when they are covered in mud.

Here are the main signs that your gears need a good clean:

Sign 1. Covered In Mud

When the gears of a bike are covered in mud, it is the perfect time to clean it. Mud, being somewhat liquid, will find its way in between the cogs and cassettes of your gear and the rollers of your chain.

The effect of mud accumulating on your gears results in rust, wear, and chain elongation.  To prevent all these, it is best to clean the gears when they are covered in mud.

Sign 2. After a Ride

The gears of your mountain bike are made of several movable parts, specifically the cogs and cassettes. These parts are made of several components that are joined together. They are prone to dirt and grease being lodged within them after every ride.

Therefore, cleaning the bike gears frequently and after every ride reduces the accumulation of dirt and reduces the chances of the gears being damaged.

You might also be interested in learning some quick steps to clean a mountain bike chain properly. If so, be sure to check out our related article.

Products Needed to Clean Mountain Bike Gears

Cleaning a mountain bike chain requires a few products. Some of these products can be found on Amazon. However, regular household products can also be used for light cleaning. Whichever product is used, it is important to make sure that the gears are properly cleaned.

Essential products needed to clean a bike chain include a chain cleaner, degreaser, cassette brush, and lube. Household items that can be used to clean chains are a toothbrush, old shirt, a shoelace, and rags.

1. Chain Cleaner

A chain cleaner like this is a tool that aids in the cleaning of bike chains. A chain cleaner has a built-in brush encased within a container that can be opened and closed after a degreaser has been poured inside it. 

A chain cleaning tool like this can really help to make cleaning your chain easy and keep your drivetrain running smoothly.
A chain cleaner has built-in brushes that help clean the chains of a bike. Image Source: Amazon.

2. Degreaser

A degreaser like this is a cleaning agent used to remove grease and oil from hard surfaces. Degreasers are chemical solvents specifically produced to effectively remove dirt from bike chains without damaging them.

A degreaser is a solvent that is formulated to break down residual grease on hard surfaces.
A degreaser removes grease, oil, dirt, and mud from bike chains without damaging them. Image Source: Amazon.

A degreaser removes grease, oil, dirt, and mud from bike chains without damaging them. Image Source: Amazon.

3. Lubes

Lubes like these are waterproof substances applied to the moving parts of a bike to reduce friction as bike chains move between the cogs and cassettes of bike gears. Lubes also provide rust protection and water repelling features for the gears and chain. 

Lubricants like these can make your chain and gears rust-proof as they repel water.
Lubes are used to lubricate the moving parts of a bike to reduce friction. Image Source: Amazon.

Make sure to also have a look at our ultimate list of mountain bike chain lube alternatives for some additional ideas.

Summary of MTB Gear Cleaning Supplies

Product Description Example from Amazon Approximate Price
Chain Cleaner A tool that is used to clean chains Park Tool CM-25 ~$110
Degreaser A chemical solvent that removes grease and dirt from chains Silca Bio Degreaser ~$20 
Lubes A lubricant that is applied to chains and cassettes to reduce friction Park Tool HPG-1 ~$15

How to Clean a Mountain Bike Chain and Gears Using Degreaser and Chain Cleaner Without Removing a Chain

A bike degreaser works by penetrating and removing stubborn grease and grime from all moving parts of a chain, the cogs, and the gears.

To thoroughly clean a mountain bike chain and gears, use a degreaser and a chain cleaning tool. However, for a quicker method use basic household products like warm soapy water, a toothbrush, and a shoelace for the chain rollers.

There are two ways to apply a degreaser to a chain. The first method involves removing the chain from the bike and the other involves cleaning the chain while it is still attached to the bike. Cleaning the chain while still attached to a bike is a simpler way of cleaning bike chains, but you will need a chain cleaner for that. To do this, follow the steps below. 

Step 1. Fill A Chain Cleaner with Degreaser

The chain cleaner comes with an opening to its chamber at the top. Simply lift up the top and pour the degreaser into the chamber.  

When it comes to the type of degreaser to use for your bike, purchase one that is compatible with carbon fiber, aluminum, chrome, plastic & rubber and also safe for bike finishes and components.

First, pour degreaser into your MTB chain cleaner.
Fill the chain cleaner with the degreaser that you have purchased. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 2. Encase the Chain With the Chain Cleaner

The part that is filled with the degreaser will be positioned below the lower chain. The upper part is used to enclose the chain within the chain cleaner.

The chain should be covered by the chain cleaner that has the degreaser in it.
Close the chain cleaner, which is now filled with the degreaser, around the chain. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 3. Hold The Chain Cleaner in Place and Rotate the Pedal

Rotate the pedal backward while holding the chain cleaner in place so that the chain can move through the chain cleaner. The chain cleaner has a brush fixed within its chamber which automatically brushes dirt off the chain as it passes through. 

The brushes inside the chain cleaner brush off dirt and grime as the chain moves through it slowly.
Hold the chain cleaner in place and rotate the pedal backward. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 4. Release the Chain from the Chain Cleaner

Finally, release the chain from the chain cleaner and dispose of the degreaser. Now that your chain is clean dry it off thoroughly and then apply chain lube. If you don’t have chain lube handy then take a look at our chain lube alternatives article to learn which products will work as temporary lubrication. 

How to Clean a Mountain Bike Chain by Removing the Chain

Bike chains can also be removed from the bikes to be cleaned. This will result in a more thorough clean because the chain can be soaked in the degreaser. 

To clean a mountain bike chain by removing the chain, first, locate the master link, and using a chain plier, remove it. Next, pull the bike chain through the gears, and degrease it. When it’s clean, reattach the chain by routing it through the rear derailleur, followed by the front one. Finally, bring both ends of the chain together and reattach the master link. 

If you wish to remove your chain before cleaning, follow the steps described below.

Step 1. Locate the Masterlink

Locate the Masterlink on the chain. You can easily identify it because it looks different from the other links and has a wider hole that the pin can be slid through to open up the chain. 

Locate the master link to remove the chain from your mountain bike.
The Masterlink on the chain looks different from the other links. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 2. Remove the Masterlink

Once the master link like this has been located, remove it using a chain plier. Simply Insert the chain plier behind the links of the Masterlink and disengage the link.

Undo and remove the master link.
Use a chain plier to remove the Masterlink. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 3. Remove the Chain From the Gears

The unfastened chain can now be passed through the gears until it is completely detached from the bike. Pull the chain slowly so that you don’t snag any links on the gear sprockets. 

Once the chain is loose you can feed it gently through the gears to remove it from your bike.
When you have freed your chain, you can pull it out through the gears. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 4. Use a Degreaser to Clean the Chain

Now that your chain is removed, you can put it in a container filled with degreaser, close the lid of the container and shake it. You can also manually use a rag or brush from this cleaning kit to clean your chain while it is in the degreaser.

Step 5. Reattach the Chain By Routing it Through the Rear Derailleur

Once your chain is clean and dry, re-attach it to the bike. First, you have to route the chain by feeding it through the rear derailleur. 

When your chain is clean and you are sure that it is dry, thread it through the rear derailleur.
When your chain is clean and dry, reattach it by routing it through the rear derailleur. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 6. Route the Chain Through the Front Derailleur

Next, bring the chain inside the frame through the front derailleur, taking care not to twist or tangle it up. If your chain does become tangled you can read our article about how to untangle a bike chain. 

Once the chain is threaded through the rear derailleur thread it through the front derailleur.
After routing it through the rear derailleur, do that again but through the front derailleur. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 7. Bring Both Ends of the Chain Together and Reattach the Masterlink

Bring both ends of the chain together and reattach them via the Masterlink. The Masterlink is made of 2 parts, one has a connecting pin and the other has a pinhole. This ensures that the pair can be coupled together to form one link. Before connecting the two ends of the chain, inspect your Masterlink for the arrows indicating the direction of travel. 

To insert the Powerlink, simply place the link between the two exposed inner links. The link should fit perfectly into the pinholes of the inner plates. Ensure the Powerlink is placed as the outer linking layer on the chain. 

Once the Masterlink is firmly in place, hold one end of the chain and pull the other end in the direction of the arrow inscribed on the Masterlink. Another option is to use the bike pedal. Apply the rear brakes and slowly rotate the pedals to lengthen the chain.

The master link can now be attached with the inscribed arrow pointing in the direction that the chain should be traveling in.
Connect the master link making sure that the arrow showing the direction of travel is pointing in the right direction. Image Source: ParkTool.

For more information, be sure to take a look at these quick and proper mountain bike chain maintenance ideas.

How to Clean a Mountain Bike Chain With a Brush and Degreaser

In the absence of a chain cleaner, simple household items can be used to clean a chain. A toothbrush or any type of brush can be used alongside the degreaser. Several household cleaners like dish soap can also remove bike grease quite well. 

To clean a mountain bike chain with a brush and degreaser, spray the degreaser on the brush and scrub the chain. Once all the grime is loose rinse the chain with warm water, and thoroughly dry it with an old rag. Finally, apply chain lube to the chain. 

This video tutorial by Trek Bicycle shows exactly how to clean your chain thoroughly.

 If you don’t have a tool cleaner using brushes will suffice.
Brushes can be used to clean a bike chain when a chain cleaner is not available. Image Source: YouTube.

Follow the steps below to clean your chain using a brush.

Step 1. Spray Degreaser on a Brush

Apply some degreaser to the brush that will be used to clean the bike chain. A toothbrush with medium or firm bristles will work well too. 

A degreaser is an essential item in the chain cleaning process, whether using a chain cleaner or manually with a toothbrush. Image Source: YouTube. ALT: It is important that you use a degreaser to clean your mountain bike chain properly.

Step 2. Scrub the Top and Bottom of Each Link With the Brush

Scrub the bottom and top of the chain. Spray more degreaser on the brush as you go so that it can work to loosen stubborn grease and dirt. Give the chain a thorough rinse with warm water to remove the degreaser. Then run a rag along the chain to dry it. 

Using the toothbrush and the degreaser clean all sides of the chain thoroughly.
Using the degreased toothbrush, scrub the top and bottom parts of the chain to loosen dirt. Image Source: YouTube

Step 3. Apply Chain Lube

The final step in the cleaning process is the application of chain lube to the chain. When applying lube to your chain, the rollers are the targets. Put drops of lube onto the rollers of the entire chain. Then work the lube through the entire chain by slowly rotating the pedals. As this article from One Ride Cycling explains lube should be applied to the chain and worked through from the smallest cog to the largest one.

Be sure to coat all the rollers when lubricating the chain and work it through from the smallest cog to the largest one.
When applying a lubricant to the chain, make sure to target all the rollers. Image Source: YouTube.

How to Clean a Bike Cassette Without Removing It 

To clean a bike cassette without removing it from the bike, remove the wheel from the bike, place the wheel on a flat surface, and then clean the cassette with a degreaser and rag. 

This video tutorial by Park Tool explains all the steps to clean a bike cassette without removing it.

Step 1. Remove the Wheel

Before removing the wheel, shift the chain to the smallest cog on the front and rear cassettes. Next, clear the derailleur and chain, and remove the wheel.

Clear the derailleur and chain to remove the wheel.
A derailleur must be removed first to be able to remove the wheel. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 2. Clean the Sprockets

Place your bike wheel on a flat surface with the cassettes facing up. Resting the wheel over a large flat basin with the gear sprockets facing up will make cleaning a lot easier. 

Lie the wheel flat with the cassette facing up.to make cleaning the gears easier.
Place the bike wheel on a hard surface to help you clean it properly. Image Source: YouTube.

Next, spray the degreaser on the sprocket. Then use a rag to clean the surface of the gears. Next, fold the rag and slide the rag’s edge between the other sprockets. Gently turn your wheel and the sprocket will get cleaned by moving over the rag.

Push a folded rag between the sprockets to clean the gears.
Folding the rag makes it easier to get it in between the sprockets. Image Source: YouTube.

Step 3. Reattach the Rear Wheel

To attach the wheel back to your bike, place the cogs into the loop of the chain, pivot the derailleur back, and lift the wheel into the dropouts making sure the hub is fully connected. Then adjust the quick release, placing the lever between the chain stay and seat stay. Return the derailleur to the riding position.

Once the wheel is in place and the chain is looped over the cogs reposition the derailleur. 
The derailleur must be returned to the riding position. Image Source: YouTube.

How to Clean a Bike Chain With Household Products

In the absence of high-end tools like chain cleaners, there are several household items that can be used to clean the chains of a mountain bike. These household items, if used properly, can prove to be as efficient as MTB products. 

Household products like a shoelace can be used to floss between the chain links to remove hidden dirt within the rollers. Two toothbrushes tied together can be used to clean the length of the chain and also within the rollers. Old socks and t-shirts soaked with degreaser can be used to hold the chain firmly while backpedaling so the chain runs through it. 

Product 1. Shoe Lace

A shoelace like this can be used to clean your bike chain. This method is particularly efficient for cleaning the inner parts of a chain. For added cleaning power you could douse the shoelace with a degreaser before threading it through the chain links so that the degreaser can loosen the grime inside the chain too. 

First, insert one end of your shoelace through the roller at the end of one link. Continue this loop across three links. Slowly pull the end on the shoelace. As the shoelace comes out of the hole, it pushes grease and debris out. Continue this process throughout the length of the chain.

Thread a shoelace soaked in degreaser through the links of the chain to push debris and trapped dirt out.
Inserting a shoelace between the rollers of a chain can help clean it. Image Source: Sick Biker.

Product 2. Toothbrush

You can use a toothbrush to clean your chain. First, tie two toothbrushes like these together using a rope or elastic band like this. Next, position your chains in between the toothbrushes and scrub the chain, first the 2 sides and then the top and bottom.

Attach two toothbrushed using a rubber band and then position the chain between the bristles of the toothbrushes and run the brushes over all the sides of the chain to clean it properly.
Toothbrushes can be used to clean a bike chain by tying two toothbrushes together. Image Source: YouTube.

 

Product 3. Sock or Old T-Shirt

You can use old socks or old t-shirts to clean your chain. First, apply the degreaser to the cloth or sock. Next, hold your chain firmly at the bottom so the cloth is wrapped around the chain, and backpedal using your hands. The degrease-soaked sock will rub the grease right off the chain with ease. 

Wrap the fabric that is soaked in degreaser around the chain and hold it with one hand while you rotate the pedal backward with the other.
Hold the chain with the degreased cloth and start backpedaling. Image Source: YouTube.

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