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Tech Tips: Clean and Lube your Chain

Proper Drivetrain Maintenance

What is your drivetrain? On your bicycle, this will encompass the chainrings on the front crank, the chain, and the rear cogs or cassette. The front derailleur and rear derailleur are also part of the drivetrain, but do not usually require regular maintenance.

If you ride your bicycle 3 times a week or more, then there is a good chance you do not get your bicycle into the shop often enough to be sure your drivetrain is well taken care of.  A properly cleaned and lubed drivetrain will shift better, ride quieter, and last longer.

It is a good idea at this rate of riding to clean and lubricate the drivetrain each week. In order to perform this maintenance, you will need a few things:

Clean Streak and Park CL-1 Lube

  • Clean rags: These can be whatever you don’t mind getting greasy and ruined. Old T-shirts, microfiber rags, or shop rags all work fine. Costco has both red shop rags and yellow microfiber cloths available, and I would recommend getting a bag of each. The red shop towels work great for the dirty work, and the microfiber cloths are good for final cleaning.

  • Clean Streak: This is a White Lightning product and comes in a spray can. This is a very powerful and easy to use cleaner. It is safe on most any part of the bike, including brakes and rims, has little smell, and dries quickly. 
    Available Here

  • Park CL-1: This is a nice medium-weight drip chain lube. I prefer this in the shop and on my personal bike. This is because it has good tack, applies easily, and tends to last better than some other lubes. You are free to use whatever chain lube you prefer, but I would discourage any spray lube, as this can be too messy.
    Available Here

  • A spot to work on the bicycle that you can get dirty and allows you to pedal the cranks completely backwards. This can be simply leaning the bike against the wall, using a storage rack or bike rack for the car, or a dedicated repair stand.

So, here we go, time to clean and lube your chain.

  • Shift your bicycle into the big chainring in the front and the smallest (hardest) gear in the back. We are basically going to move the chain the farthest away from the frame and wheels of the bike we can.

  • Lean your bicycle in the spot you will be working or put your bicycle on the repair stand.

  • Choose a good clean rag. Choose a rag that has a decent textural surface. Some materials are too slippery and will not be able to scrub away the dirt and grit from the chain, so choose a rag that has some texture. Red shop rags are great as are microfiber towels.

  • Put the clean section of rag in your hand and have the clean section on your palm. Liberally spray the Clean Streak in the palm of your hand the size of your palm.

  • With the rag still in your palm, wrap your hand and the rag around the bottom section of the chain.

  • Pedal backwards with your free hand while applying pressure on the chain. At this point we need to move the chain and use the rag to pull the old lube, dirt, and grit from the chain. Pedal backward a few revolutions and look at the rag. At this point it should be relatively black, go ahead and flip the rag over using the section soaked with Clean Streak and clean again while pedaling backwards.

  • Depending on how dirty your chain is, you may need to repeat this process more than once. We are not looking for brand-new clean, just getting the majority of the stuff off the chain before we lube. Your chain should be clean and dry to the touch when ready to lube.

  • Prepare your chain lube by shaking it up. Remove the cap and do not use any kind of straw. Hold the lube at an angle that is downward and toward the rear of the bike. Slightly squeeze the lube on the bottom section of the chain with one hand and pedal backwards with the other. Be sure that the lube is getting on each roller of the chain as the chain is moving.

  • Continue pedaling for 7 or 8 revolutions of the crank while applying the lube.

  • Allow the lube to settle into the chain rollers for 30 seconds.

  • If you lube while the bike is leaning and on the floor, use a clean, dry section of the rag to lightly wipe the access lube off the chain.

  • If you have the bike in a repair stand, then shift through all the gears to distribute the lube and then use a clean, dry section of the rag to lightly wipe the access lube off the chain.

  • Go Ride!