How to Clean a Bike Chain

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You want to keep a clean bike for a number of reasons. Not only is a clean bike more aesthetically pleasing, but you will also find that it is going to last longer and perform better. If you have been riding for any length of time, you know that the entire bike can get dirty quickly. However, it tends to be the chain and the drivetrain of the bike that become the dirtiest. If you are not taking proper care of the bike chain, it can cause some serious issues and reduce the longevity of the chain.

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Why Is It Important to Keep Your Bike Chain Clean?

If you have a bike chain that is not cleaned and maintained properly, you are going to find that it will start to affect the performance of your bike. After all, the chain is responsible for the transference of energy when you are pedaling. As you pedal, the chain moves, and the energy is then transferred to the wheels, which causes the bike to move. If the chain is dirty and grimy, guess what happens? The bike is not going to pedal smoothly and the efficiency of that energy transference will be greatly diminished. Simply put, it means that you are not going to be moving as fast or as smooth and pedaling is going to be harder on you.

If you don’t take care of your bike chain, you are not going to have enjoyable rides. Simple as that. It also means that the chain is not going to last as long, and that you are going to need to replace the chain sooner rather than later.

What Happens If You Have a Dirty Bike Chain?

The dirtier the bike chain, the more power you are going to lose with that energy transference. Whether you are just out and riding for fun, or you are riding competitively, keeping a clean chain is important. Dirt and grit are going to get into the links, and they are going to wear away at the metal, causing the chain to wear out faster. This means more replacements over the lifetime of your bike, which means more wasted money.

Not only is the chain going to wear out faster, but the chain links are going to inevitably become less flexible. As this happens, you will notice that pedaling becomes even more difficult. Shifting is naturally going to become more difficult, as well. The wear and tear don’t just happen to the chain; it also happens to the other elements in the drivetrain.

So, knowing that you need to keep your bike chain clean is one thing. You also need to know how to clean it properly. Fortunately, it is not too hard to do, and you can do it on your own, typically in about half an hour or less. Make it a part of your regular maintenance, and you will find that it can help to boost the longevity of your chain significantly.

Should You Keep the Chain On or Take It Off When Cleaning?

One of the things that you are going to notice as you start talking with people about cleaning your bike chain is that there are different ways to do it. Some people swear by taking the chain off their bike, while others always keep the chain on their bike. Everyone is going to develop their own techniques. In the past, it was common to take off the entire chain and put it into degreaser to clean it. However, that is les common today. With many of the high-quality, technologically advanced bikes that people have today, the chains are generally designed to go on and stay on the bike until they need to be replaced. For this reason, you will find that more and more people are cleaning the bike chain while it is still on the bike. We will cover both in this article.

Related: How to Adjust Bike Brakes

Start By Inspecting the Bike Chain

How often should you clean your bike chain? It really depends on how often you are riding and where you are riding. Rather than thinking about the cleaning as something that you have to do every month or every week, think about how often you are using your bike and the actual condition of the chain. You might find that since you ride a lot, you are going to have to clean your chain a lot more than your friend who only rides a few times a month.

The first thing that you are going to need to do is examine your bike chain to see its current state. You will first want to secure the bike in a safe area where you can work on it. Simply using the kickstand tends not to be a good idea, as it does not provide you with the stability that you really need. If you were only using the kickstand, there is a chance that the bike could end up falling over and becoming damaged.

You could use a specialized bike stand that will help to keep the bike in place if you have one. However, the method that many people tend to use is to flip their bike over, so that it is resting on the seat and the handlebars. If you use this method, put a towel down on the ground or garage floor to keep things clean. When you have the bike upside down, it will make the chain more easily accessible, which is going to make your inspection and cleaning easier. If you have a bike with disc brakes, you might want to consider removing the wheels before cleaning the chain, so you do not end up getting any degreaser on the disc rotor.

When you look at the chain, it should be obvious whether it needs to be cleaned or not. If you have been riding for a week or two – or longer – without having cleaned the chain, and it doesn’t necessarily look dirty, you will want to inspect further. You should check the chain by feeling it. If the chain feels as though the movement in the links is being impeded, then it is time to clean it.

As you are inspecting the chain, you should also take a few minutes to look at your drivetrain. Check to see if there are any elements of the drivetrain that are dirty and that could be making it more difficult to shift your bike into different gears, or any other issues that could be causing problems with the performance of your bike.

Additionally, you will want to look for problems with the chain. If you have found that your bike has been pedaling hard, and it is not dirty, there could be other issues with the chain, and it could indicate that you need to replace it rather than clean it. Most chains today can last for years without needing a replacement, but it is something that you will want to keep in mind when you are checking the chain, just in case.

bike chain parts

Cleaning the Bike Chain When It Is on the Bike

Once you have inspected the bike, you are going to want to get all of the supplies needed to clean it. You will likely have these on hand in the garage, but if not, you can find them in most hardware stores, bike shops, and certainly online. You will want to get a bike chain cleaning tool, as well. Some of these brushes will be unmoving, while others will have rotating brushes, which can make fast work of cleaning your bike chain. There are many different styles available, and there is no “best” style per se. Look at some of the options, talk with some friends, and read some reviews to find the brush tools that are going to work well for your needs.

You can also find sponges that are geared toward cleaning bike chains – they have a groove along the top that makes it easy to clean the chains. These could be a nice addition as well, even though they might not be entirely necessary.

In addition to brushes to clean the chains, you are also going to need to have a clean rag or two, a high-quality degreaser, and lubricant. Degreasers are essential for cleaning the chain and the drive, and you are going to be better off choosing a degreaser that is specifically formulated for bikes. You are going to apply the degreaser to the chain and let it soak according to the instructions. Then, you can clean away the degreaser with hot water. Often, it will take two degreaser applications to clean your chain properly. The first application and soaking will remove the larger pieces of heavy grime and dirt, while the second is going to provide you with a deeper cleaning. Always rinse it with hot water.

You can use the brush or sponge with the degreaser to make sure that you are getting into all of the little nooks and crannies of the chain. This helps to provide it with a better overall cleaning.

Applying the Lubricant

After it is clean, you are going to need to add lubrication to the chain to help keep it in good condition. Get a quality lubricant that works well with bike chains. Some of the brands to consider include Finish Line, Purple, and Gorilla Bike Oil. Plenty of other options are available, so find one that you like and that is affordable for you.

To apply lubricant to your chain all you need to do is hold the water bottle above the top and middle part of your chain. As you move the pedals with your hand to cause the chain to rotate begin to squeeze out a small stream of the lubricant onto the chain. After you have completed a full revolution of the chain, it should be properly lubricated.

Removing the Bike Chain to Clean It

If you have a reusable master link in the chain, and it is going to be easy to remove the chain, then by all means, go ahead and do it. Even though you are removing the chain, this is often considered the easy way to keep your chain clean. That’s because you can simply give it a bath in degreaser to remove the dirt and grime rather than needing to spend as much time meticulously cleaning by hand.

When you remove the chain, you will place it into a bottle or a jar that is full of degreaser. Put a lid on it, and then shake it. You will then leave it and let it soak for about 20 minutes to half an hour. You want to give it enough time, so that it is going to be able to get into all of the different areas of the links and provide them with a good cleaning. This should give the chain a very good clean, and most of the time, you will only need to have a single soak in the degreaser. However, if you find that it still seems a bit dirty and want an extra deep clean, you can let it soak again.

After the time is up, you will want to move the chain from the degreaser into a bottle or jar of hot water. Shake up the water, and then let the chain sit in the jar for about 10 minutes. Remove it and then dry off the chain to remove the moisture.

Once you have done that, you will reattach the chain to the bike and add the lubricant using the same method mentioned above. Then, your bike should be good to go!

Common Problems to Look for When Cleaning Your Bike Chain

Most of the time, you will find that the cleaning is going to go smoothly, and you are not going to notice any issues with your chain and the links that make it up. However, that’s not always going to be the case. There are certain types of problems that you will want to keep an eye out for.

One of these issues is tight links. If you find that the links in the chain are not bending smoothly, this could be due to dirt or possibly corrosion, which should be helped by the cleaning. However, if this does not fix them, it could be time to get a new chain.

Another issue is known as chain stretch. The longer a chain is on the bike and the older it gets the longer it is going to become. The chains themselves do not actually stretch, though. What happens is the wear in the rollers and link pins can lead to lengthening. If you have noticed that you have slippage in your gears, then this could be the cause.

Eventually, this is going to cause wear and tear on the rear cog teeth along with the chain rings. If you have an older chain that is suffering from wear, you will want to replace it. Changing the chain is going to be easier and more affordable than changing the cog set on the bike.

Is It Possible to Clean a Bike Chain Too Much?

As you can see, it tends to be relatively easy to clean your chain, and there are many people who clean their chain at least once a week. Depending on where they ride and how hard they ride, they might even clean it more often. This has caused many to wonder whether there is such a thing as cleaning their chain too often, and what types of problems it might cause if there is.

Fortunately, there really are not any downsides to cleaning your chain often other than the fact that you are going to be spending more time doing it, and you are going to use more degreaser and lubricant. However, nothing bad is going to happen to the bike chain if you clean it often. It’s better to clean more often than not often enough!

Take Good Care of Your Bike and It Will Take Good Care of You

Your bike chain is one of the most important elements of your bike, and you really do need to make sure that you are taking proper care of it. When you put in the time and effort now to provide proper preventative maintenance to the bike, it is going to lengthen the lifespan of the chain. This means a smoother ride and less need for chain replacements down the road. Put in the time and effort for the maintenance now, and it will serve you very well.

When you are cleaning the bike chain, make sure that you are also considering the maintenance of the other parts of your bike. Give the bike a once over every time that you are cleaning it just so you can find any potential problems and take care of them before they get worse.