The item on your bike which requires the most care and maintenance is the chain. It picks up dirt, grease and grime from the road which causes premature wear; and you may even notice that shifting can become difficult and sometimes even erratic. Not only will your chain wear out prematurely, a dirty chain will cause excess wear on cassettes and chain rings as well. Replacing these components can cost hundreds of dollars.
Expensive repairs can be avoided by thoroughly cleaning, degreasing and lubricating your chain on a regular basis. Your bike will shift effortlessly, just like when it was new.
You'll want to inspect your chain and drivetrain (cassette, chain ring, etc.) every time you ride. If your chain is black and caked with grease, then you're not cleaning often enough. Some cyclists clean their chains after every ride. This will assure you of smooth shifting and the best performance every time. Others clean their chain after a few rides, which in most cases is sufficient. And some of you may clean your chain only once or twice a season. Not so good!
If you ride primarily on roads you won't need to clean your chain as
often as riders who travel on bike paths like the Rock Creek Trail;
which tend to have more surface dirt that your chain will pick up.
Inspect your chain each time you ride to make sure that it's silver and shiny, not caked with black grease and dirt.
The basic chain cleaning process is as follows -
- Place you bike on a bike stand or turn it upside down on the ground.
- Apply a cleaner/degreaser to the entire chain while turning the pedals forward
- Use a long bristle brush to loosen grease in the chain rings, cassette and all drivetrain components. You can also use a chain cleaning tool as pictured above. These make the job easier and clean more throughly.
- Continue to pedal and hold a rag or shop towel against the chain to remove the loosened grease. You can also spray water from a hose to assist in grease removal. Just make sure to dry everything so that metal components on your bike don't rust. Also, if you have access to a pressure washer, they will remove all grease and grime. Just be careful not to spray on painted areas which can be ruined by a pressure washer.
- Your chain should now be nice and shiny. If not, repeat the process above for really dirty chains.
- Dry off all the components with a rag or shop towel.
- Apply a bike chain lubricant to all of the chain links while pedaling.
- After the lubricant has been distributed, use a rag or shop towel to remove all excess. This step is very important because oil attracts dirt. You only want a small amount of oil left on the chain for lubrication. Too much and your chain becomes a dirt magnet.
- After every ride, run a rag or shop towel along the entire chain to remove surface dirt, excess lubricant and accumulated grease.
Be sure to use a lubricant made specifically for bike chains which usually contain Teflon. General household lubricants found in hardware stores are not appropriate, and can do more harm than good.
There's lots of chain cleaning articles and videos online which provide demonstrations on how to clean your chain. Here are a few to check out -
REI - Maintaining Your Bike Chain Video
WD-40 Bike Maintenance Products and Videos
Finish Line Chain Cleaner Kit (pictured above)