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My Situation :

I degrease my drive train occasionally and absolutely hate the job. I also maintain my dad's bike, so this whole degreasing thing is really getting on my nerves now.

I use solvents such as paint thinners, petrol etc rather than what is typically marketed as 'bicycle degreaser', considering that to be weaker product for much more money.

[Typically in my region, especially marketed degreaser costs about 27x more than petrol by volume (if lucky), not to mention being generally less effective as far as chemistry is concerned]

Also, I use toothbrushes instead of a chain cleaner tool, but am realising that those devices are a good and reasonable investment if I am to do this regularly.

Not to mention I get pretty OCD about clean drivetrains but can't take the bike apart, because I have neither the tools, nor the time nor the patience to assemble and disassemble the drivetrain.


The Problem(s) :

Despite being excellent solvents, they aren't appearing to great cleaners.

If I intended to submerge my cassette and chain in them, sure they'd be perfect. But I intend to apply, brush and rinse.

For this task , these are quite the pain in the arse, requiring lots of re-application due to having vaporised quickly while I got up to stretch my back or sip some water; requiring more scrubbing to no end; and with petrol , being quite difficult to rinse off.

In the end , I get a decently cleaned but not sparkling chain and cassette , a through 2 hour back-straining workout and absolutely no desire to go clean my dad's bike .

Sure, the evaporation and chain-scrubbing issues can be fixed simply by using a chain cleaner tool. The rinsing problem can be used by boycotting petrol and sticking to thinner.

But of course, the cleaning of the cassette remains unsolved - it still takes way more brushing and odd angles than tolerable.


The Fantasy :

Now, a couple days back I saw a YouTube ad for WD40's bike degreaser. I understand ads are hyperbole and inaccurate. I also understand that regularly buying specially marked bike degreaser is outside the bounds of my budget.

BUT , the ad showed the dream degreaser. All you had to do was backpedal the suspended bike a few turns while spraying degreaser from the can to the cassette. The shit would foam up like luxurious soap. You waited for a while. You rinsed it off with a garden hose. Ta-Da ! Sparkling drivetrain !


The Question :

To someone who has actually used a marketed degreaser on his drivetrain, is the foaming and ease of rinsing real ? Does it actually get the grime very well with minimal brushing , like they show in all the internet tutorials ? Or is this just the magic of the exaggeration of an ad, and the jumpcuts of GCN and GMBN ?

Do I really need to invest in any more than a Chain cleaning tool ?

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  • I've got some foaming cleaner (not that one). It has its place but isn't magic
    – Chris H
    Nov 13 '20 at 17:35
  • Can you clarify what you mean by take the whole drivetrain apart? If you want to clean the chain off the bike, all you need to do is remove the chain. You don't have to do more disassembly than this. You can, especially to clean the cassette cogs and RD jockey wheels, but it's definitely not needed every time. To get the chain off, you only need reusable quick links and quick link pliers. (NB: Wipperman's link is near infinitely reusable and I think you can get it on and off by hand.) You can then shake the chain in a closed bottle, solving the evaporation problem.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 13 '20 at 17:56
  • Go ahead and spend the money for a Park Tools "chain washer". It is well worth the investment, if you like to clean your chain frequently. The solvent in it does not need to be discarded and replaced after every use -- you can wash the chain several times with one batch of solvent. Nov 13 '20 at 19:37
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    Just don’t degrease. Wipe down the chain with a rag, lube, wipe down excess lube. Done. The few kilometers you gain from thorough cleaning are not worth the hassle in my opinion.
    – Michael
    Nov 13 '20 at 20:05
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    @Criggie but that requires disassembly :(
    – An Ant
    Nov 14 '20 at 1:52
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I don't know why you think bicycle degreaser products are 'weaker for more money' when you have basically proved to yourself that gasoline (petrol) is a very poor cleaner because it evaporates very quickly.

I've had success with a basic citrus degreaser available at Home Depot that costs $4 for a reasonably sized bottle. It's effective at loosening dirty chain lube, minimal brishing of the chain and cassette is required and it rinses off with water taking the dirt with it.

I should point out that you are likely over-cleaning your chain. Too much solvent/degreaser removes the lubricant from deep between the link plates and rollers. I've found I get much better chain life by only wiping down the outside of the chain with minimal degreaser.

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  • I have so far been using the lazy solution: spray a foamy degreaser (the new-ish product line from WD40, likely the one the OP references), with the aspiration of graduating to using seriously deep cleaning (the brushes and rollers from that famed brand, in which the chain is dipped into a degreaser). Can you clarify whether your "too much solvent/degreaser" comment applies to the latter? Because I cycle mostly on paved trails, my chain gets greasy dust rather than tiny pieces of asphalt. Might this be one of those questions whose answer depends on the kind of dirt one accumulates?
    – Sam
    Nov 13 '20 at 17:43
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    @Sam I don’t think that deep cleaning a chain is necessary or desirable (unless you are doing the soak in parafin wax thing) I’ve found good quality dry lube and wiping the chain down regularly increases chain life. I was using a Park Tool chain cleaning tool previously. Nov 13 '20 at 17:49
  • I second the recommendation to wipe down the chain regularly (every ride is fine!) with a rag. This wipes dirt off the exterior of the chain, so there should be less dirt accumulating between the pins and rollers.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 13 '20 at 18:58
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    Bike degreasers are weaker because they do not get the grease out of 'nasty' places. You chain needs grease (lube), removing grease from hard to get to places means its hard to get it back where its needed. If you want you bike chain to look pretty, as in Steampunk style with lots of surface rust, aggressive degreaser is a good way to go. If you want your chain to perform and last and not rust, then less aggressive degreasers are appropriate. Bicycle specific chain cleaners are designed to give enough degreasing without over doing it, but other options don't have the bicycle shop tax.
    – mattnz
    Nov 14 '20 at 21:15
  • As for over-cleaning, thats couldn't be farther from the truth. You should have seen the drivetrain, in all its slick black glory. Oh, the gunk that seen on the annual thorough clean, it was worse than sewage sludge. Of course, I am learning and now regularly wipe down my chain, so as to stop things from being gunked up.Important too, considering the 150-200km per week milage. But no, neither are bike degreasers cheap here, nor am I over cleaning.
    – An Ant
    Nov 16 '20 at 10:26
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Keep three chains in rotation.

  1. One on the bike
  2. One in a jar of paint thinner/mineral spirits/turpentine
  3. One cleaned and dry waiting to be lubed and placed on the bike

Every month or so, fish the chain out of the jar, wipe it clean, and hang it to dry. Take the chain off the bike and drop it into the jar. Cap the jar and shake it vigorously. Lube up the dry chain and install it on your bike.

Keep the jar with the chain in the solvent near your bicycle. Every time you go for a ride, shake it some. By the end of a month or so, it'll be really clean.

When necessary, properly dispose of the solvent in the jar and replace it.

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  • 1
    And buy quick links in bulk Nov 13 '20 at 19:05
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    Actually, the Wipperman Connex link is available for 8-12s systems. The manufacturer claims it can be opened and closed by hand. I believe there's no specific limit on how many times it can be used. It may be a bit wider than most 11s and 12s chains, but apart from that, it's worthy of consideration as you only have to buy one. I had a 10s version that I recall worked as advertised.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 13 '20 at 20:28
  • @ArgentiApparatus Completely unnecessary. That belief only came about because of some patent on reusable links so manufacturers couldn't claim their links were "reusable" even if they in fact were. Note that patent expired back in 2013. I bought a pack of six supposedly-non-reusable KMC 10-speed links back about 2010 or 2011 and have been reusing them since with no issues. There's even a decade-old BikeForum posting: bikeforums.net/bicycle-mechanics/… Nov 13 '20 at 20:35
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    A trick is to let the solvent stand for the month (perhaps with the chain in it) , and then without shaking, carefully pour off the top ~90% off to a second jar. The remainder will contain 90% of the solids which settle over time, so you can dispose of that.
    – Criggie
    Nov 13 '20 at 21:38
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    @AnAnt If it takes you 30 seconds to find the quick link, pop it, and drop the link and the chain into the jar, you need more caffeine. Maybe another minute to put the newly-lubed clean chain on. How much time do you spend degreasing a chain while it's on the bike? And how much of a mess that needs to be cleaned up does that make? Nov 14 '20 at 12:04
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I use a chain cleaner and a nail brush with a handle for this job.

I use a citrus degreaser which is very strong but can be rinsed off with water. This solvent works with most bicycle grime but not the weird hard black stuff that city commuter bikes accumulate. You can buy it in 1, 2 & 5l containers anywhere from ebay to your local cleaning company. In the past I have used kerosene as a cleaning agent which also works well.

Method:

Clean chain with chain cleaner and citrus solvent. Use brush afterwards with chain in largest chainring to get the bits between.

Remove rear wheel. Dip brush into bowl of neat citrus degreaser and scrub. Rinse off with water. Repeat as necessary. Use a strip of cloth to get between the sprockets if required.

Reinstall wheel and wash chain with fresh water. Apply lubricant once dry. Wax lube collects less dirt. Don't get oil or solvents on brake discs.

The job should take ten minutes or less. There is a nice video that Purple Extreme (lubricant manufacturer) produced to demo their Golden degreaser showing you a very efficient way to clean the bike. It should still be on their website though I covered the main points.

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  • Could you clarify whether the product you refer to as "citrus solvent" is the same as the one you refer to as "citrus degreaser"?
    – Sam
    Nov 13 '20 at 17:32
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    @Sam use interchangeably. Various effective similar products available
    – JoeK
    Nov 13 '20 at 17:44
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    ...which is interesting, because there are two distinct types of citrus degreaser. The non-biodegradable variant is basically lemon-scented kerosene. The biodegradable version is lemon-scented mixture of detergents that varies between manufacturers. Some of these mixes work well, others not so well.
    – ojs
    Nov 14 '20 at 14:23
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One thing to put into perspective here is that the dirt that is doing the worst damage to your drive train is also going to be the hardest to remove, and most of the gunk you see is not interfering with your bike's functioning unless it is causing pulleys to freeze and links to bind and stop flexing. Specifically the grit that works it's way in between the pins and rollers is the stuff that causes stretch in the chain that wears the teeth of your rings and cogs. It's an "invisible killer" of drive trains. The rest of that gunk that you see clinging to your chain and gears is ugly and messy when you have to do repairs, but probably not effecting how the bike performs very noticeably unless you are Tadej Pogačar, or someone trying to give him a run for his money.

I have noticed that it is really hard to get that stuff out from in between the pins and rollers. I can clean a chain with de-greaser until it looks like new, but then when I flex it I can feel that grit, trapped between my rollers and pins, grinding away as much as before cleaning.

So what do I do to clean my chains you ask? OK, maybe you didn't ask, but I will tell you anyway. First, I de grease using an environmentally friendly citrus de greaser, then I run my chains under very warm water in my kitchen sink while flexing each link to flush as much grit out as possible. Then I dry the thing as well as I can, snap it back on the bike, and immediately thoroughly lube each link with Tri-flow, and wipe the excess off. I do this about once a week per bike. If you stick to pavement, unlike me, you can probably get away with two week intervals between cleans. cleaning the rest of my drive train is pretty straight forward, the standard procedure you would expect. I only use Campagnolo cassettes mainly because the individually removable cogs make them easy to thoroughly clean.

If having to do this kind of maintenance on my bike was so nerve racking to me, I would invest in a belt drive system with an internally geared hub on a couple of my bikes to minimize this work. Maybe consider that if its bugging you that bad?

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  • Dear bradly, thanks for the answer. You recommend investing in a belt drive system , which is the dream for me. Unfortunately, in my country, this is going to be incredibly hard. Incredibly expensive over what it costs due to crazy import duties. So, not only is it way off budget, but also I have no one to fix anything in case of issues in the hubs.
    – An Ant
    Nov 14 '20 at 1:58
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I'll probably be tarred and feathered for this by the community, but I have been using a normal pressure washer to clean the chain, cassette, etc. (either at the car wash, or nowadays my own one at home).
Works perfectly, is easy to apply, and costs nearly nothing.
Afterwards I use WD-40 generously.

I have been doing this for 14 years on my bike, and there are no negative side effects so far. I know that every pro starts crying when I tell them this, and tells me what I am all destroying by using the pressure washer, but I haven't seen any consequences yet, except of saving a lot on money.

You would be doing this on your own risk, of course.

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  • No , no mister. Nothing wrong with power-washing bikes, especially as long as you don't target the BB. Pro mechanics do it, Mavic neutral service does it, GCN and many other people have tested it, on modern systems, it's not bad. Only people crying at hearing this are likely amateurs or YouTubers, real pros barely have time to bother about how their bike is cleaned. My problem of course, is that I have no way to power wash my bike, and just use one of those pressure-spray bottles to spray wate, thus reaching not much pressure but just enough to rinse off degreaser.
    – An Ant
    Nov 14 '20 at 5:29
  • Yeah, the problem with pressure washers (or simply using a hose) is that, unless used with care, they are apt to force water into the bearings. This has caused the death of many bicycles. Nov 14 '20 at 13:01
  • not the pressure spraying, that is a great idea, but I will tar and feather you for using WD40 on your bike. It must be the worst "lubricant" on earth. In fact, it's not a lubricant I am surprised anyone still uses WD40 when there are thousands of superior products that aren't corrosive and actually provide lubrication.
    – bradly
    Nov 14 '20 at 17:00
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    @bradly WD40 works well on a bicycle. And even on a chain for some. As a degreaser it works very well, it also keeps shifters and brake calipers moving and prevent rust by dispacing water after washing.
    – Vladimir F
    Nov 15 '20 at 15:50
  • I can imagine using it as a de greaser, but I've tried it on my chain and within minutes of riding I could hear my chain. If you can hear your chain it could be lubricated better. People can do whatever they think works best for their bike, but I personally steer away from smelly chemicals like WD40
    – bradly
    Nov 16 '20 at 18:40
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Most people online advise against hydrocarbon based degreasers for environmental reasons. However, Kerosene/Diesel and Gasoline all work as great degreasers for cleaning your bike's drivetrain if caution is exercised when using them.

It is also of equal importance to wash the components doused in the aforesaid degreasers with soap and water to clean of any residue they have left.

At the end of the day, bike cleaning has become a religion and there will always be people who tell you that "x method is wrong, y method is right". Go with what works for you and allows you to save the most money.

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@Argenti's answer mentioned frequently wiping the chain with a rag, and doing a thorough clean less often.

Chain wear is accelerated by dirt getting inside the chain, between the pins and rollers. It creates a grinding paste in combination with the chain lube. If you regularly wipe the outside of the chain, preferably after every ride, you will be removing dirt from the outside. This means there's less to get inside the chain. You can then use the same rag to wipe off the derailer pulley wheels. This sequence was recommended in a very good Cyclingtips article on drivetrain cleaning.

From there, for occasional cleaning, I would recommend investing in an on-bike chain cleaner. Park Tools and Pedros make these, and probably other companies as well. When I used a chain cleaner, I thought it was best to remove the rear wheel and to put a chain keeper in the rear dropout. You can then brush between the gears of the cassette. However, removing the rear wheel is optional.

The chain cleaners have brushes that scrub in between the rollers. They also run the chain through a bath of degreaser. When I used one of these, I could see that it was removing quite a bit of particulate matter from the chain. This is a step up. Pro mechanics probably do this after every race. However, for us amateurs, it will suffice to do this on occasion. I submit that chain cleaners are less laborious than brushing the chain by hand.

This Cyclingtips article discusses some environmentally safe, usually bike-specific degreasers. I agree that these tend to be more expensive than non-bike degreasers, but you arguably don't need to use degreaser every time you clean the chain (i.e. wipe it every ride, thorough clean occasionally). Simple Green was not reviewed there, but it is a non-bike specific degreaser that can be used. Take caution that it can affect some anodized finishes, and that you shouldn't soak the chain overnight in it (it can cause hydrogen embrittlement, which can lead to the chain fracturing). Another alternative is just Dawn dish soap, and I'm not even sure it needs to be Dawn specifically. Poertner's vid (below) mentions Chemical Guys citrus degreaser, which is also not bike-specific. This degreaser won't cause hydrogen embrittlement, so you could soak the chain overnight in this (but it's arguably not necessary unless you are waxing your chain, which I shan't try to sell the OP on).


I realize that the OP said they did not want to remove the chain. However, I submit this for consideration: even a chain cleaner won't really get out contamination from between the pins and rollers. Consider the the brushes are approaching the rollers from above, so they can't contact the pins at all. Moreover, with a quick link and a pair of quick link pliers, it's very easy to break the chain apart. From there, you can put the chain into an old water bottle (I picked up a Gatorade bottle from the recycling bin), fill that part way with degreaser, shake the chain, and then repeat a few times. Moreover, if the OP wants to use gasoline/petrol or similar volatile hydrocarbons, the bottle will prevent those from evaporating, whereas a chain cleaner is still open to the air and should probably experience similar problems with the solvent evaporating. NB: riders using gasoline or similar in shaker bottles should collect the used fluid and dispose of it responsibly.

This cleaning process is illustrated in the first third of a video by Josh Poertner of Silca. Note that he's trying to sell you his drip wax lube, but you can ignore that bit. The video also shows how much more contamination the bottle method removes compared to hand brushing the chain.

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    I never remove the wheel for my chain cleaners (some cheaper generic brands though). Just clip on and backpedal. The bike can stand on the ground, no bike stand necessary.
    – Vladimir F
    Nov 15 '20 at 20:43
  • @VladimirF fair enough, I’ve modified the answer to acknowledge that removing the rear wheel is optional.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 16 '20 at 16:01

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