Dirt on your bike chain is like using scouring powder on your fine china. It can:
Fortunately, making your chain happy is easy to do.
Before each ride, look at the entire chain by standing to the side of your bike and lifting the rear wheel off the ground. Using your free hand, rotate the closest pedal slowly backward, inspecting the individual chain links for dirt buildup, rust and/or tight links (links that do not bend easily as they pass through the rear derailleur). Check for adequate lubrication by listening for squeaks while riding. If you find either condition, your chain needs at least a spot-cleaning.
To spot-clean the chain while it's still installed on your bike, simply brush out the links with a firm brush (toothbrushes work well) and relubricate the links from time to time with a chain lubricant. Remember to wipe off excess lubricant with a clean, dry rag so that it doesn't pick up new dirt. Over-lubricating can cause as many problems as under-lubricating.
Every few months or so (more often for mountain bikes), completely remove your chain (using a chain-removal tool), brush it well and completely immerse it in a chain solvent to get rid of built-up grime that brushing can't remove. Let the chain soak until most of the dirt has been freed from the links and bushings. Dry the entire chain using a clean rag. Make sure that the solvent has completely evaporated, then relubricate the chain and re-install.
There are 2 important properties to chain lubricants. They must:
Durability is the lesser issue as you can and should lube your chain often. Oils that are specifically marketed as bicycle-chain lubricants are superior to non-bicycle-specific products. They generally contain Teflon® and are designed to repel dirt and water.
Note: Questions about WD-40 appear regularly in our bicycle forums. REI does not recommend using WD-40 on your bike. The best thing to use is a lubricant such as Finish Line, Pedro's or Tri-Flow. These lubricants are designed for your bike's drive train. WD-40 is basically kerosene. It will clean the chain all right but it will not lubricate. For cleaning the chain, use Pedro's' Bio Degreaser. It works very well and it is friendly to the environment. Follow-up with a lube suited to the environment you ride in. Tri-flow is a good general use lube. For rainy, muddy areas, use a lubricant like Finish Line Cross-country Synthetic Lubricant.
Chain links that don't bend smoothly as they pass through the curves of the chain path may contain tight links. To spot them, pedal your chain slowly backwards and watch as individual links pass through the tight turns of your rear derailleur.
Most tight links are caused by dirt or corrosion between link plates and can be fixed with a good cleaning, some lubrication and a little flexing back and forth. Others are the result of improper pin installation (the pin that holds the chain links together is not fully inserted through the links and rollers) or serious chain damage. Occasionally, poorly installed link pins can be worked back into position by shifting them back and forth inside their chain plates by using either a chain tool or your hands. Damaged chains should be completely replaced.
As chains are used, they become longer. This is often called stretch, which is a misnomer because nothing actually stretches. The reason that chains become longer is that wear occurs between the rollers and the link pins. This wear creates slop or free play between the various parts, which leads to "skipping" in some cases. It can also cause excess wear and tear on your chain rings and rear cog teeth. Replacing such a chain is much less expensive than replacing a cog set later on.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: Thu Aug 02 13:44:33 PDT 2012
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