I have two bikes: one having gear-things outside and one with inner-hub. The gear-outside-bike has suffered a lot due to the salt during this winter, the other hilariously looks like a new one. I noticed that some XC bikes have very thick chains and the metal used in chain is different, a owner told me that he changed to a thicker chain during winter. I am planning to do similar upgrade to my salted chains that salt has destroyed during the winter and perhaps to gears as well -- actually I must change everything at once because leaving destroyed gear-round-things would destroy new chain pretty quickly (heard this from an engineer). So:

  1. What should I look in chains and the gears for winter?
  2. When switching to larger gear-round-things and thicker chains, are there some special restrictions?

I have currently (3x9, 3 front and 9 back) gears.

  • I don't remember ever hearing recommendations for bigger chains/chainrings in winter, nor do I remember ever seeing such things for sale. Having said that, such things may exist and may be recommended and it may be that I'm an ignoramus (or should that be ignoramos?) I assume by bigger chains/chainrings/sockets you're talking about chunkier ones rather than altering the ratios?
    – Amos
    Commented Feb 6, 2011 at 15:15

3 Answers 3


Bike chains come in two sizes, 1/8inch (aka BMX chain) and 3/32inch (aka 9 speed chain). 1/8inch chains are designed for single speed or internal hub geared bicycles and the chain is designed in such a way that it can not be derailed from the sprocket. A 3/32inch chain is designed for a derailleur geared bicycle and is designed to ease shifting from one sprocket to another.

The thickness of the chain will have little if anything to do with how the chain behaves or wears due to road salt. People have many different views on how to keep your chain happy and prevent it from wearing, my advice would be to either invest in a full chaincase (for a singlespeed bike) or to dry and lube your chain after it has gotten wet.

The trick to lubing a chain is to use a rag to remove any dirt. Then apply a small amount of a thick bicycle chain oil to the inside side of the chain (the top side of the chain at the bottom side of the bike, or the bottom side of the chain at the top side of the bike, if that makes sense). Finally, spin the chain good and proper to get the lube into the chain (it's useless if it's sitting on the outside of the chain, it needs to work its way inside the links) and then use the rag to remove any excess.

Excess chain oil sitting on the outside of the chain will attract dirt which will cause your chain to wear prematurely.

  • 1
    I would add that I have found it helpful to put the lube on and let the bike sit overnight on the stand so it will penetrate, and then wipe it off the next morning before I head out on my commute. Commented Feb 7, 2011 at 20:27
  • 1
    Paul James: rag? I use WC paper, is that good enough?
    – user652
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 3:13
  • @hhh I'd imagine that anything that'll hold together and soak up the excess oil will work fine.
    – Paul James
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 10:09
  • 2
    Re "Bike chains come in two sizes", they come in far more: 11/128", 3/32", 1/8", 5/32", or 3/16" Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 0:03

The best option for protecting a bike chain from the elements is a fully enclosed chain guard. Here's one at work on my bakfiets:

Full Enclosed Chainguard at work

This works so well, I intentionally choose this bike to ride on rainy or snowy, slushy days. I've had our bakfiets about 4 years now, and have only oiled the chain once that I recall, when the chaincase happened to be removed for some other maintenance.

Besides the bakfiets, another bike available in the US with a fully-enclosed chainguard is the Breezer Uptown Infinity.

  • 3
    But it makes fixing a flat a PITA. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 0:47
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    In about 4 years of ownership, I've ridden in rain and snow dozens of times and I think had 2 flats in the rear. I'm still using the original tube and tire. Changing flats is really not worth optimizing for with this bike. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 12:09
  • 1
    That's easy to say until you're stuck in the middle of nowhere and the chain jumps off the front sprocket while you're fixing a flat. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 19:28
  • Yes, enclosed chainguards make more sense on city bikes than middle-of-nowhere bakfiets. That said, maintenance needs were so infrequent on the bakfiets, I didn't carry any tools or patch kits and never ran into serious problems. I even took it on a ~500 mile bike tour. Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 12:16

I assume you mean chunkier chain and cassette, usually cheaper? If so, I suspect cheaper is the main benefit. But you do get more metal with the cheaper chains and cassettes, so perhaps they will last longer in the muck. Since the derailler system will only last one winter, the less you spend on it the better. As Paul James said, you can't fit singlespeed chain and expect it to work with derailleur gears.

IMO a better solution is a chaincase on the hub geared bike and stick to that in winter. Even the something like the Hebie Chainglider will help a lot and is easier to retrofit than a proper chaincase (http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/category/accessories/product/chainglider-33772). The full metal case (or fragile plastic on the modern Dutch bikes) means you can basically ignore the chain unless you actually immerse it in water. Possibly one of the Hebie products that gives less coverage will help.

A DIY version of that is to use black plastic poly pipe (from a garden shop) over the horizontal parts of the chain. You only need a metre of it so cost isn't really an issue. Recumbents use this all the time because they usually have a lot of chain and run it close to the rider, so it's a "known good" solution for them. Whether it actually helps on a safety bike I don't know.

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