It’s easy to let muck build up on your drivetrain, but cleaning it up really isn’t difficult. Here is a 10-step guide that will get it looking like new – and running much better – in less than an hour. Getting rid of the grit from your drivetrain not only improves shift quality, but extends your bike’s longevity too.
It’s best to avoid letting your bike get to the point where your drivetrain needs such a thorough clean – a five-minute hosedown, wipe down and application of lube straight after each ride will help keep your bike running smoothly, if not showroom shiny. But nobody’s perfect – least of all us – so here’s how to shift serious grime.
- Time: 1 hour
- Skill rating: Easy
- Cost: Degreaser, grease, chainlube (approx £15/AU$20). Optional: Chain cleaner device (approx £20/AU$40)
Items you’ll need
- Chain lube
- Clean rags
- Cog brush or old tooth brush
- Garden hose and water
- Chain cleaning device (optional)
1. Degrease chain
The chain is the most important part of the transmission. Over time, road gunk will be attracted to your lubed chain and that silky oil will turn into a chain-destroying grinding paste. There are plenty of safe degreasers and chain cleaning devices on the market to bring that chain back to life though. We like to use a chain cleaner because its enclosed nature avoids mess and gets the chain sparkling.
Watch our full Park Tool Maintenance Monday video guide on how to clean your chain, with or without a chain cleaner, here:
Video: How to clean and lube a chain
The video also explains how to lube a chain – written instructions for this can be found in step 8 below.
2. Clean jockey wheels
Use a little degreaser and a rag or brush to scrub the jockey wheels (not forgetting the insides of the mech arm). It’s possible to unscrew the jockey wheels from the mech arm, but it’s advisable not to unless you’ve got thread lock to reinstall the pivot bolts. We’ve seen too many rides ended by bottom jockey wheels falling out.
3. Clean rear sprockets
Give the sprockets some flossing with your strip of rag or a special cog brush. A little degreaser can be used if it’s really filthy. The cleaner you can keep your sprockets, the faster they’ll shift and the longer they’ll last. Remember – dirt acts like a grinding paste when in contact with any part of your transmission, so get rid of it.
4. Clean chainrings
Remove the worst grit from the chainrings using a brush – much like the cassette, the teeth of the chainrings will hold dirt and increase wear.
Once you’ve cleaned all the above parts, rinse them off with water to ensure the degreaser won’t contaminate the lube. Be sure to use a gentle flow of water and always point it downwards, never directly at the bearings.
6. Wipe chain
Use a soft rag to wipe the chain completely clean – you’ll be surprised what comes off a clean-looking chain. Try to massage the links, moving them through as wide a range of movement as possible – this helps expose the sections of link that are normally hidden from view.
7. Lube jockey wheels
Lube the jockey wheels at the point they spin. They only need the very lightest touch of lube – they’ll pick up enough from the chain as it’s used. Remember, these little wheels attract a lot of dirt, and with lube being sticky, it doesn’t pay to make matters worse by overdoing it. Wipe the excess away with a rag. They should look dry.
8. Lubricate the chain
Apply lube only when the chain is clean and dry. We prefer to lube the chain as little as possible, with as light a lube as we can get away with. Use a dripper bottle because it’s easier to apply accurately, with minimum waste. Coat the whole chain, spinning the cranks to force the lube into the links. That’s where lube is most useful, not on the outside plates, as many believe. Wipe excess lube away with a clean rag.
9. Unclip cables
Set the rear gears into the largest rear sprocket and then, without letting the rear wheel spin, shift into the smallest rear sprocket. This will free up some inner cable and allow you to pop the outers from the slotted cable stops on the frame. With the cables now fully unclipped from the frame you can inspect, clean, re-lube and reinstall everything. Note – for frames with internal cable routing, this step may not be possible.
10. Wipe and lube cables
Slide the outers to expose previously covered sections of inner cable. Give the entire inner cable a wipe over with a section of rag soaked in degreaser. If you come across any sections that are rusty or fraying, replace with a new inner cable. Most dry cables can be reinvigorated with a little light chain lube.
Extra tip: lube front mech
Front mechs often suffer from neglect. They’re hard to access and are often jammed full of grit and drier than a cracker. We recommend giving them a thorough wipe and applying a little chain or penetrating oil to the pivots to get it swinging right again.
Pro tip: chain wear
Chains wear and will ‘stretch’. When this happens, the cogs and chainrings will wear to match the lengthened chain. There are basic tools available to measure chain wear. Replacing the chain before it wears is cheaper than leaving it to wear and needing new chainrings and cassette. How fast a chain wears depends on many factors – riding style, weight, riding conditions and how well you follow the previously outlined steps. On average, expect to replace your chain every 2,500-3,000km on a road bike and closer to every 1,000km on a mountain bike.