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

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

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

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.

Cassettes can be expensive to replace. A worn cassette won't mesh with a new chain. So if you don't replace your chains before the 50% wear limit, chances are when your drivetrain starts to "skip" and you bring your bicycle in for a new chain, You'll need a new cassette as well.

Okay, I get it. What do I need to do in order to make sure my bicycle stays new for as long as possible? There's a long checklist of things we must continually check on our bicycles in order to prevent a catastrophic failure (which are rare if you're meticulous with your machine). These include but are not limited to, brake pads, tire condition and pressure, bolt torque, and so on. This article will only delve into the best practices for taking care of your drivetrain Chain, Crankset, Cassettes and derailleurs from the comfort of your home

to ensure your drivetrain remains as we eloquently like to put it "MINT".*

"Optimized drivetrains are something we obsess over at"

A Ceramicspeed UFO optimized drivetrain, after a 90km bike ride, in nice conditions. OSPW & Bottom Bracket are optional extras.

OSPW: Over-Sized Pulley Wheels - The wheels guiding the chain onto the cassette through the rear derailleur that help shifts the gears when you click on your shifters on your handlebars. Bottom Bracket: The bearings on your crank spindle that help you spin the cranks around as you pedal a bicycle.

Home Mechanic Essentials for Drivetrain Care:

Degreaser (we recommend Ceramicspeed UFO clean)

Lubricant (we recommend Ceramicspeed UFO drip) Bristle Brushes (chain cleaning kits are cool, but two used toothbrushes do the trick as well) Dishwashing Sponge Rags (the only right demise of old, comfortable cotton T-shirts) Hot Soapy Water

Now, the best way to get a clean drivetrain is to take the chain completely off the bicycle. This, although easier now thanks to quick links, is still not the easiest task. Especially when you need to reinstall it in the same direction and orientation that it was in. Some chains from the likes of Shimano have engraved markings that show which side should always face outside, but others, like KMC, seem to be ambidextrous. If you'd like to do this yourself, drop us a message with the specifications of your chain and we'll be happy to guide you through the process and help you out in case you mess up.

We shall be taking the easiest way to get this done. Effective Chain Cleaning

UFO Drip Application

Why should I use UFO drip instead of a good old bottle of lubricant?

We coated the chain on the right with Good Ol' Finish Line Wet Lubricant and the one on the left was optimized using UFO drip. We then rode 250kms on each bike in similar conditions.

UFO drip on the left leaves almost no marks, whereas the wet lube is full of road grit which would ultimately lead to premature chain wear and a drivetrain that feels "rough" UFO drip uses a wax-based drip lube which helps to repel dirt compared to Wet Lubes that are Teflon based and attract all the dirt and grime onto your chain

and in between the pins, rollers, and plates of your chain.

What is chain wax?

Jason Smith, the founder of FrictionFacts and now the Chief Technology Officer at CeramicSpeed states that “Waxes are essentially solidified oils” He further explains “Wax is a solid material at room temperature, typically pliable and soft, which softens further and ultimately liquefies at temperatures between about 100ºF to 160ºF (37-71ºC). Waxes can be hydrocarbon/mineral-based (paraffin wax), plant-based (soy wax, carnauba), animal-based (beeswax, Lanolin, Spermaceti), or synthetic.”

While animal and plant-based waxes do occasionally appear in cycling lubes,

it’s the petroleum-based waxes that are most commonly used.

Melt-on waxing involves heating the wax to a liquid form and then submerging a clean chain within it. Once dry, the wax returns to a solid-state and is embedded within the individual bits that make up a bicycle chain.

Where things get slightly confusing is that wax for bicycle chains is available in both immersive (melt-on) and drip-on forms. The latter is seen with the likes of Ceramicspeed UFO drip as well as some other offerings like Squirt, Rock’n’Roll, Smoove, and more recently Silca’s Secret Chain Lube as well as Absolute Black’s Graphene lube.

All the latest drip-on chain lubes that promise to turn your chain into Jägermeister, feature some form of wax as a base ingredient. The common theme is that they all use a carrier fluid to keep them in a liquid form for application onto the chain, and once dry, aim to leave the chain coated in a dry wax film.

This article won't delve deeper into submersion or melt-on waxing as it's a stated fact that an immersion chain wax with friction modifiers can serve as the most efficient chain lubrication method available.

Since that testing, Zero Friction Cycling has since found a direct correlation between high-efficiency lubricants and better drivetrain durability, with such chain wax greatly improving component durability and overall cleanliness.

If you'd like to delve deeper, once again, Dave Rome of Cyclingtips has immaculately penned down an "endless FAQ of chain waxing"

If wax is so great, why isn’t it more popular?

That would be easy to answer with a simple statement. "Convenience and ease of explanation."

Drip lubes are extremely simple to use and not at all intimidating to consumers regardless of their mechanical sympathy and inclination.

A bottle of drip lube can be extremely cheap, while the maintenance process is easy and practical.

We, at offer a complete waxing service using Silca's Super Secret Chain Wax. Infused with nanoplates of Tungsten Disulfide (very slippery stuff) and 4 types of wax, it allows you to forget what a dirty drivetrain is.

No degreasing, Just wipe off and ride. You can get in touch with us to know more. Although a coating is said to last about 1000kms, we recommend topping it up every 250kms with Ceramicspeed UFO drip to experience continual frictionless cycling.

Ceramcispeed UFO Drip If waxing seems too daunting of a prospect and you'd rather use a drip lube but with all the benefits of a waxed chain, the CeramicSpeed UFO drip provides an ideal solution.

“When we present an expected coating duration life, we are looking for stable, even efficiency numbers. This is repeatable efficiency that a rider can confidently maintain every 300 km.” -

Paul Sollenberger, CeramicSpeed

Setting the bar in modern drip-based wax lube tech, Ceramicspeed UFO drip is not ludicrously expensive to run and is not just for "Race Day". Priced at only 1,090,000 VND / $47 for a 180ml bottle, UFO drip will last you 18-20 applications with 300kms between applications. A 1 Liter bottle of UFO clean is only 805,000 VND and should last you a while as you don't need to use it after the initial cleaning process unless you've been out riding in some horrid weather conditions.

The UFO drip gets you up to 6,000kms on one 180ml bottle. UFO Drip 180ml: 1,090,000 VND UFO Clean Drivetrain 1L: 820,000 VND

If there's something we've failed to address, or if you have any inputs which you'd like to share with the other cyclists of Hanoi, feel free to let us know.

Keep your drivetrain clean and your riding frictionless and we hope you enjoy the ride. #drivetraintips #ceramicspeed #ufodrip #chaincleaning #workshop #cycling

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