Keeping the chain on your road bike correctly lubed is a key factor in making sure that it stays as efficient as possible and is also a major contributory factor in how long the chain and cassette on your road bike lasts. You would think that an occasional spray of WD40 would do the trick, after all it’s only a bit of chain for goodness sake! But, as with most things there’s more to it than meets the eye, and there’s a right way and a wrong way of approaching it and slapping on the WD40 whenever you remember isn’t really the best approach!
So, enter into the slippery mechanised world of the tribolologist.
I’m sorry, tribolologist? Erm what’s that?
A tribololgist is someone who studies the science of reducing friction. Yes, that is actually true (wiki it!) and we are entering immature sniggering territory with all this talk of lubes and friction! Pull yourself together and stick (aha, another friction joke!) with me!
So, the tribologists would say that the very best thing for any chain, cassette or indeed transmission system where there are moving parts that are pushed together under load is for them to be spotlessly clean and bathed in a luxurious fully immersive bath of oil.
Hence the old fashioned but very efficient Sturmey Archer three speed hubs which did just that. Don’t you remember the moans of oil bathed pleasure that those Sturmey Archer cogs used to make while immersed in their tribologist’s utopia?
But, we don’t have those any more (which is a good job as they sound immoral!) and, stupidly enough all our transmission is now, thanks to the derailleur system, out in the elements exposed to all that the road can throw at it. Of course this has it’s advantages as it’s lighter, faster, fits in more gears and basically just simply looks cooler but, from a cog, sprocket or chain link’s point of view derailleur gears are bit of a living hell. In fact, they all fantasise about being reincarnated in a Sturmey Archer oil bath heaven – a world of cleanliness and slippery lubed oiliness – no friction there my friends!
So, how can we make our transmission system happy and make it last as long as possible?
Thoroughly degrease and clean your chain
Man! That’s a filthy picture above! I promise it was all clean when I set off! That’s what just 35 miles on English winter roads does to your bike!
The first thing to do is to make sure that all of the…..erm….parts down there, are spotlessly clean. It can be helpful, although not essential, to have your bike on a maintenance stand and you need to start off by applying liberal amounts of degreaser to the chain, cassette, jockey wheels and chain rings. Let this soak in for a while and use an old brush to really work the degreaser into the chain as much as you can and to scrub it as clean as possible.
You can also scrub the sprockets on the cassette and all of the bits and pieces of the derailleur aiming to remove as much of the damaging stuck on dirt as you can.
Chains get so cruddy because (wet) lube oxidises into a sort of sludge and this attracts the dirt and grime. Over time this becomes a sort of gritty paste that will work it’s way into all of your drive train’s nooks and crannies and wear it away so it’s important to get the chain as clean as possible at the outset.
In theory at least it would be a good idea to clean and lube your chain after every ride. I’m riding on filthy English winter roads at the moment and the bike and transmission comes back covered in mud after every ride. I try to clean it on a weekly basis but do this less frequently in the summer as it’s less of a problem. Ideally I would do it after each ride at this time of year but it does take time so a realistic compromise has to be struck!
Let the degreaser soak in and do it’s thing and then thoroughly wash it off. You can do this more than once and, when you are finished and if you have done a good job the transmission should be silver again.
Dry, polish and wait
Bear in mind that at this point your chain hasn’t got any lubrication on it at all so do not ride the bike! Take some time to dry the transmission carefully. You can use a cloth to wipe away any excess moisture and degreaser and take your time to really get into the gaps between the sprockets on the cassette where any remaining grit and gunk might be.
This job is particularly pleasant at waist height on a bike maintenance stand but, even if you are on the floor, polishing your cogs to make them clean and shiny is definitely one of the best bits of this whole process!
Choose the correct type of lube
Apparently your chain can’t tell the difference between different types of lube and they all offer the same amount of friction reduction. The difference is in the amount of time they last and the amount of dirt that they attract.
Frankly, I think life is too short for me to go through the different types of lubes including wax and ceramic and the subtle differences etc etc. I do love cycling but not oil really and I’m not that interested ……so……..you need to apply either a wet or a dry lube according to the prevailing road conditions.
Use your common sense but make sure you use a proper cycle chain oil. The old WD40 solution doesn’t provide much in the way of lubrication although it’s great for dissipating moisture and penetration. It also potentially sprays all over your braking surfaces so be careful when using it on your bike!
Finally, lube up that chain!
And finally we come to the exciting part! The top tip here is to turn the pedal crank and apply the oil to the INSIDE of the chain. A couple of chin lengths of application is all that will be needed. If you apply the oil to the outside of the chain centrifugal force will send it flying all over the bike rather than back into itself once you start cycling (in theory at least). Take a few moments to change gear and allow the oil to spread over the sprockets and then, whilst still turning the pedal cranks, use an old rag to wipe off as much of the excess oil as possible.
Above: Applying lube to the INSIDE of the chain.
Remember that the oil is only really needed inside the chain and any that is left on the outside will just spray around and attract dirt so wipe of as much as you possibly can.
I hope that was helpful. Personally I’m rather pleased that I managed to get the words lube, friction, penetration and “down there” into a cycling blog post!
Now to take some filthy pictures to finish it off…………..