4 Ways You’re Hurting Your Chain

Show your drivetrain some love by avoiding these simple mistakes.

Caitlin Giddings |

Show your drivetrain some love by avoiding these simple mistakes. – By Caitlin Giddings

Illustration by tomasz przechlewski via Flickr
Illustration by tomasz przechlewski via Flickr

Your chain might be one of the least flashy parts of your bike but without it, your drivetrain – and you – aren’t going anywhere. Show a little respect for those all-important links working their way through your gears.

Here are four ways you’re abusing your chain and how to stop:

Not cleaning it

A clean chain will not only shift better and last longer, but it also won’t rattle around and distract you from your ride. Here’s what to do: First apply degreaser along the length of your chain as you turn the crank. Use an old toothbrush to remove all the loose grime. Gently rinse off the degreaser with water, and let the chain dry for 5-10 minutes.

Not lubing it

After your chain is clean, you need to lube it to keep it moving smoothly. Apply your lube of choice (here’s how to pick a lube) lightly on each link and chain sideplate. Turn your crank backward a few times to spread the oil across all links and then use a rag to wipe excess lube from the chain and cassette. For a more thorough step-by-step guide, watch this video on lubing a chain.

Waiting too long to replace it

When your chain gets worn down, it begins to wear the teeth on your chainring and cassette. (If the teeth on your drivetrain look like shark teeth, it’s already too late – time to replace your cassette and chainrings, as well as the chain.) To keep this from happening, keep track of your chain wear and replace your chain before the links start to ovalise over time. The standard recommendation is to replace your chain after 3,200 kilometres, but this isn’t a hard, fast rule.

How fast your chain wears down will depend on a list of different factors, including rider weight, style of riding, riding surface, and other factors. Your best bet is to measure your chain regularly by lining up a 30-centimetre ruler so that the centre of a pin is even with the first line. If the last line on the ruler also falls in the center of a pin, you’re good. If it deviates by 0.16 cm or longer, it’s time to replace your chain.

Not replacing a worn chainring or cassette

Just as you need to replace your chain regularly, you’ll also want to replace your drivetrain components so they don’t wear down the chain. You’ll likely have a good idea when you need to replace these components because the teeth will start to look rounded and your chain will start skipping gears. If you put on a new cog, don’t stick with an old chain – replace the chain as well.

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