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How Often You Should Change Your Bike Chain

February 24, 2021 0 Comments

Close-up of a rear bicycle cassette, disc brake and chain

Getting a good bike — and keeping it in good shape — is an investment in your health. It takes time and money to maintain it, but it will cost you far more if you don’t take care of it. You’ll either spend more money fixing what could have been prevented, or you’ll just give up on riding altogether.

This is particularly true of one of your bike’s most critical components: the bike chain. Few parts affect your bike’s performance and long-term maintenance cost as much as an ignored chain.

Contrary to popular practice, you should be giving your chain consistent TLC and changing it on a regular schedule. With that in mind, how often should you change your bike chain? We talked to longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie about why and how often to change and clean your bike chain.

Why a Dirty, Worn Chain Is a Problem

“The bike chain is probably the part on the bike that people maintain the least compared to the amount of effort needed, and it’s just unbelievable,” says Coach Darryl. “There are many people who only give thought to it when it breaks or becomes overly worn out.”

And it will get worn out — and take other parts with it in the process. Your chain is a prime target for all of the grime and gunk on the road, all of which sticks to the lubricant your chain requires to function.

This is particularly true when you’re riding in wet conditions. Your tires pick up grime from the road and hurl it onto your chain. This builds up fast, and as dirt gets stuck in the rollers on your chain, it starts to stretch and become stiff. It can even cause rust and corrosion on your chain and cogs over time. Left alone, this will eventually cause your chain to start wearing down the teeth on your cogs and cost you much more to repair.

Darryl saw this difference first-hand a few years ago when he and a friend both bought the same bike around the same time. Darryl kept his chain clean and changed it after 3,800 miles for $50. His friend, on the other hand, didn’t maintain his bike chain, and after 2,300 miles had to replace not only the chain but the rear cassette and front chainrings for around $500.

Your First Task: Keep the Chain Clean and Lubed

How often you should change your bike chain — and your cogs — depends on one thing: how well you keep it cleaned and lubricated. If you stick to a routine, all of these critical parts will last longer. Coach Darryl has two bikes with about 7,800 and 11,500 miles on them, and their cogs look brand new because he’s cleaned and changed his chains as needed.

Don’t do what many cyclists do and simply wait until your chain gets noisy.

“When it does become noisy, you’re well past the point where it’s a problem,” says Darryl. “You should have already done something about it because it’s costing you money.”

Keeping your bike chains in the best condition requires routine care. Plan to clean and re-lubricate your chain after every 100 miles or so in typical riding conditions. That’s about how long it takes to build up enough grime that it can be an issue. If it’s especially wet, you may need to do it more often.

Cleaning Tools and Procedure

Before we get into how often you should change your bike chain, here’s how to properly clean it. When it does come time to clean your bike chain, you need to have the right tools on hand.

  • Chain scrubber: Darryl recommends the Cyclone Chain Scrubber from Park Tool, which you can easily attach to the chain so you can roll the chain through it.
  • A good solvent: Go with an environmentally friendly solvent like Simple Green Bike Cleaner & Degreaser, diluted with water.
  • A clean, dry, lint-free rag: Old T-shirts are great for this.
  • Chain lube: Darryl’s favorite is Clean Ride’s White Lightning, a dry wax lubricant that repels grime and prevents the “rookie mark” of chain grease on your calf.

The process for cleaning your chain is simple. Pour your diluted cleaner into the scrubber, attach the scrubber to your bike chain, and rotate the pedals in reverse about 40 times (this is easier if you put your bike on a stand). Dump out your cleaner, wipe your chain off by holding the rag in the same spot where you had the scrubber and rotating the pedals, then refill and repeat. It should only take twice if your chain isn’t overly dirty.

Once it’s fully clean, dry off your chain completely, measure it (more on that below) and apply a drop of lubricant to each link. Be careful not to apply too much lube, or your chain could attract dirt more easily. Rotate your pedals a few times and you’re set!

How Often Should You Change Your Bike Chain?

As a good rule of thumb, you should change your bike chain every 3,000 miles. You can probably go a bit longer if you stick to your cleaning routine. If you don’t, then you’ll need to change it more frequently (along with your cogs).

Rather than simply counting the miles, though, Darryl prefers to base his changing schedule on hard data. That’s why he measures his chain after each cleaning, before applying lubricant.

To measure your bike chain quickly and accurately, you can use the Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker. This handy tool stretches across a set number of chain links and has a simple swing arm that moves to give you a precise reading. Depending on your chain, you can use the measurement to decide exactly when the links have stretched too much and it’s time to change your bike chain.

A clean chain that hasn’t worn itself out is essential to a smooth ride — and it will help you keep your bike maintenance costs down. Don’t neglect the simple, 10-minute task of regularly cleaning and checking your chain’s condition. It will make your cycling life so much better.

 

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Image by TheArkow from Pixabay.