Mechanical Monday: Cleaning a Drivetrain
We recently had a roadside repair clinic with many cyclists in Hoboken, showing them how to remove wheels and fix a flat. Before we began the session, we gave a quick run-through of cleaning a chain, which we wanted to elaborate here today.
For starters, a clean, well-lubed chain isn't just something that reduces noises and extends the life of your gears and overall drivetrain on your bicycle. It also is a big benefit to your performance. A dirty chain will add resistance to your ride, and while you might not notice this by feel alone, I have perceived the difference a clean chain can make using a power meter.
But how often should you clean your chain? The question is not a matter of time, but appearance. If your chain looks like the photo above or worse, it's time to get out the degreaser and chain lube.
A squeaky chain is also a key indicator of a chain that is in need of a little cleaning. However, in both cases, it is not a good idea to just pull out some bike lube and dowse the chain. The first step in the process is to clean the chain off, and for that you will need a degreaser. For those who demand that every millimeter of their chain be free of contaminants, a good one is White Lightning's Clean Streak, and for those who are a little more environmentally conscious, Finish Line's Citrus Bike Degreaser will do the job well.
However, for both of these sprays (especially the former one) you need to be in a well-ventilated area. If you are trying this in your bathroom, you may want to opt for a towel-based degreaser, such as ones made by ProGold. Either spray or wipe the chain clean at the base of your rear derailleur, and spin your cranks backwards to keep the chain moving along. If you are using a spray, also take a rag, or a t-shirt you hate, and wipe off the degreaser after a few rotations.
Once the chain looks like new (and the rag or t-shirt you are using has plenty of black streaks in it), then it is time to apply the chain lube. Again, applying the lube at the base of the derailleur helps prevent you from getting chemicals all over lovely paint on your bike frame. Once you've dripped a single drop on every link, use a different (or clean section of the rag) to wipe off excess lube.
Need a visual run through? Come visit us during our showroom hours, and don't forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter to keep you informed of our next upcoming clinics for skills and mechanical abilities.