How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain

How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain

While brakes and tires get all the attention, bicycle chains are often neglected. But in fact, chain maintenance should be at the top of your bike upkeep list. Because the chain passes through so many of the bike's other moving parts, including the gears and derailleurs, a little dirt on the chain can turn into a big problem. Over time, a dirty chain will not only deteriorate, but also impact the function of the entire drivetrain.


• Old toothbrush

• Bicycle chain tool

• Wire brush

• Rags

• Pliers

• Permanent marker


• Chain lubricant

• Simple Green, citrus solvent, or bike-specific solvent

• WD-40

1 Spot-check the chain. As part of your pre-ride checklist, eyeball the chain for problems. Listen for squeaks that can signal rusted links, and look for other dirt buildup or links that don't seem to smoothly swivel. If you find localized dirt, brush it out with an old toothbrush and apply a drop of chain lubricant.

How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain

2 Deep-clean the chain periodically. If you're riding regularly, clean it about every three months—more if you're riding in harsh conditions. Start by noting the path of the chain, taking a picture to help you remember how to reinstall it. Use a bicycle chain tool to break the chain at any point. Set the chain into the tool and tighten the tool's screw. This should drive a small bar into the center of the pin connecting the chain links, and drive the pin out the other side. Remove the chain from the bike and aggressively clean it with a wire brush. Soak the chain in a bike-specific solvent until most of the visible grime floats free, about 30 minutes. Dry the chain and allow the solvent to fully evaporate. Reinstall the chain, using the chain tool to reinsert the pin you removed.

How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain

3 Lubricate the chain. Prop up the bike so that the back tire spins freely. With the chain installed on the bicycle, mark one link with a permanent marker so you know when you've cycled through all the links. Place a small drop of chain lube at each chain junction, stopping when you cycle through to the marked link. Turn the pedals for a couple of minutes to work the lube in between the links. Then hold a rag loosely around the chain and turn the pedals to drive the chain through the rag a couple of times. Any lubricant left on the surface of the chain will trap dirt and grime.

How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain

4 Fix fused or rusted links. If your bike has been under a tarp out behind the garden shed for the winter or if you've kept an imperfect eye on the condition of your chain, the next time you ride, you may notice a disturbing bump every time the chain passes over one or the other gear. Most likely this is a fused link refusing to bend or straighten. You may be able to spray a fused link with some WD-40 and use pliers to wiggle it back into pliability. Also check the pins—a protruding pin can inhibit movement, and is easily fixed with a chain tool or even by laying the chain flat and using a nail to drive a loose link back into its hole. You'll eventually need to replace a fused link—do it with a chain tool. That said, if your chain is rusted to the point of fused links, consider replacing the entire chain.

How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain