I've recently acquired a new bicycle with coaster brake and internally geared hub.

Naturally, I'd like the bike to last as long as possible. Unfortunately, the local weather seems to be stuck in "eternal autumn" mode, with rains at least twice a day every day, low temperatures and salt on the roads. Local terrain produces lots of mud and some sand as well. All this produces quite a bit of dirt on the chain, which I'd like to get rid of. Unfortunately, I don't really have any space for a workshop, where I could remove the chain and clean it properly, so I was thinking of getting say Park Tool CG-2.2 kit and using that to get rid of some of the grime. In the instruction manual for CM-5.2, it says that the bicycle should be pedaled in reverse during the cleaning procedure. This seems impossible with a coaster brake, so this leads me to my question:

enter image description here

Can I just turn the bicycle upside-down, so that wheels are pointing up, and then use the CM-5.2 by pedaling forward?

  • I've never tried it, and there would be some problems. You need to have the tool on the slack side of the chain as it's pulled backwards off the jockeys and onto the front ring. Probably, as Moz suggests, you'd end up with the handle (if you use it) on the frame side of the chain. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 3:39
  • It's definitely possible, but you will not use the handle. You just need to make sure the chain moves in the same way through the machine, and be gentle (lowest gear on your IGH, and don't be too rapid).
    – Batman
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 4:18
  • 1
    If you have someone else nearby, you could ask them to lift the rear of the bike (while still up-side-up) and pedal forward. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 5:39
  • @DanielRHicks these (or at least the cheap ones) also work if you run the chain through them the wrong way, so you don't need the handle on the inside. In fact I tend to run mine say 30cm backpedalling then 10cm forward as oterwise there a sponge that pulls out.
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 9:58
  • 1
    Most chain washers use a zig-zag setup of three brush-rollers, and this requires an inch or two slack in the chain. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:24

4 Answers 4



All those tools require is that the chain moves through them. They do require the chain move through in a particular direction so you will probably find that you end up with the handle on the bike side of the chain rather than on the outside, which will be mildly inconvenient. But it beats not being able to clean your chain at all.

Here's what I do, I took the handle off and set it up so the rear derailleur is pulled forward far enough that the chain cleaner can rest on the mech rather than hitting the idler. That lets me pedal with one hand and have a hand free for wiping the chain, chainrings, idlers etc. I also find disposable gloves essential for this, there's no chain lube that's good for your skin.

chain cleaner on bike

You could do the same thing with the bike upside down, but you'd need to rearrange things a little.

The question body makes it clear but the original title didn't, so just in case it's not obvious, if you have the tool upside down it will not work - there's a reservoir full of fluid at the bottom, if you invert it that won't hold the fluid.

(note that the above photo is a bit of a cheat, it's of a 406 wheel bike with hub gears so the derailleur is used as a chain tensioner and the chain only runs over one idler. But I do the same thing with my 622 wheeled road bike)


Absolutely it will work. Remember for about half the cycle, your chain is upside down anyway.

Some people prefer to use these machines to clean the chain on the bottom (low tension) part and others prefer to be above the chainstay on the high tension part.

Personally I think low tension makes more sense, because it allows the cleaning fluid to get in and clean out the small crevices.

My cheap one says the chain should go in one end and out the other, but it seemed to make little difference. A better cleaner might require only one way.

Finally, what cleaning fluid do you intend to use? I used plain old kerosene, which has left the chain dropping black tar on the chainstay for weeks afterwards. Plus the fluid went everywhere. You may prefer to use biodegradable dishwash and warm water.

  • 1
    The directions normally say to use the low tension part. Citrus cleaner is what is normally recommended.
    – Batman
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 4:11

I had one of these. With the exception of the narrow brush (which can be bought seperately), whos curved, toothed end is wonderful for cleaning gunk out of cassettes, I found the tool a waste of money. I wound up throwing mine away.

If you're seeing a lot of grime, your problem is almost certainly not the conditions in your area, although this can exacerbate the problem. Rather, you probably leaving too much oil on your chain/drivetrain.

The following will work better than the Park cleaner, save you money, and reduce your environmental impact.

Equipment needed

  • a general utility cleaning brush. Long bristles (2-3 inches), not too stiff. I got mine for 3 bucks at the grocery store.
  • Degreaser. Citrus degreasers are fantastic, and imho worth the money, but dish soap works pretty well too.
  • HOT water (I use a bucket too)
  • lubricant suitable for your weather.

I also strongly recommend a chain-checker -- a simple little tool for checking chain wear, but you can always just run by your shop periodically to have them check it, if that's convenient.

Cleaning a gunky drivetrain

I say drivetrain, because it's usually not just your chain that's gunky, the casset, chainrings, and especially derailleur typically get really gunky too. If you're keeping your chainring lightly oiled (defined below) you won't have to do this too often -- after a really muddy ride for example

  • put some hot water in a bucket.
  • put some degreaser (e.g. citrus or dishsoap) directly on the dirty parts of your drivetrain, and on the scrub brush.
  • scrub until you reachthe point of diminishing returns. The hot water is there to dip your brush in and get rid of grime.
  • rinse things off thoroughly. Dry it thoroughly (air drying is ok). Then oil your drive train as described below.

Regular maintenance

I do this once a week, or daily when riding in inclement weather. That's pretty frequent, but the more frequently you do it, the quicker and easier it goes. You can experiment with frequency depending on your riding conditions, but you should find this is all the drivetrain maintenance you need until you chain wears out, with the gunk-cleaning being a special case.

  • drip some oil on your chain while rotating the crank to get oil on all of the chain.
  • After youve worked your fresh oil into the chain take a clean rag (not full of gunk) and run the chain through the rag until no more oil comes off onto rag. You shoudl see a faint glisten of oil on the chain, but touching the chain shouldn't get your fingers oily. If you've been over-oiling your chain for a while, you might go through a couple of rags.
  • you can change your gears a bit as you do this to apply the process to all chain rings/cassette rings.
  • check that your chain isn't worn (you can do this less frequently). As soon as it shows worn, replace it.

If you ride a lot in wet weather, you'll need to do this more frequently. Frequency, not quantity of oil is key in this situation.

The most common mistake people make is over oiling their chains. The excess oil accumulates dirt and gets gunky making cleaning a hastle. Every single time you oil your chain, wipe it with a rag like this. Do this frequently enough and you'll always have a nice clean drive train. If your chain oil always comes of black (blacker than whatever lubricant your using which is rarely black), just do this process frequently until things start looking nice.

  • 1
    Good answer. I wouldn't bother with the "I ran a shop" stuff, post decent answers and people will accept them. We have a few users who write less than brilliant answers but say "I am a professional" a lot, so it's possibly even something to avoid. What counts is a clear explanation and some reasoning. People will often upvote even if they pick your answer apart a bit in comments...
    – Móż
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:02
  • Fair enough. I edited the answer.
    – Spacemoose
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:03
  • For me, the chain cleaner thing works better than hand brushing, but the rest of your answer makes perfect sense and I agree with your advice about wiping after oiling. I often don't do it, but I should :) Trouble is, I oil my chain just before I ride to work. I should carry a rag and wipe after a couple of km but somehow that never happens.
    – Móż
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:04
  • Wrap a rag around your chain lube and you'll always have one at hand. When your chain is well conditioned, the rag step is only a few seconds. As for the tool, I haven't done a rigorous experiment, but I find a good utulitiy bush much more effective. Perhaps it's a question of choosing a brush with the right bristle. I find the bristles have to be medium stiff and fairly long, or they don't penetrate into the gaps. But if yourhappy with the park tool, that's great. Oh, but the toothed, hook like part of the narrow brush is very useful for cleanin a gunky cassete.
    – Spacemoose
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:09
  • My commuter has a Rohloff, so that problem doesn't exist, and with my lazy bike I clean and oil the chain when I do my commuter, so it probably gets cleaned more often than it needs. The transmission is never mucky, even though the frame itself is muddy as because it's a CX bike and why have one of those if you're not going to take the dirty road from time to time?
    – Móż
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:13

Chain cleaning is about not removing the lubricants in the links that was put in at the factory. Any solvent or degreaser will inexorably remove that lubricant and you will not be able to put any back. You'll end up with shorter life for the chain that is leaking grease. The way to put grease back into the links would be to remove the chain and 'cook' it in a bath of hot grease to make it re-enter the links (motorcyclists did this before the advent of O-ring sealed chains.)

The best way to clean a chain is to use a stiff brush to remove the greater part of the dirt. Don't forget to brush your teeth (chain-rings and cassette, of course) Then to use an oil soaked rag and pull the chain through that. Last take a dry rag to wipe the excess of oil as dirt will stick to a wet chain.

  • 1
    How does this answer add anything to the already posted information?
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 16:16
  • 1
    @AndrejaKo Concur - this answer is about how to clean a chain, not whether a chain cleaner works upside down. The chain cleaning/hot lubing advise is good though, just not relevant.
    – Criggie
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 18:49

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