Chain Cleaning & Lubrication (A detailed tutorial)

Chain cleaning and lubrication is vitally important to ensuring your bike performs perfectly every time you ride but it is possible to over clean and over lubricate. In this video, Paul explains how to keep your chain clean, how to keep the lower and upper jockey wheels clean on the rear derailleur and how to re-lubricate your chain.

Video Transcript

Chain Cleaning & Lubrication (A detailed tutorial)

Hello and welcome to this tutorial for essential chain maintenance.


Now this is the video that you should be looking at on a fairly regular basis just to remind yourself how to keep your chain clean and keep the lower and upper jockey wheels clean on the rear derailleur.


Now this particular bike that we’re using for this example is my Trek Checkpoint ALR. And whilst it looks on the face of it in okay condition, it’s at a point where the chain itself is just starting to get a little bit dirty because of the amount of road grime and debris that it’s picked up. And also, the top jockey wheel in particular where you’ll be able to see has picked up quite a lot of dirt and debris so we need to get rid of that. So the only caveat to this video is that if you are back from a salty ride so a ride where you’ve been out in the winter in particular where there is a lot salt on the roads, we would never recommend just cleaning the chain down. We’d always recommend making sure that you give the entire frame a wash off and get rid of that salt that’s built up on the frame, the wheels and the rest of the bike – you never ever want to let a bike just stay covered in salt. So it’s the only caveat but for most times that you get back from a ride if you are really strapped for time and you just need to carry out the basics, then use this video. Keep the chain and the jockey wheels in the rear derailleur nice and clean and it will help avoid premature wear to the drive system. So, stay tuned and let’s get this let’s get this chain and drive system nice and clean and running smoothly.


Okay, so what are you going to need in this particular video? Well, what we’re going to do is we’re going to clean the chain and we’re going to clean the jockey wheels. So first thing that you do, you need to remove the oil and dirt and debris pickup that’s already been picked up on the chain itself.


What’s really important and where a lot of people go wrong with looking after their chain is they just put oil on top of oil on top of oil. And then the jockey wheels in between the cassette cogs and the chain rings and the chain itself just get clogged up with that build up of oil so what’s really important is before you actually start re lubricating, it’s really important to actually clean all of the old dirt, debris and oil build-up off the chain before you start.


Now this is where things like the Finish Line One Step is really good. It is a cleaner and a lubricant in one and it doesn’t oil the chain rollers, which is what you need your actual chain oil for. We’ll come on to that in a second. But what it does is it just helps to remove all the build-up of the old oil before we then start re lubricating again. So we’re going to need a cleaner and a lubricant.  We use finish line one step but there are plenty of other products on the market as well. So, that’s the first thing. Then we need to oil the chain once we’ve actually cleaned all the old dirt and debris off and for that you need either a wet lubricant or a dry lubricant.




So what’s the difference? Well the difference is that a wet lubricant is designed for use primarily when you are out riding and it is going to be wet and dirty through your entire ride. It basically is a slightly more viscous or thicker oil and it’s just designed not to wash off the chain as readily as a dry lubricant would. The downside to this is the fact that wet lubricant is also going to pick up more dirt and debris so it requires more cleaning afterwards.


So the benefit of dry lube is that particularly in sort of road, bike or drive gravel bike situation, you can put it on and, and you can go a slightly longer between sort of cleaning and really re-lubricating by using a dry lubricant. But that’s ultimately the difference between the two.


In this particular situation as we’re now just getting into spring, at the time of doing this video, it’s slightly drier out there. The road / gravel bikes are not going to get particularly muddy. We’re not particularly riding in very dirty and muddy situations. So I’m just going to remove locate this chain once we’ve cleaned it with a one step with a dry lubricant. So let’s get on and let’s get that done.


Okay, so the first thing we want to do is clean the jockey wheels off the rear derailleur. So these are the jockey wheels here. That’s your lower jockey wheel. This is your upper jockey wheel. And these are the first place where the chain will drop dirt and debris. And if the jockey wheels aren’t kept clean on a regular basis, then what’s going to happen is that when the jockey wheels get full of the debris, eventually it’s going to start dropping in between the cassette cogs and the cogs become full of dirt and debris, then what’s going to happen is, is that its gonna then drop onto the chain ring, so it’s just this vicious circle of contamination, effectively.


So if we can keep the chain and the jockey wheels clean on a very regular basis, then what’s going to happen is, is that the time between you having to then get the rear cassette and the chain rings clean, is then going to be extended. So that’s why it’s really important and this does not take long. If it takes longer than five minutes to do what we’re about to do just now, then you are doing something wrong, you know, it’s something that should be done on a on a very quick and timely basis and it will just keep the bike running quieter or keep it running smoother in between your main services.


So, to clean the jockey wheels off, the best thing to do is take a rag and pretty much just create a bit of a mouth between your thumb and your index finger and put the rest of the rag in the rest of your hand. So we then put the rag around the jockey wheel itself and then rotate the cranks back. And you can see here from the rag that it’s basically picked up all the dirt and debris off that lower jockey wheel. Now this one was okay, really. It’s just taking a little bit surface stuff so I’m not going to get into a new bit to do the upper jockey wheel. But if it’s pulled off a lot of pine needles and dirt and debris then do get on to a new part of the rag because you don’t want to be putting the stuff that you’ve just taken off the lower jockey wheel and adding it on. So get a clean part, but basically around the upper jockey wheel, and again, we rotate backwards and we can see here that we have taken off more contaminants. So I’m going to carry on and get on to a new bit of rag for the other side of the upper jockey wheel.


And again, we can visually see here that it picked up quite a lot of dirt and debris off the jockey wheel. So that is the lower and the upper jockey wheels now nice and clean and free of dirt and debris. So we’re now going to move on and clean the chain. So that’s the next job that we’re going to do.


Right so now it’s time to clean the chain itself. So what we’re going to do again, we’re going to take a cloth here, this time, you can just use a microfiber cloth for this and effectively want to put it into four. Fold it into the palm of your hand and then we’re going to be placing the cloth underneath the chain at the bottom edge of the chain so not the top edge of the chain but the bottom edge of the chain. But what’s important is that you don’t just spray cleaner or lubricant all over the chain and all over the drive system. We do not need to lubricate the chain rings, we do not need to lubricate the cassette. All we are doing is we’re cleaning and lubricating the chain. That is all we’re doing. If you just spray on to the rest of the drive system, then again, it’s going to get over lubricated. But what will also happen is that any of the spray vapour that comes off the spray itself could then potentially go on to your disc brake pads and the disc rotor. And what this is going to do is going to contaminate your brake pads. So we want to try and avoid that as much as we can. So do make sure that you do shake the spray can, place the rag underneath and then we want to spray into the rag and move the rag along the chain itself. Put your can down, hold on to the crank arm itself, and then just wipe back through.


Do that a few times, and you can see immediately just how much gunk has come off that chain. And the chain itself is cleaning the insides of the links. It’s cleaning in between all the faceplates of the chain. If the chain was wet, it’s going to disperse the water that’s sat in between all of these points. So the actual cylindrical rollers in the chain, the rivets of the chain and the faceplates of the chain, and it’s going to disperse all of that water and again, what it’s going to do is going to help against corrosion. That can happen if you just let a wet change just air dry. So this procedure is doing a number of things in one. What we then want to do is just rotate the cranks back again, you’ll then get onto another dirty piece of chain. We take the cleaner and again, we repeat the process. And we just keep doing that you don’t have to use too much to really get a good, a good finish.


And we’re going to keep doing this all the way, just get onto your next new piece all the way around, wipe back through and we’re going to continue until we’ve got all the way around the chain. And the chain is looking nice and clean and pretty much brand new again. I’m going to continue doing that and we’ll pick up the moment that I’ve finished doing that.


Okay, so that’s the chain now nice and cleaned using the one step. If when you’re doing this, something like one step doesn’t remove all the dirt and debris as much as you think it should do, it’s not brought the chain up to a nice, clean and sparkly finish because it’s been neglected a little bit more than this chain has been and you really struggling to clean the jockey wheels then, using a stiff brush and again a sort of bike specific steel stiff brush. Don’t be tempted to use a wire brush,  this is designed with plastic bristles. Again you can put those onto the jockey wheels, rotate the crank round and that’s going to help remove more stubborn buildup.


The other thing that might be of benefit at that point is to maybe use a specific degreaser. So again, if it’s gone a little bit too far and you really need to get rid of deeper dirt buildup, then an actual proper degreaser as opposed to just a chain cleaner might be necessary. So again, don’t worry about that and we will cover and we will cover deep cleaning a dirty transmission in another video. As I say this is this is designed to be just your essential maintenance and designed to be really, really sort of quick and easy.


So once we’ve cleaned off the chain nicely, it’s worth just putting a cleaner bit of the rag just around the chain and just rotating round just couple of times and that’ll just help take the excess of the one step off. So now we’ve done that we’re now ready to lubricate the rollers on the chain, which are the cylindrical items that sit between the link faceplates and are attached all together using the rivets of the chain.


So these rollers are crucial to the way that the chain rolls around the jockey wheels, rolls around the cassette and then rolls around the chain ring itself. If those links are stiff, if the rollers themselves aren’t permitted to roll around because they’re rusty or they’re full of dirt and debris, then the transmission is going to sound noisy, but most importantly, it’s going to wear prematurely. I’m going to do another video which covers chain stretch. A lot of people have heard about it but don’t really understand what it is. So we’re going to have video covers all that. And, and also take a little bit more of a deep dive into if you let your chain get past a point of wear and past the point of no return, what effect that then has on the teeth of the cassette, the teeth of the jockey wheels in the teeth of the chain rings. So we’ll cover that in another video if you want to understand a little bit more about what happens when you don’t service and maintain your bike properly.


So, as I say, for this video, I just want to keep it really simple and just about how to clean and maintain. So we’ve now cleaned off the chain and we’re just ready to lubricate the rollers themselves. Okay, so we’re ready to now lubricate the chain using the chain oil. As I said in the introduction to this video, we’re going to be using dry lubricant. Now with dry lubricant and not a lot of people know this but the actual oil itself the lubricant sinks down to the bottom of the bottle. So a lot of people think that it’s like water, but it’s not it’s just the suspension fluid that the oil actually sits in is what you can hear in the bottle. So it’s really important before you start lubricating the chain to give the bottle a proper shake and it allows the oil that sat at the bottom of the bottle to now be sat within the suspension fluid in the bottle so that this is now ready to put on to the chain.


So we just take the cap off, place a bottle on top of the cassette like so and just start rotating the cranks back whilst the oil is dripping onto the chain itself. We only need one rotation of the chain to get the oil onto there. Again, it’s important that we’re not putting too much oil on there because we don’t want to over lubricate the chain. Now what’s good practice once you’ve put the oil onto the chain with the dry lube is now let it dry, give it a good couple of hours. Never put a dry lubricant on to a chain and then just immediately go out and ride your bike. What happens is with a dry lubricant is that it does need time to physically dry onto the chain rollers. So when you come back to the bike, a couple of hours later, you’ll actually see the chain is almost like a dull matte finish. That’s perfect that’s what we’re looking for. So we’re going to allow the chain oil to actually dry onto the rollers properly.


And then what we’re going to do, I’m going to do this obviously ahead of time. But before we go out for ride, we just want to take excess oil off. So just again, put the rag just around the chain, rotate a couple of times around, and we’re just going to take that excess oil off the chain and what we’re looking for once we’ve run our fingers across is that we just want a film of oil on our fingers. We’re not looking for our fingers to be wet with oil. If the chain is dripping with oil, it’s over lubricated. That’s not good. Likewise, we don’t want the chain to look dry and polished – that’s under lubricated. We’re just looking so that the chain looks almost wet and glossy and not dripping with oil. So just run our fingers across and we just get this nice film of oil. That is absolutely great. So we’re in good place now to just go out and ride our bike.


So that’s everything that we need to do just for this quick maintenance video. I hope you enjoyed that essential maintenance video, we’ve now got a bike where the chain is nice and clean, the jockey wheels lower and upper are nice and clean. And the drive system itself now is going to run effectively and it’s going to reduce the wear and the buildup of rubbish onto the chain rings and onto the rear cassette.