How to Properly Maintain A Bicycle Drivetrain

Written by : Mr Mamil
Last updated :

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As long as the bike runs fine, many cyclists don’t give much attention to the drivetrain. Your bike can be the most expensive on the block, but you aren’t going anywhere without a drivetrain that functions properly and reliably.

The drivetrain includes the chain, cranks and chainrings, rear cassette, and front and rear derailleurs. They must all be in tip-top condition for the shifting to be precise and smooth.

Here are five tips to keep your bicycle drivetrain in good condition.

Keep the drivetrain lubed

Applying Bicycle Chain Lube

The drivetrain wears out every time you ride. The chain, chainrings, rear pulley wheels, derailleurs, and cassette manage a lot of friction to keep the bicycle rolling.

The best you can do to minimize wear and prolong the life of your drivetrain is to keep it clean and correctly lubed.

Any chain lube applied, possibly long ago, has a life, and it’s usually not as long as you would expect. Time, dirt, rain, riding on wet streets, and washing your bike will whittle away the chain lube’s effectiveness and lead to a noisy drivetrain.

A chain should be cleaned before lubricating. There are tools for sale to make this step hassle and mess-free.

Here’s how to lube the chain.

Apply a drop or two of chain lube on each link in your chain, then turn the pedal backward for the lube to penetrate the chain links. Remove the excess with a clean, lint-free rag, as too much lube attracts dirt which causes premature wear.

More reading : How to Lube A Bike Chain

Use the right chain lubes

Dry and Wet Bicycle Lubes

Chain lubes are made for specific conditions.

You ride in a cold and wet climate, yet the lube you’ve been using is dry, designed for warmer temps. Think of the chain lube as wearing a winter coat; if it’s too thin, it doesn’t do the job. The bike calls for a wet lube, which will resist salt on the roads and won’t wash away quickly in wet conditions.

  • Dry lube is cleaner, lightweight, and won’t attract dust and road debris, damaging your drivetrain.
  • Wet lube is gooier and messier, but your drivetrain will be happy in wet conditions.

Regardless of the lube you choose, apply it the night before and don’t overdo it. Too much of a good thing can be bad too.

Avoid the rookie mistake of using a product like WD40 as your primary lubrication. This silicone-based product is excellent for many things, like removing the dust accumulated on your chain during your ride. Still, it isn’t an appropriate replacement for dedicated chain lube.

Alternatively, consider waxing the chain to prolong its life.

Replace the chain before it’s worn

You can do a fantastic job of keeping your drivetrain in tip-top condition, using a proper lube and regular cleaning, but wear will get you in the end.

Repeated friction wears away the material between the chain links as you ride, making the chain longer as it wears. The trick is to catch it before it’s too late to avoid damaging more expensive parts like cassettes and chainrings.

The same phenomenon happens between the cassette and chain too. The chain is the primary influencer, so if it isn’t replaced before the point of no return, you’ll probably have to replace the new cassette too.

The chain is the least expensive part of your drivetrain, so checking its wear and replacing it before it wears out is a good habit.

To do so, you need to measure your chain periodically using the chain checker tool such as the Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker. The tool gauges how much wear has occurred and tells you if it’s time for a new one.

Remember to size up the new chain before installing. You can use the same length as the old chain if it’s sized correctly.

More reading : How to Replace A Worn Bicycle Chain

Clean thoroughly after a wet ride

Clean Bicycle Chainrings

Riding in wet conditions wreck havoc on the drivetrain. Even if the ground is humid, crud and debris kick up and land on the drivetrain.

Remember to clean the drivetrain thoroughly after each wet ride.

What you don’t remove ends up in your drivetrain and causes wear and corrosion.

No time to do a thorough job?

As the bare minimum, use a clean rag and quickly wipe down the chain. Grab the chain with the rag and turn the pedal backward.

Don’t use high-pressure sprays

High Pressure Washer for Bicycle

High-pressure sprays are the fastest and most effective way of cleaning the bike, but they aren’t the friendliest to the drivetrain.

The water travels at such speed and force that it finds its way into the nooks and crannies of your bike and drivetrain.

We’re talking watertight spaces, like the headset and bottom bracket bearings. Your best bet is a bucket full of warm, soapy water to clean the bike.

You can use dishwasher soap found in your kitchen. No need for fancy stuff when you bathe your bike.

If you insist on using a pressure washer or the convenience of going to your local car wash stall, set the jet to low pressure if possible (the motorcycle washes offer that option) and avoid spraying directly on your bike.