Bicycle Chain Cleaning: Tips for Smooth Maintenance

Bicycle Chain Cleaning: Tips for Smooth Maintenance

Effective Tips for Cleaning and Maintaining Your Bicycle Chain

The bicycle chain is one of the most important moving parts of a bicycle. Regular maintenance and cleaning of the bicycle chain are therefore essential. In this article, you will learn how to clean your bicycle chain effectively.

Why Should the Bicycle Chain be Cleaned?

As a component with many individual links and spaces, a bicycle chain attracts dirt like a magnet. Additionally, it is constantly exposed to the weather. Without maintenance, it doesn’t take long for rust to start forming on the chain links. A rusted chain will eventually fail and break. To keep your bike in motion, you need a functional chain to transfer the pedaling power to the rear wheel.

Therefore, regular cleaning and maintenance of the chain are indispensable. We will show you how to clean your bicycle chain and the tools you need. Besides cleaning, oiling and lubricating also help prevent rust and wear. The difference between cleaning and lubrication is explained in our article.

How Often Should the Bicycle Chain be Cleaned?

The answer is simple: It’s better to clean the bicycle chain too often than not often enough. The frequency of cleaning depends on where you ride your bike. Mountain bikers, who often ride off paved roads through forests or gravel, will find their chains getting dirty more quickly.

On the other hand, those riding a city bike or road bike on paved paths will need to clean their chain less frequently.

After a muddy ride, it’s advisable to clean the chain right after the trip to remove coarse dirt. If it has rained during your ride, quickly wiping the individual chain links with a dry cloth to dry them and prevent rust is sufficient. For regular bike use, a thorough cleaning should be done weekly.

A visual inspection can help determine the appropriate frequency. Regular maintenance ensures that the chain always runs smoothly. Otherwise, it will start to snag, and by then, it’s too late.

Gentle Cleaning of the Bicycle Chain

You should always clean the bicycle chain along with the entire drivetrain. A clean chain alone is not helpful if the sprockets are still full of dirt. For chain cleaning, the following items are necessary:

  • Cloth
  • Toothpick
  • Toothbrush
  • Chain cleaner
  • Special bicycle chain oil
  • Chain wear indicator tool

To clean the chain, follow these steps in the correct order:

  1. Preparation of the bicycle
  2. Inspection of the bicycle chain
  3. Removal of coarse dirt
  4. Cleaning the chain
  5. Oiling the chain

Proper Cleaning of the Chain in Five Steps

Proper Cleaning of the Chain in Five Steps

If you are cleaning a bicycle chain for the first time, our guide will help you clean the chain in no time. Simply follow these step-by-step instructions.

1. Preparation of the Bicycle

Cleaning the bicycle chain is faster and easier if you turn your bike upside down. You can rest it on the saddle and handlebars. To avoid scratches on these parts, use an old blanket or cardboard as a base. Shift the gears to the lowest setting to have enough space for cleaning later.

2. Inspection of the Chain

Before cleaning, use a chain wear indicator tool to check whether the chain is still in good condition or if the chain links have already stretched. You can also tell if the chain doesn’t fit properly on the sprockets and gets caught. In this case, cleaning the bicycle chain is unnecessary. The only solution is to replace the old chain with a new one.

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3. Remove Coarse Dirt

Start cleaning the bicycle chain by removing the coarsest dirt. You can use a brush for this purpose. A toothpick is very suitable for the spaces between the sprockets. Our tip: A brake cleaner, generously applied to the sprockets, makes cleaning the chain easier.

Once the front derailleur, cassette, and front sprockets on the crankset are clean, proceed with the actual cleaning of the bicycle chain.

4. Clean the Bicycle Chain

Clean the dirt on the chain with a clean, dry cloth. You can also use an old rag, as the lubricant will heavily soil the cloth anyway. Pull the chain through the rag several times, then apply a few drops of brake or chain cleaner to the cloth. Pull the chain through again.

Never use harsh cleaning agents, high-pressure cleaners, soapy water, or ultrasound for chain cleaning. An overnight oil bath is also taboo. These cleaning methods may seem tempting, especially for stubborn dirt, but they do not deliver as promised. Clean the bicycle chain until it is thoroughly clean and no more dirt is visible.

5. Oil the Chain

The brake cleaner has removed the oil from the drivetrain. Therefore, after each cleaning, the correct oil must be reapplied. Without oil, components like chain links or sprockets wear out faster. To oil the chain, soak a clean cloth with a small amount of bicycle chain oil.

Then pull the chain through the cloth several times. Enclose the chain loosely with your hand and turn the pedals. However, be careful that your hand does not get caught between the chain and sprockets. The chain is properly oiled when it is completely coated with oil. Then repeat the process with a dry cloth to remove excess oil and prevent the formation of unwanted grinding paste.

Removing Rust from the Bicycle Chain

If you often ride in wet weather conditions, you may find that your bicycle chain can rust without proper care. In the worst case, the chain becomes damaged, and you will need to replace it. Ideally, it should never get to this point, but if rust does appear, there are solutions.

First, roughly remove the rust from the bicycle chain with a brush. Then soak it in a special rust remover for a while. The duration for the rust remover to work is usually stated on the package. Alternatively, you can spray the rust remover directly onto the chain.

Wipe off the loosened rust with a clean cloth. Then continue with the cleaning and oiling of the chain. With proper application, a rusted bicycle chain can be quickly cleaned and made ready for use again.

The Right Oil for Lubricating the Bicycle Chain

Only use special chain oil to lubricate your bicycle chain. This lubricant is specifically designed for use on bicycles, particularly in terms of rust protection, adhesion, and lubricating ability. Universal oils are less suitable as they possess properties for a wide range of applications and lack specific lubricating substances.

This includes the well-known and popular WD-40 oil. While it is great for loosening or lubricating many stuck bike parts, it is not suitable for long-term lubrication of your bicycle chain.

Cleaning, Oiling, or Lubricating the Bicycle Chain – Are They All the Same?

No. Cleaning, oiling, and lubricating the bicycle chain are fundamentally different tasks in the maintenance of the bike. Their effects can even cancel each other out if the cleaning is done after oiling the chain. If it’s already oiled, no product should be applied that dissolves the grease and removes the protective lubrication.

So, stick to the correct order of tasks, or you might have to do it twice. On the other hand, it’s important that the chain and drivetrain are completely clean before you can apply new oil. Always use good quality oil from a specialist dealer for oiling the bicycle chain. Your bike chain will thank you.

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