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  Last updated: 5/20/2018

Care of your chain and drive train.

Interested in an in-depth site about chains and chain construction? Harris Cyclery is a site that has all you'll ever want to know.


Riders often go overboard when applying chain lube. Then when they ride, the chain flings the excess on the chain stay. The only purpose of lubing the outside of the chain is to prevent rusting. It'll get plenty without you intentionally putting it there. Instead, focus on the rollers and rivets where links connect. It's those moving parts that need the friction reduction from chain lubrication.

How should you proceed? Get down at chain level and begin with the link nearest the chain-rings on the bottom run - between the chain-ring and the derailleur. (If your chain has a master link, move it to this position. That way you'll be certain when the whole chain is done.) Working toward the rear derailleur, apply one drop of lube to each side plate - roller junction. Repeat for the other side. Then move the chain so that a new section can be lubed. Hold a rag under the links you're working on to avoid dripping lube on the floor and your rim. If you're doing it right, and squeezing out just one drop per roller, the rag won't get saturated.

When you've lubed the whole chain, slowly rotate the pedals backward for 30 seconds to help the lube penetrate. Then hold the rag around the chain to remove excess lube (while still pedaling backwards). This will clean the chain too.

What about wax lubricants? Here are some comments from Jim Langley on the website. He was asked " Although everything looks incredibly clean despite miles and miles of riding, am I sacrificing anything by not using a traditional "wet" lube?"

Jim Langley Replied: "As long as you keep a good coating on the chain, it protects well and feels the same as a lube that stays wet to the touch. Cyclists who have problems with wax either ride in the rain, which washes away the lube, or they don't apply it frequently enough, which results in dry, squeaking links."

"The biggest advantage to wax lubes is that grit doesn't stick to them. Your drive-train remains free of the little sandpaper-like bits that accelerate wear on the chain, cassette cogs and chain-rings. So, although I haven't seen any test results, it's possible that your drive-train components will last a bit longer when the chain is properly serviced with a wax lube. Another advantage is that you won't get your hands greasy repairing rear flats." Jim also points out that paraffin waxes have been around (and popular) for many years, indicating that they perform at least as well as oil based products.

But the fans of oil based lubes have their proponents and arguments as well. This is the in depth scientific approach that is always nice to see. In my book data trumps personal anecdotes any day. I just ordered my Silca NFS chain lube.

Chain Stretch

Chain stretch is just another way to say chain wear. Lubricate and clean your chain, and you can slow the wear. But when the chain has stretched approximately 1 mm or 1/16 inch, it's time to install a new one.

Today there are a number of tools to measure chain length. Years ago you measured chain wear with a ruler. The 0 marker was placed at the center of any pin and you then sighted the 12-inch mark. On a new chain, the mark was also on the center of a pin. When that pin center was past the 12 inch mark, the chain needed to be replaced. But it was a crude measure and the risk was that the chain had worn to the point that the freewheel was also worn and you were in for additional parts costs.

Today there are a number of chain wear indicators. They are well worth the cost - you will be able to replace the chain before it wears enough to harm the other drive-train parts.


I found this video a quick primer on chain replacement. Especially the simple trick of using a chain de-tensioner (made my own out of an old coat hanger) to help remove the changeable link.

And this a nice short summary of common mistakes in chain maintenance.


Q. When should chain-rings be replaced? It's easy enough to figure out when chains are worn. And when a new chain skips on cogs in back, we know it's time to replace them. But chain-rings seem to work well even when the tooth profile looks like waves about to crash on the beach.

-- DK A. The smaller the chain-ring, the more quickly it wears because each tooth contacts the chain more often. So, granny rings on triple cranksets wear fastest, and a 39-tooth ring on a double wears faster than a 52 or 53.This turns out to be convenient because you can judge chain-ring wear by comparing the shape of the teeth on the ring in question with the teeth on the largest chain-ring.

The chain probably won't skip like on a worn cassette cog, though it could on a triple's badly worn granny ring. So you might be tempted to continue using a worn ring, but consider the accelerated wear to the chain when it's being turned by thinner and misshapen teeth. Most riders feel an improvement after a worn ring is replaced. Pedaling is smoother and perhaps quieter. Mechanics recommend new rings when they spot hooked teeth because they know the bike will run better.p How do you know? The fail-safe way is with a Park Tool Chain Wear Indicator.

Drive Train Compatabilities

Like most regular cyclists, I have a few old bikes in my garage along with a box of parts to handle short term fixes. Compatibility is always a challenge. This article may help.


Q. I have a Davidson titanium bike with S&M couplers and 9 speed DuraAce componentry. I am looking for a chain with a removable link that I can replace easily when I travel. What would you suggest that would work with my DuraAce set up? RR

A. Luckily a 9-speed Dura Ace gives far more chain options than the 10-speed. Take a look at the SRAM (formerly Sachs) chains. I run the top-end PC-89 model one on my road bike (9-speed Ultegra/Dura Ace) and I absolutely love it. The connection is handled by a "Power Link" that can be connected and removed without tools. I think this would be perfect for your needs. And you can even purchase extra links to keep around in case you lose one. The PC-89 goes for $44.99. See more info here.

Q. This isn't exactly a performance question. It's a technical question. But how often should the chain on a 9 - spd road bike be changed? An area bike shop said every 1000 km - I find that obsessive. Your opinions?- RW

A. It depends on the quality of the chain and how well you maintain it. Anywhere from 1000 to 3/4000 miles. The easiest and most effective approach to maximize miles is a Park chain measurement tool for about $25 that will tell you exactly when to change it. In the long run that is the best deal. The risk in guessing is that you do not change the chain, it stretches and wears the rear cassette. When you change the chain, it then skips. The only solution is a new cassette as well (more than the price of the chain measurement tool).

Questions on content or suggestions to improve this page are appreciated.

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