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I commute on a fixie. I'm using KMC Z410 chains.

Every evening if it's wet I wipe and re-lube my chain, using ProLink lube. Every weekend I remove the chain, soak it in kero, brush it with a citrus degreaser, allow to dry and then re-lube.

My current chain is 2 months old (about 800km) and is over .75 already so I think I'll replace it this weekend. Mind you, it is winter here and it's been pretty wet most weeks. Also there is a lot of fine sandy grit on the paths I tend to ride.

I read questions like this and am amazed how long people's chains will last. I don't mind replacing the chain often as it's a cheap chain ($15) and I want to protect my chainring and cog.

Is there anything I'm doing wrong with my maintenance regime? Is it surprising that my chain isn't lasting that long? Or is everything okay and I should stop worrying about it?

Update: I relaxed my maintenance regime. I just wiped down and re-lubed occasionally. The chain was very quiet and smooth. However today, after just 20 days and 353 kilometers, it's already over .75!!! I checked the chain guage on a new chain and it is definitely indicating that the new chain is under .75. Why am I burning through chains so fast?

Update: A little about me and my riding. I weigh about 88kg (195lbs). I ride fairly aggressively on bike tracks on the way to work (I almost never get passed). There are some hills so I am reasonably often out of the saddle and pushing pretty hard. I will take the old chain into a bike shop next weekend and let you know what they say.

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I commute about 200 days a year, riding about 15 km a day, i.e., 3000 km a year. My bike is far from top-end. I clean my chain about twice a year. My chain broke after four years, or 12000 km. –  mouviciel Jul 21 '11 at 12:11
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@mouviciel It broke after 12000Km, I have no doubt of that. But when you replaced it, what else did you have to replace? The point of replacing a chain before the wear point is to protect the chain and cogs from far more expensive to replace damage. You can run a car engine without oil for some time. too. Doesn't make it a good idea. –  zenbike Jul 21 '11 at 12:27
    
@zenbike - I changed the chain itself and the freewheel cogset. I hope to ride another 12000 km with that. One such change every four years is not that expensive. By the way, I didn't change the chain at first, just reassembled it and rode some months before changing. –  mouviciel Jul 21 '11 at 14:39
    
Well, the chain gauge may be defective/damaged. Have a worn chain checked at a bike shop. But also tell us what kind of rider you are -- easy/aggressive/maniacal? If you're always out of your saddle it's like running your car engine at the red line all the time. And with a fixie you can probably safely let the chain run to 0.1. You may find that wear slows down. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 14 '11 at 12:14
    
@Daniel R Hicks - Added info –  Mac Aug 15 '11 at 4:49

7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

A new chain has factory installed lube inside on the bushings and pins. It is a thicker, stickier lube than anything you can put back on the chain after a cleaning which is that thorough.

I love that you take time to maintain the bike. Definitely check your chain checker, as Daniel said, but on your next chain, try relaxing the maintenance a bit.

Clean the chain by spraying a light citrus degreaser on a rag, folding the rag in the palm of your hand, and running the chain through the rag. This will clean the exterior and the accessible bits without soaking away the internal factory lube.

Once clean, lube the exterior of your chain with a quality lube (I like Boeshield T-9 or Dumonde Tech yellow) and wait 15-20 minutes. Then wipe off all excess lube.

Starting with your new chain, do that for the first 6 months, or until your fresh lube job sounds unlubed again within a few on the bike hours.

Once that is not working, go back to your current method. I'd say do the complete strip and relube once a month, with the process described above on the in between weeks.

After your next chain, let us know if and how your mileage changed.

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I can't believe I'm too zealous with my cleaning! I'll try your suggestions and keep a better log to see how I progress. –  Mac Jul 21 '11 at 6:37
    
I'm not saying that is it, but it was common problem for a while, that people were trying to be diligent, and were destroying the factory protection prematurely. I'm interested in whether it changes anything, as well, because I'd like something to back up or downcheck wat I've been taught. Keep me posted. –  zenbike Jul 21 '11 at 8:37
    
As well, a fixie is inherently more wearing on a chain, since it is always under stress. –  zenbike Jul 21 '11 at 8:38
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And under more stress, perhaps; e.g. I see fixie riders standing up on their pedals in order to move off from a complete stop (instead of 'spinning' away in the lower gear). –  ChrisW Jul 21 '11 at 12:11
    
I updated my question with progress with the new technique. The chain has already died after only 353 km. Any other thoughts? –  Mac Aug 14 '11 at 6:27

If your chainring or cassette is worn out, they will have "groves" cut into the sprockets that better fit a stretched chain than a new chain. When you put a new chain on a worn drive train, the chain will get stretched to fit into the existing wear pattern.

Regardless of the exact effect of pitch or diameter, a worn-out cassette or chainring can accelerate chain wear. If your chains are wearing faster than you expect, you may need to replace your cassette and/or chainrings.

Specification for Oil Field Chain and Sprockets, by American Petroleum Institute:

"Do not run new chain on worn out sprockets because it can cause the chain to wear rapidly. The pitch of the new chain is much shorter than the effective pitch of the worn sprocket (emphasis added), so the total chain load is concentrated on the final sprocket toothbefore disengagement." (chains used in this application are fundamentally similar to cycling)

and

Standard handbook of chains: chains for power transmission and material handling, American Chain Association:

"When a chain is worn beyond its functional limits, it must be replaced. The chain tension will not be spread over several teeth. The tension will be concentrated on the final roller engaging the sprocket. A new chain is also subjected to an impact load as each roler leaves the worn sprocket."

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Actually, as a sprocket wears it effectively needs a shorter, less-worn chain to fit properly. –  Daniel R Hicks Nov 5 '11 at 23:48
    
A worn chain effectively increases the pitch of a sprocket; a new chain fits a worn sprocket poorly and must apply force to the sprocket unevenly. This mismatch accelerates the wear on both components. –  James Schek Nov 6 '11 at 4:27
    
A worn sprocket has a smaller pitch than a non-worn one (though the difference is slight). Chain and sprocket start to diverge as soon as they are mated. –  Daniel R Hicks Nov 6 '11 at 12:22
    
I'm not following this answer. As a chain wears, the links effectively get further apart. I'm guessing the teeth on the sprocket stay the same distance apart as they wear. –  Neil Fein Nov 6 '11 at 13:52
    
As the teeth get worn down, the space between the edge of two teeth gets wider. –  James Schek Nov 6 '11 at 15:43

This picture shows a badly hooked (motorcycle) sprocket. Bike sprockets tend to look a little different, but the same idea:

Hooked sprocket

If this were a picture of the rear cluster on a bike (vs a motorcycle sprocket) the front of the bike would be to the right and the direction of pull would be from the right, across the top of the sprocket. As the chain peels off the sprocket at the top of the arc, the "hook" will tend to "hold onto" the chain and cause the "suck" that's been mentioned. For a mildly hooked sprocket a new chain will actually peel off easier than a worn one, but with a more severely hooked sprocket the worn chain will sometimes peel off easier.

Replacing the chain before it's too badly "stretched" minimizes hook (the teeth wear more evenly).

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This does not answer the question of "How long should a well maintained chain last and what can I do to prolong its life?" –  James Schek Nov 6 '11 at 15:46

One additional concern that hasn't been mentioned is that you should wipe off the chain with a clean rag before lubing as well as after. Lube helps push dirt out of the interior of the chain, but on a dirty chain the effect isn't strong enough to keep out grime. You might be causing premature wear if you're not wiping off the chain before you lube it up.

You might also want to invest in a heavier-duty chain. I use a SRAM PC-7X on my track bike. Fixies will be inherently rougher on your chain, and you want something that's a little beefier than a standard road chain to deal with the additional stresses.

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The question relates to a chain on a fixie, i.e. with no derailleur shifting it up and down onto different sized cogs, some of which being ludicrously small 11T or smaller in size.

My 1950's Raleigh Sports Roadster has what I suspect to be the original chain on it. Obviously I did not have the bike from new, however, it has probably done a few miles in its time.

As for my commuter bike, because I did not change the chain when I should have done, I am now deliberately running it into the ground, seeing how long the chain will actually last. It started skipping on the small cog somewhere after the 10000 mile mark and it has recently lost another gear. It also slides off the chainring when on the big cog at the back so it looks like it is rapidly heading to become something like a single-speed or 3-speed. The bushes are distinctly conical shaped and it is probably only the build up of dirt that holds it together. I digress, however a chain can last a very long time and then keep going long after it should have been replaced. You would have to be an idiot though to see exactly how long a chain can last...

I suspect that your cleaning regime is a bit over the top. Kerosene/paraffin is better than gas/petrol however, in the days when I did soak my chain in paraffin I always found it to be slightly 'crunchy' when I put it back onto the bike. The problem being that the grease in the internals has been dissolved away and replaced by what can best be described as oil. Oil is not the right stuff for in there, grease is, and no matter what you do it is not possible to get the grease back in there properly. As a consequence the chain will wear more.

So, effectively, you are damaging the chain! All that hard effort and it is going badly wrong! So, for the next chain, stick it on to a clean set of chainring/cog. Do not add any extra lube. After you wash down your bike put a smidgen of your Pro-link lube on it and no more - any more will attract the dirt and the dirt will wear the chain.

Remember that there are chains out there on 3-speed bikes that have only seen sparing amounts of 'all-in-one' lawnmower oil over a timespan of decades, and that these chains are stretched no more than yours is.

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I'm going to take a wild guess that it might be because you don't have fenders: that it doesn't matter how often or how well you maintain your chain, if it's filthy again within 5 minutes of getting on the road.

Also, the usage instructions for your Pro Link lube suggest that you shouldn't be sticking your chain in a solvent: that there's a cleaner built in to the lube itself.

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+1 for fenders. I've been meaning to get a set. Interesting comment about the lube having a cleanser. I find that hard to believe though. How can it degrease and grease simultaneously? –  Mac Jul 21 '11 at 5:43
    
@Mac How can it be hard to believe: it's what it says on the manufacturer's web site (to which I linked)? –  ChrisW Jul 21 '11 at 10:15
    
I'm not doubting you, Chris. It just seems counterintuitive. –  Mac Jul 21 '11 at 11:52
    
I'd think of it as something like a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner - it cleans and conditions at the same time. It may not be ideal, but it's good enough for many. –  Soo Wei Tan Jul 21 '11 at 21:20
    
@Soo Wei Tan - 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner is a myth. It's physically impossible to combine shampoo and conditioner, since shampoo is (very slightly) acidic and conditioner is pH 3.5 (more acidic). –  Mac Jul 21 '11 at 23:13

A chain can last anywhere from about 500 miles to 5000, depending on the quality of the chain, the sprockets, how the bike is ridden, and the maintenance.

I clean my chain about twice a year, whether it needs it or not, and I get about 2000 miles out of mine. Standard quality SRAMs.

There's a vague possibility that you get your chain too clean, and the new lube doesn't get worked into the chain well enough. But just a vague possibility.

There's also a possibility that you're a bit obsessive about all of this, and as a result have applied too much pressure to the chain stretch gauge and distorted it. You should test your gauge on a new chain, and test one of your removed 0.75 chains at a bike shop, to make sure that your gauge is still good.

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Interesting comment about the chain gauge. I'm very gentle with it and it's a single piece of pretty strong metal so I doubt it's been damaged, but I'll check it out. –  Mac Jul 21 '11 at 5:45

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