11

I tend to lubricate my chain about every 150-200 miles based on the conventional wisdom and general guidance I've read and heard. I have been using Rock N Roll Gold lube for some time, as it's been recommended to me as one of the better lubes available. The instructions on the back of the label say to squirt a thin, steady stream of the lube onto the chain at the cassette while pedaling.

The problem is, after I've done this (and, of course, the requisite wipe-down), I begin to hear a pretty awful-sounding crunchy, gritty, grinding noise in the chain as it runs across the front chain ring(s). it sounds like there's sand and grit getting smashed around in between the chain and the teeth on the chainring.

If I have my bike in my work stand before I intend to lube the chain and then pedal, it sounds reasonably quiet like a bike should. but then as soon as I've lubed and subsequently wiped down the chain, the noise starts.

I live in the city in southern California, and almost exclusively ride on the road -- not really on or near gravel or sand. I've experienced this across several bikes, from my old entry-level road bike to my current and very high-end custom gravel bike, which has less than 200 miles on it.

The noise often stops after some time, but it makes me concerned that I may be prematurely wearing out my chain. someone at my (friendly) local bike shop half-jokingly said, "you must be doing it wrong". My question is... am I? Should I be using a different lube? Am I really supposed to be performing a full clean and degrease every ~150 miles before I apply the lubricant?

6
  • 6
    I don't want to jump to conclusions, but the first paragraph talking about choosing an interval based on mileage and arbitrary advice but not the observable state of the chain hints strongly that you might be overlubricating, which is easy to do if you're choosing any other criteria to lube the chain than it being observably dry. Jan 19 at 9:31
  • Sounds like your roads are particularly dusty? Have you considered a hot wax process instead? This leaves the chain quite clean and unable to pick up dust/dirt as easily
    – Criggie
    Jan 19 at 9:31
  • 2
    Do you wipe the chain after lubricating it, giving it .5 to 1 hour to air the solvents?
    – Carel
    Jan 19 at 18:23
  • 1
    @NathanKnutson i've often wondered about this "conventional wisdom" but it's what i keep coming across when i ask friends, mechanics, or The Internet. also, the copy on the Rock N Roll label says "this stuff cleans and lubes all in one step". apparently, not well enough! it makes sense that a lube, no matter how magical, wouldn't clean as well as a dedicated degreaser. Jan 19 at 19:23
  • 2
    The most important thing in caring for your chain is getting into a rhythm that makes sense and is based on what your senses are telling you, not abstractions or what works for other people. That means knowing the look, feel, and sound of a chain that actually needs lubrication, and knowing how much to put on for your needs and habits and the product you use. You live in a mostly dry climate and this is a lube with an oil component (it's a wax-oil hybrid) and so that makes it very easy to overlubricate if you don't do it this way. Jan 19 at 23:27

4 Answers 4

16

You cleaned sticky stuff made of ground up bits of dirt, lube and metal from the chain etc. out of the chain, and the lumpy bits stayed behind. With the sticky stuff washed away, you now feel the grit that was always there. You did nothing 'wrong' as such, you just need to do a deep clean to get rid of the grit (which is never 100%, the unlubed chain after a clean always feels a bit gritty), or use a wet lube so you don't feel the grit (you feel it more with dry lubes).

The trick is to balance performance, cost of lubes/cleaners, cost of new chains and your time (and if you enjoy it or not). Only requisite for chains is measure chain regularly (a 30 second job) and replace when worn.

One person might find it perfectly reasonable to never clean a chain properly, just use an all in one 'clean and lube'. Another person might find that approach abhorrent and suggest deep cleaning the chain after every ride.

For me, I clean the chain based on how I feel, what I have one and free time, and what riding I just did (I ride MTB , often on coastal trails with lots of sand, so can get pretty bad). I lube after almost every ride. My chains probably sit towards the 'neglected' end of the spectrum, but new chains are cheap and easy to install for a time poor person.

In this case, your chain could do with a deeper clean than a squirt on all-in-one can do. If the shifting and riding feel is still good, its not needed, just means a bit more wear on the chain and earlier replacement than it might otherwise need.

One thing to be wary of is unless you are running $100 chains, it is very easy to spend more on fancy lubes than the wear they save.

3
  • 5
    When I lube my chain, I mainly lube it to spare me from bad sounds and creaks rather than save some wear. But then I am certainly not lubing for every ride. Unless it is a 100 km+ ride but I am known to neglect it even then. Jan 19 at 21:11
  • And it is really not about paying for fancy lubes, but a bit if dishwashing liquid and soap to get the ugly stuff away. And then some cheap mineral oil fer generic machine use (sewing machines use the same, at least the bottle says so). I find it also makes the chain much nicer in look and much more pleasant to handle, even without gloves. Jan 20 at 14:23
  • This. I just wipe the chain down with a cloth, put a few drops of lube on the chain, then wipe away the excess. In wet weather I basically do it after every ride, in dry (but not sandy/dusty) weather only every couple hundred kilometers.
    – Michael
    Jan 20 at 16:31
15

This sounds like that the chain might not be clean enough before being lubed. It is important to clean the chain thoroughly before lubricating. Otherwise dust particles will remain in the chain and will wear it.

What wears the chain is the grime inside the joints, the rollers. What wears the chainrings is an overused chain that became longer by having the joints worn.

I suggest a dedicated chain cleaning tool to clean your chain regularly. And especially before lubricating.

Something like:

I am not advocating for any particular brand.


"Am I really supposed to be performing a full clean and degrease every ~150 miles before I apply the lubricant?"

If you are on a long trip somewhere and the chain needs re-lubing, no. Just lube it. But if you are at home, yes, really. Give it a quick wash with such a tool. A dish washing liquid with water may be sufficient in it. It depends also on the type of grease you use. Some are easy to wash off (dry lubes), some are harder (wet lubes).

I would put more stress on the word clean and less on degrease. But the old grease contains the grime so you need to remove it as well.

If really every 150 miles? That truly depends whether the chain needs lubing or not. The mileage between lubing will vary strongly depending on the environment, weather and the type of the lube. And your willingness to have a dirty chain. At home with every relubing. But how many miles, that is really individual.

7
7

I think there is consensus in the existing answers in that cleaning before applying lube is the correct way. I want to emphasize that. The grinding and crunching sound is most likely dirt that the fresh lube moves around until it gets thick again, sticking the dirt away from the metal to metal contact points.

I have used a wide variety of chain lubricants, from bike specific products to general purpose oils, with varying degrees of success (Except wax based, unless it was a brand new chain), but the constant remained that, no matter what lube is used, it ends up dirty.

The most important is to clean the chain, but do not forget sprockets, chainrings and derailleur pulleys. You may have the cleanest chain but don't leave dirt and grime on the rest of the system, ready to cling back to your speck less chain.

Most if the time I do the cleaning using dish soap or clothes washing detergent and a small assortment of suitable brushes. (Indeed, some lubricants are easier to remove with one or the other). Only recently I've added a mechanical chain cleaner to my tool kit and they are a real time saver. Its also a bit less messy, specially if the chain es very dirty.

Regarding cleaning schedule, you must pick one that works for you given the actual conditions and frequency of use of the bike.

There was a time I was a delivery biker in a flat city where almost never rains. The streets I rode seemed clean, but the white bike frame always got a fine sooth coating and the chain lubricant turns to black paste in about a week. Here I used to ride about 350km or 218mi a week. That sooth is a mix of combustion waste from engines and dust from tires grinding against pavement, among other things.

I deep-cleaned and re-lubed once per week. Usually on Sundays, after a leisure ride, leaving the bike ready for the work week. It was a good cleaning schedule considering how quick the lube got dirty again. Occasionally I wiped the chain with an old rag and added lube before some rides, but skipping to clean meant next time it would be somewhat harder to clean.

I have also taken part on multi day road rides with stages ranging from 120 to 60 km a day during vacation time, morning was for riding and afternoons where free time. Those times, cleaning the bike and putting in order all your gear for next day, performing minor maintenance was just part of the whole trip. The daily cleanup was not strictly necessary, I could tell by how little grime you could get running a finger over the chain or that the soapy water took longer than usual to get dirty.

Nowadays I only ride MTB some Sundays and commute every now an then. I do this on different bikes, so it's kind of an effort in itself to keep track of how much I ride between cleanups thus I visually inspect the transmission and if I see a black paste in the cogs or pulleys, It's definitely time to clean. Otherwise I run my fingers across the chain and judge how thick and dirty the stains are. That means that for the MTBs It may be after every ride when it's rainy season or every 3-5 rides on dry season and as low as twice or once a year for the commuter since it almost never sees rain or mud.

6

The other answers to the question are perfectly good, but one point maybe should be emphasized given some of the comments.

Automobile engines generate carbon deposits as part of the combustion process, at least as far as I know (which is not very). There, detergents make sense in that they break down those deposits.

In bicycle chains, I think it's important to emphasize one thing that Vladimir touched on. As we ride, the chain picks up contaminants, e.g. airborne dust, dirt kicked up from the road or from the path, etc. Those stick to the lube on your chain. As you go along, some of those contaminants work their way into the chain's rollers. Without contaminants, your chain would still wear slowly due to the metal on metal contact between the pins and rollers (albeit this is mediated by lubricant). The external contaminants act as a grinding paste, which accelerates the wear rate. Many lubes contend that they clean as they lube, but it's hard to see how this could be. They don't contain, as far as we know, substances that break down these contaminants. If you are a hot molten wax aficionado, that process will clean the chain as you lube it, albeit it will disperse any contaminants on the wax into the pot, so the pot gradually gets more contaminated.

With a wet lube, I would recommend wiping the chain down with a rag after every ride for sure. The chain cleaners that Vladimir linked to are relatively convenient for cleaning a chain, and I would highly recommend them. When you run your chain through one, you'll see a bunch of dirty degreaser in the cleaner's reservoir. That dirt was inside your chain. As to the comments about over-lubrication: too much lubricant will attract more dirt and will be counterproductive. You can lube the chain - many guides recommend one drop per roller - then pedal the chain a few revolutions, and then wipe the outside of the chain. This may seem counterproductive, but the only place you really need lubricant is inside the chain. After a few revolutions, wet lubes will have penetrated into the rollers.

You do not need to do a full degrease every 150-200 miles. It would be better if you could do that, but if you can't manage this, aim to do this as often as you can. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Try for every month or two months. In winter climates with snow, or if you ride in the rain, more often would be preferable.

Neither of the other answers has really explained why your chain is noisy. Unfortunately, I can't account for that either, given your description of your riding conditions. The only thing I can suggest is to get one of those relatively inexpensive chain cleaners and see how much dirt is in there. The first time I ran one of these on a wet lubed chain, it took several cycles before the liquid started looking relatively clean.

If you are willing to remove your chain from the bike, you can forego the chain cleaner in favor of just a used Gatorade or other drink bottle. You'd just fill that with degreaser (diluting it is fine, or even water with some Dawn dish soap), shake the chain, and repeat a few times. You will need a quick link that's reusable; the Wipperman Connex can be reused without limit, whereas other links are rated for single use or for several uses (e.g. YBN rates theirs for 5 uses).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.