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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Degreasing your Bicycle Chain

Bicycle chains turn black over time as the chain lube collects dirt and grit while riding or locked up outside. This is unfortunate and affects the performance of your bicycle. Grit stuck to your chain wears down your drive train parts and needs to be cleaned once or twice a year.

Without maintenance you will begin to notice your bicycle doesn't shift gears properly, pedalling is sluggish, you have to work harder and you may have to replace parts faster due to wear. Thus yearly maintenance of both the chain and gear cassettes is a necessity, especially if you're storing your bicycle outside where its more likely to collect extra grit.



Even if you're not meticulous about the maintenance of your bicycle, you will know when it is time to degrease the chain and clean the drive train. The speed of your bicycle will be affected, and you will hear grit grinding on metal. Ignore the warning signs and you will have to replace everything that makes your bicycle move -- the chain, chain rings, cassette and rear derailleur. All of that is completely avoidable.

At least once a year, and in some cases twice, you should remove all of the parts from the bicycle for a complete cleaning (or have a mechanic do it). You can get by with a quick degreasing a few times a year if needed.


A quick degreasing of the drive train entails using a chain scrubber, a degreasing solution and a cassette brush. The chain scrubber will have a reservoir in the bottom. Fill the reservoir with degreasing solution and close the chain in the tool. The tool rests on bicycle's chain stay as the chain moves through it.

The brushes (and, in some cases, brushes and sponges) will pick up the solution from the reservoir and use to scrub the chain as it runs through the tool. The grit will fall to the bottom of the reservoir as the chain is cleaned.


When the chain appears to be nearly clean, remove it from the tool. Take the cassette brush and run it through the cassette as the free wheel turns. This will loosen grit and grime in the cassette. Take a clean towel or rag and run the chain through the rag to remove the degreaser and grime. You could and should take a towel and wipe the chain rings of excess grit and grime.

The last step is to apply a light Teflon-based oil or lubricant to the chain. Run the chain as you apply the lube. Remove any excess with a towel. The chain should be very lightly oiled; anything other than that makes for grit and dirt.



The first process is to use a chain breaker and remove it from the bicycle. Soak the chain in degreaser for a short period of time. Use a cassette brush to scrub the grit and grime that has not come off in the degreaser. Run through clean water to remove the grit and degreaser. Degrease and scrub again if needed. Dry with a clean towel to remove the water when complete.


Next remove the wheel and cassette. This is accomplished with a cassette locking tool and chain whip. The links of the chain whip are threaded into the cassette to use as resistance so the cassette locking tool can remove the cassette. Once the cassette is removed, it should be soaked in degreaser for a short period of time The cassette should then be scrubbed, washed in watter and dried like the chain. Return the cassette to the free wheel hub, but apply a light amount of grease to the hub. Reverse the process with the cassette locking tool and wrench.


You can manage the chain rings one of two ways: First, you can use degreaser and a towel and clean the teeth until you're satisfied. Or you can remove the crank, soak the chain rings and then clean them. This is the same process employed in removal and reassembly, but you will need to use a lock ring wrench or bottom bracket tool to remove the crank.


The last step is to reattach the chain, or to install a new one. Reattaching is simply threading the chain through cogs and deraileurs before using the chain breaker to join the two ends. Installing a new chain involves measuring the chain and cutting it to the correct size.

NOTE: Some cyclists like to keep an extra chain or two in degreasing solution ready to go whenever they want to swap out chains.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up with the assumption that your chain has to be covered with a film of grease (I always used lithium grease), so that the chain would be more protected from the elements (water, rust, etc). And that's what I did for years. Of course, that meant that after a couple of weeks I would have grime and dirt caked up all over the chain, cogs, and chain rings. Then I would patiently sit down with a brush, soaking it regularly in kerosene (yes, that's old school), cleaning the chain thoroughly, and reapplying a thick layer of grease to keep it protected. When over the years gears and cassettes became popular, the task included disassembling the rear derailer and adding it to the cleaning schedule.

    Now that I recently went back to having a bike, and as I'm relearning about bike maintenance, it makes sense that your lubrication should mainly affect the inside of the chain (i.e., the parts that rub against each other),not so much the outside (not to the extend of "wrapping" it in grease).



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