Your chain is one of the most important parts of your bike, yet mercifully one of the cheapest. However, neglect it and things will quickly become a lot more expensive.
We’ve all heard it. The telltale sound of a chain in distress, squeaking its way up the roads and trails, covered in rust and in desperate need of a change.
Oil, sand and grit are a potent combination. When it mixes together and gets into your chain it grinds away at the sleeves & hinge pins, the end result being a slightly longer chain that no longer fits snugly over the teeth on your cassette & chainrings.
Left unchecked, a worn chain will turn the teeth on your cassette and chainrings into something resembling shark teeth, the chain will slip from time to time and you’ll soon be needing both a new chain and much of your drivetrain replaced.
So, you need to keep an eye on your chain and, depending on mileage, get it changed every 6-12 months. Fortunately, a new chain can be bought for between £10 and £15, so it’s an inexpensive but prudent investment. In the meantime, how do we look after the one we have?
So, now we know that wear is caused by grit and oil getting into the chain, therefore regular cleaning is essential.
Fortunately, you can buy a chain cleaning tool and a bottle of degreaser from any good bike shop. You can get one on Amazon for around £20. You simply pour the degreaser into the chamber, clamp it around your chain and pedal backwards or forwards depending on whether the bike is on a stand, or upside down. Don’t be surprised if you keep knocking the chain off from time to time.
Speaking of knocking the chain off, one school of thought is that in order to clean your chain properly, it should be removed from the bike.
This means the chain should be cleaned of grit before oiling, and because this is practically impossible without submerging the chain in solvent (kerosene, commercial solvent, or paint thinner), it must be taken off the bicycle. Devices with rotating brushes that can be clamped on the chain while on the bicycle, do a fair job but are messy and do not prevent fine grit from becoming suspended in the solvent. External brushing or wiping moves grit out of sight, but mainly into the openings in the chain where subsequent oiling will carry it inside.
This should be pretty straightforward if your chain has a quick-link, but if not you’ll need a chain tool. However, as long as you take the time to clean your chain every few weeks, particularly during the winter, you should be ok just cleaning it on the bike.
Wet lube or dry lube
When it comes to re-greasing the chain after cleaning it, you have a choice of wet or dry lube.
Dry lube is fine during the dry months, as it doesn’t collect too much of the dust that gets thrown around when Cardiff has a few days without rain. Wet lube is better for the wetter months, which is most of them.
However, you should be cleaning your chain often enough that you’ll be able to make a judgement call depending on the conditions at the time. If you are expecting a period of settled weather (seriously, they do happen), feel free to grab the bottle of dry lube.
Whichever lube you choose, with a clean chain apply a drop of lube to each link in the chain until you are sure you’ve covered all of them. Wrap a paper towel around the chain and then pedal backwards to wipe away any excess.
Knowing when it’s time for a new one…
A chain wear gauge is going to be a prudent investment. It’ll be £10 well spent. Simply put the curved end between two links anywhere on the chain and see if the straight end fits between another two links. If it doesn’t, turn it over & try the other side. If the straight ends fit down the hole, your chain has worn. The numbers on the side of the gauge will give you an idea of exactly how much.
You can either have a go at replacing the chain yourself, or you can take it to your local bike shop and have them do it. It shouldn’t cost more than about £20 but it’ll save you money in the long run.