Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
Thanks for the comments and questions about last week’s Chain Care how-to. Let’s keep the link love going with your tips, recommendations and I’ll answer a couple of related queries that came in.
The Lubes You Use
Several of you said that you use a homemade concoction. I bet it would interest other roadies if you would share your recipes in the comments.
For known lubes, there was one vote for Pro-Link: https://amzn.to/3sFlS6f. I’ve used this on several bikes and it’s performed well for me here in Northern California.
Rock N Roll
Via email, another reader, “longrider” raved about Rock N Roll lube: https://amzn.to/3qDCV7b.
Former USA pro roadie, cycling author and bike product guru Thomas Prehn gave props to a lube I didn’t know about. He wrote,
“I use pure wax – Squirt Lube https://amzn.to/2LBJQyU and it’s also 100% biodegradable. Wax is dry so dust doesn’t attach. Wax has been used for years and years as a water repellant. My ENTIRE maintenance = reapply after a ride where I have totaled about 80 miles since previous application.”
Response to Thomas:
Thanks, Thomas! Knowing how many miles you put in, I’m going to try it. I’ll never forget how you won the $10K prize winning the Spenco 500 in 1985.
Then, Neil Larson stuck his neck out with this,
“I’m going to throw a hand grenade in here with my method, but for a chain that’s not too dirty it’s quick, clean and easy. Less than 5 minutes tops. It’s the same method that Jim has outlined with the rag, spinning the crank and moving the rag around the top and sides of the chain.
BUT, I use WD-40 for both the cleaning and for the lube. Spray it on the exposed straight section of chain, wipe it off, advance the chain 10 inches or so, repeat until the whole chain is ‘cleaned.’ Then spin the pedals and wipe with a clean part of the rag. The chain is perfectly clean, has WD-40 in the rollers, and won’t pick up too much dust or grime like a lube does.
The usual response to using Wd-40 is that it is a solvent and not a lube, but after using it for over 10 years on my motorcycle and bicycle chains I get the same chain life as my pals using lube, and in many cases longer chain life. It may not be a lube, but it sure works like one.”
Response to Neil:
Thanks, Neil! In 1970, as a new mechanic, that’s all we used at the little bike shop I started at. And it sure seemed to work fine. But it begs the question, have you considered WD-40’s line of bicycle specific lubes https://amzn.to/35PRLiY? And if not, why not?
Chain Cleaners Used
From the comments, it’s clear that many of you like using the snap-on type chain cleaners. These nifty devices act as mini solvent tanks and brushes in one. They enclose the chain and surround it with brushes and/or sponges. By simply pedaling, the links get a scrubbing and solvent bath at the same time.
A reader named “Tal” had another recommendation, he said,
“One tool I do use (that none have mentioned so far) is a grunge brush https://amzn.to/2LDl4ym. There are several brands on the market. It is essentially a stiff brush designed to get the larger dirt particles off the chain before performing any other type of cleaning. It takes very little time to spin the chain through the brush. It is especially useful for those who ride in wet or dusty conditions where there is a lot of grit and grime.”
Why Some Choose Not To Use Chain Cleaner Tools
“Bert” asked a related question:
“For about the past 15 years I’ve been very happy with the clamp-on chain cleaning systems. I find them very fast, effective, and tidy, especially attractive since my family has a lot of bikes. I use an aqueous citrus solvent, which I buy cheap by the gallon from the auto store, and a teflon-based dry lube that I buy in a quart size and transfer to 3-oz squirt bottles. Cleaning and lubing a
chain takes me about 5 minutes. From reading online, I get the impression that these tools are not popular with pro mechanics. Do you agree with that, and if so, why aren’t they?”
I don’t have any stats that support it, Bert, but I do think you’re correct that most pro mechanics don’t use chain cleaner devices containing solvent that snap on the chain. I can’t speak for other pros, but I can tell you why I don’t use them.
NOTE: I’m not trying to run down these tools, just answering your question. Also, as you read my reasons, understand that I’m comparing using the tool & solvent approach to my quick clean, where all you do is lube, wipe clean with a rag/T-shirt and relube.
- I don’t want to put solvent on chains because then any solvent residue left behind after wiping might contaminate the lube I apply lessening its ability to lube and how long it lubes
- These tools bathe the chain in solvent and you pedal to pull the chain through the brushes built into the tool. When pedaling the solvent travels with the chain wetting the cassette and chainrings. This can make a mess of both, meaning a bigger clean-up job
- You need to buy the tool and the solvent
- With solvent you usually need to store it somehow and dispose of dirty solvent safely
- Some of the tools contain the solvent fine but some leak and can make a mess
- With use the tool gets dirty and needs cleaning
Those are some of the reasons I can think of why I don’t use these tools and I bet why other pros don’t as well. But, again – I am not trying to talk you out of not using yours – or anyone else from using chain cleaners.
What About Cleaning a New Chain?
Then, Gary Allen brought up another important question:
“What about a brand new chain? I’ve never gotten a good answer about what to do with the “packing” grease that a new chain contains. Should this be removed right away or can it be ridden as is for several hundred or thousands of miles? If or when the grease gets removed can your cleaning/lubing technique be used or must the chain be removed and immersed in a solvent?”
First to answer was roadie “Jeff vdD” who wrote, “Josh Poertner at Silca says clean the factory grease/lube abomination off before installing the chain on the bike.”
My response to Gary:
The issue with the stuff the manufacturers put on the chains is that it’s usually a thick layer of some type of grease preservative to prevent corrosion if the chain sits around for a long time before selling.
As I understand, it’s not meant to lube the chain on the bike, but to pack, seal and protect it in the package. It’s thick and sticky and can be hard to wipe off with just a rag.
If you leave it on the chain and use the chain on your bike that way it won’t do any harm but it will likely get dirty more quickly than your favorite chain lube. And, as you add your favorite chain lube, it’ll break down the grease and you probably won’t get the results from your lube you’re used to and may end up with a greasy mess of a drivetrain.
But, once you clean your chain, cogs and rings, you’ll be fine. So, it’s one of those things that you can deal with before you install the chain or after. But, like Jeff/Josh said, wiping it off before – after applying a little solvent or lube to wet and break it down a bit is the way to avoid ending up with a dirty drivetrain fast after installing that new chain.
Rotating Chains Tip!
Lastly, Fritz Mueller shared his neat trick for always riding a clean chain:
“I keep two identical chains. When one gets a little dirty I remove it (I use a reusable quick link) and install the clean chain.
The dirty chain goes into my ultrasonic cleaner and is thoroughly cleaned. I then hang it from the ceiling in my shop, blow the cleaning fluid out of the chain into a rag and let it hang to dry completely. When it’s dry, I lubricate each link with a drop of my preferred lubricant and let the chain hang to dry after wiping the excess lubricant off with a paper towel.
When the lubricant has dried, I hang the chain inside a length of PVC tubing to keep the shop dust off of the chain. When the chain on the bike is dirty, I repeat the process. It works for me.”
My final response:
Thanks for providing all the details, Fritz. It’s nice to hear from someone using an ultrasonic cleaner in a home shop. For anyone interested, here’s the video to Josh at Silca’s extensive video on which one to buy and how to use it. FYI: the one he likes is not cheap, at $270.
Ride total: 9,885
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s cycling streak ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.