How to Clean and Lubricate a Chain
Frequent chain cleaning and lubrication will help keep dirt off your chain and prevent wear.
Regular cleaning and lubrication of your chain will help prevent your drivetrain from wearing out. You should clean and lubricate the chain when it is dirty, dry or begins to sound noisy. If you ride every day, you should clean and lube the chain at least once a month.
I don’t recommend using either motor oil or 3in1 oil to lubricate the chain. Motor oil is too heavy and won’t fully penetrate the rollers, and 3in1 oil is vegetable based and will gum up the chain. I also don’t recommend using wax lubricants because while they don’t collect as much dirt, they are a lot of hassle to apply correctly, and wax is simply not as good a lubricant as oil. I do recommend mineral based chain oils like Finish Line Cross Country or Phil Wood Tenacious Oil because they do the best job of fighting corrosion and don’t wash away when they get wet.
For cleaning, first shift the chain into the smallest sprocket on the rear. For average dust and dirt, wipe the chain clean with a solvent soaked rag. The easiest way to do this is to hold the chain still at the rear derailleur cage while firmly wiping the lower run of the chain. Then move the chain backward and wipe again until you’ve wiped the entire length of chain. Wipe between the rear sprockets using either a rag or a sprocket cleaning tool. Then clean all of the front chainrings on both sides.
Shift your gears into the middle sprocket both front and rear. Remember that oil does a good job of spreading itself, so try not to over-apply the lubricant. Lubricate the inner circumference of the chain, on the side that faces the sprockets along the top of the lower run of the chain. Run the chain backwards while dropping oil down both sides of the rollers.
Shift through all of the gears to spread the lubricant evenly through the drivetrain. Then use a rag to wipe off any excess oil.
- Jim Langley: Cleaning Your Drivetrain
- Park Tool: Chain Cleaning
- Sheldon Brown: Chain Maintenance
- Bicycle Torque Specifications
- Park Tool CB-4 Bio ChainBrite
- Park Tool CG-2 Chain Gang Chain Cleaning System
- Finish Line Wet Chain Lube (Cross Country)
- Phil Wood Tenacious Oil
- Park Tool CC-3.2 Chain Checker
- Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker
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