Is it worth cleaning your chain and gears?

10 minutes cycling. Just enough time to get to the shop. At a quick guess, how many times do bits of metal to metal movements happen in that time?
1000, 40,000, 400,000 or more than 4 million? (I’ll give you my estimate at the end).

For this blog, let’s just assume it’s 1000 movements. Now imagine dragging your hand though thick treacle (it’s tastier than grease). Sticky. Everything grips. In simple terms that’s what a gunked up chain goes through every time it changes direction as it moves over your chainrings (those at the front) and your rear gears. Actually, this is one reason why hub gears are so good for commuter bikes, even if the chain still gets covered.

Another way of thinking, it’s like walking with lots of chewing gum stuck to your shoes. Horrible!

So all that mess makes your bike harder to ride. That might be good for fitness, however. it gets worse. Now mix that black, stick sludge with sand, grit and everything that comes off the road or track. It’s not far off the texture of the old blocks we used to sharpen knives or shears in the days when we sharpened knives and shears; and that was used because it was highly effective at grinding away surfaces. This might be great for those that sell chains and us who fit them, but not good for your wallet. So a dirty drivetrain is harder to ride, slow and significantly increases wear.

So yes, you need to clean it, but how?

First, grab some waterproof gloves.

Washing up liquid? Please don’t. Most contain salt and we all know that salt and metal do not mix, it induces rust. Moreover, never use washing up liquid to clear your bike (or car) at all. If it’s really bad, a degreaser is the place to start. For clients I always use an environmentally friendly degreaser, initially neat, letting it soak into the chain and rear gears for about 10 minutes (I often need to add more). You can also use something like Screwfit’s basic degreaser, that works just as well and is a lot cheaper.

Once soaked, using small brushes (old toothbrushes are great), cocktail or ice cream sticks, start working the degreaser into the grim. You might also need a flat surface to scrape some of the thicker gunk of the chainrings and gear bits (jockey wheels and cassette/freehub) at the back. Don’t forget you’ll need to get between the sprockets on the rear cassette, too (yes, there really is quite a deep gap down there, somewhere). The Aldi bike cleaning kit is as good as anything for this. Once you’ve got the worst off, clean your kit, get fresh degreaser, and re-apply. Grab a cuppa whilst it soaks in again.

Eventually, you’ll have something that’s getting clean. Once it looks clean I give it a thorough wash with a diluted car shampoo, as all that degreaser needs to be flushed out along with any remaining grit particles.

My experience is that a really clogged system will take between 30 and 45 minutes to clear properly, however, you’re on your way -but the task isn’t finished.

Be careful

Degreaser does that, it removes grease, so, do be careful. Bearings are usually sealed, so, providing you’re not blasting it under pressure against seals, you should be fine. Disc brakes are more susceptible and easily contaminated. If you’ve got disk brakes, protect them with a plastic bag, cling film or whatever you have around.

Now re-lubricate

The other problem is that now you’ve cleaned off all the stuff your might need to protect your chain and reduce wear further, so some kind of lubrication (lube) needs to go back on. In another blog I’ll discuss the different types of lubes that are available. The chances are that, if you’ve read this far you don’t meticulously maintain your chain and gears. I’d therefore recommend a “wet lube.” This is a type of oil. A bike chain specific one is best. For a wet lube, if the customer has no preference, I use Morgan Blue Professional Race Oil

Apply it drop by drop to the rollers on the chain. One roller at a time. You are lubricating the moving parts, so you want this to go between the side plates of the where they rub on each other and into the sides of the rollers . There are no benefits on getting it on the remainder of the middle of the side plates of the chain. Once applied, spin your cranks a couple of dozen times; this gets it into the rollers. Go up and down the gears, this flexes the chain sideways and again helps penetration.

If there are any little rear gear wheels at the back (the jockey wheels), look for the bearings in those and add a little drop of oil to those, to.

Now wipe it off

Finished? Well, almost. Using a clean, dry rag just run the chain through the rag, taking off the surplus lube. If you don’t, this does nothing other than picking up grit and grime, spreading this all over your beautifully clean front chainrings and rear gears and putting you back to where you started.

From now on you’ll keep it all clean won’t you? Promise?

Oh, and the answer to the question. This is my best guess, assuming a middle, easy gear, riding at about 10mph. That’s about 600 pedal strokes, 1275 wheel revolutions and over 4.9 million chain movements. Add to that the bearings in the steering, bottom bracket, pedals and any applications of the brakes, my estimation is in excess of 5 million movements in 10 minutes, that’s over 30 million movements and hour!

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