How to clean and put a bike chain

Knowing how to maintain and clean a bike chain is essential for every bike rider. It is a key part of the bike, and to ensure a smooth ride every time, you need to have a clean chain. Cleaning would improve the performance of your bike and increase its longevity by reducing wear and tear during rides.

Your bicycle chain will experience wear for various reasons, but the main cause is grit within the chain grinding away the metal. While reducing wear through chain cleaning will undoubtedly save you money, you should also consider the efficiency lost due to abrasive friction.

ZONKIE 6/7/8 Speed Bike Chain 1/2 x 3/32 Inch 116 Links

Thankfully, this article has everything you need to know about bike chains maintenance and cleaning and ways to put your chain back on if it falls. If you’re new to bikes, this will make your first experience with bike chains a lot less overwhelming. 

Why Should I Clean My Bicycle Chain?

You’re probably wondering why to bother cleaning something that will eventually become muddy and dirty again. If you want to keep your bike chain looking nice, wash it as frequently as possible.

The bike chain will become dirty, corroded, and rusty if not cleaned properly and regularly. You’ll soon be dealing with seized components, obstinate gears, and squeaky brakes.

Cleaning and lubricating your bike chain not only prevents rust and corrosion but also makes it smoother and easier to ride. If you want your bike chain to work efficiently, you need a clean bike chain.

With a clean chain, you save pedaling energy, allowing you to go faster. While cleaning, you will often notice some wear and tear on the chain or other parts of the bike.

This step assists you in identifying them early on before the damage becomes too severe and expensive.

Schwinn Bike Chain Fits Multi-Speed Bikes, 1/2 inch x 3/32 inch

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Is It Important to Take Chain Off My Bike to Clean It?

It is not always important to take off the chain to clean it; however, removing your chain for a more thorough cleaning is recommended. Whether you need to take off your chain depends mostly on the drivetrain of the bike.

Everyone has a different opinion on whether the chain should be on or off the bike for a thorough cleaning. Traditionally, bike riders would remove the chain from their bike and immerse it in a jar of degreaser to take all the dirt and lube off.

As new bikes are introduced, they are more precise as more gears are added to the latest drivetrains. Therefore, chain cleaning techniques have been adapted.

For example, the 10-speed drivetrains were designed to go on only once, and they could only be removed once worn out.

Removing the chain can also ruin the succession in some cases. If the chain on your bike has a connection rivet, removing it would create a weak link every time you take it off and require installing a new connection rivet. Even a master link is best left untouched.

For older drivetrains using 7, 8, or 9 speeds (or those with re-usable 10- or 11-speed links), removing the chain becomes a lot easier and is a great option to clean the chain thoroughly.

Bike Chain Cleaning and Maintenance

The chain and drivetrain are generally the dirtiest parts of your bike, and this dirt is bad for the durability and performance of your bike. Specifically, it impacts the bike in the following ways:

  • Increased chain wear rate.
  • Chain link flexibility has been reduced.
  • Excessive wear on derailleur assemblies and drivetrain cogs
  • Decreased shifting performance. 

ZONKIE Bike Chain Single-Speed, Bicycle Chain 1 Speed, 1/2 × 1/8 inch,116 Links

When to Clean and Lube

Regular – On-Bike Cleanings

Regular cleaning of your bike is important, especially if the drivetrain and chain are excessively muddy. After riding your bike, look at the entire chain by standing to the side of your bike and lifting the rear wheel off the ground to get a better view of the dirt.

Use the other hand to rotate the pedal slowly and inspect individual chain links for dirt and mud buildup or rusty and tight links. Tight links are links that do not bend easily as the chain moves through the rear derailleur.

Check for adequate lubrication by listening for squeaks while riding. If you any of the things mentioned here, your bike chain needs at least a spot-cleaning.

To spot-clean or quickly clean the chain while it’s still on your bike, here are the following steps you should take:

  • Apply a degreaser or chain cleaning solution to the chain
  • Use a brush to remove as much grime as possible.
  • Brush out the links with a firm brush; you can even use an old toothbrush.
  • You can also use a rag or a brush around the chain. Clean it by spinning the pedals. The chain would pass through the rag and deposit dirt onto it.
  • Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the result.
  • Re-lubricate the links from time to time with a chain lubricant.
  • Wipe off excess lubricant with a clean, dry rag. Over-lubricating can attract new dirt.
  • Use a chain-cleaning tool if you’re unsatisfied with the results and want to clean the chain thoroughly. Please attach it to your chain for quick, deep cleaning.

Occasional – Off-Bike Cleanings

If you own a mountain bike or are a regular biker, you need to occasionally deep clean your bike chain by removing it from the bike. Here are the steps to follow to make this easier for you:

  • Remove your chain using a chain-removal tool.
  • Brush it thoroughly and then fully submerge it in a chain solvent to remove built-up grime that brushing cannot remove.
  • Allow the chain to soak until most of the dirt has been washed away from the links and bushings.
  • Using a clean rag, dry the entire chain.
  • Check that the solvent has completely evaporated before re-lubricating and reinstalling the chain. 

BELL Links 500 Multi Speed Chain

What Lubricant to Use for Bike Chains

When searching for the right lubricant, it is important to keep in mind these 2 key properties of any chain lubricant;

Make sure it says that it minimizes the accumulation of dirt because most lubricants on-chain result in more dirt and mud sticking on the chain; this accelerates wear and tear.

Also, ensure that the lubricant is durable. You don’t want lubricant coming off when taking your bike out for a ride; lack of lubricant also increases chain wear.

Extra tip: Always use a cleaner and lubricant designed specifically for bike drivetrains.

How to Change a Bike Chain?

If you want to remove your bike chain for cleaning or repair, this is the guide you need. This article will also be helpful for those wanting to change the damaged bike chain.

If you put a lot of miles on your bike, your bike’s chain will eventually wear out. After many miles, a bike chain will stretch and need to be replaced.

Even though the chain is not stretching, it appears looser and lengthens because the pins that join the links are wearing down; this causes the chain to look longer. 

A stretched chain increases wear on your bike’s cassette and chainrings. So, replace it when you notice significant stretch. A chain is much less expensive to replace than a cassette or chainrings.

Bike Chain Parts and Tools

To better understand how to remove and install a bike chain, you need to know about the basic bike chain parts and tools used to remove and put on a chain back.

A AKRAF Bicycle Chain Repair Tool Kit with Bike Link Plier, Chain Breaker Splitter Tool, 6 Pairs Bicycle Missing Links, Bicycle Mechanic Tool Kit with Chain Master Link Remover and Connector

Chain Wear Tool

A chain wear tool hooks over one pin in your chain, while the other end inserts into the opening between two rollers. The tool’s numbers will indicate how worn your chain is and whether it’s time to replace it or is there some way to fix it still.

Master Link Pliers

When changing your bike chain, you need to have master link pliers, especially if the bike has a chain that connects with a master link. These pliers will make the process of disconnecting and reconnecting the master link much easier.

Replacement Pin or Master Link

New chains will come with either a new pin or a specialized link known as a master link to connect the two ends of the chain.

However, if you’re not getting a new chain but repairing an existing chain, you can purchase replacement pins or master links separately. They should be compatible with the speed and brand of your bike chain.

New Chain

Chains vary in speed. So, if you have a 9-speed bike, get a 9-speed replacement chain. Higher-end chains have special anti-rust coatings or are made of stainless steel rather than regular steel. Stainless steel makes them a lot more durable and weather resistant.

Shimano Ultegra/XT CN-HG701 11-Speed Chain W/ Quick Liink

Chain Tool

If your chain has standard links, you’ll need a compatible chain tool to remove an old pin easily and insert a new one when breaking and reconnecting your chain. This tool will make removing and inserting bike chains a lot easier.

How to Remove a Bike Chain?

When you’re removing the chain on your bike, first put the bike on a bike rack so you can easily access it. Next, to remove the bike chain, you need to disconnect the chain from the bike, also called breaking the chain.

You can disconnect a bike chain using different methods, but being able to use those methods depends on whether your chain has a master link or not. Before you start, shift your chain to the smallest chainring and cog.

Start by removing the chain from the front chainring or remove the rear wheel from the bike. Either method will release the tension in the chain. 

If You Have a Standard Chain With No Master Link

Place the chain in the chain tool so that the pin of the chain tool is aligned with the pin in the chain. Once it is all in place, turn the handle of the chain tool until you see the pin pushing out far enough to disconnect the chain from the bike.

If You Have a Chain with a Master Link

If your bike chain has a master link, you need to find the master link to disconnect the chain. Look for a link that looks a lot different from the other links; this is where you will detach the chain.

To break the master link, master link pliers would come in handy. This link has a pin on one side that inserts into a notch on the other side. The pliers would help squeeze the master link pins toward each other, so you can pop the link open easily.

Bike Chain Kit, Multi-Function Bike Mechanic Repair Kit, Chain Breaker and Bike Link Plier with Hook, 1/2×3/32 Inch 116 Links with 6 Pairs Bicycle Buckle for 6/7/8 Speed Bicycle, Reusable

How to Put on a Bike Chain?

Once the chain is off and cleaned or repaired, or you fit a new chain, it is now time to learn how to install it. Attach the chain through the rear derailleur and reconnect it.

Make sure you pay close attention to this step and thread the chain properly through the pulley wheels on the rear derailleur.

Using A Chain Pin

If your bike has a chain without the master link, use a chain tool to make this process easier. This tool will help reconnect the chain with the chain pin included with your new chain.

On the other hand, if you are repairing an existing chain, always use a new chain pin rather than reusing an existing pin. Your new pin should be compatible with the speed and brand of your chain.

Extra tip: most of the time, with new chain pins, you insert them halfway using a chain tool, then snap off the extended end of the pin with pliers.

Using A Master Link

6/7/8 Speed Bike Chain Kit - Complete Bike Kit with 2 Bike Chains (1/2" x 3/32", 116 Links), 3 Extra Pairs of Master Links, and 1 Chain Rivet Extractor Compatible with Shimano, Sram, and Campagnolo

If you’re using a master link to reconnect your chain, then do this by inserting half of the master link onto each end, pulling the ends together, assembling the master link, and using a master link tool to snap the link into place.

The Bottom Line

If you love bike rides, you should also start maintaining bike chains for a smoother ride. After the bike ride, keep some time to clean your bike chain. It needs a lot of care and maintenance to keep your bike running smoothly.

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