Wednesday, January 23, 2019

How I Keep My Drivetrain Clean

My old Gen II Fargo after the "Mud Year" at the DK200.
Yesterday's post generated a question concerning the cleaning of drive trains and how to keep them clean. I view this as an entirely different subject from the cleaning of a bicycle. While you may need to do both things- clean your bicycle and your drive train- you probably should clean your drive train more often than you clean your bicycle. The techniques involved are completely different as well, so this is why it is a different subject for me.

Again, I have been at this a long, long time, so I have a few things that I do that may seem weird, or unconventional to the casual observer. This is how I do it. Not necessarily how anyone else does it, or perhaps, not even how one should do it. Think for yourself and see if there is anything of benefit to you, and take what you need, or nothing at all. That said, I am not interested in hearing about "how I am doing things all wrong and such-and-such is how you should do things." I've proven that my techniques work for me. I'm not going to change the way I do this.

'Nuff said there........

Just as with cleaning, I have one cardinal rule for keeping the drive train clean. "Use A Quality Lube And Apply It Correctly"

So, take a look at the chain/cassette image above/left. That's what my Fargo looked like after the "Mud Year" of 2015. That's 165+ miles of mud, grit, and water applied over the course of, I cannot remember.....16 hours or something stupid like that. No, I didn't finish that year. I missed the last checkpoint cutoff by two lousy minutes. But that's another story......

The point is, I had used a quality lube, (DuMonde Tech), and I applied it correctly. I did have to stop and lube the chain after about 120 miles, but as you can see, the chain looks pretty dang good for that much abuse. Keep in mind most people were blowing off derailleurs and breaking chains that year. Drive trains were being replaced afterward by most riders. I didn't have to. I merely cleaned mine up and it was fine. Had I used some marginal lube, or had I not applied a good lube correctly, I would have had far different results.

(L-R) Pedros Chainj, Pro Link, DuMonde Tech
I belabor the lubrication point because it is key to keeping a drive train clean. If you are lazy about preparation and application, you will get poor results. If you use "whatever" for lube, you will get what you deserve for results.

In the case of DuMonde Tech, it is imperative that you make your first application on a chain that is perfectly clean. So clean you could put it in your mouth without reservation. Then you apply the lube per label instructions, let it dry, and then, and only then, can you ride your bicycle. You do not reapply it until you hear your chain making noise. if you do this, it will keep your drive train really clean. Then you don't have to clean it, or rarely ever will you need to. 

Get the point?

Now, moving on.... Yes, as with my Fargo after the DK200 "Mud Year", you will need to clean your drive train once in awhile. I use a degreaser called WD-40. You may have heard of it. (snicker!) But really, that is what  use. I get the spray can, and blast the chain out with that. Then I back pedal the chain through a rag. Then I examine the chain and see if it needs replacing or not. Good to go? Then I fully clean it, re-apply DuMonde Tech, and that's it. Or, I replace the chain if that is what is needed. Cassettes and chain rings are cleaned with a rag soaked in WD-40 and then wiped dry. I like to take the edge of a terry cloth rag and run it across the cassette like dental floss, with the cloth going between gears. That's soaked in WD-40 as well. Things come out shiny-clean and then I'm good to go there.

I know a lot of folks say that gravel travel is hard on drive trains. I guess it isn't any worse than mountain biking, or road riding, really. Fat biking? Worse case scenario there, if you actually use that bike for what it is designed for.

A season's worth of gravel travel here.
I know you may not believe this, but again- use a quality lube and apply it correctly. The image to the left here is my Tamland Two after a complete Summer season of gravel travel. Never cleaned the chain. Not once. Hundreds of miles represented here. This was a very dusty summer too. Again, I think this is from 2015, for reference.

So, I don't think I reapplied lube the entire Summer....... maybe once? I'd have to go back and review the "Lube-Off" tests I conducted, but I know it was only once, if that. The point here being that dusty gravel roads don't necessarily mean a gunky chain. In my experience using lubes, DuMonde Tech was best, but again- feel free to use whatever you want. I don't need to know because I already have my lube choice and I am not changing.

I will mention one other thing here in regard to keeping your drive train clean- Use high quality cassettes, chains, and chain rings. Cheaper, lower quality chains, chain rings, and cassettes will not clean up well. You will have a harder time keeping them from oxidizing, getting gunky, and they will wear out faster. I generally use 105 or higher quality Shimano chains and SRAM cassettes with chromed steel cogs in the 11-36T spread. Cannot recall the model number here, but they are commonly available. Chain rings are generally Shimano, SRAM, or FSA of high quality. No cheaping out here, because it isn't worth it from a performance or cleanliness angle.

So, that about covers it with one more piece of advice here- Never, ever, EVER put water on your drive train to clean it! This also includes cleaning the bike, and is another reason I never let water touch my bike with the exception of riding conditions.

2 comments:

Jonas Malever said...

Do you strip the packing grease from new chains before using them?

Robert Ellis said...

Those are great posts. Thanks!!