Regular, On-Bike Cleanings
Lift the rear wheel off the ground and stand to the side of your bike on a regular basis to check the entire chain. Slowly rotate the closest pedal to inspect individual chain links for dirt accumulation, rust, and tight links (links that don't bend easily as they pass through the rear derailleur). When riding, listen for squeaks to determine if lubrication is adequate. If you find either of these conditions, your chain needs at least a spot cleaning.
Here's how to do it while it's still on your bike:
- Brush out the links with a firm brush (an old toothbrush also works).
- Relubricate the links from time to time with a chain lubricant.
- Wipe off excess lubricant with a clean, dry rag. Over-lubricating can actually attract new dirt.
For a more thorough cleaning, use a chain-cleaning tool. Attach it to your chain for a quick, deep cleaning.
Occasional Off-Bike Cleanings
Use a chain-removal tool to remove your chain every few months (more often for mountain bikes). To remove built-up grime that brushing cannot remove, scrub it well and thoroughly immerse it in a chain solvent. Soak the chain until most of the dirt has been removed from the links and bushings. Use a clean rag to dry the chain. Ensure that the solvent has completely evaporated, then relubricate and reinstall the chain.
A Word on Lubricants
Chain lubricants have two key properties. They should:
- Reduce dirt accumulation, because dirt accelerates wear.
- They should be durable, since lack of lubricant also accelerates chain wear.
Use a cleaner and lubricant designed for bike drivetrains. WD-40 is not meant to be used as a lubricant on your bike (it is a cleaner).