Bike cleaners are generally chemical cleaning additives sold in plastic bottles, and although they are the best way to clean your bike, their eco credentials often leave a lot to be desired. Schwalbe’s Natural Bike Soap is designed to address this with its plastic-free, eco-friendly cleaner and brush set.
Schwalbe is one of the leading tire brands, especially so in its efforts to make sustainable and environmentally-friendly products – whether that's with new green production methods, as we reported when it launched its Green Marathon urban tire, or with its Europe-wide tire and tube recycling scheme where it takes old tires and tubes from your local bike shop for free and recycles them. The cleaner is a completely new product for Schwalbe however, so how does it perform?
Design and specification
All other cleaners I've used have come as a liquid, whether ready mixed or as a concentrated formula, but never in solid form. Schwalbe has returned to the old-fashioned bar of soap for good reason. It lasts a long time, is easy to package environmentally, and can be made with a biodegradable formula free of microplastics. The soap also has fat-dissolving properties, which give it some degreasing potential, although it is more to help clean up overspilled lube and grease on your frame and wheels than a drivetrain cleaning replacement.
The non-perfumed vegan-friendly soap bar is said to be good for 100 washes, and at only £7.99 / €6.89 per bar, it is a very cost-effective cleaning method. The soap is sold in a very handy (but much less environmentally friendly) aluminum tin with an in-built separating shelf, which keeps the soap from getting wet and dissolving gradually and also makes it very easy to transport. It is about a tenth of the size of a standard 1-liter cleaner bottle, so it is a lot easier to stash in your toolbox or travel case if you are traveling or cleaning post-ride before putting your bike back in your vehicle.
I tested the full cleaning kit, which comprises soap, a storage box, and a wooden cleaning brush made with horse hair (not vegan-friendly), all contained in a mesh bag made from wood chips that are also 100 percent biodegradable, but the soap is also available separately.
The cleaning process was much the same with the Schwalbe Bike Soap as a normal liquid cleaner. I spray the worst of the mud off with a hose, preferably whilst it's still wet, but instead of spraying on, you simply rub your brush head on the soap bar. I found a wet brush made this a lot easier, and it quickly forms a lather of bubbles that can then be applied to your bike to clean. I found small circular movements along the tubes or tires really helped to increase the volume of bubbles, which in turn improved its dirt removal capabilities.
As with all cleaners, it is important not to let the mix of dirt and cleaner dry, as stronger, chemical-based cleaners can harm anodized surfaces. I had no issues at all during my test period, with the cleaner washing off quickly with gentle water pressure from a normal garden hose and no damage or instances of fading afterward. Its natural fat-dissolving properties seemed to work well on any overspray, but it's definitely not a degreaser. You'll need a stronger, more dedicated product for drivetrain duties, but for everything else, it works well.
I think the application method also helps with its ability to clean. Instead of just spraying and hoping for the best, the brushing motion ensures your bike is clean, so although it may lack some ultimate cleaning power compared to a chemical alternative, it wasn't perceptible in testing, with great results every time, especially when used with a brush with longer bristles.
The brush is a high-quality item and is very well made using horse hair for the bristles. Whilst it looks great, there are better alternatives out there, like Peaty's Products Bike Brush Set, that have similar eco credentials but cost significantly less and offer a more varied range of brush types to get into all the awkward areas of your bike during cleaning.
Schwalbe claims the soap lasts up to 100 washes, and after several months of use, I'd say it is about right. Despite regular use, especially over the wettest autumn in memory, it barely looks like I've used the soap bar. In fact, I'd suggest it might last longer than the brand claims, making this the most cost-effective cleaner I've used, too, by some margin if you just purchased the bar individually.
The soap is a great alternative to the wide range of cleaners already out there, and its true eco credentials are to be applauded – just make sure you use the tin for your lifetime then pass it on in your will. Normally, eco products come with a caveat in terms of performance, but the performance gap was minimal and outweighed by its low cost per wash, longevity, and portability, as well as its being environmentally friendly.
I think it's expensive as a kit, and only having one brush isn't enough to clean your bike. The tin is very handy for storage though, especially if you are traveling to and from the trails. I would recommend the standalone soap option as it's a very frugal, green, and effective way to keep your bike clean.
Tech specs: Schwalbe Natural Bike Soap
- Price: $N/A / £29.99 / €29.90
- Cleaner: Vegan-friendly biodegradable soap
- Brush: Wooden handle with short, natural horse hair bristles
- Details: Alloy storage tin and wooden brush included as a package