Bike Chain Maintenance 101

By Thomas Deaner, Brick City Bicycles

Your bike’s drivetrain is what keeps your bicycle rolling. That’s why it’s so important to keep your bike chain clean and lubricated.

Chain Cleaning Tools

In general, you shouldn’t need to take off your chain to clean or lubricate it, so a chain tool to break a chain is unnecessary for regular maintenance. I do recommend investing in a chain cleaner or a chain cleaner kit which comes with a chain cleaner, degreaser and specialty brush to brush between the gears in the cassette and the freewheel. These kits run in the neighborhood of $25-30 and represent a great value over purchasing the items separately. Best of all, it gives you everything you need to clean your chain and gears anytime they get dirty.

Which Degreaser to Use

If you are cleaning your chain regularly, a mild degreaser may be all you need to clean your chain. Simple Green or Dawn dishwashing soap can work well and bike shops sell specialty degreasers too. Stay away from industrial solvents like WD40, gasoline, or automotive engine degreasers like Purple Power. Using strong chemicals is unnecessary and may have unintended consequences. Not only are they stinky, they can hurt the finish on your bike or leave residue that can damage parts on your bike. I’ve seen some of these cleaners eat the shiny finish off of bike parts.

Choosing a Chain Lubricant

There are many kinds of lubricants to use. In our hot and sandy weather, I recommend a Teflon-based wet lubricant, like Rock “N” Roll brand. I use the “blue extreme” formula which is a very light formula that once dry sheds dirt and grit as it lubricates the chain.

How to Lubricate the Chain

Apply a generous amount of lube to the chain as you pedal the chain backwards. Clean up any residue or extra and let your chain sit to dry, preferably overnight. This will allow the lubricant to set up a protective membrane that will shed dirt and grime. After each ride, always wipe down your chain to keep it clean and in top shape. If your chain is squeaky, chances are your chain needs some lubricant. Refer to the directions on your lubricant bottle as well.

How Often to Replace a Chain

Even though they are made of metal, bicycle chains do not last forever. Eventually, they stretch out and can skip as you shift gears or even break. Most bike shops will be happy to help you evaluate the wear on your bike chain with a Chain Wear Indicator tool.
In general, aim to keep your chain clean and lubricated at all times, and you will log many miles with your bike’s drivetrain. Our full service bike shop stands ready to help you with any parts, tools and free advice you might need to help you maintain or repair your bike’s drivetrain.

About Thomas Deaner

Thomas Deaner is a licensed USA Cycling Mechanic and general manager for Brick City Bicycles in Ocala, Florida. A long-time bike enthusiast, he has been on two wheels for more than 20 years and enjoys sharing his love for cycling with others.