27 Oct, 2015

Getting all chained up


The chain has been around a long time, before the modern era and was conceived way before the modern era of cycling.

It has been used for everything from hauling up castle bridges to turning high power engines of today. Bicycle chains are, however, a lot more elegant and they need to be conditioned almost like a piece of jewellery. Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

The most important tool to have in your kit is a chain checker, or “chain wear indicator” and, obviously, it needs to be correspondent to your chain specifications in question. These simple and inexpensive diagnostic tools will save you a lot of sprocket and ring changes in the long run.

The task is simple, fit a new chain when the tool tells you its 50% to 70% worn, any continued use will start wearing away sprockets at a rapid rate, no matter how clean or well “lubed” it is.

So off you go to purchase a new one to find but there’s a range of compatible one to suit your requirements. Anything from R200 to upwards of R1 000 or more, I personally prefer to purchase in the middle somewhere, where performance meets price.

The cheaper ones are normally designed for the recreational rider who doesn’t ride much, but when so, in a more subtle manner. These chains are manufactured of a lower grade materials and the riveting method is fairly simple and are not designed for repetitive high forces.

A step up and you get the middle ranges, where strength and longevity has been focused on. Materials used have been researched and tested to endure higher resistance and forces as well as different pinning methods and better outer plate shape and design.

To ensure maximum efficiency, look out for the nickel-plated ones as this means it’s much more abrasive-resistant. Then there are the range “toppers”, the stuff that pro riders use.

Designed to give the best performance the industry can offer, super-light, super-rigid and optimised shifting enhancements and obviously with a price to match. Do they last longer than “Mr Middleclass”? The short answer is no. That’s where chain care and maintenance is important.

The new chain is on your bike, fitted to the correct length and dialled in. None of your cogs slip under load and there’s no chain suck on the front rings when chaining up or down. If they aren’t, you know what to do then. Replace!

A chain lasts about 1 000 kilometres, give or take, depending on the upkeep of the chain and user’s style of riding. Note that the wear on the chain and cog will increase dramatically if you “stomp” on your peddles or use your weight to propel yourself forward rather than spinning with adaptive cadence, along with using the same three or four favourite cogs as opposed to using your full ratio evenly.

So when do I lube my chain? Simple, I lube when I have to. No use over “lube”-ing it as much as neglecting it. First thing is the correct lube for the conditions at hand. I’d probably advise to have both wet and dry lubes at hand. Wet for when it’s wet and dry for when it’s dry, no rocket science here.

After every decent ride, take your fingers or clean rag and run it along the chain once or twice. If it has an oily or sticky feel to it with no excessive grittiness then its fine. If it’s dry or powdery, then lube, and if it’s gritty or gunky, then wash-rinse-dry-lube.

Washing a chain is simple. If you have a master link in your chain and are about to remove and refit it then do so. For others, purchase a chain cleaner and follow the instructions. Scrub down with paraffin or a specific degreaser until clean, rinse with water and dry in the sun. Once completely dry, rub thoroughly with a clean rag and refit correctly.

Now choose your lube and, with a gentle squeeze, apply to chain while peddling backwards with your hand until you have at least covered two full rotations of the chain and stop. Then crank it forwards shifting at least once into every sprocket available until it returns to the most relaxed derailleur position possible, in other words, small and small cogs. Leave to dry and ready for the next ride.

In between these ever repetitive maintenance duties, don’t forget to check the wear with your testing tool. So when indication states … then it’s back to step one all over again.

Happy chain maintenance!
The Bike Whisperer

The Bike Whisperer

The Bike Whisperer

Bike Mechanic Supreme |

The Bike Whisperer has worked on, fixed and built more bikes than there are kilometres of singletrack in South Africa ... well ... almost. And he often shares his knowledge with us.