Bike Chain Maintenance 101

Your bike’s drivetrain keeps it rolling, so keeping the chain clean and lubricated is essential.

Chain Cleaning Tools

In general, you shouldn’t need to remove your chain to clean or lubricate it, so a chain tool to break a chain is unnecessary for regular maintenance. I 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 it. Simple green or dawn dishwashing soap can work well, and bike shops sell specialty degreasers. Avoid 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, but they can also hurt your bike’s finish or leave a residue that can damage parts on your bike. Some of these cleaners eat the shiny finish-off bike parts.

Choosing a Chain Lubricant

There are many kinds of lubricants. I recommend a Teflon-based wet lubricant, like the Rock “N” Roll brand, in our hot and sandy weather. I use the “blue extreme” formula, a very light formula that 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 backward. Clean up any residue or extra and let your chain dry, preferably overnight. This will allow the lubricant to set up a protective membrane to 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 break. Most bike shops will be happy to help you evaluate the wear on your bike chain with a Chain Wear Indicator tool.

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.