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Bicycle Chain Lubrication and Drivetrain Maintenance : All You Need to Know

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

In 1880, Hans Renold, a Swiss engineer based in Manchester invented and patented the

"bush roller chain". The rest was history. In the first half of the twentieth century, almost every form of transport depended on roller chains.

An exploded view of a link of a bicycle chain Layout of a roller chain

140 years after their invention, the concept of roller chains remains central not just to the bicycle but to the transmission of machines used in a plethora of industries across the world.

Your bicycle’s chain is significantly abused every time you ride.

For every minute of pedaling, approximately 44,000 independently articulating metal pieces are in motion, creating 320,000 separate instances (based on how many links the chain has) of sliding surface friction.

And all of this is on a component that sits near to the ground and is exposed to the elements. Not to mention the uneven pedaling loads and wear due to poor shifting and bad weather.

This article is heavily influenced by the absolute truth spoken by Dave Rome of Cyclingtips in his "Chain Cleaning: A complete guide from Lazy to Obsessive" Something we're going to try to simplify here.

Cleaning the drivetrain is like doing the dishes. Best done after every meal (ride).

And about every 500kms there are many hard-to-reach areas that must be kept clean in order to ensure maximum component longevity and smooth performance.

Pictured above is an RD-R9150 in dire need for some TLC.

A dirty drivetrain not only shifts poorly, it also costs you dearly in efficiency.

We're not going to go into Ultrasonic Cleaners and Air Compressors, and how we approach chains and drivetrain components professionally in the workshop, but and are going to delineate the easiest way, the discerning home mechanic can maintain the drivetrain of his/her pride and joy without breaking the bank, growing a beard or getting kicked out of your own house for making a mess of the place.

In the last few years, the most common thing cyclists are guilty of is being too lazy to clean their drivetrains. This results most commonly in premature chain wear. If you'd like more details on that, I'd recommend you peruse this

Article by Dave Rome (again) on Cyclingtips.

The best practice is to clean your bike almost immediately after a long ride, but exhaustion can sometimes take over and we thusly park the bike with all its remnants from the ride next to the wall whilst we shower, refuel and recover.

Riding in the rain is a part of cycling, but it's also a death sentence for poorly sealed bearings and whimsically lubricated drivetrains.

Taking care of your bicycle drivetrain will save you money. That's a fact.

Bicycles and cycling components can be rather expensive. Expensive or not, replacement parts cost money and if a bit of cleaning helps save a little, why not?

A lack of maintenance results in premature wear, which in turn can turn your riding experience a little sour and perhaps even dangerous.

I've seen many a disappointed face when we have to inform someone that they would need to replace their chain as it's "stretched"; and them exclaiming that they only have ridden the bicycle for less than a thousand kilometers.

The best way to clean a chain is by taking it off and using an ultrasonic cleaner with the correct solvents. That's what we use in the workshop @ Just like other wearable components such as brake pads and tires, chains wear as well with use. Chains can last anything between 300kms to 35,000kms based on how well you maintain your drivetrain, how much you climb, how smoothly you shift through and engage the gears, and so on, and therefore to answer the ubiquitous

"How long will my chain last?" It's simple. It entirely depends on how you treat it.

"How long will my chain last?" It entirely depends on how you treat it. Cleaning and lubricating, shifting habits, terrain, weather conditions you ride in, all collectively determine the life of a chain.

What needs to be deeply understood is that the effect that the "grit" around the roads of Hanoi has on bicycle components, especially chains and bearings is similar to that of sandpaper.

It's excessively coarse and if left between two sliding surfaces, will cause both surfaces to wear.

Over time, the chain’s pins and inner links will wear, and as a result, the pitch (length) of each link will grow. Because the chain’s overall length grows with wear, chain wear is commonly called ‘chain stretch’ – even though the metal does not (measurably) stretch.

This causes subsequent wear on the "teeth" of your chainrings as well as cassette sprockets.