How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain
First, is it necessary to maintain a bicycle chain? If it’s not squeaking or clunking, what’s the problem?
The answer is the bicycle chain takes the brunt of abuse while riding. Dirt and grime are it’s enemies, and the front wheel does a good job of kicking up plenty of it into the chain. Proper chain maintenance is important to keep it running smoothly.
Dirt and grime have the effect of increasing bicycle chain wear, and causing stiffness in the links. When the chain actually starts squeaking and making noise, you’ve waited too long between cleaning and lubing. A poorly maintained bicycle chain also causes excessive wear on the chainrings and rear sprockets, and can cause shifting problems.
Inspect Your Chain Get in the habit of checking your bike over before every ride. As part of this check, inspect your chain by turning the crank backward (unless you have a coaster brake 😉 ) while looking and listening for problems. If you see rust, hear popping, or squeaking or notice any other anomaly, it needs to be taken care of before you ride. Squeaks and rust spots should be lubed with a good chain lube.
Lubing Your Chain As to what to use to lube your chain, can be a hotly debated topic. For example, some people swear by lubing with WD-40, while others say never use it under any circumstances, because it dries out and loses it’s effectiveness. Strictly speaking, WD-40 isn’t a lubricant, it’s a solvent and degreaser that helps remove rust. Personally, I’ve used it and found it to be somewhat satisfactory, but I wouldn’t use it on a regular basis. If you decide to try it, use the one with a straw, so it doesn’t get all over your rim and tire.
There are quite a number of good chain lubricants out there, and again, which one you use pretty much comes down to personal preference. The one I like, and have used for years, is TRI-FLOW, made by TRI-FLOW Lubricants. It repels water, and has little teflon beads in it to aid lubrication. One other point: dont try to use automobile engine oil! It has detergent in it to keep engines clean. Not what you need!
Apply the lubricant to the top side of the chain on it’s bottom track, as you turn the crank backward.
Cleaning Your Chain So, how often should you clean your chain? The answer to that question depends on the type of riding you do, and where. If you often ride in wet weather, where there is a lot of dirt or road salt, you may need to clean it every couple of weeks; maybe even more often if you do a lot of mountain biking. On the other hand, if you generally ride where it is usually dry, and not too dirty, you may be able to get away with cleaning your chain every couple of months. Even longer, if you ride infrequently.
To clean your chain, first remove it from the bike. (Note: While your chain is off is a good time to also clean the rear sprockets, and derailleur mechanism.)
if your chain has a master link, or PowerLink, remove it according to instructions. If not, chain removal is done by partially pushing out the pins in a link with a chain tool, such as the Park Tool CT-5 Mini Brute.(The picture here, actually shows pushing a pin back in, for reassembly.) Be sure not to push the pins all the way out the other side, just far enough to get the chain apart. Take the link apart, and remove the chain. Place the chain in a plastic 2 liter soda bottle, or a quart size bottle, such as an orange juice bottle. The later has a larger neck, and it will be easier to get the chain out after cleaning.
Fill the bottle with a couple of inches of a degreasing solvent, such as Nashbar Citrus Degreaser,
and shake the bottle vigorously to clean the chain. Remove the chain, rise it thoroughly with water, and dry it well. I suggest drying it in the warm sun, or with a hair dryer, or??? The point is you don’t want it to rust.
Reassemble the chain – Either (a) reverse the process of disassembly using the chain tool, or (b) if your chain is relatively new, you can get a master link for the type of chain you have; if you aren’t sure, ask you local bike shop. This will greatly aid future cleaning cycles.
Do a thorough lubing of the chain as described above, and you’re done! Congratulations!