Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oh What a Difference a Lube Makes

I admit it. I was mildly negligent of my bike the last several weeks. Apart from putting air back in the tires, I hadn't really done much of anything in terms of maintenance or cleaning. In some ways that's a good thing. It means everything's running trouble-free. But neglect things for too long and that is no longer the case.

One of the things that I try to do with a little more regularity than I have of late is cleaning the drivetrain (chain, chainrings, cassette, derailleurs). I'd given them a good cleaning about a month and a half ago before I went on my overnight bike trip out to Harpers Ferry and back. But I hadn't really touched it since then. Part of this was just that it had been dry and the chain hadn't really had an opportunity to pick up much nasty sand, grit, dirt, etc. (Last week's heavy rain and some trips through muddy puddles changed that.) The other part of it was a combination of laziness and being otherwise busy.

I got out of class a little early last night, so when I got home, I took advantage of the extra few minutes in my schedule to clean up my bike's neglected drivetrain, especially since the shifting was getting a little less responsive and there was some visible build up of gunk on the rear derailleur in particular. I mixed up a weak solution of Simple Green and ran the chain through a rag soaked in the solution. I then took my Park Tools brush, and with the bristles wet with the same Simple Green solution, spun the pedals backward using the brush to scrub off the rest of the gunk that had built up on the chain, the cogs of the rear derailleur, as well as the rear cassette and chainrings. I ran the chain again through a dry part of the rag to dry off the chain. Finally, I applied a drop of Finish Line wet lube to each link of the chain and tweaked the shifting with a small turn of the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur. Voila! All done. The whole process, from making the solution to cleaning up and putting everything away, took maybe ten or fifteen minutes.

It's easy to forget about cleaning and maintenance items like this when everything's working the way it should. It's even easier to miss small changes in performance or to ignore some of those small, barely perceptible noises that start when you haven't properly cleaned everything for a while. On this morning's commute I was reminded of how much a difference a few minutes of work can make, though. The bike was as quiet as a mouse. Little noises I'd started the hear the last few times I'd ridden vanished. Shifting was smooth and precise. I think the bike was happier for it. I know I was. And my wallet will be, too, since proper cleaning and maintenance of the drivetrain can help to extend the life of the chain and the cassette.

So, one of these days, before you just get on your bike and ride, think about a little preventative cleaning and maintenance. It can really go a long way!

(Sorry about the lack of illustration of the process. I didn't think to take any before pictures when I started, but I may add some demonstrative pictures of the process and some after shots here in the next couple days if I get a chance. Stay tuned.)


  1. I appreciate you protecting your bicycle investment. Hopefully with proper maintainance it will last you a long, long time.

  2. Hopefully with proper maintainance it will last you a long, long time.

    I hope so, too. While I will likely want to tweak/upgrade things here and there, I expect to have my bike for many, many years to come, and regular maintenance is an important part of that.