Talk:Cleaning and Lubricating Bicycle Chains

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Being an amateur bike mechanic for about 40 years I have learned one thing; a clean bike is a happy bike. I keep a fleet of about 10 bikes @ work running and do the same things to my less than knowledgably bike owner friends. It amazes me how often just cleaning a bike with a few minor adjustments is all a tune-up usually requires. If you want your bike to work right then you need to keep the drive train clean; as a caveat I must confess that cleaning a bike is a Zen experience for me.

Since I usually ride a single speed the process easier than a multi geared bike, the process is pretty much the same. Shift the front derailleur to the big chain ring and the rear to the small cog. Take a small flat head screw driver to the sides of the derailleur pulleys and turn the cranks so you scrape off the crust of dirt that has accumulated on the pulleys; you will also want to do the same thing with a single speed cog or freewheel and the tensioner pulley if you have one. Do the same thing on the middle chain ring on the front. If you have a rear cassette, this would be a good time to use a the back side of a Park CGS-1 brush (or similar) and knock off the dirt crusted between the cogs. Next you’re going to brush the dirt off the chain. I like to do this where the chain is engaged with the front chainring at the 1:00 to 5:00 position. This way the chain is held in place while you brush the side plates. Start on the inside, and brush the dirt away at a tangent, turning the crank as you go. When you’re finished, do the same thing to the outside plates. After that take your brush to the inside and outside where it is stretched between the chainring and cog/cassette. Once this is done take you brush to the front chainring(s) and rear cog/cassette. I find that brushing off the grit before using any solvent saves time and solvent.

At this point you have to decided if you want to remove the chain to clean it or not. Since it is recommended that you clean your drivetrain after every ride, you may not have the time to do a complete cleaning every time. Assuming you are not going to remove the chain, take a rag with Park’s Chain Brite (there is no other chain cleaner) and clean off the chain as much as possible. While you are going this clean off the middle chain ring as well as possible. This is where having a single speed is a big advantage; no outside ring is in the way. Once you have removed most of the grime, take a dry rag and wipe off the residue. At this point it depends how anal you are. If you look at the chain you will see grime in the larger spaces in the links (these are the spaces the gear teeth do not engage. You can 1) leave it there 2) try and brush them out 3) run a Qtip through the space. The third choice is what I do; it only takes a few minutes and maybe 2-3 Qtips. Run the Qtip from the inside of the chain, down through the link. The bottom swap is the only one that matters. I usually hold a rag in my left hand and push the Q-tip though with by left. After you push the Qtip through the chain, wipe the bottom swab off on the rag and turn it slightly to keep the swap on the shaft. Remember you are using Qtip to push the dirt out, not absorb it with the swap, so it doesn’t matter how dirty it gets. When your done wipe the chain off again with a little Chain Brite and your done.

Now if you decided to remove the chain, do so and place it in a plastic container that can be sealed; a lot of folks use plastic bottles. Fill the container with enough Simple Green to cover the chain and shake (I like to dilute it 1 to 1 for this). Let the chain sit for a minute or two and then shake again. Dump out the chain and dirty cleaner, rinse the chain and repeat until the chain is clean. Once the chain is clean rinse again with water, dry with a rag and let it sit somewhere to dry. Once it’s dry I usually do the Qtip thing because I’m really anal about getting the chain clean. With the chain off you can spray the cassettes and chain rings with Simple Green and scrub off the grime. I usually pour some Chain Brite on the brush to expedite the cleaning process. If you are going to do this, you should pick a warm sunny day so everything will dry thoroughly. Do not use a power hose or concentrate a stream of water near any bearing or area that requires lubrication.

After the chain is dry, use the lube of your choice. I have always been fond of Finish Line products, especially the dry lube during the summer months. I have also been hearing praise for a mixture of Mobile1 oil and turpentine as a wet lube. Something I have to try and get back to later. The lube should be used sparingly to the pin area of the chain. Let the solvent in the chain lube flash off for about 5 minutes and then wipe off the excess.

This may sound like a lot of trouble but it actually takes more time to explain it than it takes to do it. I have spent years streamlining the process so at the end of a ride I can throw the bike on the rack and clean the drivetrain in less than 10 minutes. Believe me, if you like your bike to work, it is worth the bother to keep it clean.

aka brad