How to Clean Your Bike Chain — Seriously

Just a little FYI, I did get in a 4.0 mile run last night. I wanted soooo much to ride outside in the afternoon, but the on again off again snow just kept hitting us all day. I won’t ride where there is snow or ice on the road mainly because I really don’t like going down hard at 20.0 mph — been there, done that. So I opted for a run, which ended up being a pretty decent one. The workout was a “Step-Up” workout. I warmed-up for 1.0 miles, then I started out at marathon pace. I held that pace for 0.5 miles and then increased by pace by about :15 seconds. I kept doing that until I was actually at about a 5K pace, and then did a cool-down at a light pace for the last 1.0 miles. It is a good workout that you should try if you are just not feeling speedy. Now for the ride on my trainer this morning:

Type: Steady State Ride
Distance: 20.4 miles
Time: 1:00:26
Average Watts: 182 watts
Normative Power: 185 watts
Average Heart Rate: 145 bpm
Total Work: 657 kJ
Average Speed: 20.3 mph

I had a 5:00 warm-up at 150 watts and then just kicked my power output up to 190 watts. I tried to keep my power between 190 and 200 watts for the rest of the ride. It was a good ride to work on my Tempo zone. It seems my comfort zone is between 190 and 200 watts. I almost feel like I can ride there forever. My next goal will be to get that range higher between 200 and 210 watts.

January workout totals were alright, just alright. While I went the distances that I planned, my legs especially feel like a couple of compressed springs that are about ready to release all of their potential energy. I need my workouts to be longer and more focused in February. I will work on that. The totals were:

Cycling Total: 369.42 miles
Run Total: 50.2 miles
Time: 24:07:01
TSS: 1,774

Not bad for January. February will be higher, but there is a week where I will be in Kihea for work, which means only one workout per day, at least that I can track.

Basic Bike Maintenance — Cleaning Your Chain

I like my bikes to run in stealth mode. When I am pedaling down the street I like the only sound I hear to be my breathing and the sound of my tires hitting the road. I know I may be a little silly about the whole thing, but I do not like repetitive sounds. That means the drive train on any bike I own must be super quiet. One of my pet peeves about riding in a group is “that guy” or gal who never cleans their chain, which will produce a sound like an old creaky door opening and closing. I will often ask people who have a creaky chain if they can hear their chain crying out for mercy or not…

One of the easiest ways to prolong the life of your chain and even improve your cycling experience is clean that chain. I know it sounds elementary, but there are a ton of beginner triathletes and cyclists out there who fail to conduct even basic bike maintenance. Even if your chain is filthy, it should only take you about 10 – 15 minutes to clean it, max.

I clean my chain about every 150 miles, and sometimes more often if I have ridden on a really dusty day or in the rain. I will end up cleaning it about once a week in the summer. Excessive? Perhaps. But it helps my drive train stay clean and ninja like. While I never endorse sneaking up on someone, it sure is nice to know you can. So if you want to be a cycling or triathlon ninja, clean that drive train!

For all my bike cleaning, I use Simple Green. It is biodegradable and non-toxic. I use the stuff on my frame, wheels, and anything else connected to my bike. I will use a couple of bottles of the stuff over the year. I buy it at my local Lowe’s. For lube I will typically use the Park Synthetic Chain Lube. There are tons of good arguments for different types of lube, but as much as I clean my chain, I don’t have a problem using it. I know dirt sticks to it, but I really am not worried about it. I am not sure there is anything negative you could ever say about Park. I also have a very soft wire brush to clean my rear cassette and front chain rings if needed.

Here are my simple steps to do it. I think listening to something mellow should be a requirement when you are cleaning your chain…

  1. Put your bike in your repair stand. If you don’t have one, have someone help you with this process. Throw down a rag or something absorbent on the floor under your chain because you will be making a mess. I have a dedicated space in my garage, so I simply wipe up the mess with a rag when I am done.
  2. Take a clean rag and spray a cleaner heavily on the rag. Take your chain and hold it in the palm of your hand using the rag. Pedal backwards, passing your chain through the rag and cleaner twice. This should remove most of the big dirt off of your chain.
  3. Next, take your Chain Scrubber (I use the Park Cyclone) and fill it with clean until the cleaner covers the bottom half of the scrubbers in the mechanism. I think there is a fill line on the unit, so you should look for that. Here is a photo of what mine looks like:26.2ismycooldown.com
  4. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and clamp the Scrubber onto the part of the chain that is closest to the ground. Hold the scrubber tight and with your hands, turn the pedals backwards. I like to run the chain through the Scrubber until the color of the cleaning solvent no longer changes colors. If your chain is still filthy, just reload your Scrubber and run your chain through it again.
  5. Remove the Scrubber and dispose of the dirty solvent per manufacturer’s instructions. Take a clean towel and dry off your chain by running it through the towel a couple of times.
  6. Take your soft wire brush and wet it with some clean solvent. Run it over your front chain rings and your rear cassette a couple of times to dislodge debris and dirt. I will usually take a towel and wipe off most of the grime on the front chain ring. If the rear cassette is really filthy, sometimes I will lightly spray it with water after the brush scrubbing. I will let the whole thing dry overnight.
  7. The next morning I will lube up my chain. I will put my bike back on the stand and move the pedals forward to assure the chain is dry. I will pedal at a cadence of about 40 to 50 RPM’s and lightly spray the lube on the chain as it is moving. I think it is better to lightly spray the lube and coat the chain a couple of times instead of pouring on the lube and rotating the chain just once. I will take a towel and remove extra lube.
  8. If I have the time, I will let my bike site for an hour or so, giving the lube time to penetrate my chain.

I know there are a ton of videos on YouTube on this, but most of them are from people who are lazy about chain maintenance. Some people never use a chain scrubber but only a towel to remove the gunk from their chain. While good, there is a better way to clean the inside components of your chain — by using a chain scrubber.

Take good care of that chain and she will take good care of you.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...