Our bike chains are one of the most important components in our bikes that we need to take care of. Because if we disregard this bike component it will surely lead to problems in the future and might even damage other bike components.
Bike chains, depending on what quality of chain you are using, are prone to rust, dirt, sand, and grime. And if you do not make any kind of maintenance on your chain after every ride, it will only accumulate more dirt and grime.
Eventually, dirt will get in the links of your chain and your chain’s performance will drastically decrease. Since dirt will get stuck within the joints, the links will be harder or will get stuck together.
In return, it will be harder to shift or to simply pedal. Your chain will be prone to chain suck, wherein it will get stuck on your chainring and therefore would add stress to your rear derailleur.
It will be harder to shift gears as well as the chain will be prone to hopping. And when you are riding and shifting aggressively with the chain hopping around on the cog, it might eventually break.
Chain breaks are a pain in the ass especially when you are out on long rides or out on the trails wherein there is no bike shop in sight. You would need to fix and reinstall the chain on your own with a chain cutter.
There are also times when the chain will break your rear derailleur’s hanger, or a hopping chain will get sucked into the spokes of your rear wheel. Although these scenarios are very unlikely they are highly possible if you do not take care of your chain.
What riding conditions affect bike chains?
Chain wear and dirt accumulation go hand in hand. And it also correlates to the type of riding condition that you typically ride in.
Bikes for daily commute will normally need less maintenance when compared to mountain bikes in general. Daily commuters can get away with a little dirt or grime build-up, but if your commuter bike experiences sudden downpours, you will need to clean your bike up, especially your chain.
Mountain bikes, on the other hand, would need to be taken care of after every ride regardless of the riding condition. Mountain bikes are more prone to sandy, wet, and muddy environments thus the need for religious maintenance if we want our bikes to last.
How does dirt accumulate on our chains?
Bike chains do not function well when completely dry. They need to be properly lubricated to function optimally otherwise it will result in different riding scenarios as mentioned earlier in this article.
The lubricant that we have on our chain will cause dust, sand, and mud to stick. And if we ignore it, the grime will stick to the joints causing it to rust and once it dries, it will cause the links to stiffen up.
Although there are times when this can be fixed, there will always be cases wherein your chain is beyond repair. Bike chains are not something wherein you can just replace the broken links. Although this might work, it will seriously degrade the chain’s performance.
How do you remove sand from a bike chain?
If you are riding in dry conditions, you can sometimes get away by just brushing off the chain until all links are free of sand. But you will still need to apply the correct chain lubricant after your brush all the dirt off.
If you are using mechanical parts, it is always best to keep them lubricated. This will lessen the possibility of having a high rate of wear and tear.
Another thing that you can do is to spray a degreaser on your chain. This will get rid of the grime build-up, and if there is sand that is stuck within the links, you can use a brush to scrub the remaining dirt off while turning your chain backwards. This is especially important especially if you have SRAM chains as these are premium bike chains that require high chain maintenance.
If you do not want to waste too much of your degreaser, you can remove your chain entirely and immerse it in a diluted degreaser with dish washing liquid for about an hour. This is called the chain soak process which submerges the entire chain including its chain links. This is very effective in cleaning sand on your drive train and your new chain, especially that this dirt easily gets sucked into the SRAM power link. Let it sit for a few minutes to enable the degreaser to soak into the links.
You will eventually see the dirt and grime easily peel off and once this happens, you can use a small brush to get into those hard-to-reach areas of your chain.
If you do not have a degreaser that is on hand, you can use diesel fuel. The same process applies, you would need to immerse it in diesel and let it sit for a while to allow the fuel to soak onto the dirt. Diesel fuel is also safer to use when compared to gasoline, paint thinner, kerosene, and other harmful materials that might harm you or your bike.
You can also purchase chain cleaning machines. These are portable machines that are designed to clean your bike’s chain. Degreasers are still needed though, as this only applies mechanical cleaning and won’t work on dry dirt and grime buildup on the chain.
If the dirt buildup is not that bad, you can dampen a piece of cloth with a degreaser and wipe your chain clean. You then apply chain lube. The same process applies, you would need to manually brush the sand in your chain afterward. You can also use compressed air to further polish the chain.
Remember, always lubricate your chain after you clean them. Lubrication aids in making your chain function optimally and it also protects your clean chain from rust and oxidation.
The best bike chains are not cheap. They are quite expensive but are very durable as well. But if you do not take care of them like you are supposed to, they will end up breaking just like any other chain brand.
The key to keeping your bikes in great shape is through regular bike maintenance. In doing so, you will also get the chance to check your bike for worn parts.
Prevention is always better than cure. And the worst that could happen is having your bike break down in the middle of a ride.