Lazy’s guide to chain maintenance…

24 05 2012

Lube and chain…

I used to obsesses over having a clean chain. Then I stopped caring and you know what? Nothing has changed except that I have more free time to ride my bikes instead of cleaning them. I’ve outlined below how I look after my bicycle chains broken out by derailleur and IGH drivetrains.


  • buy the cheapest 8 or 9 speed SRAM chains I can find easily [I don’t have any 10 speed setups]
  • usually I buy a few at a time so I have stock in my garage
  • lube the chain on the bike about once per month or after a particularly heinous ride
  • let the lube penetrate for a few hours and then wipe down chain with a rag
  • measure chain wear every time I lube
  • when my chain starts to wear I replace it with a new one
  • inspect the cassette and rings when replacing a chain to ensure they are serviceable
  • if needed replace cassette and rings [generally not needed if you stay on top of measuring the chain wear]

Looks terrible – spins around just fine…


  • buy the cheapest 8 speed SRAM chains I can find easily
  • usually I buy a few at a time so I have stock in my garage
  • lube the chain on the bike a few times a year
  • let the lube penetrate for a few hours and then wipe down chain with a rag
  • almost never bother measuring chain wear
  • when I get embarrassed enough about the state of my chain [say once every few years] replace it
  • inspect the cog and ring when replacing a chain to ensure they are serviceable
  • if possible flip cog and ring so you can wear them out in the opposite direction

This methodology is easy, cheap and I’ve never had a chain let me down in the field. It should be clear that if you hate chain maintenance get an IGH. You can virtually ignore the drivetrain and it will keep turning despite all the abuse. If you can be bothered to lube and wipe the IGH chain down once in a while it will last a very very long time.

Ok…that’s ridiculous…time for another $15 chain…


You’ll note I don’t mention cleaning my bike chains. That’s because I don’t ever do it. The time vs. benefit ratio is not worth it frankly. Especially when you buy low cost chains to begin with.


Keep in mind that I ride year round in the PNWet and before that rode my winter bikes through the usual Canadian winter nonsense. So my chains aren’t treated with kid gloves.



14 responses

24 05 2012

And how often do you change the sprockets? I also don’t service my chains more then once a month, but I don’t check them for wear and replace the sprockets every time I change the chain. (which is at about 5 000 km, in my case 2 times a year)

24 05 2012

Erik – if you swap the chains early as the wear you can keep the sprockets and rings through multiple chains. There is no exact timeframe as it depends on lots of factors.

Around here I’d guess a derailleur chain gets replaced every 2500kms. That’s just an estimate as I often don’t know how many KMs I’ve ridden as most of my bikes lack a computer.

To give you an example my mountain bike sees a lot of harsh weather use in mud/dirt/etc.. I’m still running the same cassette I got with it 4 years ago.

There really is no wrong answer for chain maintenance as long as you are happy with the up keep costs.

24 05 2012

I like this approach. A question for you though: do you treat the chain on your fixed gear the same as your igh bikes? Does your one-way tikit see any weather? One can read all sorts of things about how fixed gear bike chains need special attention; i am curious about what your experience has been.

24 05 2012

@Jason – I no longer have the One Way Tikit, but I can’t see any reason a FG chain would need special attention. I would treat it just like an IGH chain.

24 05 2012
Chris Major

Thanks for another intresting post,

At least ten months of the year here in the uk we are riding through slop, its a special kind of dirt that if left creates a grinding paste that destroys cassettes, chains, chain rings and jokey wheels. Unfortunatly I ride a lot of miles so find I have to keep on-top of it just to keep things ticking over. Cleaning and servicing are the baine of my life and I often let it slip.

I must try harder!

24 05 2012

@Chris – sounds like you are a good candidate for an IGH. Just hose down the chain/cog/rig after a ride and relube.

24 05 2012
Robert Thomson

Loving the Hebie Chainglider, by the way:

Hebie Chainglider on Surly Karate Monkey in snow (Sapporo, Japan)

Hebie Chainglider on Surly Karate Monkey in snow (Sapporo, Japan)

Surly Karate Monkey with Hebie Chainglider protecting from snow and ice in Sapporo, Japan

I own one bike. The Surly Karate Monkey. I commute on it and tour on it. I never have to touch the chain on it. And I like that.

The front ring on the bike is 38t, attached on the inside-side of the crank. That plus the Chainglider just fits (the Chainglider ends up just touching the chainstay).

24 05 2012

I took it one step further with my belt drive Surly. I had zero maintenance to do this past winter running a belt with an IGH. The belt doesn’t stretch, doesn’t need to be lubed, doesn’t need to be cleaned and lasts as long as three or four chains. I put it on and forget about it for 10,000 or 12,000 miles. And it always looks great. Not to mention it rides like a dream. Buttery smooth and quiet even in the worst grit and sand.

I almost hate to go back to my chain drive bikes after riding the belt.

26 05 2012
rkt88edmo (@rkt88edmo)

Lol – I love the pugs’ orange chain, just like the colored chains on the fixies in San Francisco, but au natural 🙂

28 05 2012

Interesting. I ride 2 geared bikes (road and MTB). I lube them more/less depending on riding conditions. Don’t obsess about them being clean but I never let them get rusty. I have noticed recently that I really don’t need to lube them nearly as frequently as I was. I’ve found that letting the lube penetrate is really the key to getting the most out of it. I always thought it was crazy how some people clean/lube their chains after every ride.

6 06 2012

I do the same – road bike gets cleaned more and oiled more …. 10 speed chains. But my Rohloff has the same chain now for 3 years … sprayed down and reoiled with dry lube every 2nd ride …. no issues

9 06 2012
alex wetmore

That’s how I do it too Vik. My chains don’t get orange, but they also don’t get cleaned. IGH’s do make life easier.

28 07 2012

What’s the downside to a belt drive, why they aren’t more common? I have the Chain Glider cover in my new bike come pre-installed but it’s not air-tight and from the looks and sound of it the chain does make contact with the glider.

A fully covered belt drive with the belt having no chance of contacting the cover would be more ideal. I’m not very concerned about few % losses as it’s an e-bike with automatic gear system. I go with no effort from 0 to 25 km/h (software limited unfortunately) in just 6 seconds, very handy in areas with lots of stop and go. I so wish I could go twice that speed, then I could use more car roads and the side-walks and bike roads here are quite terrible with lots of bumps and what not.

28 07 2012

@AC – downsides to belt drive:

– high cost
– must use IGH or SS
– special frame needed or expensive retrofit
– belt parts limited and expensive [cogs/rings can wear fast]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: