How to Clean and Lube Your Chain

How to Clean and Lube Your Chain

Unlike a car, your bike doesn't require oil changes—but regular cleaning and lubrication will help keep your drivetrain running smoothly. In this article, we'll explain how to clean and lubricate your bike chain.

Why do I need to clean and lubricate the chain?

No matter where you ride, your bike will pick up dirt and grime. When these gritty substances work their way into the chain, they can act like sandpaper, gradually wearing down your chain and everything it comes in contact with. 

Riding with a dirty chain can eventually cause damage to your rear cassette and other parts of your drivetrain. Keeping your chain clean and well lubricated will extend the lifespan of several of your bike's components. 

Plus, cleaning and lubricating the chain will make your ride feel smoother, so you can recapture that "new bike" feeling again and again.

How often should I clean and lubricate the chain?

There are no hard-and-fast rules about when to perform chain maintenance. But a good rule of thumb is to clean your entire bike with soap and water whenever it's visibly dirty (just avoid using a pressure hose if you have an e-bike, as this can damage your motor system). At that time, you can also clean and lubricate the chain.

Wet weather results in a dirtier drivetrain, so you'll also want to clean and lube your chain after riding in the rain.

If you haven't cleaned and lubed the chain in a while, don't worry—just give it a good cleaning the next time you have a chance. And remember, when it comes to chain maintenance, something is always better than nothing. Don't hesitate to do a quick wipe-down if you don't have time for more.

How do I clean the chain?

How to go about cleaning your chain depends on how dirty your chain is and how thorough you want to be. Here a few different approaches to chain cleaning. If you have a GSD or HSD, these methods are easiest to carry out with your bike in vertical position.

Light Cleaning

Apply degreaser to a clean, lint-free rag. Wrap the rag around the lower part of the chain and hold it in place while you rotate the pedals forward using your other hand. Alternately apply light pressure to the sides, top, and bottom of the chain as the chain moves through the rag. Remove and reposition so the rag so that you're always using a clean section of cloth. Repeat until you've removed as much dirt from the chain as you can. 

Moderate Cleaning

The rag-only method will remove dirt from the outer surfaces of the chain, but can't reach grime stuck inside and in between chain links. To reach those areas, use a soft-bristled brush (such as an old toothbrush) with some degreaser on it to clean the individual chain links. While you're at it, you can use the brush to clean in between the cogs of your rear cassette.

Deep Cleaning

If you want the deepest clean you can get (without removing the chain), you can purchase a special tool called a chain scrubber. You'll need to fill the chain scrubber with degreaser, position the chain inside the chain scrubber, and spin the pedals. The chain scrubber has several sets of small brushes inside to reach all the nooks and crannies of your chain.

How do I lubricate the chain?

No matter which cleaning method you choose, you'll need to lubricate the chain when you're done. Your Tern dealer or local bike shop can recommend the best chain lubricant for you to use. Here's how to apply it:

Hold the tip of the chain lube bottle over the chain near the rear cassette, while using your other hand to rotate the pedals backward. Gently squeeze the lube bottle to dispense lubricant onto the chain evenly. Keep turning the pedals until you've lubed the whole length of the chain. Let the lubricant sit for a few minutes as it works its way into the interior parts of the chain. Then, use a clean rag to wipe off any excess lubricant (don't skip this step—excess lube attracts dirt).