An Equal Opportunity Offender


Fuck you! This is how to lube a chain.

Editor's Note: As many of you have noted, I see a lot of crazy shit throughout the natural occurrence of my day. I would assume that a doctor, if allowed, could create a similar blog entailing some pretty nasty human shit. It just goes with the territory that if you are supposed to "fix" something you will see a lot of broken stuff. As proprietor of this blog, I am going to be somewhat self-indulgent and post certain "articles" detailing some of the most common or biggest mistakes that I see and how to avoid them. I am not a scientist and will not provide empirical data to back up my advice. All I can offer is the constant observation of a mechanic over the past 16 years aided only by those who I would consider mentors that have tried to pass on their years of observation to me.

Choosing to jump into the abyss is my style and as such will start with the polarizing topic of chain maintenance.

Those who have gone before me

Over the past 16 years, I have worked for and along side gifted mechanics that had years of experience under their belt. Many had learned from technicians similar to themselves and brought that knowledge with them. Having worked with and for these wrenches, I have experience many different theories and ideas on chain cleaning and lubrication. I have found that their are only a few basic ideas out there.

The first I came into contact with is the clean the hell out of it and then lubricate. Are you installing a new chain? Great drop it in the _________________ (solvent tank, plastic bottle, chain cleaner). Make sure you get all that sticky shit off before you install it. Got an old chain that is dirty? Do the same thing.

The second style, DON'T REMOVE THE CHAIN! I've heard many reasons behind this one, the most logical to me is that the chain can be put back on in many different ways and it will have worn with the chainrings in a directional fashion. Clean the chain on the bike. Again solvent, chain cleaner, lube. Simply process. Oh and of course, don't forget to wipe it down when you are done so it stays clean.

And then there is the old adage of lube excessively. Run the chain so it seeps into place and wipe off whatever is left on the outside. Clean with lube, lube with lube, leave the solvent for car mechanics.

My Personal Experience

As I mentioned I've been directed to perform all of these methods and have done so for years on end with each.

For a few years, it was common practice for myself to remove the chain and drop it into a used water bottle full of solvent and then shake. After only a few minutes of jerking off with a bottle, I could remove a bright chain that looked new. It was devoid of dirt, grime and lubrication. Sparkly clean.

I also used on-bike chain cleaning devices for many years. Simply set up the cleaner, run the chain through the solvent. Wipe it dry and lube.

I am opposed to both of those methods.

My Method

I was at a three day tech seminar a few years back. As you can imagine there is a lot of "shop-talk" that goes on at these events. Sit 5-7 mechanics around a table at lunch and you get some pretty diverse ideas and the stories are endless (as you can imagine from the content of this blog). The topic of chain maintenance came up in a question/answer kind of way. Everyone at the table was shocked that I refused to have a solvent tank at my shop. The obvious follow up question was, How do you clean chains? I replied, with lube.

It was about five years ago, I took over the management of a small shop that was ran by a grumpy, artistic son of a bitch who had built his shop over the past 25 years based on the idea of quality service. At the time I was using the DON'T REMOVE THE CHAIN! method described above. In one of his fits of clarity, he walked into the service area, saw me cleaning a chain with solvent and simply asked, "Why don't you just use lube?" And then proceeded to turn around and walk back to his studio.

In much the same way as the guys at the table, I reacted by questioning how I would clean the chain.

That simple question wouldn't leave me alone so I started to fittle with it. I finally approached him and asked how he would do it. He grabbed a bottle of lube. Lubed the chain. Spun it several times to allow the lube to seep into the links/roller bearing and then used a rag to wipe off the excess. The chain looked pretty much the same as what I had been doing. He then told me the story of being told by some grumpy old mechanic that if you want to lube something, lube it. No need for solvents...

This is the exacted mode of lubrication that we use in my service shop. Over the years, I've had to train and justify my methods to a few mechanics. Some saw the logic and proceeded without issue. Others fought the idea from the beginning all the way to the moment they chose not to work for me anymore. At which point I'm sure they walked out the door and ruined as many chains as they could with solvents.


In an attempt to convince one of these mechanics, I went searching. We use KMC chains.

I found their page on maintenance, you can read it here.

They basically say to not use solvents and the quickest way to ruin a chain is to run it through a "chain cleaner." If you don't know much about KMC, they pretty much live and breath chains. They make 'em for every application that you can think of. They know a thing or two about chains.

Shimano is a little less blunt about their methods. If you read the chain owner's manual you will find a section about cleaning/maintenance where it says to clean the chain to use warm, soapy water and if absolutely necessary a very mild solvent.

As an experiment, we took a shit dirty chain. It measured around .30 on KMC's digital chain checker. We filled a chain cleaner with lubricant (yup I couldn't even bring myself to use solvent for our experiment). We then proceeded to run the chain through the chain cleaner filled with lubricant until it looked clean. We pulled it out and it now measured .65. Edging very close to that don't even think about reusing this chain point. We replaced the chain.

I also took a brand new chain and did the water bottle full of solvent method. I was amazed (it had been a few years since I had cleaned a chain this way) at how loose the chain felt after it was devoid of lube. I lubed it up and installed it on my bike. After about two rides, it was squeaky. I lubed it up again, same results. In comparison to "uncleaned" new chain that you can go several weeks/months without doing anything to before it starts to squeak. Yup, your chain is best lubricated when it is removed from the package. Don't take the sticky stuff off.

If you look at this a little deeper you can find the cause of "chain stretch." Many people think they have such amazingly strong legs that they can literally elongate the outer plates of the chain making the link longer. What is really happening is that the roller bearing and pin are wearing out creating more play in the system. So why would you want to eliminate the grease between these two parts?

Sheldon Brown wrote a tongue-in-cheek article pointing fun at the many doo dads out there to clean and lubricate a chain. He also has an article that details many of the things I've been discussing. The article clearly states that the factory lubricated chain is the absolutely best lubed chain. He has a different take than I do about cleaning the chain. At the end of this section, he then states that it would be best to use the same method as the factory to re-lubricate. 

Conclusion: How to best care for your chain

1. Do not remove the factory lubricant.
2. Clean with lube, coat the chain in lube allowing it to seep into the roller bearing.
3. Remove excess lube with a clean rag.
4. Oh, and this is also the lube part of the process as well.
5. Lube and clean as you see necessary. Excess lube left on the chain is bad. Under lubrication is bad. If it is squeaking you waited too long. If it is gummy, you probably jumped the gun.


As I mentioned at the top, this is a polarizing topic among bicycle technicians. I have offered you my humble opinion back only by one of the biggest chain manufacturers in the world and 16 years of personal experience. Not to mention, the years of experience by those who taught me the trade. Take this for what you will. I'm sure there are many of you who will disagree, that's OK with me.


  1. Using a cleaning machine such as Finish Line can not be the cause of the roller/pin wear that you measured. It was perhaps already worn and the dirt was acting like little bushings. Once I cleaned a guy's chain and it then started skipping for the first time. By removing the dirt, I had revealed the chain wear. Of course I had to give him a new chain and half price on a new freewheel.

    If you clean a chain without paddlewheel brushes and using lube instead of solvent, you might not be getting the grit out from the deep innards. Take a nine inch long segment of the chain (which is still on the bike, I hope) and bend it gently into an arc. If it is clean it won't crunch. Most of the time it crunches. Use a machine and then wipe the chain and then repeat with water as often as needed. This may be the best way or I may be ruining chains, but I have sold a lot of tuneups and Finishline chain cleaners and solvent and had no complaints.

    When you are a one man bike shop, you hear all of the complaints. Personally, I get about 3000 miles on a chain with little off road riding and the amount of acceleration that you would expect from an arthritic 58 year old.

    Chain lube arguments are like religion. Well, almost all religions are beautiful and have made many people happy. Some fools begin wars over their religion, but they are not getting the meaning of scriptures, obviously. So there may be many ways of doing chain cleaning that work or there may be none. Same with deities.

    The finks in our local bike club have come up with many weird beliefs over the years because they listen to stuff that has been distorted through aural transmission. Maybe I have too. Once I brought one of their sayings to the man who allegedly said it, a real bike man who brazed his own frames and helped a lot of people over the years. He said , "I never said that."

    1. So, if the dirt is maintaining the dimensions, then don't clean it! Who cares? Just lube, wipe, and ride it until the stupid thing breaks! It'll make you appreciate the new chain that much more. I honestly don't get why people are obsessing over this so much. Are you really so exacting in how you manage your finances that you absolutely MUST get that extra 200 miles out of your bike chain? Really? You guys are acting like the bike chain is some precision piece of sensitive hardware when it's a string of connected bearings with very, very loose tolerances that sits out in the weather. Face it, drive train components on a bicycle are sloppy; they have to be in order to work. The sloppier the tolerances, the less it matters how contaminated things become. Your entire bike drivetrain is not long for this world the day it's created. All this obsessive cleaning and preening of your's like you are giving medical treatment to a dying mayfly.

  2. Good point but I usually go one step further. I'll pull the bike out of the stand after your afore mentioned steps then go for a quick ride around the block and wipe it off a second time. This gets rid of a lot of excess lube so you don't wind up with a big gooey mess.


    1. Quite right. I advise the customer to wipe again once or twice and by getting them involved, they feel better and sometimes become acolytes of the immaculate bike.

  3. Lest we not forget. Have you tried getting the solvent completely out of the fucking chain after dunking it in? I'm following my shop's policy here when I ask the following: What is happening to that remaining solvent when the lube hits it? Is it just making a clusterfuck mess? Every tried the solvent method on a white bike? Even after cleaning it off the bike, wiping, and reinstalling; you will get little black marks from deep within that chain FOR DAYS. Which has made me rethink the solvent method. Thank you for the points to ponder. I've only got 4 years in, thanks for what you do.

  4. what kind of lube?

    Pedro have a few kinds,
    chainj lube
    Syth Lube
    Ice wax 2.0 lube

  5. Thanks man, this question has been gnawing at me for years. I stumbled onto your site from Bike TInker and couldn't be happier. I need to replace my chain/cassette and was about to start looking for this answer when you popped up. I'm with you, I've had nothing but bad times trying to 'clean' my chains and just thought I was doing it wrong. Always a huge production with little improvement. That degreasing a new chain is some weird leftover of WWII rifles packed in heavy grease to prevent rust that need to be cleaned and re-lubed before you use them. It's a bike chain, dude, not a rifle. It's as lubed as it's going to get. Thanks for the piece of mind!

  6. Thanks man, this question has been gnawing at me for years. I stumbled onto your site from Bike TInker and couldn't be happier. I need to replace my chain/cassette and was about to start looking for this answer when you popped up. I'm with you, I've had nothing but bad times trying to 'clean' my chains and just thought I was doing it wrong. Always a huge production with little improvement. That degreasing a new chain is some weird leftover of WWII rifles packed in heavy grease to prevent rust that need to be cleaned and re-lubed before you use them. It's a bike chain, dude, not a rifle. It's as lubed as it's going to get. Thanks for the piece of mind!