Be Good to Your Chain

Jack Donohue


You've probably encountered fellow riders touting the pleasures of riding in all kinds of weather. They lie.  No one likes riding in the rain.  But if you ride long enough, despite your best efforts you will inevitably find yourself in this situation.


When you're done with the ride, the first thing you think of is getting dry.    After a warm shower and dry clothes, you're good.  You will suffer no lasting damage.


You tend to forget your faithful steed that carried you through this mess.  Fact of the matter is that you will dry, but there, alone, in the garage, your poor bike is silently rusting.  Rust is a phenomenon common to carbon steel.  No worries, you say, my bike is made out of space age materials that don't rust. This is generally true except for one key component: your chain. 


If you leave your wet bike unattended, you will inevitably come down to it the next day to find an orange patina on the chain, i.e., rust.  Here's what I do to avoid this.


The first thing is to put the bike in a stand and spin the pedals backwards vigorously.  This will fling off most of the surface water.  I spin the wheel 100 times, not for any good reason except we engineer types like counting things.  Next I wrap a paper towel around the chain and spin it again.  Our former house cleaner used up half a rain forest's worth of them each cleaning day, so being a frugal Yankee (New York Yankee that is) and environmentally conscious I would fish them out of the trash when she left.  Consequently, I have a lifetime supply of slightly used paper towels.  Applying the quicker picker uppers will give you a pretty good idea of just how dirty your chain is (or was), before your ministrations).


The Coup de Grace is giving your chain a blow dry.  For this I use an old hair dryer of Susan's.  Set it on high and blast away for a while.  Ideally you should do this until the chain is warm to the touch but I usually don't have the patience. 


You're not quite good to go yet.  You've got most of the moisture off by my now, but it doesn't take much for rust to rear its ugly head.  What I do now is lube that chain.  You can use WD-40.  This is not really a lubricant, I'm told the WD stands for "water displacement" which is what you want. Using a real lube is good to keep things spinning, but will collect dirt.  You want to get the lube into the links, but try to get rid of the excess on the chain plates (more paper towels).


If you let it go too long (which I usually do) you will find an accumulation of crud on the derailer pulleys.  I had one that was so bad you could barely see the pulley teeth.  To fix this, put a knife on the pulley and spin backwards.  You should put some newspaper underneath to catch the nasty black crud projectiles.  This is very satisfying.


Do this religiously and your chain will thank you.


Jim White's picture

I think blow drying the chain is not necessary and can be counter productive. Rag the the chain to get excess moisture off and WD-40 will do the rest because it gets into crevices as well as loosen dirt where heat would solidify crud. WD-40 is basically 80% mineral spirits and 20% mineral oil so is a lubricant but not good enough for a bike chain. It also has surfactants, anti-oxidants, and rust inhibitors so is ideal to clean a chain wet or dry because it has great penetrating capability as well as water displacement plus is an excellent grease cutter.

Is it ok to simply wipe the wd40 residue excess when it's time to oil the chain before riding? If leaving your bike idle in say the celler for six months storage, is it best to use wd40or chain lube?

Ok my chain is going to rust until my broken elbow heals from my FDGB in the rain on Thursday and I can deal with it or maybe I get a new bike now...

Great tool for cleaning bike chains,
Phillip Stern's picture

I use a foaming degreaser to clean the chain. Then an air compressor to get the degreaser off the chain before adding a lubricant.