Chain wear, cleaning and maintenance lubrication

Posted by Ed Brennan on



you can by all of the tools required for complete chain over hall and replacement here



There is a lot of talk about bicycle chains within the cycling community, as with any other component on our bikes as we are all a fussy lot. I hear a lot of debates discussing what chains are best? Which are not, lighter is better, use dry lube, wet lube use different lubes in the summer different in the winter the debate on chains is endless. So today I am just going to talk about my view on chains (this is my view as both mechanic and rider, many will not agree with me, however over the years I have never had a chain snap, slip, or malfunction in any other way on me. I will start by saying the factors I take into account when buying chain

  1. Compatibility is it compatible with my group set makes, and amount of gears on the rear cassette?
  2. Weight, am I racing? or is it for winter training? heavier usually lasts longer
  3. Length, depending on my gear ratio on my rear cassette, is the chain going to be long enough? Chains usually come in 3 lengths 112/114/116 links always buy the longest.
  4. What make brand. 


Before we go any further we need to understand the parts that make up any sort of chain.

There are 4 main brands that you will see when you go into any reputable bike shop and these will all vary in price width, length, colour, coatings etc, these brands are;

KMC, SRAM, Shimano, Campagnolo I will not go into any depth on any type of chain as that will cause a debate longer than that of what came first the chicken or the egg, instead I will leave hyperlinks to the various brands so that you can make your own decision, I will however point out some main pertinent points.

SRAM chains, this is the same company selling under the brands SRAM, Avid, RockShox, Truvativ, Quarq, and Zipp so they sell some of the most top end equipment within the cycling world,SRAM chains cover the whole range of gearing up to 11 speed, and come with various coatings weight and size, they use a tool free connecting feature called power lock( to connect the 2 ends together These chains are only compatible with SRAM AND Shimano both road and mountain bikes so as not to go into too much depth of the chains I have given links so that you can make your own decision when choosing, for me they are a good chain and very reliable, if I was to use a SRAM chain it would usually be on my mountain bike.



Unlike KMC and SRAM shimano only have a few chains on offer whilst still a good chains I very rarely use them (only at a customers request) as they work in one direction you have to put it on in a certain way, they don’t use a quick link which means you always need a tool. Shimano chains are only compatible with Shimano or SRAM group sets. For me it is too much of a faf to connect them together so I am not their greatest fan

Campagnolo Well what can I say if you are a Campagnolo user you will use the Campagnolo chain, these chains are only compatible with campagnolo group sets. The chains to me are an amazing bit of kit, they shift well, run smooth and look great but they are a bugger to connect, you need a specific campagnolo chain tool the 11 speed version is approx. £138, these are lovely chains and engineered piece of art but I would rather commit the cardinal sin and use a KMC chain on campagnolo. However if I do use a Campagnolo chain I do not use the provided pin to connect the chain together, but use the pin left after I have measured it.


KMC, are a company make chains from cam chains to pump chains, motor cycle chains and bicycle chains, they even make chains for other companies such as shimano, yep so for all those that slag off KMC over Shimano take another look. They are also the biggest chain manufacturer in the world.

KMC chains to me are the most versatile on the market as they will fit and work exceptionally well with all group sets, Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. They cover all speeds from single to 11 speed providing you have the correct chain, also they are Omni directional which means unlike Shimano it doesn’t matter what way you put it on your bike. But best of all they use a quick link which mean once the chain is measured and fitted you do not need to extract a pin to remove the chain use a simple tool, also they come is all sort of bling colours to match the colour of your bike

As well as covering all of the gear ratios and group sets they also come in various weight from light to heavy (EL, extra light SL, super light etc.) with different coatings for easier shifting reduced friction, there are far too many to explain but here is the link

KMC is always my go to choice as I find them the most versatile and robust chain out there.

To confirm what chain you need KMC have a handy and simple to use chart,


Removing and installing a chain

In order for us to remove clean and install chains there are a few tools required. All of the tools I use I are from a company called super B as they are nice, reliable and durable, I have broken so many of the more expensive brands of chain tools such as Park tools and Cyclo that I now stick with Super B, you can buy the chains individually or buy them as a complete set from my web site,

the tools that are as follows;

Chain cleaner

Chain rivet extractor 11 speed

Chain rivet extractor 8/9/10 speed

2 in 1 Master link pliers-The Trident

2 in 1 chain checker and chain hook function

How do I clean my chain?

There are many tools out there to help clean your chain from the good old tooth brush to the chain cleaning tool like super B TB3208 chain cleaner (

Which works perfectly well , however this is the way in which I clean mine, I use an old water bottle as it has a wide neck,

  1. Drop the front and rear gear into the smallest ring
  2. Remove the chain with the master link pliers if using a chain with a quick link like KMC chains
  3. Once the quick link is undone remove it and place it in the bottle
  4. Remove the chain by turning the pedals and holding the bottle under the loose end of the chain and let it drop into the bottle
  5. Fill the bottle with parts cleaning fluid concentrate or ready to use I get mine from Tool Mart, very cheap, cover the whole of the chain
  6. Screw the lid on the bottle and shake vigorously for 20 secs leave the bottle to rest, keep coming back to the bottle and shake for 20 seconds from time to time if the bottle is transparent you will notice the liquid change colour to a black dirt substance.
  7. Once you are happy remove the lid, and pull out the chain place on a towel and wipe it thoroughly
  8. Leave the chain to dry, dispose of the parts fluid responsibly,
  9. Reconnect the chain to the bicycle I always use the same quick link as I have never had any issues however KMC do advice using a new quick link I always carry a spare in my puncture repair kit (separate blog to come).
  10. Now it is time to lube the chain.


Why should I lube my chain?

Anything that moves against something causes friction and resistance, in order to limit the friction and wear and tear of the chain and the rest of the drive chain, (chain rings, cassette, jockey wheel and chain) we need to use a lubricant, the aim is to fill the gaps of the moving parts with lube where dirt would gather otherwise if dirt gets in to the gaps between the rollers this would increase friction, wear and decrease your efficiency.


What lube should I use, wet or dry?

there is a very simple rule of thumb to stick to pardon the pun in wet conditions use wet lube and in dry use dry lube, however wet lube will last longer than dry so really you can use it all year round which is what I do but also I do clean my chain regularly, the down side to wet lube is that as it is so sticky all road dirt will stick to it wearing the components out quicker but if you clean your chain that is not an issue, I do occasionally use dry lube mainly if I am racing and I know that the weather will be dry, always lube your chain up the night before as it gives it time to get in the working parts of the chain and also remember if you haven’t cleaned your chain and you put wet lube on top of wet lube you will end up getting a layer of lube a layer of dirt followed by a newly applied layer of lube and so this is how it all builds up.

What make should I use?

There are a lot of companies out there from Muck off to finish line, any of these will do the job however the manufacturer that I use is a company called green oil, this is a UK based company that makes its oil  environmental friendly and totally biodegradable

I asked Simon Nash, founder of Green Oil about his products. How he came up with the idea, developed it, how it is environmental friendly and if there is any new innovations from green oil? This was his response

“You don’t need PTFE and petrochemicals to lubricate affectively. Green Oil’s plant based formulas work just as well. 

Green Oil’s products use plant based molecules instead of petrochemicals. Formulas are biodegradable, and exceed the ‘60% biodegradable’ OECD standard for lubricant biodegradability. This 60% standard is the one exploited by other companies to put a ‘biodegradable’ logo on products not fully biodegradable, sometimes containing PTFE. 

I developed Green Oil in my final year at the University of Southampton. The idea came about after riding my bike through a river with a petrochemical lube on the chain.

Nothing like Green Oil existed on the market. The trick was, to develop a lubricant that was sticky enough to stay on the chain, but not so sticky things stuck to it. Lubrication properties and others to prevent rust were also essential. Further, not being water soluble, whilst still being biodegradable was another challenge More recently N-toc was developed here to reduce oxidization in the air, extending the Green Oil Wet Chain lube life further. Green Oil has won awards for performance alone – it works. 

We’ve continued with environmental innovation, and were the first company in the UK to use 100% post consumer recycled plastic bottles – that’s recycled (made from waste in your recycling bin), not just ‘recyclable’. 

Good work continues, with our latest product saving mechanics from toxic spray lubricants in the workshop. This latest product, Green Oil Ecospray Lube is a water displacer and lubricant, and will be launched in 4 – 6 weeks with a Kickstarter campaign. Watch this space!” 


Now you have made your choice of lubricant and once the chain is clean and dry and back on the bike it is time to lube it, this is a very slow and meticulous process, too many people hold the lube above the chain and turn the pedals this sprays lube everywhere the floor frame rims (where you don’t want it) celling eyes, bloody everywhere.


How lube my chain,

  1. put a towel or cloth under the bike,
  2. I always start at the quick link so I now when I have done a complete cycle of the chain.
  3. slowly drip a little bit of lube on the rollers of the chain, then move onto the next one, keep doing this until you have gone all the way round and got back to the quick link.
  4. If you do it this way the lube goes where you want it meaning a bottle should last you a very long time saving money,
  5. Once you have lubed the whole chain wipe of any excess and leave it over night to soak into all of the moving parts.

How does a chain wear?

There are many trains of thought as to how often you should replace your chain, you will hear people say I need a new chain as mine is slipping as it has stretched, this is not true as a chain doesn’t really stretch, when the chain rotates and moves over the cassette chain rings and jockey wheels it produces friction as previously mentioned, this constant movement and friction then wears the rollers increasing the space between the rollers themselves, this in turn also wears the teeth mainly on the cassette as well as the chaining’s, leaving a bigger gap for the teeth to rattle about increasing the chance of the chain slipping when pressure is applied due to the size of the gap (this usually starts in a certain gear probably the one you ride in the most). If you ride until both the teeth wear and the rollers wear you will need a new chain and cassette for definite and also possibly new chain rings which can be very expensive to rectify.

However if we can change the chain regularly and at the right time then we just need to change the chain and then the cassette less often maybe 3-4 even 5 chains to a cassette, don’t think of miles as everyone rides with different power, climbs differently and the weather Is never the same over a season. However if you need to change your cassette due to going to ride in a more hilly undulating area (larger big ring), or riding a flatter course (smaller large ring) I would recommend changing your chain, if keeping the cassette then keep the chain with that cassette.

Is my chain worn?

If you have slipping and your gears have been adjusted and the slipping occurs when riding it is most probably time to change your chain, if you still get slipping with a new chain you will also need to change your cassette, to ensure that this never happens the best cause of action is to measure your chain regularly.

I check my chain for wear periodically by using super b TB-3326 chain checker & holder it is a very simple tool to use, there are many others on the market but I just prefer this tool, place the curved part of the tool on the roller and then let the other end rest on the chain if the point goes through the gap and the tool sits flush to the chain you chain will need replacing as it is over .75 worn if the point just sits on top of the roller as in the picture the chain is fine, this is a very simple check that can save you some serious money and time on a ride.

Once you have checked your chain for wear it is then time to decide what to do if worn change it if not keep it clean and maintained at all times. I will talk through measuring and fitting a chain correctly in my next blog along with how to remove a cassette.








Older Post Newer Post


Leave a comment

Follow us on instagram