Keeping your drivetrain clean is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to keep your bike running smoothly and prolong the life of your expensive components. It should be done pretty regularly as part of your maintenance, but if you are noticing any squeaky or gritty sounds when you are pedalling or if your chain just isnt running as smoothly as it used too, its almost definitely time for a clean.
How clean are we talking here? We are talking about a basic "on the bike" clean.
What you will need
You will need a few things to perform a decent drivetrain clean:
How To Clean
The first thing you want to do is assess how dirty your bike is. If you have been riding through mud or a lot of loose soil and grit, you will definitely want to give the whole bike a good clean first. Loose dirt or mud can work its way into your drivetrain after youve cleaned it and undo all your good work and you definitely dont want that.
If your bike is pretty clean already, you can skip directly to "Drivetrain".
To clean your bike, water your bike with a hose and grab a good bike-specific cleaner, preferably one thats biodegradable and safe to use on rotors. I like to use a spray bottle and just coat my entire bike in a nice mist of bike cleaner. Leave it for a minute or 2 and then wipe clean with a brush or sponge.
Then just water your bike again and we should be all good to concentrate on the all-important drivetrain.
Note: Although its tempting, avoid spraying your bike with a pressure washer as often water can get into places you don't want it to, such as inside the Bottom Bracket or Headset. This will eventually cause them to stop performing as they should and they will need to be replaced.
Grab one of your old rags, it doesnt need to be anything special, I use old T-Shirts and cut them into strips. Hold your rag around the chain tightly and give it a few back rotations with your pedal. This will remove any excess soil or muck already caught in the chain.
We now want to get some of our bicycle-specific degreaser and apply some onto the chain, chain ring and cassette. Be careful not to get any near the bottom bracket, and I tend to avoid putting it on the derailleur at all as if you have bearings in your jockey wheels it may get into the grease for them and thats no fun for anyone!
A good tip if you are using a liquid degreaser is to just pour some directly onto your brush and apply it this way. If you are using a spray degreaser just make sure to avoid any areas where you do want grease to be (bottom bracket, derailleur clutch, jockey wheels, cables).
You can now use a long-haired, stiff-bristled brush to scrub the dirt out of your cassette and chainring(s). You will have to put in a bit of work here. There are some good cassette specific brushes on the market; you could also just use a firm toothbrush if you have one lying around.
If you have a really dirty chain, you can also use one of these chain baths, all you do is fill it up with degreaser, clip them over your chain and run your chain through it. They work really well but are generally not that necessary if you put in a bit of work.
Make sure to still give the jockey wheels a good clean with just the brush and some water, or a bit of your bike cleaner.
Once you are happy with your cleaning job you need to make sure you rinse off all of the degreaser from your drivetrain, this is very important, as if you leave any on it will affect the lubricant and could actually make your bike perform worse.
This is an often-overlooked part of the process. Its important to let your bike dry before you start applying your lubricant, otherwise it can wash away. I recommend banging your bike on the ground a couple of times to get rid of any sitting water, and either leaving it in the sun for a bit or going over it with a lint-free cloth or towel.
Its also a good time for you to inspect your drive train to see if there are any issues with it. You can easily inspect your newly cleaned drivetrain for damage:
- Check your chain to make sure your rollers are all rolling smoothly and look for any signs of cracking in the links.
- Check your chain ring and cassette for any broken teeth or signs of extreme wear.
- Check your jockey wheels to make sure they dont have too much lateral movement.
If you notice any of the above, it could mean time for a replacement.
After you have cleaned and dried your components, its very important to lubricate them to maintain your drivetrains' longevity.
There are two main types of lube, Wet Lube and Dry Lube. They both go on wet but wet lube will stay wet after application, whereas dry lube will dry out leaving a protective film.
Wet Lube is used when you are riding in wet or muddy conditions and it works by creating a protective barrier that will repel water and prevent it penetrating your chain. The downside of this is if you use it in dusty or dry conditions it will also attract particles of dirt and create a paste which will actually wear your drivetrain faster.
Dry Lube dries out and leaves a film of protection. This is excellent for dry use and wont attract dirt however; it will wash away if you use it in wet or muddy conditions, so its important to use the correct lube.
To apply your lubricant, hold the bottle over the inside of your chain and apply a steady stream of lubricant while backpedalling to make sure you cover the entire chain. You want to make sure you are getting the lubricant into the rollers themselves. Backpedal slowly for around 30 seconds to make sure it really gets in there.
Once you are happy you have got the entire chain, grab a clean rag and hold it firmly against the chain while backpedalling, similar to step one. This is to wipe off any excess lube, its important to do this so the lube will not attract any unwanted dust or dirt.
The last step is to apply a little bit of lubricant to the springs in your rear derailleur and wipe of any excess from your chain ring or jockey wheels.
Youre now all good to go for a ride!
Extra Tip: Its ideal to do this well before your ride. The day or night before is best especially if you are using a dry lubricant. This will give the lubricant time to penetrate the rollers in your chain and dry enough, so it wont attract any dirt. It will also mean your mates aren't waiting for you at trailhead while you spend an extra 10 mins getting ready!