Chain Cleaning & Lubing

Sticking with the recent theme on cleaning (and leap-frogging the planned article on polishing due to bad planning on my part), this week I’m going to focus on cleaning and lubing your chain.

How often you clean your chain really depends on how much and how regularly you ride, and what kind of riding you do. Ride on the road in the dry more than three times a week and you really want to be doing it fortnightly at worst. Any more regularly than that and it really should be a weekly job, especially if there’s decent distances involved. Ride on the road in the wet and you’ll need to pay more attention to your chain – the above ‘service intervals’ probably apply, but you’ll want to get some water repelling spray on the chain after a wet ride to prevent rust. If you ride CX or MTB on anything other than dry, dustless trails you should be cleaning your chain after every ride.

In terms of the best method of cleaning – I tend to use a Park Tool ‘Cyclone’ chain cleaner, and repeat the cleaning process with it until the liquid stays relatively clean (i.e. 2 or 3 switches of cleaning fluid). It can get messy though. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried other chain cleaning devices and they just do not work as well as the Park one. Also worth noting that it’s not essential to use the Park fluid all the time. It’s quite pricey, and is the same as any other citrus degreaser you can lay your hands on. You’ll get through plenty of this stuff so keep it cheap.

When I’m feeling less lazy I prefer to remove the chain and scrub it clean using some citrus degreaser and a toothbrush, or a shop parts washer if you have access to one. Quick links make this task much easier.

Cleaning done, what are your lubrication options to keep the chain running smoothly?

Finish Line is plenty good enough, but if the instructions are to be adhered to the ceramic stuff is only ever any good if you’re using it from day one on a brand new chain – the idea being that the ceramic ‘coats’ the chain and helps prevent wear (although I doubt there’s much reality in that). Use the green stuff if you’re UK-based or ride in the wet a fair bit as that will actually survive a puddle, but otherwise the red-top ‘dry’ stuff works if there’s no chance of a downpour to wash it off.

Juice Lube offer an all conditions lube called ‘Viking Juice’ as well as a wet conditions lube called, well, just ‘Wet Conditions’, actually. I’m also told Squirt is very good, although personally I’m less keen on dry lubes generally. Purple Harry have a lube coming out that is probably worth keeping an eye on and there are others too (White Lightening, Purple Extreme). But of course don’t forget the old favourite: GT85. God that stuff smells good…

For what it’s worth, don’t disregard a lube based on how dirty it makes your chain get – that’s down to the chain not being clean enough in the first place and the lube just showing up that dirt. It’s also a symptom of applying too much of it.

To properly lube your chain, run it backwards and slowly apply a small drop to each link, but not on the roller itself – you want it to get into where the plates of the chain move around each other at the ends of each pin. After that, leave it 10mins or so, then run your chain backwards through a cloth to remove the excess.

Other people will have other methods and may use other lubes, but this approach has served me well for around twenty years now!