A Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your Drivetrain

A clean bike is a fast bike, and by keeping it clean, you'll extend the life of the most wearable parts, like your chain and cassette. Follow these tips for a quick and no-so-dirty drivetrain cleaning routine.

dirtychain

Photo/DJ Hoogerdijk, Flickr

When to Clean Up

It's time to clean your bike drivetrain when shifting is not as smooth and precise as when you rolled your bike out of the bike shop. If you ride in wet conditions often, you should wipe down your drivetrain after every ride and apply lube when your chain gets squeaky. If you ride mainly in dry conditions, clean and lube your chain when it starts to become loud and shifting is not as smooth as it used to be.

Since everyone's riding habits and environment are different--on different roads, in different weather conditions--there is no hard and fast rule about how frequently to clean and lube your chain and cassette.


muc-off-cleaning-supplies

Photo Courtesy of Park Tool

What You Need

Before you start, assemble the following cleaning supplies:
  • Gloves (disposable exam gloves work well)
  • Small brush (like a toothbrush or a purpose-made brush)
  • Chain cleaning tool
  • Shoelace
  • Clean rags
  • Chain degreaser/solvent
  • Chain lube
  • Mat or old sheet to catch dirt and overspray


gwen-cleans

Photo/Gwen Jorgensen

Spray Down

First, get some gloves to keep your hands from getting too nasty. After spreading the sheet under your bike to catch any dirt and overspray, thoroughly rinse your cassette with degreaser.


chain-floss

Photo/Muddy Ground

Floss Thoroughly

Use the shoelace to floss between the cogs in your cassette. Use the brush to clean the pulleys on the rear derailleur. For best results, remove your rear wheel from your bike while cleaning the cassette. When you're done scrubbing, your cassette should be shiny again.


park-chain-cleaning-tool

Photo Courtesy of Park Tool

Scrub-a-Dub

Run the chain through the chain cleaner. You'll know you're done with your chain looks like it's from a new bike. If you're not using a chain cleaner, use a rag. With your left hand, hold the rag around the chain, and use your right hand to backpedal. Do this until the rag is no longer taking on dirt and grime from the chain.

Pro Tip: Pulling the chain off just to clean it can increase the chance of the chain  prematurely failing.


pro-link-lube

Photo Courtesy of Pro Link

Lube, but Don't Overdo It

If you mainly ride in wet conditions, use a lube that is formulated to better stick to your chain. If you ride mostly in dry conditions, use a less viscous lube. Using the proper lube will make future cleaning easy and prolong the life of your drivetrain. Use just enough lube, sparingly, so each chain link roller gets treated.

Pro Tip: Don't confuse solvent for lube. For example, WD-40 makes a chain degreaser as well as a bike lube product.


wipe-lube

Photo Courtesy of Park Tool

Remove Excess Lube

Using a clean rag, wipe the chain down to remove excess chain lube. Similar to the process for cleaning your chain above, hold the chain in a rag in your left hand, and backpedal the chain with your right hand.


campy-drivetrain

Photo/Glory Cycles

Post-Ride Cleanup

The best time to clean your bike is right after a ride. This will allow the chain lube time to penetrate the chain links before your next ride.

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About the Author

Greg Kaplan,

A lifelong endurance sports athlete, Greg raced bikes on the road as a junior prior to changing his athletic focus to rowing. Upon retiring from elite rowing competition, Greg revisited his passion for racing bikes and also added some swimming and running into the mix, competing at the ITU Age Group World Championships on multiple occasions. He and his wife Shannon—also a rower, bike-racer, and triathlete—enjoy traveling, learning about wine and keeping up with their rescue cats when they are not training or racing.
A lifelong endurance sports athlete, Greg raced bikes on the road as a junior prior to changing his athletic focus to rowing. Upon retiring from elite rowing competition, Greg revisited his passion for racing bikes and also added some swimming and running into the mix, competing at the ITU Age Group World Championships on multiple occasions. He and his wife Shannon—also a rower, bike-racer, and triathlete—enjoy traveling, learning about wine and keeping up with their rescue cats when they are not training or racing.

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