Bike Shorts: A Quick Way To Remember When To Clean Your Bike Chain

March 15, 2023 0 Comments

Bike chain and chainrings covered in mud

If you’re going to get serious about cycling, routine maintenance is non-negotiable. If you don’t take care of your bike, it won’t reward you with many rides.

And few aspects of your maintenance routine are as important as keeping your chain clean. It needs more frequent attention than anything else, and the costs of not keeping your chain clean can add up big time.

Nonetheless, it’s a task that’s easily neglected. Cyclists frequently forget when they last did the job — and they end up putting off the next cleaning far longer than they should. But that won’t be you anymore, not once you learn longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie’s trick for remembering when to clean your chain.

Why You Can’t Let Grime Build on Your Chain

Before we reveal the big secret, though, let’s take a chance to reiterate how important a clean chain is. As Coach Darryl puts it, “A clean bike is a fast bike.” 

That’s perhaps nowhere truer than when it comes to your chain. Apart from riding on a flat tire, nothing will do more to slow you down than a dirty chain. 

When your chain gets overloaded with dirt and road grime, it actually begins to stretch the rollers out, elongating the distance between them so that they fit less comfortably around the teeth on your cogs and chainrings. This begins to wear down the teeth so that they no longer look like flathead screwdriver tips but become more pointed, like shark teeth.

As those teeth wear down, it makes your pedaling less effective. Soon, your chain will start to slip out of gear or even come off the chainrings more easily. 

This hurts more than just your cycling performance — it hits your wallet, too. Not only will you have to change your chain more often, but you’ll also need to replace your chainrings and rear cassette more frequently. A $50 chain after 3,000 miles could instead be $400 worth of equipment after 2,000 miles. That’s a big difference, and it’s especially wasteful when you consider that cleaning a chain only takes about 15 minutes

How To Remember When It’s Time To Clean Your Chain

Bike maintenance is like anything else — even when you know how important it is, it’s easy to forget or put it off. That’s why you need to do everything you can to make it easy to remember and keep within your routine. 

Most chain manufacturers will tell you that you need to clean your chain every 100 miles or so. That’s the best way to extend its life so that you only need to replace the chain at around 3,000 miles. And it will keep your chainrings and cogs intact for much longer.

But it’s not always that easy to remember when you’ve pedaled 100 miles. How far did you pedal last week? When did you clean it last? It probably hasn’t been that long, right? So the logic goes, until you’ve pedaled far farther than you should and the damage is done.

Here’s an easier way: Plan your chain cleanings by number of rides, not miles.

In other words, divide 100 by your typical ride length, then set your cleaning schedule accordingly. If you normally ride 25 miles, clean your chain after every four rides. If you ride 50, clean it after every other ride. This is far simpler to track than trying to tally your miles. 

In the end, the rule of thumb for when to clean your bike chain is like a lot of other things: Don’t overthink it. Set your normal ride interval and stick to it. Your chain will return the favor. 

Wondering how to keep up with the rest of your routine maintenance? Read our complete guide to make sure you’re checking all the boxes.


As always, you can find more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash