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The Proper Way(s) to Clean and Lube a Bike Chain

August 2015
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There exists no part on a bicycle that requires more maintenance than a bike chain.  The chain is also, for many, too often overlooked.  I ride enough that I have to clean and lube my chain every week and a half or two at most and because I choose to keep the drivetrain so clean, I’m always looking for the best, easiest and fastest way to get it done.

What I will not do in this post is endorse one product over another, with the exception of WD-40…  If you use WD-40 on the chain of your thousand dollar road bike, you’ll deserve what you get.  WD-40 is awesome, awesome stuff, for a wide range of things other than bike chains.

For the longest time I used Boeshield T-9.  It is an excellent dry chain lube developed by Boeing for the aerospace industry.  The only detractors are longevity (200-300 miles between cleanings) and that the degreasing process is time consuming.   I chose to remove the chain completely,  soak it in degreaser, wipe it clean and then reinstall it.  You get an exceptionally clean chain this way, and my chains always lasted between 5,000 and 6,000 miles but it was very labor intensive.  Oh, and did I mention it is almost waterproof?  Boeshield is awesome for wet cycling.

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After a while I switched to a combination so I could get another week between cleanings.  I went the week or week and a half with Boeshield and then sprayed my chain with Finish Line’s 1 Step Cleaber and Lubricant and wiped it down.  That worked well but the cleanup was still just as intense…

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Now I’m into super high-tech…  Finish Line’s Ceramic Wet Lube, and now I’m onto something that’s fast and easy, that keeps my drivetrain ultra quiet and lasts for 350-400 miles between cleanings and I don’t have to remove the chain to clean it.  I simply flip the bike upside down, remove the rear wheel, take a wet cloth with a spot of mild soap rubbed in, wrap it around the chain and turn the crank backwards…  shift to the little ring up front, clean the big ring and cassette with the same towel, install the wheel, let everything dry for an hour and reapply a drop of lube to each roller… Let that sit for another couple of hours and wipe the excess off with a paper towel.  Actual work time is about ten minutes instead of an hour.

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Now, starting a used chain on the ceramic wet lube will result in the first few uses turns the lube black within a few miles.  This eventually turns white over repeated cleaning and reapplicarions.   I’m on my second application and am already noticing a cleaner looking drivetrain.

Finally, to wrap this up, chain maintenance is exceptionally important to the entire drivetrain.  The cleaner everything is and the better it’s lubed, the longer the chain, cassette, derailleur jockey wheels and chain rings last…  those items, for my Venge, run about $455…  in other words, it is worth putting in a little effort to insure longevity.  For instance, the normal life of a chain is about 2,000 miles.  Mine last two to three times that before they show enough stretch to warrant a new one (I use a $50 SRAM chain).  My jockey wheels are showing minimal, if any, signs of wear and my cassette and chain rings show no wear. 

Keeping the chain clean and well lubed makes for a better cycling experience.  I get to hear the birds, frogs and the hum of the tires rolling over the asphalt.  Not my squeaky bike. 

These are only a few of dozens of methods for cleaning and lubing a bike chain. Find one that works for you and be vigilant about it. You won’t be disappointed.

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9 Comments

  1. Friends have been trying out ‘Squirt’ chain lube, which looks effective. I rub the chain down after each ride.

  2. cyardin says:

    Jim, I use the Finish Line ceramic wet chain lube too. I moved onto this after the stuff that one of my local bike shops used to sell wasn’t quite keeping things running. Though I am guilty of not keeping my chain as clean as it should be.

  3. bonnev659 says:

    good article, I agree doing it correctly is a great thing. i took my bike to the my local 1 man lbs and the owner said I am doing it correctly as my cassette you can eat off and chain had just enough lube. i do not used a wet lube but a wax lube. does the job for me

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