Drivetrain Maintenance. Part 1: The WIPE

By | February 23, 2015

Drivetrain Maintenance. Part 1: The WIPE

Let’s not kid ourselves this cycling hobby can get expensive.  Top end bikes can run tens of thousands of dollars.  Whether you spend hundreds or thousands on your bike, any cyclist should be able to perform routine maintenance on their ride.  It prevents costly repairs and can catch potential problems before you find yourself stranded.

Over my many years of bike ownership, I have built wheels, tuned derailleurs, replaced cables and tuned brakes.  However, the most important regular preventative maintenance can do is cleaning your bike.  Regularly cleaning and lubricating your bike makes it look better, perform better and last longer.  High tech carbon bikes can be fragile creatures.  Spotting wear early from excessive chain slap or rub early can mean the difference between a simple repair and buying a new frame.  SLO Cyclist will cover cleaning your bike from headset to drop out.  I will be writing about cleaning and maintaining the drivetrain.

A clean drivetrain is a happy drivetrain.  No, I cannot take credit for this piece of wisdom.  I wish I could thank the person responsible for these wise words.  A clean, well lubed drivetrain is quiet, smooth and shifts like butter.  Furthermore dirt and grit act like sandpaper to your drivetrain, shortening its life.  Depending on the level of your components, a set of chainrings, cassette and chain can set you back a several hundred bucks!  What is my procedure for cleaning my drivetrain?  How often should it be done?  What parts are we talking about?

Your bike drivetain includes:

  • Chain
  • Cassette
  • chainring(s)
  • front derailleur
  • rear derailleur
  • cables

When I service my drivetrain, I also inspect:

  • Wheels
  • Shifters
  • Brakes

It is impossible to spend too much time properly cleaning, lubing and inspecting your bike components.  In a perfect world, someone would clean, inspect and lube my bike and drivetrain every time I rode.  Unfortunately don’t have a team of bike mechanics on call and I don’t have the time.  Instead I divide my routine drivetrain maintenance into two categories.  They are the wipe and the deep clean.  This article will cover The WIPE.

The WIPE only takes a couple minutes.  It is performed at the same frequency as I add air to the tires.  If I am commuting 3-4 days a week, that may be twice a week.  If the bike has been sitting for a couple weeks…  I need to ride more, but I will do the wipe and add air every time I ride.  The procedure is as follows:

  1. Air up the tires.
  2. Check the wheels and brakes.  Spin each wheel to verify there is no brake rub and that the wheel spins true, squeeze the brakes and repeat checking for brake rub.
  3. Check for noises.  Turn the pedals backwards and listen to the freewheel click. Isn’t that a lovely sound?  Is the front derailleur rubbing on the chain?  Is the rear derailleur clicking?   Is the chain noisy?  A noisy chain is a chain desperate for lubrication.
  4. Examine the front and rear derailleur for grease/dirt build-up. Build-up on the rear derailleur pulleys is an indication that the drivetrain is ready for a deep clean.
  5. Look at the chain. Does is look wet and shiny or does it look dirty and gunky?  Can you read the markings on the chain?  If the dirt build-up is not too bad, a quick wipe down with a rag will help.
  6. A dirty picture.  Wiping down a dirty chain.

    A dirty picture. Wiping down a dirty chain.

    Wipedown the chain (The WIPE).  Shift the front derailleur to the largest chainring (the middle chainring on a triple is fine.)  Take an old rag (worn out t-shirts work well) and wrap it around the chain between the rear derailleur pulley and the chainrings.  Hold it in place with one hand and turn the pedals backwards with your free hand.  As you spin the chain through the rag, bend the up and down slightly and left and right to get at more gunk with your rag.  Be careful not to apply too much pressure, or you may drop the chain at the front derailleur.  Take a look at the rag and examine all the nastiness you removed from your chain.  Good Job!

  7. Lube the chain. I prefer Tri-flow, but there are a myriad of chain lubes made for every sort of conditions.  A chain lube made for dry dusty weather is insufficient for wet locations.  A great wet weather lube may attract dust and debris in dry conditions.  Tri-Flow works great, but does attract
    Adding lube to the chain.

    Adding lube to the chain.

    quite a bit of goop in dry conditions.  I apply using the squeeze bottle and applicator.

  8. Wipe off the excess lube. Excess lube attracts dirt and debris making your chain dirtier over time.  This is certainly true in dry conditions, but in wet conditions I may actually skip this step.  Don’t tell anyone!  To wipe off the excess lube is the exact same process as described in step 5.  Just keep in mind, the idea is to leave some lube behind, so be gentle.  The addition of lube likely freed up some more gunk from your chain.

So after taking five minutes quickly clean my drivetrain and check my bike for problems, I am ready to go.  It beats the heck out of being stranded or stopping for a mechanical.  However, what do you do if you its time for a deep clean?  The deep Clean will be covered in part two of this article.

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