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Basic Maintenance: How to Clean Your Bicycle Chain

Chain Cleaner with Brush and Degreaser

There’s a lot more to cleaning your bike chain than just blasting it with water, wiping it off, and then spraying on fresh oil. In fact, with newer, more precision chain technologies, chains require a gentle touch. 

Here are the key steps to ensuring your chain runs smoothly, lasts long, and is less likely to break:

  1. Have a Look
    Unless your chain is completely packed with mud, grit and grime, don’t take it off your bike. Removing your chain means breaking a link which can shorten overall lifespan. A chain break on a ride can cause a bad wreck, so if you do need to take the chain off, consult with a shop technician unless you really know what you’re doing. Different brands and types of chains have specific processes for chain removal which should be followed to avoid chain malfunction or failure, so make sure you check it out.

  2. Brush off the Big Stuff
    Clean off all excess dirt and water from your chain, sprocket set, chainrings, and derailleur pulleys using a brush or cloth. Do not spray your bicycle with water under pressure. Pressurized water, even from the nozzle of a garden hose, can penetrate seals and corrode components causing irreparable damage. Instead, wash your bicycle and its components by wiping them down with water and neutral soap. Also remember that salt-rich environments such as   snowy road regions and areas near the ocean can cause increased corrosion. To minimize this, clean your parts more frequently.

  3. Degreasing
    Apply bio-degreaser to your chain, work it into the chain, and then wipe off. Do not use alkali based or acid based solvents such as rust cleaners that can cause your chain to break, which as you know, can be dangerous. Also, do not let your chain soak in solvent for an extended length of time, as this can cause accelerated wear and/or chain failure

  4. Lubricating
    Apply a thin, even coat of bicycle chain lube, then turn the cranks engaging all possible gear combinations. This ensures through lubrication of the entire system.

  5. Wipe down
    Using a rag, thoroughly wipe off any residual lubricant from the chain and other bike components as residual oil can attract dirt. Also, if necessary, degrease rims and brake pads. Traces of lubricant on the rims or brake pads can reduce or eliminate your bike’s braking capabilities.

Remember that frequency of cleaning and lubing required depends greatly on the conditions you ride in. Daily bike commuters in rainy Portland will need to clean their chain (and the rest of their bike) far more often than a weekend warrior in arid Tucson. Generally speaking, to keep your chain in good running condition, cleaning and lubricating should be done every 3-4 rides.

 

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