Posted in Cycle

Disc brakes may not exactly be the coolest or most impressive feature on a bike, but a cyclist's ability to stop quickly and safely should never be underestimated. Dirty brakes, no matter the style or bike they are attached to, are significantly less efficient. More importantly, a poorly maintained braking system will not only increase your stopping distance (meaning you have to scrub off speed sooner before a corner), but it could also potentially be dangerous.

The guys at Elsenham based handmade bike care and cleaning manufacturer, Crankalicious, offer this handy six-step guide to ensure your disc brakes are properly cleaned and maintained.


Tip #1: Get the right cleaning product

Just as you wouldn't use shoe polish to clean your windows, it is important to use specialist cleaners for different parts of your bike.

Take Crankalicious' Rotorissimo brake cleaner for example: it is residue-free, and is specifically designed to wash away having removed any lingering dirt from key parts of the braking system. It will also leave no trace on your disc rotors, to ensure perfect consistent braking.

When it comes to disc brake cleaning, be sure not to use products containing PTFE, or gloss enhancing properties: these will leave the surface of your discs slippery, which will affect braking.


Tip #2: Know which parts to clean

When it comes to cleaning disc brakes, there are 4 components to familiarise yourself with:

  1. The two disc rotors (the metal disc which is attached to your wheel)
  2. The brake pads
  3. The calipers (the part which clamps the pads around the disc)
  4. Brake levers and hydraulics

How often you should clean your bike will depend on its usage, and where it is stored (keeping it outside will require far greater attention than indoor storage).  

Many experienced riders will check the condition of their bike before and after a ride, as well as keeping to a regular cleaning programme to boost its safe, reliable running.


Tip #3: Know when to clean

OK, we get it. You are just back from a ride and you don't want to give your bike a deep clean whilst you are a bit tired, dirty and smelly.

However, this is often the best time to clean your bike - before the dirt, road grime and salt have had a chance to set in, dry, and do any damage.


Tip #4: Do not contaminate!

Using nitrile safety gloves at all times during the cleaning process to avoid contaminating your rotors - it may sound far fetched, but any dirt or oil from your hands can have an effect on the safe running of rotors and pads.


Tip #5: Check wear and tear before cleaning

Remove the rotors, pads and calipers from both wheels to ensure that they can be cleaned as thoroughly as possible.

Check that each part is free from contaminants (such as stones and grit), and free from major damage, oil contamination, deep scratches, or deformation.

If any part is looking worn or poorly maintained, replacements parts may be needed. Finally, we recommend keeping the parts on lint free towel whilst cleaning to ensure that they do not pick up any dirt during the cleaning process. That would make cleaning them a bit pointless, right?

Note: Make sure not to squeeze the brake lever with the wheel removed, as the brake pads can self-adjust and end up too close together to fit the rotor back in.


Tip #6: Begin the clean

  1. Remove the rotors, pads and calipers from both wheels to ensure that they can be cleaned as thoroughly as possible.

  2. Spray a brake cleaner such as Crankalicious’ Rotorissimo brake cleaner directly onto both sides of each rotor. Use a cloth or brush to remove any dirt, before finishing with a another cloth to leave them spotless.

  3. With the wheels still removed from the frame, spray the brake cleaner generously over the calipers and unions (the bits that connect all the pipes together). Scrub with a brush or cloth, removing all the contaminants. Inside here are many moving parts that you don't want leaving any dirt nearby that could work its way in. As mentioned above, the brake cleaning spray will flash away, leaving no trace.

  4. Just as important a part of the braking system as the pads and rotors, are the levers. Whether they are hydraulic or cable operated, clean the moving parts with brake cleaner and a brush or cloth.  Ensure there is no grit within the mechanism to ensure they work properly.


Tip #7: Take care reassembling the bike

When reassembling, it is worthwhile lubricating any moving parts. You will have better access with the wheels, rotors and pads removed.

Ensure there are no stones or grit stuck anywhere in the braking system, that the right parts are lubricated, and that - arguably most importantly - the wrong parts are not lubricated. If you accidentally overspray a lubricating product, simply use a brake cleaner again to remove it.  

Finally, should your brakes squeak upon reassembly, it is likely that the rotors or pads have been contaminated at some point. Repeating the cleaning steps above in full should rectify this irritating noise.

About the author

tim's picture
Tim Wiggins
Published on: 15 Jan 2018

Tim Wiggins is an avid cyclist, who is involved in all aspects of the sport. Whether it is mountain biking, road racing or riding non-stop for 480km; it is all about life on two wheels.