Your chain has more moving parts than any other component on your bicycle. There are 424 moving pins, plates and bushings on a typical length 10 speed bicycle chain. No other component on your bike, including your shifters, is as complex- or neglected.
When our power is measured to the watt and drag is calculated to the gram one of the least expensive ways to improve performance is with regular chain maintenance.
Chain maintenance falls into two categories: Cleaning and Lubrication.
Nearly everyone’s chain is too dirty. An accumulation of dust, road film and dirty lubricant becomes sticky and abrasive, accelerating wear on your chain, chainrings and cogs. It slows you down, it ruins your components. The first step to chain maintenance and lubrication is cleaning.
TriSports.com Service Manager and former team mechanic Joe Bianculli summarized chain maintenance well, “The best pro tip I know of is to simply wipe down the chain after every ride—people can even have a glove in the garage, along with a rag. Simply back pedal the chain thoroughly (through the glove or rag). It is not necessary to re-lube every time.”
Bianculli’s recommendation helps remove excess grit that becomes stuck in chain lubricant and accelerates wear. If his protocol is followed regularly it is unlikely additional chain cleaning will be needed. If not, a chain cleaner with bio-degradable chain cleaner will be needed to remove the dirty lubricant residue. If the surface of your chain has a sticky, gritty dark residue it is beyond needing simple lubrication and requires thorough cleaning.
Once a chain is adequately clean and free of contaminated lubricant either from regular wiping or from the use of a chain cleaner, or even removal of a chain to clean it, it is ready to be lubricated.
“The other thing that people need to know is that the chain does not need—and should not have—lube all over the chain because it attracts grit. A chain should only have lube on the rivets themselves.” Says TriSports.com’s Bianculli.
Lubricant should be applied on the inner circumference of the chain to avoid overspray if aerosol lube is used and to help centrifugal force drive the lubricant into the links and pins of the chain. Lubricant applied to the outer circumference of the chain is generally slung off the chain where it becomes a dirty residue on chainstays and the bike frame. Bianculli points out that drip application lubricants are more environmentally friendly, generally less expensive and avoid overspray altogether. Pundits argue aerosol lubes inject lubricant under pressure, driving into chain components and blasting away dirt and foreign matter not removed through cleaning. They can waste lubricant and create overspray. For most home maintenance, drip application lubricants may be the better choice.
The keys to chain lubrication and maintenance according to pro technician Joe Bianculli are:
1. Quickly clean your chain after every ride to prevent build up of wear producing grit.
2. Use drip lubricant sparingly on the inner circumference of the chain to drive lubricant into the moving links of the chain.
3. Do not over-apply lubricants. Wipe excess lube off your chain after application.
4. Consider drip application lubricants over aerosols for better environmental interaction and less overspray and waste.
5. Emphasize regular chain cleaning and lubrication over more drastic degreasing done less frequently. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.