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The A-Z of Chain Maintenance

One of the essentials components of every bike in the world is the trusty bike chain. Often built to withstand an immense amount of force from the world tour pro riders all the way down to the every day commuter. Let's be honest, bikes have come a long way since the very beginning and with modern day technology playing an ever increasing role in our pride and joy, It's hard to believe that not much has really changed for the chain.


Let's look at the basics of the chain and then tackle the more common maintenance questions that we have all entered at one point or another on Google.


A bicycle chain can come in a variety of sizes including both width, length and weight. Predominantly made of cast steel, links are made of multiple steel plates interconnected with small circular rods. Each link is comprised of two outer plates and two inner plates with a rod connecting them both together. The process is then repeated to achieved the disired length for the user's bike.


VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE!


In the very beginning, one chain fitted every type of bike on the market. Now with the growth of the electric an E-Bike market, consumers are faced with more options than you could shake a stick at.


From X1, X2, X3 at the front to 6,7,8,9,10,11 and now even 12 speed cassettes and chains are being sold around the world it's easy to keep caught out purchasing a chain that might not be compatible for your needs.


A quick look on the internet or on Amazon and you'll be able to find hundreds of different variations and brands. However, buyers beware, not all chains are created equally.



For the modern day cyclist, most people will be aware of both Shimano and Srams dominance of the marketplace. Tried and tested in all types of terrain quality is assured and often guaranteed. That said, there are a few players that pro teams are teaming up with such as KMC Chains (US Based). In short, shop around but if you have the cash, always consider a reputable brand for not only quality but also durability.


HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED TO CHANGE MY CHAIN?


This question is a frequent one and there isn't simply one answer. What you may not know is that as riders we all have a dominate foot. Which ultimately means that the pressure transferred between your feet and the chain is never the same.


"As a rule of thumb, commuter's can average around 5,000km before needing to change their chain. Where are weekend warriors can half that, whilst the pro can need a new chain after 1,500kms"

Chain life can vary as a result of the type of rider you are (Triathlon, climbers, commuters to racing) but also the type of weather you tend to ride in. The UK weather is never great let's be honest but we are hearing that more and more riders are saving their pride and joy from the UK winter weathers by buying a cheap second hand bike to use between Oct and Mar every year. It might sound like money down the drain but damaging your carbon frame and it's electronic components can be costly compared to a cheap aluminium alternative. Just a thought!



So back to the original question, servicing! If you own a bike you ideally need to keep a few tools handy to help you along your way. Screwdrivers, needlenose pliers are a common theme. However, we would always recommend picking up a 'Chain Checker Tool' at your local bike shop. This small bit of equipment believe it or not is designed to save you money in the long run. How do I hear you ask?


Chains actually stretch over the course of their lifetime, not the steel plates that we mentioned earlier but the spacing between each circular rod.


There are ideally two chains measurements that most bike mechanics will take when you drop your bike off for a service in their workshop, 0.5 and 0.75. Now it might not seem like much but the distance between each rod can have a huge affect on your gearing.


0.5 your mechanic should recommend that the bike chain is replaced within the ext 3 month
0.75 your mechanic should recommend that both the bike chain and rear cassette is replaced immediately.

But here is the reason why ......


Contrary to popular belief, the trusty bike chain is the only component on the bike that's designed to brake in order to minimise further damage to the rest of the bike. Call it a 'combat indicator' for your trusty stead.


What customer don't tend to understand is that choosing not to replace the chain when recommend can result in further and more expensive damage to your bike. This includes your chain rings, rear deraileur, jockey wheels as well as messing with your gearing. Ever looked at your front chain rings only to find that the chain slips under pressure? Then it might be time to visit your local bike shop.


We'll cover installing a new bike chain in a later post but check out GCN on YouTube for some well adapted videos if time is of the essence.


HOW DO I CLEAN MY BIKE CHAIN?


Most bike frames need some good old hot soapy water and elbow grease but when it comes to cleaning your chain we ideally need something stronger. Pop down to your local bike shop or DIY store and pick up some industrial degreaser or for those that are feeling flush then consider checking out the brand Muc-Off. This will remove the excess grit and mud thats has accumulated during your ride. Apply liberally, go and make yourself a cup of coffee and then rinse thoroughly. Remember to reapply chain lube post wash to ensure that the links move freely.


HOW DO I APPLY CHAIN LUBE?


You don't need to dip the chain in a bucket of oil in order for this to be effective. Simply add a drop of oil to the inside of each link (HINT: Make a reference link at the start and then go all the way around) and you should be good to go.


THE COMMON ENEMY...


Finally let's touch upon your chains worst enemy...... H2O. Yep believe it or not water is the biggest contributer to damaged and worn out chains and accumulation of the dreaded rust! So make sure that every time you clean your chain, grab a microfibre cloth and wipe off any excess water that may he attempting to drip dry over your pride and joy (before then applying your bike lube).


Hopefully this has given you a deeper understanding on all things chain maintenance. However, always remember then if you how any questions about your chain and it's maintenance then make use of your local bike shop or independent bike mechanic who will be more than happy to help you out.


After all, it's about getting you back on your steed.


Stay safe and keep rolling 🤘

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