Cleaning / Lubricating A Drivetrain

Bicycle Maintenance:  Cleaning / Lubricating A Drivetrain

By: Paul Hughes

One of the most important aspects of proper bicycle maintenance is many times also the most overlooked or ignored.  That is cleaning and lubricating the drivetrain.  The drivetrain includes the chain and the front and rear gear sets.  I have tried several techniques and products to clean a bicycle drivetrain from soap and water to household degreasers to rubbing alcohol.  Keep in mind, some of this was tried many years ago before it became critical to keep internal components from being exposed to water as much as possible.

After a lot of work and trial and error, I have found one product that makes cleaning a bicycle chain and gears a snap!  Keep in mind this is in no way an endorsement for any particular product, I am just sharing my personal experience.  What I now use and am completely satisfied with is White Lightning Clean Streak.  It is a DRY degreaser that leaves no residue behind.  It comes with a straw that fits into the spray nozzle so it is very easy to direct the degreaser exactly where you want it to go.  Another benefit of this product is there is basically no scrubbing required.

In order to clean a drivetrain, simply take your bicycle outside and find a suitable location where you can lean the bicycle against something and the pedals can be spun by hand.  Also, a side note here, find a location that you don’t mind having the dirty, greasy residue accumulating.   Cleaning it inside the garage will leave black residue on your concrete, as my wife has pointed out to me several times.  J

Take the can of Clean Streak and spray down the rear gear set and the cogs of the rear derailleur.  It does not take much and you can easily see when the grime and dirty, old lubricant is gone from the rear gear set.  Next, as you spin the pedals by hand, spray down the chain.  The best way to spray the chain is a little out from the lower rear derailleur cog.  Spraying the inner portion of the chain will push the dirt and old lubricant outward causing the chain to be completely cleaned.  After spraying the chain for three or four revolutions, take a rag and squeeze the chain on the top and bottom and turn the pedals again.  Swap around the rag often to assure complete cleaning of the chain.  Once the chain has been wiped, take the rag and wipe down the rear gear set and use the edges of the rag to get between each cog.  Finally, wipe off the front gear the chain is not currently running on.  Then change gears on the front and rear and wipe down the other front gear and the rear gear the chain was originally running on.

Once this has been done, you have a completely clean drivetrain and you are now ready to apply new lubricant.  There are many types of lubricant on the market and the opinions of what type to use are as varied as types of lubricants.  The main thing to remember is there are two primary classifications of lubricant: dry and wet.  Dry lubricants are wax based while wet lubricants are oil based.  The biggest argument for dry lubricants is they don’t attract dirt as bad.  My personal opinion is using wet lubricants.  My experience with dry lubricants is they don’t last as long and when they start wearing off, shifting is not as smooth.  Again, this is my opinion and it will be very easy to find someone who thinks otherwise.  What I suggest is you try the two classifications for yourself and you decide what type you like to use best.  I have settled on a ceramic wet lube that is somewhat of a hybrid and pretty much gives you the best of both types.

Well, enough discussion, on to applying the lubricant so we can get out and do what we really want to do, ride.  The best way to apply a lubricant is to place a drop on each link of the chain on the inner side of the chain.  This will allow the lubricant to penetrate through the chain from the inside out.  Your selected lubricant may have specific application instructions and if so, be sure to follow them for best results.  After applying the lubricant to the chain, I normally apply a small amount to the cogs on the rear derailleur and then slowly spin the chain several revolutions to help work in and spread the lubricant.  Finally, take a clean rag and again squeeze the chain on the top and bottom as you slowly turn the pedals.  Doing this removes any excess lubricant which will help prevent attracting dirt back onto the drivetrain.  Rub the chain with your bare fingers to verify the excess lubricant has been removed.

One last note, for a road bike, you need to keep up with the mileage on your chain and I suggest replacing a change every 1,200 to 1,500 miles.  A chain is much less expensive to replace than gear sets that get worn due to an overused chain.  On my mountain bike, I usually let replacing the chain be dictated by how much dirt and grime builds up in the chain and how the chain reacts on the mountain bike.

Now, go enjoy a long bike ride and see how much better a clean drivetrain pedals, shifts, and rides!


Adjusting derailleurs

Bicycle Maintenance:  Adjusting your front and rear derailleur

By: Paul Hughes

In this month’s maintenance section, we wanted to take a look at adjusting your derailleurs.  This can easily be done with just a bit of practice.  Knowledge of how to adjust a derailleur, especially a rear derailleur can mean the difference between a smooth long weekend ride and stressful one.

Usually when we realize the derailleur is a bit out of adjustment is on a Friday evening when we are getting the bike ready for a long Saturday or Sunday ride.  At that point, it is too late to take it to the bike shop, but if you know how to do the adjustment yourself, you can save a lot of time and money in the long run.

The front derailleur is usually very consistent and once it has been properly adjusted, unless you have cable stretch, it usually never gives you any trouble.  The rear derailleur, however, due to substantial use, will tend to fall a bit out of adjustment from time to time.  If the rear derailleur stops have been previously set properly, the minor adjustment required to handle correcting a cantankerous rear derailleur can be made by simply using the barrel bolt on the rear of the derailleur.  The barrel bolt is the bolt that the cable goes through on the derailleur and it can be used to easily adjust the tension on the derailleur.

Place the bicycle on a bicycle work stand or turn it upside down so it rests on the seat and front forks.  I would suggest if you are turning the bicycle upside down, you spread out a towel to prevent the front fork from being scratched.  Observe the rear derailleur cog closest to the rear gear set and verify they are aligned properly.  If not, turn the barrel bolt to correct the alignment.  Remember, a small partial turn of the barrel bolt makes a big difference in adjustment.  Once you have done this begin turning the pedals and shift through the rear gears.  Make minor adjustments using the barrel bolt until you have everything shifting cleanly.

We have included links to a couple of videos that will fully explain all the different components of the front and rear derailleur and take you through a complete top to bottom adjustment of both the front and rear derailleurs.  These videos apply to both mountain and road bikes.

Rear Derailleur Adjustment:

Front Derailleur Adjustment:

Tire repair

Bicycle Maintenance:  Flat Repair / Tire Replacement

By: Paul Hughes

The easiest way to become stranded when riding a bicycle, whether that be a road or mountain bike, is to have a flat tire.  The solution to this problem is simple provided you have the proper equipment and the knowhow to repair the flat.

In this article, we will look at the equipment needed to repair a bicycle flat.  Through a video, you will also obtain the knowledge to be able to repair a flat.  Please note, this article applies to clincher style tires and does not apply to tubular tires but most folks have clincher style tires on their bikes.

The necessary equipment includes a replacement tube, a set of tire levers, and a hand pump or CO2 cartridge inflation kit.  These items, along with a bicycle multi-tool should always be in your bicycle equipment bag and that equipment bag should always be on your bicycle.  If your luck is like mine, the first time you do not have your equipment bag will be when you have your first flat tire and it will probably be 95 degrees on top of that! J

It is also important to assure you have the proper type and size replacement tube for your bicycle.  Carrying a spare tube is much better than trying to patch a tube with a repair kit and I think that is why they basically quit selling repair kits in the mid 80’s.  You have probably have been riding a long time if you remember repair kits.

If you have never attempted to repair a flat, I would suggest practicing once at home while watching this video: .  We have included a video because it is so much easier to learn by seeing someone replace a bad tube than to try to explain in words how to do it.

Another aspect related to tires is inspection of your tires regularly.  This is particularly important on a road bike because the road bike tires are more susceptible to wear than are mountain bike tires.  For example, locking up the brakes on a road bike usually results in a damaged tire and in some cases can destroy a road bike tire.  If, during inspection, you notice badly worn spots, cracks, or flat spots, it is a good idea to replace the tire to prevent a potential catastrophic tire failure while riding.  To replace the actual tire on a road bike, follow the same steps for replacing a tube, but after removing the tube, remove the entire tire from the rim.  Then, put one side of the new tire on the rim using the tire levers and continue with the tube replacement as shown in the video.  Here is an additional video, which shows exactly how to replace the tire and the tube: .

Flat repair and tire replacement are the most basic aspect of bicycle maintenance.  Fixing a flat is pretty easy and if you ride more than a couple of miles away from home, it is a good thing to know how to do.  Just remember, having the proper equipment is also a requirement and no rider should ever be without the equipment required to repair a flat.  Finally, if you have the knowledge and the proper equipment you might run across a stranded rider one day and be able to offer assistance and provide a learning opportunity for them.

Things I learne…

Things I learned at Cheaha Challenge

By Dave Crocker 

One of the first things I learned is that it is pronounced Chi-ha, as in Chief says “Ha, no self respecting Indian try to climb that big mountain on silly little bike wearing silly little shorts.  That what we catch horses for.”  The mountain was named by the Creek Indians and means “High Place”.  Boy did they get that right!  It is the highest point in Alabama and the Starting Line sure doesn’t feel like it starts out at anywhere near even the second highest point in Alabama.  The course starts out with some gentle rollers but it doesn’t take long to find some real climbing.

The area has really accepted that biking can bring in visitors and there was plenty of support evident both in the area before and during the ride.  The rails to trails Chief Ladiga trail can also be found in Piedmont.  It is a 33 mile no vehicles paved trail that connects to the longer Silver Comet Trail in Georgia.  I’ve been on the Atlanta end of the Silver Comet Trail but didn’t realize that Piedmont and the Cheaha Challenge could be found at the other end.  The hotel clerk commented that they were used to guests wheeling their bikes thru the lobby and it was no big deal to them.  So don’t worry about getting sidelong looks when you come in with your bike or even when you have breakfast in your spandex.

Clip ins and falling over, they just go together.  No matter how long you have ridden, they’re always waiting to catch you not paying attention at some point.  I think they are at their most treacherous when we’re just clipped in with one foot.  It’s like a Judo hold that they all know about.  Not even the most experienced rider is safe from their clip ins, right Mike?  Of course it helps if you are distracted by a couple of your fellow cyclists.  There you are discussing the course and your clip ins realize you’re distracted, your front wheel takes the opportunity to turn toward the low side of the road and your clip ins take you down.  I’m not sure if his wheel wanted to head over to the Porta-Pottie or the snack tent for some pickle juice.  Maybe it just wanted a cookie.  Because you know if you give a wheel a cookie . . . next it’s going to want some Chocolate Milk.  And if you give it some Chocolate Milk…

I learned that your Granny Gear can actually feel like too hard of a gear to push.  Now it doesn’t happen right away but at some point in your time at Cheaha, you’re going to go to shift to a easier gear and find that you’re out of gears!  Most likely you’re going to have to look down to make sure your shifter is working or not just plain lying to you.  Then you’re going to have to look back up to see the hill in front of you and then look up some more to see more hill in front of you.  Just keep your cadence as steady as you can, maybe stand from time to time and eventually you WILL find yourself at the top.  I think maybe there is a life lesson in there someplace too.  Just remember what Miley Cyrus says “It’s not about how fast I get there… It’s the climb!”

I learned that the sound of a Criterium going by is something you shouldn’t miss:  most especially the professional criterium when they are really grouped and pushing it.  The whirling sound as they flash by is something else.  The Noble Street Festival hosted the criterium races and they had a great course and setup.  They even had a Jumbo-Tron style TV set up with camera coverage over the entire course.  The races were also streamed over the internet so people could catch it from all over.  The host even announced they had someone logged on from Australia.  I imagine the Peloton would sound the same put I usually hear it a bike or two at a time as they drop me off the back so I can’t say for sure.

Speed is a relative concept; I believe it is relative to the size of your tire and maybe to how close you are to the pavement.  This theory tracks with my inline skating experience where 15 to 20 miles per hour down a hill can be scary fast.  That’s cruising speed on a bike with its larger tires but you can find some adrenaline pumping speed at Cheaha during the descents.  The nice thing about Cheaha is that it gives you taste of high speed with a straight descent on the way out.  This boosts your confidence so you can really go crazy on your way back when you have some descents with curves.  The race web site describes them as screaming descents so don’t forget to scream on your way down.  I can vouch for the fact that it adds to the experience not to mention really freaking out the guys going the other way.

Girl Scout Cookies should be stocked at all rest stops.  At the final rest stop mixed in with those poor wanna be cookies were Girl Scout Do Si Dos!  After battling some really strong head winds, nothing lifts your spirits like a Do Si Dos.  I think they may be even a better endurance food than the old standard of the PB&J Sandwich.  They had PB&J’s at the stops too but I have to say that after encountering the Do Si Dos, they pale in comparison.  Cheaha did a super job staffing the rest stops with great folks who did everything they could to help the riders.  This included passing out ibuprofen and plenty of food or drinks.  I had trouble finishing a water bottle off because of the helpful ladies asking “water or Gatorade” who kept trying to take it from me so they could fill it up for me!

In addition to the folks out on the course, there were also volunteers back at the finish.  There were folks clapping for people as they came in and tents set up with lunch (with cold beer!) for the hungry riders.  The showers had plenty of hot water and made a perfect contrast to the cold beer which I have to say went down awfully easy.  I’m afraid I didn’t catch the name of the guitar duo that was playing at the after ride gathering but it made for a nice ending to a really great day of riding.  Many of the riders sat around and discussed the experiences of the day before heading back to their homes.  You know, after looking back on the overall trip, I just may need to be “challenged” again next year!

Paul and Charles also joined David for this sufferfest…

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