Public Service Announcement: Clean Your Bike Chain

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My Local Bike Shop is a delightful place and conveniently located right by the YMCA, my most frequent biking destination. Every time I’ve tried to come through the doors with my trailer, someone has rushed to assist me. The salespeople are pleasant and not too pushy and the mechanics, though terse, are not unfriendly.

Still, I would rather not give the LBS any more of my money than absolutely necessary, so I am trying to learn something about bicycle repair and maintenance, one modest step at a time. So far I have learned to remove my front wheel and replace an inner tube (or install my new Innova studded tire, which scoffs at slush), but hey, it’s a start.

Last week’s goal was to clean my chain. I had some rattley sort of noises coming from my chain and was not particularly optimistic that cleaning it would help much–it didn’t look all that dirty–but it seemed like an obvious first step. My bike is about four a half years old (though I was pregnant or caring for an infant much of that time), so it was definitely time.

The best method is to actually remove the chain, but that was a bridge too far for me this time. Another method is to scrub the chain with a toothbrush. We already had this White Lightning chain cleaning kit*, though, that Mr. FP had bought, so I used that. The design of the thing was cumbersome and the little bottles of cleaner it came with were hard to use, but even allowing for all the time I spent spilling the cleaning fluid (both from the bottle and from the cartridge) and then cleaning it up, I probably saved time and got it cleaner over using a toothbrush.

My cleaner, smaller-looking chain. Alas, I did not think of taking a "before" pic.

My cleaner, smaller-looking chain. Alas, I did not think of taking a “before” pic.

The results were surprisingly impressive. Giant chunks of black crud fell off. The chain suddenly looked… smaller. Most importantly, the rattling noise disappeared. So if you’ve been putting on new layer after new layer of grease to your chain and putting off degreasing it, procrastinate no more. It won’t take long and you’ll be glad you did.

What are you learning to do this week? Have you ever degreased your bike chain?

*Our kit came with four bottles of cleaner, actually–I think we bought it at Walmart. I would not count on the two-bottle kit actually cleaning two chains, because we managed to use up and/or spill all four bottles just on two cleanings.

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

8 responses to “Public Service Announcement: Clean Your Bike Chain”

  1. David says :

    Usually I oil the chain, run it around a few revolutions, then wipe excess oil and grime off with a shop cloth. The times I’ve religiously de-greased and re-oiled the chain, the extra chain life wasn’t worth the extra time in doing it.

    I find I need to re-lube the chain every 100-200 miles.

    Simple Green Crystal is an excellent degreaser that you can get dirt cheap, should you choose to keep degreasing.

    I just mounted my new Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires in time for our first true snow storm of the season and plan to test them out tonight 🙂

    • frugalparagon says :

      YMMV, I guess! I found that it improved performance, as opposed to just the theoretical life of the chain. Will file away the Simple Green suggestion for next time–thanks! The good news is that Big Brother is finally old enough to hold up the bike for me while I grease the chain :-).

      I’ll be interested to see how you like your tires. Mine definitely gave better traction on the slushy stretches, but I feel like I noticed it being significantly harder to pedal on dry ground.

  2. bribikes says :

    My “LBS” is my dad, he is pretty awesome. The only downside is I don’t know much about bike maintenance. I know how to….lube my chain?

    • frugalparagon says :

      That’s handy, but I see the downside! Ask him to teach you! It’s not like car repair, where you need a lot of specialized tools and so on. (My dad was an ASE master tech in his prime–brake jobs for only the cost of parts!)

  3. Mr. Frugalwoods says :

    **Raises a Guilty Hand**

    About once a year I splash some citrus degreaser on a rag and run my chain through it for a couple of revolutions. I let it dry for 15 minutes or so, and then apply more chain wax.

    I apply additional chain wax once a month in the winter, and usually only once in the summer.

    Seems to do ok (going on 7 years on my original chain) but I’m sure I should be doing more.

    • David says :

      Mr. FW – Have you checked the wear/stretch on the chain? (Either the 12″ pin-to-pin method or with the Park Tools tool.) My average chain life is 1000-1500 miles, which is about 3-4 months of riding for me.

      If you’ve let your chain stretch far beyond the replacement window, you’re likely out a rear cassette now.

      • frugalwoods says :

        I haven’t checked chain wear, but I guess I should! I have a couple deferred maintenance things I plan to tackle over the holiday break. I’ll add this to the list, thanks!

  4. Hannah says :

    I use a “lubricant” called Rock And Roll, and one amazing thing about it is that rather than clean the chain and then grease it up, it’s an all in one product. You just pour it on and wipe it off (along with tons of dirt and other crap). My local bike shop guy strongly recommended it, and I’ve really been pleased for the past 3-4 months of use.

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