A clean, well-maintained bicycle chain is integral to the riding experience.
You can shift and pedal smoothly and improve your riding efficiency.
Regular maintenance is crucial because dirt and grit from your rides can quickly accumulate on your bike chain. It is a magnet for road grit during wet rides, while a romp in the park attracts clumps of grass, soil, and so on.
A dirty bike chain leads to significantly quicker wear and tear, poor shifting, rough pedaling, and reduced efficiency. To maintain top-notch biking performance, you must keep your drivetrain as clean as possible.
This guide has everything you need to know about how to clean a bicycle chain, such as the necessary tools and equipment, why it is essential, and how often you should do it.
Let’s dive in!
Guide on How to Clean a Bicycle Chain
Tools and Equipment
Here are the tools you’ll need to clean your bike chain:
- Chain-removal tool
- Soap or bike-specific degreaser or solvent
- Cleaning brush or toothbrush
- Cloth rag
- Chain lubricant
- Leaf blower or an air compressor (optional)
- Chain-cleaning tool (optional)
There are two main methods for how to clean a bicycle chain. The first is for regular spot cleaning, and the other is for an occasional deep clean.
1. Regular Spot Cleaning
After every few rides, examine your bike chain closely. Lift the rear wheel off the ground and spin the nearest pedal. Check each chain link for dirt, rust, and tight links that don’t easily bend while passing through the rear derailleur.
Listen for squeaks during this examination and even in the middle of your ride. When you hear a squeak, it’s time to spot clean your bike chain.
You can do this even while the chain is attached to the bike. Just follow these steps:
- Brush the chain links with a firm brush.
- Apply chain lubricant on the links that need it.
- Over-lubrication attracts more dirt, so remove excess chain lubricant by wiping it off with a dry rag.
- If you find quite a bit of dirt on the chain, simply attach a chain-cleaning tool, fill it with solvent, and slowly turn the pedal for at least 30 revolutions.
2. Occasional Deep Cleaning
When you need to deep clean your bike chain, follow the steps below:
- Remove the chain using a chain-removal tool. Brush it properly with a toothbrush or another stiff brush. Soak it in a solvent to eliminate the built-up dirt from the links and bushings. Keep it immersed until most of the grime is gone.
- If the chain has multiple chainrings, shift it onto the largest one. Liberally apply soap or degreaser and scrub every inch of the chain until it’s fully clean. Scrub the side plates using the chainring as a surface so you can push the chain against it.
- For more thorough cleaning, shift it down to one end of the bike cassette. Apply soap or degreaser to a brush and scrub all the cogs thoroughly, except for the one in contact with the chain. Shift the gears so that the chain lies on the other end of the cassette and continue to clean the other cogs.
- Drop the bike chain off the chainring. Apply plenty of soap or degreaser and scrub well.
- The jockey wheels on the rear derailleur accumulate more dirt than other parts of the chain. Scrub them well to remove all the gunk, and then rinse. Apply a drop of chain lube around the bearings or bushings for lubrication.
- Rinse off the drivetrain with a gentle stream of water. Do not use a high-pressure hose as it can blast water into sections where you don’t want it.
- Dry the chain using a clean rag, leaf blower, or air compressor.
- Apply a fresh coat of chain lube to prevent rust and put the chain back in place.
Why Is It Important to Clean a Bicycle Chain?
Regular chain cleaning will keep away the dreaded grease stains that can affect the look of your bike and get all over your clothes. But bike chain cleaning is more than just for aesthetics.
Bike chain maintenance ensures it will run smoothly and quietly during each ride. It will also significantly extend its life.
If your bike chain is dirty, you lose a good amount of riding efficiency, which slows you down. On average, a dirty road chain reduces efficiency by about 3 to 5 watts (at a rider output of 250 watts), roughly equaling 1% to 2% of power loss.
Riding without cleaning your bike chain can result in a power loss of about 5 watts. For high-intensity biking such as MTB or cyclocross, a muddy chain leads to a loss of 12 watts over baseline.
A dirty and under lubed bike chain suffers from increasing friction levels on the sliding surfaces of each chain link. Because the links are constantly articulating, you must minimize friction as much as possible.
How Often to Clean Bicycle Chain
How often you must clean your bike chain depends on your riding conditions, mileage, and the lube that you use. The good news is that if you regularly conduct preventative maintenance for your bike, you will not need to do a full clean too frequently.
If you go out for a ride multiple times a week, you should clean your bike chain every couple of months. If the chain looks dirty, leaves streaks of dirt on your legs after every ride, or sounds gritty, do a bit of spot cleaning before your next ride.
It is also wise to clean your bike chain before a racing event or a long-distance ride.
Note that mountain bike chains need more care and cleaning than standard bike chains. Clean the chain of your mountain bike after every few rides or whenever you spot dirt.
We hope that you found our guide on how to clean a bicycle chain helpful and informative.
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Last Updated on June 25, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic