This article originally appeared in our April/May 2010 issue.
After a cold, wet winter you can’t wait to get out on your bike. The only problem is, the roads are still wet, it’s raining and your baby is making a horrible grinding noise. How do you keep your ride as smooth as the day you bought it? Mark Beaver, of Cyclesmith Halifax, has some tips on how to get through this time of year with as little damage to your wallet and bike as possible.
Despite the fact you’re itching to ride, the conditions may not cooperate. So your favourite dry-weather lube may not be the best choice. “Wax lubes aren’t very good for rides where you may get rained on or where the pavement is still wet. The day after a ride like this, a wax-lubed chain will be rusty,” said Beaver, who uses a thin-bodied lube for wet or dry use in the spring. “I reapply it after the bike has dried off.”
Some lubes also have the added quality of a light carrier solvent which dissolves dirt on initial application. If you’re going to use a wax-based lube, you have to clean your chain before application. “Some biodegradable solvent, a toothbrush and a bit of scrubbing will clean off the exterior,” said Beaver.
You can also purchase drive train cleaning kits. These devices work well, but can be messy so it’s recommended to use them outside or put down a drop cloth. After using a citrus or biodegradable degreaser, make sure to rinse your chain with warm water and let it dry before applying your favourite lube.
If you ride outdoors year-round, be prepared to replace your chain and possibly the cassette each spring. Riding through the winter months can destroy your drive train unless you clean your bike after each ride and keep the system lubed. For winter conditions, Beaver likes a wet lube best. The oil allows it to stay on for extended periods of time, especially when the conditions are wet. The down side? Wet lubes attract road dirt, which acts like sandpaper, grinding away the thousands of kilometres your chain would usually last to mere hundreds.
Finally, one of the best ways to extend the life of your drive train is by measuring your chain with an easy-to-use wear checker, or even a standard ruler. On a new chain, a 12″ ruler will line up perfectly between the centres of two chain links. If you replace your chain before once it stretches by 1/8″, you can dramatically extend the life of your cassette and chain rings.
“You can almost always install a new chain without any skipping problems due to chain wear on the cogs and chain rings, if you replace the chain soon enough,” Beaver says. On a road bike, this typically falls in between 3,000 km and 5,000 km. On a mountain bike, you may wear through a chain in 1,000 km or less depending on the conditions you’re riding in. Keeping your drive train clean and lubed is important because a chain typically costs $25 to $100 and a cassette can set you back two or three times that.