The bike chain is part of your drivetrain
The bike chain transfers the pedalling power of the rider to the drive wheel, so it should always be kept in good shape. A bicycle chain is a wearing part that is exposed to high loads, so it must be cleaned regularly and, depending on how it’s used, replaced in time. Good maintenance and care ensure a long service life.
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Regular cleaning of the bike chain is important
Proper care and maintenance of the bike chain positively impact its service life. Dirt, along with the fact the chain is one of the hardest-working components of the bike, leads to wear and tear.
That’s why it’s so crucial to keep your bike chain well lubricated and to clean the chain regularly. A well lubricated and regularly maintained bicycle chain slows wear and ensures smooth interaction between the chain and the sprockets and chainrings. It will also improve your riding experience and comfort.
Your bike chain’s service life also depends on where and when you ride your bike. Mountain bikers and gravel riders who often cycle off-road will have to do more maintenance and cleaning work than clean tarmac or asphalt riders.
With e-bikes, the power you put through the pedals is particularly huge because of the electric assistance. Regular lubrication of the bicycle chain is therefore essential. Look for special lubricants or oils specifically made for e-bike chain greasing. These lubricants ensure smooth cycling.
When to clean your bicycle chain
You’ll usually realise when your bike chain needs cleaning. Mountain bikers, for example, feel and hear when it’s time to clean their bike chain because the dirt immediately settles in the chain links and produces a cracking sound.
Mud, dirt, little stones and water are a bicycle chain’s worst enemies and cause it to wear out quickly. But the road salt used in winter also contaminates and grinds away your chain links – don’t underestimate it.
The cleaning of the bike chain should be a standard part of your regular maintenance. Make sure that all the chain links are cleaned and dirt is removed. After cleaning the bike chain and removing all dirt and excessive grease, it’s important to properly lubricate the chain.
Luckily, it doesn’t take long to thoroughly clean a bike chain. Special bike chain cleaners and degreasers make this an easy job which can go by in the blink of an eye.
Many bike chains nowadays have a so-called quick link, which makes it easy to remove the chain for cleaning. If required, you can also use a chain tool to push out one of the chain link pins to remove the chain.
Tensioning the bike chain is also part of regular maintenance
The maintenance of your bike chain also includes tensioning the bicycle chain. Sometimes a bike chain can slip or fall off. But a non- or improperly tensioned bicycle chain can also affect gear and drivetrain efficiency (resulting in loss of power). If you experience such issues, it’s time to tighten your bike chain.
But how often a bike chain needs to be tensioned also depends on the gears. If the bicycle is equipped with a derailleur system, it will regulate the chain tension. Bicycles that are equipped with a gear hub, however, need to be re-tensioned occasionally.
The bike chain expands over time in a process known as elongation. This is because the individual chain links get overstretched due to continuous tension while pedalling. Because of this, you end up having to push harder to produce the same power transfer.
An elongated or overstretched bike chain visibly sags and can even fall off while cycling. This is always an annoying situation – you’ll end up with a broken bike and might not be able to continue your trip. So it’s important to maintain your bike chain as soon as you see the first signs of wear and tear.
Tools are required to tension a chain, such as an open-end wrench or torque wrench and a piece of cardboard or a mat underneath your bike to avoid soiling the floor. Upon completing the tensioning, take a quick test drive to make sure that everything works properly. You’ll immediately feel the difference between a tensioned and a sagging bicycle chain.
When a bike chain needs to be replaced
A bike chain is a wear part, which means its lifespan is limited. When exactly you’ll need to replace your chain depends on how often and in what conditions the bicycle is used.
If it’s mostly used in city traffic on smooth, clean asphalt, your bike chain should last about 5,000 km (+/− 3,000 miles). In the case of e-bikes, it’s advisable to replace the chain every 2,000 km (+/− 1,200 miles).
Mountain bikers, on the other hand, are often out and about on terrain where the conditions are more extreme. Their bike chains are constantly exposed to heavy dirt, sand, or even mud. This dirt should be removed from the chain as quickly as possible.
Good care and maintenance have a positive influence on the bicycle chain and ensure that it lasts longer. By the way, cyclists who also ride in winter should clean their chains regularly and thoroughly, because road salt is highly corrosive and can cause serious damage to your bike – particularly to the chain.
Bike chains are available in different sizes
Bicycle chains are available in various sizes, to suit the type of bike you are riding. Not all chains are the same – they have to fit the gears of the bike they’re fitted to. Plus, they also have to be the correct length (the right number of chain links) and width.
The drivetrain of your bike determines the chain you should buy. Take a look at your drivetrain and the chain you have currently to find the perfect match.
New bike chains are usually far too long, meaning you have to shorten them yourself to match your bike. The best way to determine the right size of the bike chain is by grabbing the old chain and counting the links. The new chain should have the same number of chain links. If you no longer have the old bike chain, you can look at our tips on how to replace a bike chain.
It’s important to replace your bike chain before it’s completely worn to avoid damage to your bike. Replacing your chain in time will not only save you money, but also avoid frustrating breakdowns during a trip.