Bike Maintenance 101 - Chain Maintenance

Pete Marshall | Thu 24th Jun 2021 11:00

Looking after your chain is an important maintenance task for the longevity of your drivetrain components on your bike. This allows everything to run smoothly all the time and saves you money on repairs or replacing components.

Drivetrain components will wear over time, but looking after your chain will help it live a longer life. This is achieved by the simple task of lubing your chain regularly, checking its length for stretch and replacing your chain when worn out.

Follow this guide below on how you can look after your chain to help have a smooth-running drivetrain on your bike.

In short, there are 2 main aspects to looking after your chain:

  1. Ensure your chain is clean and lubed.
  2. Monitor the age and growth of the chain, and know when to replace.

Clean and lube your chain

Before riding your bike, always make sure your chain is nicely lubed. A quick and easy method to check this is to run your finger under the chain and check to see how much lube will come off on your finger, you want a nice even amount – not too wet and not dry. If your chain is bone dry or close to dry, then this is a good indicator to lube your chain.

Your chain can also be over lubed, this is not good either as an over lubed chain can attract dirt to your drivetrain easily. You can tell your chain is over lubed as you will get a lot of excess lube on your finger after checking. If your chain is over lubed, wipe off any excess lube with a rag, your chain may also need to be cleaned if the lube on your finger is particularly dark or dirty looking in colour.

To lube the chain, 1st check the instructions on the bottle as instructions may be different between brands. But essentially the simplest way to lube a chain is to apply a coating to the top of the chain while spinning the cranks backwards, do this for a couple revolutions to ensure the chain is coated but be careful not to over lube. Spin the cranks again several times to help the lube bed in. Then it is best to leave your bike overnight or for several hours before riding to ensure the lube has properly bedded into the chain.

A good habit to form is to check, clean and relube your drivetrain at the end of each ride. This prevents any potential corrosion caused by leaving moisture in your drivetrain for an extended period of time, but also ensures your bike is ready to ride next time you pull it out of the shed.

Some additional things to take into consideration are:

  • All lubes are best applied to a clean chain.
  • Always clean and lube your chain after riding in the wet.
  • Pay special attention to derailleur pulley wheels and chainrings and remove grime build up.
  • When lubing or degreasing your chain, avoid contact with your brake pads & rotors. Contamination can ruin your brake pads.

  • Shop Chain Cleaners

    Different Chain lubes and when to use them

    If you are looking for chain lube, the number of options available can be a little overwhelming. Lube choice often comes down to personal preference or familiarity with a brand, but there are some key differences to understand what is best for you and your bike.

    Wet lubes:

    Wet lubes are generally great for all weather conditions. As the name implies, they are best used in autumn/winter or in wet conditions as they are water resistant and do not get washed off when riding through mud or puddles. Wet lubes are also great at reducing drivetrain noise.

    However, the disadvantages of wet lubes are they attract dirt which can build up needing regular cleaning/degreasing of chain, jockey wheels and other drivetrain components on the bike. If using wet lubes, be sure to monitor the chain condition regularly and clean/reapply lube accordingly.

    Dry Lubes:

    Dry lubes are great for dry and dusty conditions and do not attract a lot of dirt to drivetrain components allowing for a cleaner drivetrain. Dry lubes will use an ingredient solvent to wash a wax lubricant through your chain which makes them great for dry conditions. However, dry lubes can wash off easily riding in rain or through puddles as they are not water resistant.

    Wax Lubes:

    Wax lubes are another form of dry lube, they are purchased in solid blocks and require a method of melting such as over a stove. You then dip your chain into the melted wax to lube it. This method was popular with road cycling many years ago. Brand new chains often come with a form of wax lube on them.

    Degreasing/cleaning Lubes

    Some lubes are designed to clean as well as lubricate your chain. These lubes will instruct you to 1st apply the lube to your chain, run it through your drivetrain and then wipe it off before repeating the process again several times. The result will be a clean but lubed chain, however, if your chain is very dirty you may need to clean it 1st.

    These lubes are usually dry lubes and work quite well keeping your chain clean over time, the disadvantage of this type of lube is you tend to go through a bottle quite quickly so can be a more costly method.

    Shop Chain Lubes

    Monitor the age and growth of the chain, and know when to replace

    Every time you ride your bike your chain wears down a little bit, as do your drivetrain components. This wear is very marginal, and you may not notice this, but these parts will wear out over time. The length of time is dependent on how well you look after your bike and its components. Your chain is designed to wear a bit quicker than the other drivetrain components; this helps protect more expensive elements of the drivetrain and keep them in great shape so long as you replace your chain when it's needed.

    To measure your chain growth, you will need a handy inexpensive tool.

    On average you should go through at least 2 chains to every cassette and if you buy a new cassette for your bike, you should also buy a new chain. Running a used chain on a new cassette could cause you issues with changing gears as chains mate to a cassette.

    Firstly, to check if your chain needs replacing there are obvious signs such as stiff, bent or rusted links – note if your chain has a bit of surface rust it might just need a lube.

    If your chain has no obvious signs or wear, the best way to determine the wear is to measure for chain growth. Checking for chain growth is a great thing to do regularly to ensure your chain is not worn and to allow longer life of your drivetrain overall.

    Shop Chain Tools

    It’s easy to ignore or forget about maintenance of your chain, but it’s a crucial task to be on top of to give your drivetrain a longer life and save you costs from repairs in the long run. It’s the simplest form of bike maintenance that every owner can do, and it’s the most cost effective preventative bike maintenance you can do. Regular chain maintenance will save you money in the long run and keep your bike performing to a high standard.