The bicycle chain is a wonderfully effective means of transferring mechanical energy from one place to another. With good engineering, modern materials, and regular maintenance, it is extremely efficient, with only minimal system power losses. But with abuse or negligence, a drivetrain can quickly devolve into a quagmire of resistance.
Knowledge, though, is power. So RoadBikeReview enlisted experts to educate us lowly cycling sinners on how to take better care of the most neglected part of our bicycles. Starting with the big three component makers, Campagnolo, Shimano, and SRAM, we asked them what to do with a new chain and how to care for a chain as it sees a lot of use. We also tapped two lube/degreaser manufacturers to get their advice on maintenance, cleaning, and the best lube based on how and where you ride. Read on for best practices that can improve your bike’s performance and save you money in the process.
Part One: The Chain Manufacturers: Campagnolo, Shimano, and SRAM
RoadBikeReview: Should a new chain be degreased before use?
Campagnolo North America’s Dan Large: We suggest to never remove the Campagnolo chain lube that is applied during the manufacturing process. Once this lube is removed from the inner surfaces of the moving parts it is very difficult to replace it. You will greatly reduce the life of the chain in normal use. Unchecked wear of the chain can cause premature wear of sprockets and chainrings, especially titanium and aluminum alloy.
Shimano’s Nick Murdick: It depends on what kind of chain lube you plan to use on the chain. Our general recommendation is to leave the factory lubrication in place. We use very durable grease on each individual piece before the chain is assembled. It does a great job of protecting the inner parts of the chain against wear and it lasts a long time. As that factory grease does start to wear out, wet style chain lubes can be added to keep the chain running smooth. Most dry lubes don’t mix so well with the factory grease though, and you might just end up with a messy chain if you apply it without removing the factory lubricant first.
SRAM’s Nate Newton: No. Our factory lube is the highest quality chain lube available, not just a coating for shipping. Because it is applied with a sophisticated industrial process, it does not come with the inherent compromises of chain lubes in a bottle that have to balance performance properties with ease of application.
The Take Away: Leave that new chain alone! Install it on a clean drivetrain and go ride your bike.
RoadBikeReview: What is the biggest contributor to chain wear?
Campagnolo North America’s Dan Large: The biggest culprits are a dry, un-lubed chain, and/or a dirty, contaminated, over-lubed chain, and improper gear selection (riding in a crossed gear selection, mashing big gears).
Shimano’s Nick Murdick: Metal on metal friction between the rollers, pins, and plates of the chain are what cause the chain to wear. Every time the chain articulates to wrap around a gear those pieces are rubbing against each other. Lubrication helps them slide easily without wearing the metal down so much. Dirt inside the chain acts as a polishing compound that accelerates wear, so cleanliness is just as important as lubrication.
SRAM’s Nate Newton: Dirt and grime in the rollers. Keep your chain clean!
The Take Away: As a chain moves it has to overcome friction. Lube decreases it while dirt and grime increase it. So like Newton said, keep your chain (and entire drivetrain) clean.
RoadBikeReview: What can a cyclist do to prolong chain life?
Shimano’s Nick Murdick: There are three pillars to maximum drivetrain wear: Cleaning, lubrication, and periodic chain replacement. Cleaning and lubrication are the best ways to make a chain last a long time, but eventually the chain will elongate and start wearing down the teeth on the chain rings and cassette cogs. If the chain is replaced before it gets that stretched, the gears will last much longer.
SRAM’s Nate Newton: Don’t leave your chain dirty. Don’t simply lube without removing dirt and grime first. Clean and re-lube immediately after a wet or muddy ride. Don’t forget to wipe off excess lube.
Campagnolo North America’s Dan Large: Keep the chain clean and lubed at every possible chance.
The Take Away: You need to regularly clean, lube and replace your chain for best performance.
RoadBikeReview: What lube to you recommend? Any lubes that should be avoided?
Campagnolo North America’s Dan Large: We do not recommend any certain brands. As our factory lube is a petroleum based lube, a petroleum based or “wet” lube works great in wet/humid conditions. A dry lube is preferred in dry dusty conditions.
Shimano’s Nick Murdick: Since we generally recommend that the factory lubricant be left on the chain, we would also generally recommend a wet style lubricant, or a dry lubricant that doesn’t require the factory grease to be removed (like Dumonde Tech). Of course, some people are very passionate about their choice of chain lube and they will absolutely all work on a Shimano chain.
SRAM’s Nate Newton: Use a lube that is well matched to your conditions and environment. More important than the exact brand or type of lube is adherence to application instructions, wiping excess lube and grime, and reapplication at appropriate intervals.
The Take Away: If you left the original lube on your new chain, roll with a wet lube until the first degreasing. After that use a lube that suits the conditions in which you ride.