Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chain Cleaning And Lubing: How To Ride More Efficiently, And Look Good While Doing It.

I used to wonder why other cyclists were staring at me all of the time.  I just put it all down to my snappy riding attire and natural good looks.  It turned out, however, they were staring at my chain, big rings, and cassette, wondering how (and why) they were always so clean.  So, I told them.  Then, I asked them why theirs were always so dirty.  Blank stares quickly followed.

Thus began what would become one of my regular roadside chats with other cyclists about the care and feeding of their drivetrains.  Beginning with an operational lesson on how a clean crankset, cassette and chain are much more efficient and ending with a word about the money they would save by proper care and maintenance of said components.

So, for the Public’s viewing pleasure, below is an article I wrote for another on-line site on how my regular routine of drivetrain cleaning and maintenance developed into a sure-fire winner, and became the envy of riders from San Diego to Santa Barbara. 

In The Beginning, There Were Dirty Chains

Editor’s Note: In cases of an extremely dirty chains, cassettes and cranksets, a complete clean-up with a water hose and degreaser precedes the following regimen.

When your chain is dirty, use a good quality degreaser to get all of the muck and black crud that builds up off the drivetrain.  You can either us a bicycle specific cleaner (like Finish Line Citrus), or you can use a simple, household cleaner.  I use Mr. Clean in a spray bottle and a rag I don't plan to keep.

Raise the rear wheel off the ground.  I use a stand bought for $20.00 from In-Cycle.

Spray the rag with cleaner (or spray the chain) while turning the crank backward by hand squeezing the lower run of the chain with the rag.  Continue this until the rag comes up with no black streaks on the rag after successive cleanings.  Don't forget to wipe off the cassette and both big rings with cleaner, too.  While being careful not to get pinched, with the cleaner and rag, keep rotating the crank backwards and clean the grime off the jockey wheels.  Again, repeat until the rag comes up clean with no black streaks.  Wait 10 minutes for everything to dry.

Now, lube the chain with a bicycle specific chain lube (I use Tri-Flow).  Don't get the spray kind, as it gets lube all over the place, makes a mess, and wastes chain lube.  Get one with a pin-point applicator that allows you to put the lube where your chain needs it - On the inner rollers.  Run the chain backwards slowly while putting one drop of lube per roller.  Then, run the crank backwards 10-20 times evenly distribute the lubricant.  Wait 10 minutes for the lubricant to seep into the rollers. 

Now, use another clean rag on the lower run of the chain while running the chain backwards to clean off the excess lube - About 10-20 revolutions of the crank.  Do the same with both big rings and the derailleur jockey wheels. 

Now you can run the chain forward, while shifting through all the gears and both large and small rings up front.  This will evenly distribute the necessary amount of lubricant left on the chain.

You are now ready to ride.

After Every Ride.

Run a clean rag against the chain (lower run, cranking the chain backwards by hand) after every ride, till no more dirt appears on the rag.  Do the same to the cassette, big rings, and jockey wheels, too.  Following this after-ride regimen will keep excessive lubricant from attracting grit, while eliminating accumulated road grime, thus allowing the chain and gears to last a long time. 

*Editor’s Note: Lube every 300 miles or so, more if you ride in wet or dusty conditions.

A chain should always be clean enough to grab with your hand and no dirt or grime comes off after touching it.  Yes, they need to be that clean.  Dirt and grime add drag to the chain and gears, making pedaling that much harder and wasting energy.  Excess lube also attracts sand and grit, which wears down components (also making it harder to pedal), and costing you money in the long-run (your knees will happier too, as you will not be putting out extra watts (energy) to turn the crank).

This is post-ride, just before the usual wipe down.

One of my wheelsets after the post-ride wipe down.  Clean enough to touch - As they should be.

When I eventually changed out, via an upgrade, the cassette, derailleur and chain, the pedal effort was so low afterwards, that it was like being pushed from behind.  That was proof enough to me to keep the chain, gears and rollers clean, and it has made all the difference in my pedaling effort, and ultimately, my riding. 

I had no idea how much energy I was wasting with that worn out, dirty, unlubricated chain.

Getting into this routine will not only make pedaling much more efficient, but you will save a bundle of money on chains, cassettes and big rings, too.  And, your clean drivetrain will be the envy of your fellow riders.

Just remember to tell them how you do it.

*Stay tuned for the companion article: How To Keep Your Bike Looking New

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