How to Lube and Clean Your Bike Chain

From Christian Woodcock -Bike Roar
Most of us can’t often be bothered cleaning and lubing our bike chain, yet by following these five simple steps the job can be done quickly and easily. Learn how to lube and clean your bike chain. Remember – Don’t apply lube to a dirty chain!

 clean-2_jockey_wheel_with_small_tool1. Clear away the gunk
I have found it best to scrape away the larger deposits of gunk before degreasing. A good place to start is your rear derailleur. Ever noticed a buildup of black tar on the derailleur jockey wheels? In a perfect world we perfect people wouldn’t allow it to get this bad but things happen…

New on the market, this last year,  is Globalbike Gear Cleaning Cord. This is a convenient polyester cord lightly presaturated with an anti-corrosive, soy based cleaner/lubricant making it safe to use without a strong solvent smell. The cord slides easily between the tight spaces on your bike and picks up dirt, grime and buildup. Once you’re done, simply throw it away! They also make a chain cleaner cloth.

clean-1_bike_drivetrain_with_brush_and_detergent2. Wash
Use hot water, a stiff brush and some bike cleaning detergent (or the stuff you use for your dishes will do). Give the drivetrain a good scrub, particularly the chain. This will remove any dirt or grit hanging around the chain and cogs and prepares the area for degreasing.

Clean-4_apply_degreaser_to_bicycle_chain3. Degrease
What to use? I recommend always using a cycling specific product from your local bike shop. Industrial degreasers are very powerful no doubt, but they can harm some of the more delicate smaller components in your chain. Products designed for bikes often use a non-corrosive citrus or similar biodegradable formula. The other benefit is that it won’t be as toxic for you.

Apply the degreaser to your chain, rotate the cranks backwards and let it soak into the links. Grab your partner’s toothbrush so you can scrub around the tricky areas like the rear derailleur (make sure you buy a new toothbrush once used – it will come in handy again).

Clean-3_wipe_off_bicycle_chain_with_rag4. Wipe off
Wash any remaining degreaser away with water. Grab the chain with rag in hand and rotate the cranks. Even after all this cleaning you will get black tar coming off the chain – That’s ok.
Your chain should be looking pretty sparkly now and will sound crisp as it runs through the cogs on the drivetrain. Oh, sweet music can be heard as you spin!

TIP:  Keep a rag handy where you store your bike. After every ride, give the chain a quick wipe off. This removes any excess lube or gunk collected from the ride and keeps your chain nice and clean. The lube remains where you want it- in the links, and doing its job.

Clean-5_apply_lubrication_to_bicycle_chain5. Re-lube
One of the reasons for the tar build-up we removed in the first step is over lubricating. We have all been guilty of this at some time or another and thankfully it hasn’t been criminalized (although in some riding groups you may get verbally flogged or sneered at.)

Lube should only be applied to a clean chain and as little as possible is best. Ideally you want the lube to penetrate into the chain links since this is where the chain contacts the cogs, not the outside links. Rotate the cranks to get maximum coverage.

Don’t worry if you over do it, the last step is to again grab the chain with a rag and wipe away any excess lube.
For the latest products: See your local bike shop

Bonus Tip 1:  Use the lightest lube you can get away with for the conditions. If using a dry waxy lube, the trick is on the first use. Apply thoroughly and leave overnight if possible, then wipe off excess and apply again.

It is a simple job, but an important one in order to have a smooth running bike. After lubing that crisp chain sound will now be the purr of a happy drivetrain.

 Bonus Tip 2: Road and Mountain Bikers, an old 1 or 2 gallon garden pump sprayer works wonderful to rinse off the mud from the trail or grim on the road before wiping down your chain and loading your bike for transport. Never use a power washer, the high pressure can damage seals on your drivetrain and possibly the paint on your bike frame.

Author: Christian Woodcock -Christian loves riding bikes. He has many years of experience working in bike shops and has successfully raced mountain bikes at a high level. These days, expect to see him climbing and suffering on a road bike, or talking it up on the trails with friends.