Chain Cleaning and Maintenance Ideas

    21 Apr 2020

    The dirtiest parts of your bike are the chain and drivetrain. The dirt can affect the performance and the lifespan of your bicycle.


    • Increased wear rate
    • The chain links will become less flexible
    • It can further wear derailleur assemblies and drivetrain cogs.
    • Impaired shifting performance



    • Lubricant
    • Cleaner fluid


    Clean Your Bike Regularly

    Examine the chain by standing by the side of your bike and lift the back part of the wheel off the ground. Inspect the links while rotating the pedal with your free hand. Check if it has dirt build-up or if there are rust or tight connections.

    Examine if it still has enough lubrication. Listen for squeaks while riding. If the two conditions are observed, your chain requires at least spot-cleaning.

    Tips for Spot-Cleaning

    When is the Best Time to Clean and Lube
    • Brush the dirt out of the links using a firm brush. You can also use an old toothbrush.
    • Re-lubricate the links regularly with the right lubricant.
    • Remove excess lubricant by using a clean, dry rag. Too much oil can attract more dirt.
    • To clean the chain-link thoroughly, use a cleaning tool. Connect it to your chain for deep cleaning.

    Cleaning Your Bicycle Occasionally

    If you are cleaning your bike occasionally, like every few months; it is best to remove your chain entirely with the use of a chain-removal tool. Clean it thoroughly using a brush and immerse it in a solvent. This process will remove the grime that has build-up on the chain, which cannot be removed by simply brushing it.

    Soak the chain until all the dirt has been freed from the bushings and links. Dry the entire chain completely using a clean rag. Before re-lubricating and re-installing the chain, make sure that the solvent has evaporated completely.

    Tip: Apply a minimum amount of lube, particularly on the inner link rollers only – no other parts, so you will not waste the lube. It is also not a good idea to use spray or straw on applying the lube.

    If you do this, you will only spread the lube in the frame, floor, and breaks. When buying a lubricant, it is best to buy one in a dropper bottle, as you can then apply the lube one drop at a time.

    Once you are done lubricating, ride the bicycle for a few minutes. Remove the excess lube and the spread lube with a rag. Wipe the chainrings and sprockets dry as well. By doing this, you will have the necessary amount of lube to help the bicycle perform at its best.

    About Lubricants

    The lubricant has two fundamental properties. One is that it reduces or eliminates the accumulated dirt because it speeds up the wear. Two, it makes the chain durable. Without enough lubrication, your bike chain will wear out fast.

    Issues You Will Encounter When Cleaning Your Bike

    If you’re concerned about the durability of your bike’s chain, it is best to lube it often. Lubricants marketed as bicycle-chain lubricants are superior to non-bicycle specific products. These oils usually contain Teflon and are made to repel water and dirt,

    Note: Some bikers use WD-40 on their bicycle. This product is not a good idea. Use only the designated lubricant and cleaner for bicycle drivetrains.


    Tight Links

    If you notice your links are not bending smoothly, then you have “tight links.” Cleaning the chain with “tight links” will give you a hard time. To check your bicycle, pedal it slowly backward and observe as the link goes through the tight turns of your back derailleur.

    Tight links are caused by corrosion or dirt between the link plates. You can get rid of them by cleaning, lubricating and flexing it back and forth. Improper pin installation is yet another reason for this issue, and it may lead to severe chain damage.

    To put the link back into its right position, you can shift them back and forth within their chainplates by using a tool or with your hands. Replace the chains if the damage is irreversible.

    Chain Stretch

    If you notice the chain has become longer, it means you have a chain stretch. It hasn’t literally stretched, it lengthens as it wears, and it appears between the link pins and the rollers. This results in free play or slop, which makes the gear skip in some instances. The bicycle’s rear cog teeth and chainrings will also get affected.

    Replacing a cog set is more expensive than replacing a chain. You can look for a wear-indicator tool to check on your chain wear. If the prong of the device fits into the chain, then it needs to be replaced.


    Aside from extending the life of your bike, keeping your bicycle chain lubricated has other benefits:

    Keeps Your Bike Protected Against Environmental Conditions

    Rain, road, climate salt, and snow can cause the chain to rust out. After one week of wet rides, rust will become visible. This is why it is essential to provide the right maintenance for your bicycle. Proper lubrication can keep your bike protected against corrosion and reduce the effect of environmental factors.

    Dirty Bike Chain

    Keep the Chain in Silent Mode

    The first sign of having a dry chain is the sound it produces. Most of the time, the chain sound becomes louder. Check the bike’s chain with your hands to determine how dry, dirty, or wet it is. Proper lubrication can keep your bicycle in silent mode.

    Improves Shifting

    One of the indicators of bike performance is the way it shifts. Bad shifting will affect your speed and reduce your efficiency. Having a dry chain could be one of the reasons.

    Watts Savings

    A dry chain consumes 20 watts at 22 mph. Its consumption will be reduced to 5-10 watts after lubrication. As it becomes dirty and dry, the average watts being added is around 5-10 watts. You will save more energy if the bike chain is in good condition.

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