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BIKE TECH: Bicycle Chain Care

Now that you may have forgotten about your New Year's Resolution, I want to start everyone off with a "bike season resolution" that will lead to a better performing bike and save likely save you hundreds of dollars this year. So listen up and follow through on this!

Without question, the most important piece of bike maintenance that most people overlook is checking the wear of their chain regularly and replacing as necessary.

Overlooking this absolutely critical and basic maintenance piece leads to the chain stretching, the cassette (or freewheel/fixed gear) wearing to match the stretched chain, eventually the front chainring teeth wearing, and finally the chain skipping on the cogs or even eventually breaking! That was a mouthful, a cascading sequence of tragic events if you will!

Well, replacing the entire drive train on a bike can be very expensive in the above scenario (easily a few hundred bucks on many bikes), but relax, this can be nearly entirely avoided by simply doing 3 things:
  • Cleaning and lubing your chain
  • Checking your chain for wear
  • Replacing your chain as needed

Application of chain lube to a clean chain

Cleaning and lubing your chain regularly is something that all cyclists should be able to do in their sleep. This is something that should be done before literally every single ride. With that said, it is good to review the basics and to keep it simple.
  1. First off, cleaning your chain can mean totally different things if you've been riding through dirty grit or on a clean road ride. If your chain is super dirty and covered in debris, you'll likely need to use some degreaser, a brush, and a rag and spend some time giving it some TLC. However, if you've simply been out on a road ride, a quick wipe with a dry rag should suffice.
  2. After your chain is clean, use a good quality chain lube (there are many great ones on the market) and apply a light layer of lube along each edge of the chain. Applying this light layer of lube along each side of the chain rather than the middle allows the lube to actually work its way into the pivoting points of the chain, rather than just on the surface.
  3. After both edges of the chain have been lubed, use a dry rag to remove most of the lube from the surface of the chain so that it looks clean.

Checking chain wear with a Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker Tool

The frequency at which you check your chain also depends on the conditions you typically ride in and how well you care for your chain. On your mountain bike that gets ridden in tough muddy conditions, you should check the chain every couple of rides. On the road bike, the chain should be checked every 500 -1000 miles or so. Gently put the pins of the chain checker (such as a Park Took CC-2) in a random spot on the chain and swing the cam until you feel contact. Follow the chain checker manufacturer's guidelines as to when the chain needs to be replaced. I always advise people they are better off replacing the chain early rather than late, as to reduce wear on the rest of the drive train.

Enjoy the ride and don't forget about your chain!

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