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Are you someone who loves riding your bike? If so, you probably find it to be a fun and exciting activity. However, if you are not careful, even something as innocent as riding a bike can soon become a source of frustration. This is because if you don’t take proper care of your bike, its performance is likely to deteriorate rather quickly.
How To Clean and Maintain Your Bike Chain - What You Need to Know
Are you someone who loves riding your bike? If so, you probably find it to be a fun and exciting activity. However, if you are not careful, even something as innocent as riding a bike can soon become a source of frustration. This is because if you don’t take proper care of your bike, its performance is likely to deteriorate rather quickly. Even if you keep your bike in a locked garage or shed when not in use, it can start giving you problems within weeks or even days of neglecting it. The same goes for the chain; this is one of the most important parts of any bicycle drivetrain. Neglecting your chain will result in decreased performance, accelerated wear and tear and even possible damage to other components such as the cassette and chainrings. This article will go through all the ins and outs of how to clean and maintain your bike chain correctly so that it gives optimal performance for as long as possible.
Things to Check When Cleaning and Maintaining Your Bike Chain
The chain on your bike is likely to cover a lot of kilometers over the course of its lifetime. Additionally, it is in constant contact with dirt and grime, so it requires more attention than other parts of the bicycle. If you want your chain to last as long as possible, you need to make sure you are cleaning and maintaining it properly. If you have neglected it for a while, start by taking the time to thoroughly inspect it before you clean it. Here are some things to look for when checking your chain:
- If any links are loose or broken, you will need to replace the chain entirely.
- Dirt and grit will wear down the chain quickly and cause it to become excessively noisy.
- If there is a buildup of grease, dirt or even rust on the chain, it is a sign that it has been neglected for far too long, however there is always a chance you can recover your chain!
What Is Involved in Cleaning and Maintaining a Bike Chain?
Cleaning a bike chain is not as straightforward as cleaning other parts of the bike such as the wheels or the frame. You can’t just give it a quick rinse off with water and expect it to be good as new. If you want to clean your chain thoroughly, you will need to take it off your bike and put it through a special cleaning process, or use a chain cleaning scrubber. We will cover both in this article. Before you start, make sure to read the instructions on your chain cleaner. There are different types of cleaners on the market, such as Muc-Off Degreaser or Park Tool cyclone chain scrubber which allows you to clean the chain without removing the chain from the bike. Be ready to get your hands dirty, and take care to wear clothing you do not mind getting grease on.
How to Clean a Bike Chain
If you want to clean your chain, you will need to either take the chain off your bike or use a scrubber like the aforementioned Park Tool cyclone chain scrubber or the Muc-Off X-3 dirty chain machine.
You can remove your chain from your bike with 2 different tools. If your chain has a quick link, which can be identified by looking for a link in the chain that looks different from the others, you can use master link pliers such as the Park Tool MLP-1.2. Otherwise, you must use a chain breaker tool, such as the Park Tool CT-3.3, to push the pin out of the chain. Note that in both cases you need to replace the master link / pin, which you can purchase from your local bike shop.
You can make sure that the chain is completely clean once you have removed any dirt or grime from the inside of each link. You can also give the outside of the chain a clean with a brush. If you have neglected your chain for a while and it has become extremely dirty and grimy, you might need to soak it in a degreaser before you can clean it. Make sure you are very thorough when cleaning your chain. You don’t want to miss a single inch of the chain since any dirt remaining inside the links will continue to cause the chain to wear down.
To reinstall the chain on the bike, you must source a new master link / chain pin (also known as a chain bullet) that is specific to the number of speeds your chain is made for. Then, to reinstall your chain with a master link, simply slide one side of the link into the exposed rollers on the chain, put the second side on, and using the chain pliers, carefully pull the chain apart to slide the master link pins into place. You should hear an audible click when this happens. To reinstall a chain using a chain breaker tool, place the bullet into the chain breaker tool on the side with the pusher, put the 2 ends of the chain into the tool with the 2 ends directly in the center of the tool, and while holding the chain down into the tool with one finger, push the bullet in until it is in position. Be careful to not push the bullet in too far or else you will need to restart. It is good practice to push it a little bit at a time and keep checking to see the chain is free to move, and that the pin is sufficiently far in. Finally, break off the portion of the pin that is left.
How to Lubricate a Bike Chain
Once you have cleaned your chain, you need to lubricate it. This will make the chain function much smoother, and it will reduce the noise it makes when in use. It is important not to over-oil the chain, as this can result in the chain becoming sticky and the cassette and chainrings becoming jammed. The best way to lubricate your chain is by using a bike-specific lubricant, such as a dry or wet lube. Do not use wd-40, as this is not a lubricant. Avoid using regular oil to lubricate your chain. It is a lot thicker than chain lube, and it will make the chain excessively noisy and cause unnecessary wear and tear. Once you have finished cleaning your chain make sure it is completely dry before applying the lube. To apply your lubricant, the best practice is to apply a single drop of lubricant on each roller on the inside of the chain. You can achieve this by first identifying your start point on a chain and slowly back peddling your bike. Finally, remove any excess lubricant with a rag by carefully squeezing the sides of the chain and avoiding the top and bottom, and back peddling.
How to Replace Your Bike Chain
If you regularly clean and maintain your chain, it might last for a long time before needing to be replaced. However, if you leave it for too long without cleaning or lubricating it or if you ride in extreme conditions, it might break or wear out sooner than expected. You can use a chain checker to measure how stretched your chain is. If it is worn out and near the end of its lifespan, which is indicated as being anywhere below the 25% lifespan marker (or, in other terms, 75% used) marker on a chain checker, and you have a new chain, you can try replacing the chain yourself. However, it is best to take your bike to a professional mechanic who can offer you expert advice on which chain to choose and how to install it correctly as chains are not a one size fits all. The number of links in a chain is dependent on may factors of your drivetrain, such as the size of cassette and chainrings.
Once you have cleaned and maintained your chain, you will notice a big difference in how the bike performs. It will run more smoothly, and it will be less likely to get stuck in the mud or snow. The key to keeping your chain in good condition is to clean and lube it regularly. This can be achieved by using a chain cleaner, or you can take it off the bike, remove any excess grime and apply a lubricant. You can also replace your chain as and when necessary; when the chain shows signs of wear and tear.
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