How to Properly Oil Your Bike Chain, or “A Dumbass’s Guide to Basic Bike Mechanics”

Posted: August 11, 2016 in Bike, Equipment
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On Monday, I took Daisy in for her annual check tune up to in.cep.tion cyclery.  I figured it was high time since I’ve been putting a lot of kilometers on her this summer as I am apt to do every year and, being an older bike, I like to ensure she is in good running order.

Among the list of things I wanted accomplished this time around was to have the rear cassette cleaned out as it appeared as if a squirrel had proceeded to build itself a nest in it for all the gunk and road debris that had built up in it the past few months.  I thought this was normal.  However, upon pick up the next day, Brandon (the proprietor of in.cep.tion cyclery and ‘go-to’ guy for all things bike) dropped a little mechanical science on me regarding how to properly maintain my bike chain and, ergo, my rear cassette.

And, yes, I agree, for most cycle guru’s out there this might already be common knowledge and likely prompt a “What the fuck Terry, really?”  but, for all the other mechanical buffoons out there – like myself – this was a great learning opportunity that I thought I could share; basically, how to properly oil your bike chain.

For most, this probably seems like such a no-brainer thing to do requiring very little knowledge and mechanical aptitude; drop a few drops of oil on the chain, spin the pedals a bit and, Bob’s your uncle, you’re set to go.   How hard is that?  However, as it turns out, I’ve been doing it all wrong.  As I learned yesterday, there is a preferred “process” involved in effectively unfunking (ie. lubing) a bike chain that will both significantly improve your ride as well as limit the amount of wear n’ tear on the chain itself over time.

For the past eight years I have been lubing my chain the same way – the way I was shown how: drop a few drops of oil on my chain where it sits on the rear cassette (see below), and run it through by spinning the pedal backwards.  Presto!

Good to go.

1

Wrong.

First off, you should never drop the oil on at the rear cassette.  What I was basically doing was gunking up my rear cassette so that during the ride all the dust, grit and gravel I was inevitably riding over was being drawn up into the cassette and sticking there.  Hence the rats nest of shit that had built up in my rear cassette.  All this grime was essentially wearing down my chain prematurely each time the cogs passed through this tangled mess of debris.  Secondly, in applying the oil in this manner, I was dropping the oil on the top of the chain.  Now think about it, the top part of the chain isn’t really what comes into immediate contact with either the front or back cassette, or rear derailleur for that matter.  No, the bottom does.  So why am I applying oil on the top then?

Because I’m a total idiot, apparently.

Instead, I should be applying the oil to the bottom of the chain and, then, not over the rear cassette.

Here:

2

This way when you run it through the chain by spinning the chain backwards, it is more effectively lubing the actual parts of the chain that will come into contact with the rest of the bikes drive parts (ie. the cassettes and derailleur’s).

Makes sense, right?

 Let’s review:

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Now, here’s the critical part.

Once you’ve applied the oil and run it through:

WIPE IT OFF.

Yes, wipe it off.

hioly shit!

I know.  It blew my mind too.

Before you begin riding, take a rag and gently hold it against the chain and continue back pedaling lightly in order to wipe off all the excess oil.  I know this might seem counter-productive, but the only oil that is really necessary is the oil which has seeped down into the chain cogs themselves as that essentially what comes into contact with the cogs of the front and rear cassettes.  Any extra oil on the top or bottom of the chain is only going to serve to further gather up more unnecessary road crap and then proceed to drag it all through the cassettes, which you definitely don’t need.  In essence, once you’ve finished this process, very little oil should come off at all if you were to run your fingers along the chain.  Currently, if I were to do this with my chain (well, prior to today anyway), I would be looking at grease marks which would likely never come off without removed a layer of skin.  And, heaven help me if it gets onto my cycling kit.

Just ask Kelly.

Honestly, how many times have you ended up a ride with that toothy imprint where you your right leg had briefly rested against the chain wheel; affectionately known as a “shark bite”.  Ideally, that should never happen.  Me?  I don’t consider it a ride unless I have to practically take a Brillo pad to my calf in the shower afterwards.

To me, this bit right here was a total revelation.

So I took Daisy out for spin today with her new clean and improved cassettes and here’s what I noticed immediately.  She sounded better and she rode smoother.  Sure, having just had a proper tune up certainly would have had something to do with this but, I’m also wagering that not having to have the chain pass through such crud in the rear derailleur had something to do with it as well.

So for those of you who were either shown how to do this seemingly basic bike maintenance procedure incorrectly, or just plain didn’t know any better (I fall into both brackets apparently)…now you do.

Happy riding.

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