If you only look after and maintain one thing on your bike – it has to be your chain…
There is an absolute stack of products and info on the market dedicated to bike care – its important stuff and certainly one of those product lines we like to advise people about – not just let them grab it off the shelf and take to the check out – the right products for the right kind of cyclist means plenty of on going use for your pride and joy.
What’s the one area of bike care that all kinds of cyclists get wrong?
THE CHAIN !!!
We try and always think of care products in 2 categories – for the chain, or for the rest of the bike – the chain is that important !!!
No matter what bike you have, the chain is the primary area of the bike you need to be able to look after at home with the right products and advice. Regardless of how much expert servicing we do for you in the workshop to the rest of your bike, you need to be able to do at least some chain care at home. The chain simply needs more attention than just at service time.
Let’s start with why the chain is so important…stretch…if a chain is well cared for then it doesn’t stretch as quickly. A chain is made up of pins, rollers and plates (links), and as a chain wears these small parts don’t all fit together as snugly – like a door hinge that starts to wear out and get sloppy. This then means the chain stretches a very small amount per link as you push down hard on the pedals. So over 100 or so links this becomes a noticeable amount of stretch and slop which leads to the chain not sliding as nicely across cogs when changing gears. Gear change becomes less crisp, slower to react and noisier.
This stretch also leads to the front and rear cogs of the bike wearing…as each link stretches doesn’t sit down onto each tooth of the cogs correctly, this slight misalignment causes the teeth to wear with every rotation. Enough wear can lead to dangerous slippage when the chain and cog cannot grab as you put power down, especially bursts of power or up hills. It doesn’t always have to be the die hard customers doing lots of miles – this issue can just as regularly come from recreational cyclists, because these customers are maybe thinking it isn’t as important to care for the chain on their weekend machine.
So why does the chain stretch and wear???
There is really only 2 reasons – 1. metal on metal friction from use over time is unavoidable but limited by using the right lubrication. 2. grit & dirt is the major issue most people have with chain wear. Grit kills chains quicker than simple mechanical wear – heaps quicker, grit and dirt act like sand paper on a chain as it constantly rotates around causing that wear and slop we have spoken about…so keeping the chain clean is actually more important than keeping it well lubed.
Here are some great tips to get into a regular routine for chain care in between visits to the workshop.
- Wipe your chain regularly – with a simple dry rag, if a chain is wiped every 2 rides, this stops the grit off every road or trail from attaching to the chain. The grit sticks to the oil on the chain and it mashes it up. So if you wipe it every 2 rides you keep on top of this process. Simply hold a rag firmly over the bottom half of the chain as you turn the pedals backwards – keep your hands and the rag away from the cogs however… you will get a noticeable streak of black tar off the chain. Repeat every 2 rides. Keep a rag next to your bike storage , make it easy and accessible.
- People think they will wipe off all the oil needed for the chain by wiping for 20 seconds – you won’t. A chain is like a sponge, each link and roller holds a nice drop of oil or lube – even if it feels reasonably dry to touch. Wiping for 20 seconds only wipes off the oil that has leached to the surface of the chain (where is isn’t really doing its thing). The oil inside each link will continue to do its job but you are getting rid of the oil and grit on the surface. More oil will leach out on the next couple of rides, so repeat the process.
- Wiping the chain every 2 rides will mean that you might get 6 rides (3 cycles) before the chain does have a dry and crunchy feel – now its time to put more oil.
- Never oil a dirty chain – take the extra few minutes to give the chain a really decent wipe before putting more oil on the chain – oiling a chain that is already gritty and dirty doesn’t allow the oil to get into the rollers where is needs to be… the oil sits on the surface and only makes that mashed up gritty chain killer worse- THIS IS A MAJOR ISSUE WITH ALL CYCLISTS – get out of thinking that you have done your bike some good by just throwing a bit of oil on it for good measure…don’t have time to wipe the chain? you don’t have time to oil it then!!!
- Wiping the chain can only keep on top of it for so long. If the chain starts to get more of a gunky film that is hard to remove on it, its time to clean the chain, either with a good brush and some degreaser, or a specific chain cleaner – all of which we can talk to you about in store… any degreasing of the chain should be an in depth process however…do not just spray a bit of degreaser on the chain and cogs and wipe off before re-oiling… make sure you rinse off any cleaning products with water very well. We have seen the results of not getting old oil and degreaser off the chain properly…the result is something like glue.
- Do not use WD40 or CRC…neither have any proper use on a chain…are you trying to oil or degrease your chain? People think the good old “service in a can” does both… they kinda do but they flick off the chain quickly and then there is nothing left – leading to rust…the one thing people are trying to stop by using them.
- Chain before other cleaning. If you are going to give the chain a good clean and degrease do this before any other cleaning, as there will be some degreaser that splatters on the rest of the bike. Rinse the chain, wash the rest of the bike how you like, dry the chain with a rag, and then oil it.
- Oils ain’t oils… sorry for stealing the slogan, but whilst there is a crazy number product for oiling and lubing chains there is essentially only a couple of categories: 1. Oil based or “wet” lubes are for riders in wet muddy conditions or road riders who want the bike to feel really smooth, these lubes are often about the consistency of olive oil and are really good at keeping things quiet and lasting a long time between applications. Wet lubes can get very gunky and build up on the chain if not cared for. The 2 rides and wipe process is really important with these oils and we are always talking to customers about keeping on top of the process. 2. Dry based lubes work really well on MTB’s and bikes that are going to get dirty in dry dust. Even our recreational customers should probably aim at using dry lubes because they tend to need less care and you can be a little slacker with wiping the chain. They often have a wax or Teflon sediment in them that leaves a smooth dry film on the chain that dirt finds harder to stick to. They never last as long however and are thinner, which means they need applying more regularly. That’s when the suggested wipe before you re-oil is really important. Many MTB riders will apply, ride twice, wipe and re-apply to keep it all smooth, because they can feel dry and rough quickly, but it’s all in the name of stopping a dirty chain. 3. Ceramic lubes tend to be a oil or waxed based lube, just a better version of them with some ceramic compounds that run really smooth – if you own a high performance bike, they are worth a look.
Remember that you can always make the journey in store to talk about your chain – and the quicker you can get into thinking of your chain as something you need to take control of all the time and in between visits to our workshop the better.