That’s it, spring has sprung, full force even though…yes some of us are still skiing. I do love working it to the last drop, and no frenzy, sort of the opposite end of the spectrum from those who are out there for the first turns of the season, although we were there for that too!
Well now we are all pulling the bikes out to get those first turns of the season. This can be a tough time on a bike, you know just like the bears coming out of hibernation, hungry to get going but a little stiff and crusty or at least dusty. We have all done it, put the bike in the corner after the last ride, pull out the skis or board and go.
Out of respect for the machine the very least we can do is a quick wipe down. The BEST thing is a real tune up, but a very good operation to do now would be a full chain cleaning and lube. Many of us tend to be very lax about caring for the all-important chain – and if neglected it will cause all kinds of problems – anything from running less efficiently thereby eating more of your precious energy and power to wearing out drivetrain components like the cassette and chainrings prematurely.
We really need to be cautious about this right now because replacement parts are very, very hard to come by and no one seems to know for sure how long that may last.
Of course, poor shifting will be a result of a dirty and or dry chain also. And then there is the dreaded chain failure! It may simply break a link which never happens right near home or the trail head where you are parked. The other big factor this time of year is that any riding you do get will have more water, mud or snow patch crossings causing even more contamination on your drivetrain.
Let’s do something about this. A very basic chain cleaning goes like this; get rag, old toothbrush and some cleaner. Most household kitchen cleaners will work great as long as they don’t contain any abrasives. Any of the citrus type cleaners work pretty well, 409 is good but we like Simple Green. Start with a wipe down of the whole chain. Next give the chain a good soaking with your preferred cleaner being careful not to get any on the rear brake system weather that is a disc or rim style brake. Allow the cleaner a minute or two to soak in, then give the chain a good scrubbing with the toothbrush, link by link paying attention to the side plates, the rollers in the middle and both top and bottom of the chain. Now give a few more squirts to rinse off what you have loosened up and wipe the rest off with the rag.
Another way to get this done is with a chain cleaning tool. This is a device with a small reservoir that holds your chosen cleaning fluid with a series of small rotating brushes that do a pretty good job of getting in and around the chain as you run it through the device. The chain stays on the bike as you pedal backwards until it looks clean. These work well enough that we use them at the shop to clean an “ugly” chain, and I always carry one in my tool kit on extended road trips.
Sometimes though the chain is really nasty and gritty and requires more love and we all know how great a good soaking can feel. This though requires removing the chain from the bike which opens up a whole different set of issues, mainly around the use of a chain breaker or a quicklink to remove and reinstall the chain. The reason for this is that almost no matter how careful you are that link will be just a little bit weaker unless you reassemble with a new quicklink or push pin. Removing the chain and soaking it in cleaner really releases all the grime inside the rollers and between the side plates, two points of heavy loading and friction that are nearly impossible to clean any other way. You can almost hear the chain go “ahhh” when it sits in there. Give it a little shake a few times to release the junk as it loosens up, pull it out, wipe it down and reinstall.
With any of these techniques, a great last step is if you happen to have a compressor, give the chain a nice blast of air to remove any remaining cooties and finish the drying process which is key before the all important re lube.
Now your chain is shiny clean but don’t forget to remove any buildup of gook on the derailleur pulleys, cassette and chainring, you certainly don’t want that to go straight into all the work you just did! Now a few minutes with your favorite chain lube (which is a whole subject for a different time) being very careful to get each roller and side plate of each link nice and wet. Pedal backwards for a minute to really let the lube penetrate all moving parts, then wipe any excess off the sides where it would do nothing but collect more grime. Go ride!
I’m gonna grab my favorite bike with the Gates carbon drive belt instead of a chain, no cleaning no lubing and go pedal while you are doing all that chain cleaning mess, see ya!