One of the most common things we see here in the workshop is a filthy, worn out drivetrain. Apart from leaving grease marks on your legs (the dreaded Cat 4 Tat), a dirty drivetrain can cause excessive wear on your chain, cassette, chainrings and jockey wheels. In particular, poor quality wet lubes and the factory grease used on new chains both tend to be the biggest culprits, as these pick up grit and grime and become a grinding paste which wears away at your chain and other components.
With modern 12 speed cassettes nudging over £400 in some cases, keeping your drivetrain clean and low-friction (along with replacing the chain early enough) is key, and switching to a quality wax lubricant can make a big difference to your service bill. Testing has shown a good wax lube can make chains last 3-4 times longer before getting to the recommended replacement point of 0.5% wear over something like Muc-Off Hydrodynamic. Wax lubes are also much cleaner, don’t require degreasing as frequently, and have lower friction (free watts are the best watts).
We’ll run through the process in detail, but here are the basic steps to a happy drivetrain:
For a wax-based lube to work, all traces of the previous lube should be cleaned off your chain, cassette, chainrings and jockey wheels beforehand. It’s hard to overstate how important this step is, and it applies to brand new chains as well.
If you’re pushed for time, or aren’t super confident in removing your chain, cassette and chainrings for cleaning, your easiest option is to bring it in for a proper clean. However, if you’d prefer to do a basic clean yourself, you can get a little clamp-on chain cleaner like the Park Tool CM-5.3, fill it with a good degreaser like Ceramicspeed UFO Clean, clamp it on and spin the pedals backwards until your arm gets tired. Rinse the chain with water, then do another clean with dish soap and water, then rinse again. This, plus scrubbing the cassette and chainrings, will be better than nothing and you’ll still get some of the wax lube's benefits, but without a proper clean, it will still turn black pretty quick and the wax won't adhere like it should.
For less headaches down the line, commit to an initial deep clean. The method we use below is from Adam over at ZeroFrictionCycling, and if you want to really go down the bike lubricant rabbit hole and have a few hours to spare, check out his website.
If you're not up for removing the chain yourself, you can get away with only doing this deep clean once, as long as you continue using a wax lube. After most rides, simply wiping the outside of the chain with a clean rag before and after lubing is sufficient, and maybe the occasional clean of the cassette and chainrings with warm soapy water. However, there's definitely a benefit to periodic deep cleans of the drivetrain with boiling water to melt the wax off if you're comfortable removing and reinstalling the chain, cassette and chainrings.
The off bike deep clean boils down to as follows:
Applying the lube
How to apply?
With all wax based lubes, it’s really important to let them fully dry before riding, otherwise the carrier won’t have evaporated off and can attract dirt. My process is to do a quick wipe of the outside of the chain with a clean cloth post ride, then apply the lube and let dry overnight.
The below steps work for wax based drip lubes:
For the first few rides on a new chain, I do an application after every ride to ensure that the inside of the rollers and pins get a good coating of wax. After that, it depends a little on which lube you're using and the conditions you're riding in - pristine sunny weather of the sort that doesn't exist in the UK might net you 250 km between applications, but if the ride has been wet or you have washed your bike, always lube immediately post ride.
If the chain starts squeaking, you’ve left it far too long and you’ve got metal on metal - this is the case for all lubes, and means your chain is crying out for attention.
Measuring your chain
Keeping an eye on your chain wear is very important, because if you let it go past 0.5% wear the chain will start to wear out your chainrings and cassette.
We use the Park Tool CC-4 which works on all chains, including SRAM AXS. For this tool, put the two closer together prongs into the chain first, and pinch the chain to the tool. If the other end can drop into the first ‘shelf’, the chain is at 0.5% wear and should be replaced. If it goes beyond that, you'll likely need to replace the cassette and chainrings as well on most modern 10/11/12 speed drivetrains.
Usually, if you’re replacing the chain at 0.5% wear, you should get about 3 chains to a cassette. Chainrings and jockey wheels can last longer (up to 6 chains) - it’s probably best to get these assessed by a competent mechanic, but 'shark teeth' are a good indication they need replacing.
Finally, if you just know you can't be bothered with the faff of the initial set up and deep clean, our Full Service and Strip and Rebuild include this and more, and are a great option if your bike hasn’t had much professional TLC in a while.
We can also add chain waxing on to any other service, or do it as a standalone option. Book in here: https://www.girocycles.com/pages/giroworkshop
If you’ve got any questions or comments, drop a comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers and safe riding!