Why bother cleaning your chain? Easy; even if you don’t buy the argument that it saves money – and, depending on how you cost the time put into extending the service life of a chain by, perhaps, 10 per cent, it may not – riding with a filthy chain is asking for a ‘fourth cat tattoo’ down the right calf. Perhaps more importantly, a correctly cleaned and lubed chain that is still within its wear limit runs almost as smoothly and efficiently as new. And it looks nice.
When cleaning a chain, the primary aim is to remove the abrasive grit that finds its way inside the bushings. This stuff has an astonishing capacity to find its way into the smallest spaces, as can be seen when removing a spoke nipple from a used wheel. The thread will be found to be caked in fine silt, which is a good thing in this case as it helps seize the nipple to the spoke. It’s not a good thing to have between the moving surfaces of a bike chain.
Complicating matters, the grit is kept in place inside the chain’s inner workings by the residue of whatever lube was used last time it was lubed. A ‘wet’ lube of the sort preferred by most road cyclists readily picks up and hold on to grit particles, with which it then combines to create an effective abrasive paste.
Most such lubes won’t mix with water and resist being washed out by it. The quick and easy way to address the problem is to dissolve the lube/grit paste using a water-soluble de-greaser and then use water to flush the resulting solution out of the chain’s links.
Before going any further, check for chain wear; if worn close to its limit, the chain may not be worth cleaning before it is due to be binned.
Apply the de-greaser – a good example is Morgan Blue Chain Cleaner - to the chain and work it in by using a brush to agitate the rollers. Go around the inside and outside to ensure complete penetration. At the same time, use the brush and degreaser to soften dirt on the cassette sprockets and rear mech jockey wheels.
Next, rinse the chain. If one is available, use a hand-pumped pressure washer to flush out the degreaser with clean water while rotating the crank.
An alternative is to load a sponge with car wash shampoo (diluted, obvs) and wrap it around the chain, squeezing while running the chain through it. Follow this with clean water. Use similar procedures to rinse dirt off the sprockets and jockey wheels.
Now apply a water-dispersing product such as WD40 to the chain; this will disperse the water now inside the chain bushings. Wipe the chain dry of dispersant and apply your favourite lubricant before heading off for a well-deserved – and highly efficient – ride.
How often should this be done? As often as ‘necessary’…
Richard spends most of his time making bikes, writing about bikes and riding bikes in the hills of west Wales, while imagining how much more of the above he’d be able to do if he only had more time…