The part of the drivetrain that transfers your efforts from the pedals to the back wheel is the chain. It is a long, thin-y, link-y and inox-y looking contraption with a bad reputation for chewing up whatever trouser inseams gets in its way. You must love it, however, for it is a vital part and to keep it maintained means that’ll it work better while wearing itself out less.
Why clean a chain?
Chains can get dirty and stripped from their protective oil. When this is the case they often squeak and don’t shift properly. In extreme cases they will cause vibrations by no longer sitting on the teeth of the cogs properly and may also snap off completely.
Riding conditions and mileage are two very influential factors in how often your chain should be serviced. I do it every time I clean my bike, which is about once a month or every 200 miles. But then again, I own a road bike; if you ride a mountain bike, consider cleaning your chain more often since it’s more exposed to dust and grit.
During my monthly service, I also check my chain for wear. Before the clean I apply a bike specific tool (called a chain wear tool) to see whether I should actually be replacing the chain. As chains get older they stretch out; if the 0.075mm side of the tool fits then the chain must be replaced, but if the 0.1mm side fits you would do well to look into replacing your cogs as well, because by now their teeth will be worn down. To replace a chain on most bikes doesn’t cost much and it is better to replace this rather inexpensive part rather than to put up with poor performance.
What is chain maintenance?
The theory is in two steps:
- First, we will use degreasers to clean the chain to strip it from the old oil and dirt/grit that may be present. Some people like to take the chain off and wash it with a brush and a solvent solution (degreasers such as dishwash liquid work fine here). For the purposes of this entry, we will leave the chain on the bike and make the use of the chain cleaning tool.
- Then re-lubricating the chain. There are a few do’s and don’ts to follow when choosing the right lubricant:
- Only use specific chain lubricant oils (some exist for “wet conditions”; they are great if you cycle in the rain as they are more viscous and won’t wash off your chain even in wet conditions).
- Do not use WD40 to relubricate as it is more of a degreaser and will evaporate a lot faster than a lubricant would.
- Do not use domestic oil (cooking oils, olive oil, etc.) as they will form a pasty texture by collecting too much dirt.
- Do not use grease: with dirt, grease forms into a mucky mixture.
How to perform it?
Up until today I had always used more artisanal methods to clean my chain up but since I was curious about the chain specific cleaning tools out there, this chance was just too good to pass up on! Going into this, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of results and had prepared a back-up plan just in case this approach failed. The product I used to clean the chain was the Barbieri Tornado.
The Tornado was very easy to use; simply insert the chain into the tool and turn the pedals! You don’t even need to take the chain off the bike.
It was really fun to see the chain froth up and the result was excellent; the chain was like new. The brushes inside the tool really get to the inner core parts between the links. It’s easy and fast to use; the fact that you don’t have to take the chain off the bike is also a big plus. Once you think you’re done, give the chain a wipe down with a cloth to get rid of the detergent an any other remaining residual matter.
After having given the chain a good clean don’t forget to relubricate it; this is an important step that will avoid the chain from rusting and to maintain its flexibility so that it will shift nicely between gears. Apply about 10 drops of oil to the chain and pedal it through different gears for about 2 minutes to make sure that all the cogs are covered with a thin coat of oil.
Chain maintenance is something that you should do regularly if you want your drivetrain to work perfectly. It’s a process that consists of cleaning and then relubricating the chain. The chain cleaning method featured was but one of many; a very fast and reliable way to get the job done and to get it done well. If cleaning your chain is something you do often to very often then definitely get yourself a tool such as the Tornado to do this.
If you have any bike maintenance issues, you can discover the services available at Decathlon on the Workshop website.