Have you ever looked at your bike and thought that the chain looks to be completely covered in a thick residue? Do you regularly cycle for fitness or in competition? If so, you will need to clean and check your bike chain.
Firstly, we have noticed that many people use lubricants that are not specifically designed for chains. These lubricants may actively lubricate the chain, but unless they are the correct weight, density and viscosity, they may actually ‘clog up’ meaning that particles (such as small pieces of road grit and other debris) cling to the chain. This means that as the links move, they are not as free (not as easily moved) as they could be. Also, certain lubricants that are not specifically designed correctly for chains may ‘flick off’ as you are riding, causing a dirty leg, a dirty frame and also unwanted lubricant spraying near the road (or other surface) and your rear tire. Oil on the rear tire can be very dangerous.
Now, we insist on safety. Lubricants and machinery of any kind should be treated with respect. Only attempt any maintenance or other procedure if you are competent to do so, you have read any materials (such as packaging) relating to the lubricant to be used and you are certain of safety for yourselves and other people around you.
When it comes to bike chains, there are several types of lubricant. We generally consider there to be two overall options, which should be selected based on the weather and the running gear of your bike. Always ensure that you select the correct products for your bike, the chain and your sprockets (cogs that make up the gears at the rear). The weather plays a very important role in the selection of the correct lubricant. There is wet lubricant and there is dry lubricant. In a nutshell, wet lubricant is for damper conditions (wet weather road biking or forest mountain biking where there is moisture on the forest floor). Basically, dry lubricant is for use when there is little chance of the chain coming into contact with moisture; obviously ignore the potential of an occasional splash from a drinks bottle. Wet lubricant is frequently oil based and may contain a blend of different oils with other ingredients to produce an effective and efficient mixture. Dry lubricant often has waxes and other polymers to cover the chain. Although to the touch, after application, dry lubricant feels ‘waxy’ as opposed to ‘oily’, the efficiently of lubrication is high as long as it is used in the correct conditions. Check out what is available to you. Perhaps look on popular auction and shopping sites, including eBay: click here to look at dry lube and click here to look at wet lube. You should always clean the chain using an appropriate chain cleaner specific for cycle chains. There are brushes that are manufactured to help clean bike chains, but we often find that a toothbrush with relatively hard bristles can do the job very well if there are no other brushes to hand (obviously never use the toothbrush for your teeth again). There are some chain cleaners for sale on sites such as eBay, these may be seen by clicking here.
Cleaning Your Bike Chain
The general procedure for how to clean a bike chain is given below. Adapt this as necessary for your own equipment and products used.
- Prop your bike in an upright or inverted position. If inverted, use some unwanted soft cloths, towels or carpet cut-offs on the floor to prevent your bike being scratched.
- If you are using a spray-on chain cleaner, lightly spray one section (about a quarter of the chain). Also, lightly spray the chain cleaning brush to be used. If you are using a liquid cleaner in a receptacle (perhaps an unwanted, empty jam jar), dip the chain cleaning brush in the chain cleaning solution for a few seconds.
- Gently brush the chain section by section until it looks clean.
- Once the chain looks clean, rinse off any remaining residue with water (use a hose pipe or clean watering can).
- Use a clean, lint-free cloth do dry the chain. An old and unwanted cotton t-shirt or unwanted tea towel can work well as long as they are not shedding fibers. Ensure that they are clean and are not covered in soaps or other cleaning products.
- Use this technique to clean sprockets and other areas that the chain may contact as applicable.
- Lubricate the chain with the correct lubricant, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Lubrication after the clean and dry procedure is important because it is likely to prevent corrosion. Rotate the pedals backwards (against the clicking ratchet mechanism) slowly as the lubricant is applied.
- Lubricate any other moving parts that have been cleaned. Other parts may require a different lubricant. Often a thinner spray-on general bike lubricant should be used for other parts. Read the specification of lubricant.
We hope that you have found this article explaining how to clean a bike chain useful. Check out our other super useful stuff relating to cycling and fitness.
Thank you for reading. Remember to always cycle safely – a good helmet and other protection is essential, as is reflective clothing and lighting.