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Chain Cleaning
#1
Disclaimer: I am not a professional bicycle mechanic!

After reading many procedures/methods for chain cleaning, utilizing many solvents/lubricants and/or water; I have only found one method that actually does the job properly and effectively. I am not here to "poo-poo" other means of accomplishing this goal, just providing what I have found has worked for me without fail.

First: "wiping off" a dirty chain does not clean it! It merely removes and/or redeposits some of the easily seen external debris; all the while pushing seen and unseen debris into the "workings" of the chain (rollers/plate pivots, etc.). I have "wiped off" a chain only to have it sound/feel the same or worse than it did before I "cleaned" it. I brought a bike to a shop (frequent customer for parts, not service) to get my O.E. chain serviced on a 1970 Raleigh Sports that I had used for some off-road adventure causing more than the normal amount of grit/debris to soil the chain, which before was very clean and always properly lubricated (in my opinion; a 50 year old chain without any undue wear, perfect function). The "mechanic", instead of taking the bike and starting a work ticket on it, turned away from me and reached for something off the parts rack; then turned back and presenting to me a "chain cleaner cassette" device with the roller brushes, etc; saying "I really don't do that type of thing". What! You mean a bike shop that doesn't do "BIKE MAINTENANCE"! I told him I didn't use those because they really didn't work that well for my intent. He then turned away again and returned with a new chain in the box while still proffering the "cleaning" device. I left more than a little irritated (only returned for parts, much later), as I had ridden my bike there and didn't want to hear/feel the grinding for the return trip. Suffice it to say the chain was not cleaned using a "cleaning" device. When cleaning a chain, be it on a bike I've owned for years or a "new" arrival, I remove the chain completely, allowing for ease of cleaning of all sprockets and the chain; why clean a chain to reinstall on dirty gears. Clean your gears however you want, but I do recommend ensuring that you clean in between the teeth thoroughly (I use both cotton and sponge applicators dipped in whatever solvent works; gasoline/petrol is my choice). As to the chain, I submerse it in a bottle of gasoline that can be sealed (I use 3 "2 liter drink" bottles {odd shaped bottoms catch debris without the chain "sitting" in it}, and a coat hanger shaped to a hook for chain removal; just enough gasoline to fully cover the chain, you don't need to fill the bottle), shake/agitate for several minutes and let sit while you do something else (for a really bad, gummed up chain; I let it sit overnight). I then remove the chain being careful not to "stir-up" the debris that is settled, and put it into the second bottle of solvent and perform the same routine as with the first bottle, again carefully removing from the dirtied solvent. Generally, if a chain hasn't been exposed to a lot of debris and/or has been regularly cleaned, it may not need to be "rinsed" a third time in the third bottle of solvent. Just look at the solvent; is it fairly clear without much debris settled out of it? If so, than the chain should actually be clean inside and out; if not then do the third "rinse"; I've never had to do it 4 times (yet!). When chain has been removed after cleaning the solvent should evaporate leaving a chain without any lubrication (unless a petroleum solvent was used, there is an IOTA of lubricant remaining) and THOROUGHLY CLEANED! Frequency of cleaning is determinant on mileage and conditions; you make the call there since you know what you have been riding on and through! You may lubricate it however you feel necessary. I have used various methods/lubricants and have found many that provide sufficient properties. Remember, good or bad lube doesn't help keep an already dirty chain from wear/damage; it just slows the wear a little bit, but not as much as it would with a clean chain. Frequency of cleaning is determinant on mileage and conditions; you make the call there since you know what you have been riding on and
riding through!
Note: I use the "dirty" gasoline in my lawn mower poured through a coffee filter. Works fine!

Myth or fact? Automotive motor oil is not an adequate lubricant. My opinion is that it is. I grew up as a kid using nothing but your standard 30 weight engine oil on all of our bikes (family of 6, all riders) without any problems. I also used on my first "racing" bike, again no problems. Of course, using too much or too little can give problems no matter what lube is used; capillary action will spread the oil to areas of very small tolerances. Regarding "engine" oil; if you've worked on automotive equipment you know that oil has to penetrate into some very tight areas during operation under high load and often temperature. I submit to you that a bicycle does not experience these same conditions, and thus the oil will suffice for usage with chains given proper application and ongoing maintenance. Here is an experienced mechanics quote regarding "motor" oil: "I don’t recommend using either motor oil or 3in1 oil to lubricate the chain. Motor oil is too heavy and won’t fully penetrate the rollers...", and then says: "I do recommend mineral based chain oils like Finish Line Cross Country or Phil Wood Tenacious Oil because they do the best job of fighting corrosion and don’t wash away when they get wet." Well, I've not done viscosity tests on Phil Wood's "Tenacious Oil", but it certainly has a higher viscosity than that of standard "motor" oil; it seems very similar to hyboid gear oil (80-90 weight). So how does this thick, viscous syrup penetrate into the rollers if "motor" oil cannot? It's a mystery to me! Also, I've never had oil just "wash away" from water exposure. When I lubricate my chain after my cleaning, I use melted paraffin wax ( yes, a petroleum product, use wax without dyes and/or scents). Immerse the chain in very hot wax (this bath should be saved for the next time, your clean chain will not have contaminated it), remove the chain while hot to allow excess wax to drip off, and wipe off any residual wax while chain is still hot (yes, wear gloves!). You'll end up with a chain that somewhat "self-seals" itself against outside contaminants and runs quietly. Use of other lubricants can be used for routine lube in between the "waxings", but realize that the other lubricants will act as a solvent to the wax (in many cases, dependent on lube) over a period of time dependent on use and subsequent maintenance. Hope this provides some insight for this maintenance. I would love to hear any and all comments both positive and negative, so that I may learn from the rest of you. After riding for 40 years, and maintaining dozens of bikes, I have only had to replace chains on used bikes that I had purchased without knowledge of their use and/or maintenance history. Take note of my "icon" image.
"I am become Death, the destroyer of bicycles." NJS
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