By Steve Crowell on 3/27/21 updated 3/31/21

Keeping Your Drivetrain Clean and Healthy

There is no more active part of your bicycle than your drivetrain. It takes all the power you can give and translates it into forward motion all while suffering in the most extreme conditions: Wet, dry, cold, hot, sandy, greasy – you get the picture. What can you do to keep your drivetrain healthy and clean so it can keep you moving smoothly?

Most people don't give the drivetrain much thought, they slop some oil on it now and again and away they go but is that really all you need to do? I'd say that there are three main things to consider when you think of smooth power transmission through the gears:

  1. Keep it Clean
  2. Keep it Lubed
  3. Keep it Tuned

Keep it Clean

Keeping your chain, gears and derailleurs clean is often difficult. How many times do you see the "Chainring Tattoo?" This is a sign that there is too much gunk on your chain!

Why keep things so clean? It preserves the life of the system because grit & grime wears out chains (which cost $50 or more each!) Dirty drivetrains also suck as much as 10 watts of power from your forward motion – that's HUGE! 

There are thousands of pages of opinion on how best to clean your chain and gears. I'm Old School and I have one answer: Gasoline!  Fear not though, you don't have to be that hardcore…

This little device called a Chain Cleaner Tool and is sold on Amazon for about $20.  

The best thing about this tool is that you don't have to take the chain off the bike!  Simply fill the reservoir with a commercial degreaser ('Purple Power', 'Fast Orange', etc..) and clamp the chain into the unit. When you back-pedal, brushes inside the tool scrub all the crud off your chain.  Do this until the chain is clean (you will have to refill the unit a few times) and then dry the chain with some paper towels or a rag and re-lubricate. 

Don't forget your cassette and chainrings! Take an old toothbrush and scrub them with degreaser until they're clean and shiny, just like the chain. Don't re-lube these though, the chain will take care of that for you.

If you're really "into-it" like me, you'll install a master link in your chain (for easy removal) and dunk the entire thing into gasoline and agitate until there's no more grime left. Same for the cassette. You'll disassemble the cassette using special tools and clean the cogs and chainrings with clean gasoline and a toothbrush.

Lubrication

There are as many lubes out there as grains of sand on the beach. The purpose of the lube is to reduce friction and keep everything running smoothly. Everyone has an opinion on lube: Some like it Wet; Some like it Dry; Some (me) prefer Wax others trusty TriFlow.  Whatever you use, apply regularly and wipe off the excess so it doesn't attract road dirt (making the chain gum up again).

How often should you lube? When you hear louder sounds coming off the chain or every 200 miles. So long as you wipe off the excess, you'll be fine to reapply as frequently as your budget allows (some lubes are pretty expensive!).

What I do after the chain is clean is heat a mixture of hard paraffin and liquid paraffin oil in a small crock pot until melted.

Dunk the chain into the paraffin, agitate, and let it sit a few minutes. When you take it out, wipe it dry before the wax has a chance to set and then hang it to cool. Now you have a freshly waxed chain and shiny cogs to bring to the next ride! In between complete waxings, I suggest a commercial liquid wax to keep things just-so and running smoothly.

Tuning

Drivetrain tuning is probably the easiest part of the process.  Every year you should replace both your shifter cables as they wear inside the housings – especially at the levers. Your localbike shop can do this for you.  Even if both don't need it, replace both. It's cheap and will save you from getting stuck on a monster climb!  At the same time, have the shop check for proper shifting and have them adjust everything as well.

You can do this yourself quite easily, but that explanation is beyond what we can cover now.

So to recap, if you want to get the longest life from your drivetrain while transferring the maximum power, keep things clean, keep them properly lubed, and keep them tuned.  Your riding buddies will notice the difference and you will too because you'll get fewer chainring tattoos.

© Rockland Bicycling Club 2021