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Cycle Maintenance - Cleaning a chain

an easy task

Why clean a chain? The answer is that grit, dirt and dust from the road can get into it and start to wear the metal out. Once too much of the metal is abraded away the chain actually increases in length, but more importantly the “pitch” changes. Once the pitch has increased too much the only way for the chain to fit onto the cassette is for it to wear away at the teeth.

Once everything is worn too badly it will stop working and give you unpredictable cycling and gear changes, potentially leading to an accident!

There are three ways to keep your chain clean and relatively wear free.

Firstly make sure it is lubricated properly and regularly. There are many different lube options, each with advantages and disadvantages. Some lube better than others, but some collect more grit and so turn into a greater grinding paste. All I can say is to try out several and find what matches your riding style and road conditions the best.

The second option is to use a scrubbing device which fits onto the chain to clean it without having to remove it from the bike. Read and follow the instructions that come with your device carefully. I usually use a cleaning solution, then clean the device and re-clean the chain with water to clean the degreaser out. I repeat this several times until the solution remains almost dirt free. Then I dry the chain.

As I dry it I check to see if I can hear or feel grit still grinding in the links. If there is and it feels bad then I move onto option 3. Sometimes, if the chain is particularly bad then I move straight to option 3.

The third option is to completely remove the chain and then clean it thoroughly.

I then put the chain in a jam jar and completely immerse it in white spirit. Yes I know that there are specific cycle degreasers, but white spirit is a lot cheaper, and is also re-usable!

I replace the lid on the jar and agitate vigorously. Even after a thorough clean in option 2 it is amazing to see how much dirt comes out! I then leave the jar to settle (can be some hours) and then remove the chain.

I pour the clear white spirit into another jar, filtering it through a cloth if necessary, to get another jar full of relatively clean spirit. The chain goes into this and is agitated again.

I continue repeating this until the chain is clean.

I then wash the chain clean to remove the spirit and dry thoroughly. The chain then goes back on the bike (having cleaned the cogs etc at some point during the above) and is thoroughly lubricated.


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