One of the main reasons I eventually give up my bicycle commute in winter is that keeping my bike -mainly the drivetrain- clean despite all the rain/dirt/salt/hail/snow becomes too much of a time suck.

The weather means I feel I have to clean my chain at least every two or three days. But days are short and I have no shed. So on weekdays that means working in the dark under a streetlight in the cold. I know the cleaning is worth it, but after a few sessions with freezing fingers, eyes straining to find my tools I usually give up.

What I am looking for is a minimal routine that will keep my chain clean enough despite the weather.

[edited to add:] I'm currently trying the following, but I'm not sure how well it will work in the long run:

  • At the end of each leg of my commute I use my waterbottle to spray the worst of the dirt and (hopefully) all the salt of my drivetrain.
  • In the morning before I leave I check my chain and, if I feel there is not enough oil on it, I add a drop to each chain roller, turn the crank a few times, and wipe of the excess.

No cleaning (other than the waterbottle) no resting to let the oil seep in.

[edit2, to answer some questions:]

[Edit3: what I've done:]

I think I'll ride to the car wash every weekend or every other weekend depending on conditions. This takes me, including cleaning my chain and re-oiling everything after the hosedown, about 35 minutes including the 5k one-way ride to the car-wash. Pretty good!

  • 1
    You need a chain washer and (assuming you're riding in rain/slush much of the time) a relatively "wet" lube. If the weather is cruddy I'd use the cleaner about once a week, two weeks when the weather is dry. See WTHarper's comment on how to oil the chain. Dec 6, 2012 at 22:16
  • 2
    Do you have fenders on your bike? I mean serious, full-coverage fenders? This would cut way down on junk being sprayed into your drivetrain.
    – WTHarper
    Dec 7, 2012 at 2:26
  • @WTHarper: yes I have fenders. It helps a lot, but obviously isn't a final solution. Dec 7, 2012 at 8:30
  • I was just checking! Fenders do quite a lot in keeping the road slush at bay and in preventing the dreaded "mud butt".
    – WTHarper
    Dec 7, 2012 at 14:19

4 Answers 4


Rain, hail, and snow don't hurt a chain. Salt makes it rust, and dirt wears it out.

Salt: You won't get all the salt out without removing the chain from the bike. The chain is doomed. You can, however, easily delay this till spring with regular application of wet chain lube. A bit of rust won't hurt if you ride regularly.

Dirt: Given that the chain only has to last till spring, a quick clean with a chain cleaner (as suggested by @meager) once every few hundred miles will be fine. 1 minute of cleaning, 1 of re-oiling is enough.

Come spring, splurge on a shiny new chain. If your budget is really tight and you don't want to buy a new chain every year, keep the old one for next winter. When you take it off, give it a really good clean (off the bike), soak it in oil and store it over summer.

However, there are a lot of reasons why a new chain every year is a good thing.

  • 4
    +1 for WET lube (don't use a dry/paraffin lube). I've had good luck with ProGold and Finish Line. Don't bother pinching off equivalent drops on both ends of every bushing - just put the applicator on the inside of the chain, backpedal through a few revolutions, and wipe off the excess. It shouldn't take more than two minutes.
    – WTHarper
    Dec 6, 2012 at 21:47
  • 1
    Agreed. Treat the chain as a regular replacement part. Some places (in the UK at least) sell packs of 3 chains for a discount. It might be worth looking into the Anti-Rust chains from KMC and Clarks. Dec 7, 2012 at 0:22
  • 1
    Why do you think that a new chain every year is a good thing?
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Dec 7, 2012 at 19:51
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    @Jay : For more detail, theres lots of questions and answers on chain life. Roughly when the chain wears out it wears the cogs on the cluster and chain rings and new chains shift better and smoother making for a better riding experience. Chains are cheap, so why not replace them when stuffed.
    – mattnz
    Dec 7, 2012 at 22:01
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    Saying that Rain, hail, and snow dont hurt a chain is not altogether true. Moisture causes oxidation (aka rust). Salt+Moisture causes way more oxidation, and dirt+moisture=mud which is basically like applying industrial grit to the moving parts of your chain. Moisture by itself is a problem and moisture with other elements is a catalyst.
    – joelmdev
    Dec 7, 2012 at 23:17

Every two or three days is excessive. Biweekly should serve, even in winter months. The simplest thing would be to buy a chain cleaner and use it when you feel it's needed. Parktool provides excellent instructions as well as a suggested schedule for maintenance.

In addition, you should switch to a heavier synthetic lube in the winter. I've personally had no problem using Wet Ride - White Lightning the last two years.

  • Are you sure? My chain gets pretty squeeky when it dries out after two or three days of rain/wet snow/salt. Dec 6, 2012 at 21:29
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    You might be using too thin a lube. You should pick up something specifically meant for winter riding, like whitelightningco.com/products/wet-ride.htm
    – user229044
    Dec 6, 2012 at 21:55
  • I've not tried this tool, but if deep cleaning is a problem maybe this would allow a thorough clean more quickly: superstar.tibolts.co.uk/… Dec 7, 2012 at 0:13
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    @mere: The parktool one probably does a better job, as it soaks the chain in cleaner and scrubs the insides. The one you link to only appears to clean the outside edges of the chain and does not contain cleaning solution.
    – mattnz
    Dec 7, 2012 at 0:28
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    The superstar tool is apparently designed for fixies. The Park tool (and several others of similar design) is designed for derailleur bikes and would be difficult to use on a fixie. Definitely the Park-style tool is better -- it bathes the chain in cleaning fluid while scrubbing on all sides. Dec 7, 2012 at 0:49

I love my Park Tool Chain Gang Chain Cleaning System (CG-2). It is super easy to use and does a great job.

When I travel I will hit a car wash and give my bike a quick rinse, it's another cheap and effective way to clean the bike and drive train.

just make sure that you lube it well after cleaning.

  • I just tried a car wash today, this is a very easy way to quickly clean a lot of grime of indeed! Dec 9, 2012 at 20:32

Get yourself a Wippermann Connex link. IMO, they are the best and easiest quick links available. Reusable and tool-free.

Take your chain off; soak it in a mason jar full of mineral spirits for a few hours. Shake it around really well, take it out, and allow it to dry. Reinstall. Use Phil's Tenacious Oil as a chain lube during the nasty grimy winter months. Do this every week or two at most. Every few days is excessive.

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