Bike Chain Care & Maintenance: Things I Learned

Bike Chain Care & Maintenance: Things I Learned

  1. Chain stretched (wore) unevenly. At 4,750 km, most part of my chain has stretched to 0.5%; about 20% of the chain is still under 0.5% elongation, however, while few sections had gone as far as 0.75%. Checking just a section, therefore, is not enough; I ended up checking every pin, and I’m glad I did.
  2. Drop-style chain checker tool is simple, reliable, and cheap—there’s no good reason not to own one if you love your bike. Note that most models available (at least here in Indonesia market) only provide 1% and 0.75% elongation measurement, and therefore only suitable for 10-speed and lower drivetrains. For 11-speed and higher, a checker tool with 0.5% elongation measurement is a must—it’s the point the chain needs replacement, as the drivetrain has tighter tolerance to imperfections.
  3. In term of lubrication, molten wax is king, but too much of a headache for me. Drip wax comes second; not as good, but much easier to work with. Wax keeps the chain and drivetrain so clean, I’m not going back to oil! I used dry lube before—the most common bike-specific lube type available on the market—until I learned that they actually accelerate chain wear! Wet lube, technically, is superior to dry lube, but I’m not letting my beautiful bike stained by black gunk and grime that it resulted.
  4. Few fellow cyclists use a step higher-speed chain on their drivetrain (e.g. 10-speed chain on 9-speed drivetrain) to increase lifespan and reduce noise. I haven’t given the idea a try, however; with the price of 11-speed chain already high, 12-speed chain would be too much of a price for such a marginal gain.
  5. Seeing people waiting to replace the chain until it snapped (over and over!) makes me cringe! If that’s how they treat the thing and the one they say they love… now I cringe even more!
  6. Please add yours in the comment below 😀

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5 thoughts on “Bike Chain Care & Maintenance: Things I Learned

  1. Hi sir this is a really good read! I have question regarding the drip wax and degreasing process, What you use to degrease the chain before applying wax? And what drip wax lubricant brand of choice for you?

    Nuhun.

    1. I usually only cleaned the chain with clean rag before reapplying the lube. Recently, though, I started using baby wipes for cleaning before re-applying, and doing monthly thorough clean-up involving chain cleaner tool and lots of hot water and dish soap 😀

      I currently use Finish Line Ceramic Wax. Recently, though, I tried my lil brother’s Silca Secret Sauce, and the difference in efficiency and reapplication interval were staggering. For the same volume, Silca Secret Sauce costs almost three times of Finish Line’s, but lasts almost four times as much (due to fewer use each application, and longer reapplication interval), and performs much better (in term of drivetrain efficiency and, quite possibly, chain wear reduction). I’ll definitely switch to Silca when I’m done with the last bottle.

  2. Use an old cooking pot for hot wax. Quick link is a must. Connex is best. Don’t bother degreasing because paraffin wax and mineral oil and grease mix well. Tiny amount of grease in huge volume of wax is irrelevant. My home brew wax is about 50/50 wax and gear oil. Solid at normal operating temperatures and much better for riding in rain.

  3. I forgot to mention that using a higher speed chain sounds silly to me. Narrower with smaller bearing surfaces means faster wear.
    I measure nearly the entire chain length. Hang it from a nail. 100 links should measure 1270mm. 1% is one link. 0.5% is half a link or 6.35mm.

    1. Wow, much wisdom you’ve got there!

      Connex quick link sounds like a good idea. I’ve heard that Connex chain is like a zombie, it easily lasts as long as three times of other chains, so maybe its quick link is just as durable and reliable too. I didn’t have problem with the one I’m using, but then again, I rarely took my chain off the bike. If I decide to give the hot wax route a go (without pissing my wife off), I’ll definitely give the quick link a try.

      Anyway, when you said paraffin mixes well with grease, I searched around and found you were right! I personally didn’t understand why some experts advised to clean the factory grease first. Maybe I should look further.

      About higher speed chain, it sounded counter-intuitive indeed! Once I read Shimano’s claim that their higher-speed chain (and higher-speed chain in general) is stronger and more durable. Didn’t bother giving it a test myself though; I simply use the chain intended for the drivetrain speed.

      Measuring 100 links is a good idea! Taking off the chain means it isn’t as practical as using drop-in chain checker, IMO, but might give better insight about the chain’s overall health. It’s a good alternative method, especially for those without chain checker tool.

      Thanks for sharing James!

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