Back to Repairs  | Oiling Chain


How much oil should I put on my chain?

As little as possible. Too much oil causes a buildup of oil and dirt on your chain which can cause excessive wear on the chain and other parts of the drivetrain. You should be able to see the chain links clearly and they should leave just a little bit of oil on your fingers when you touch them. If your fingers come away all blackened and/or with a thick greasy 'paste' on them, it's time to clean your chain.

The main thing to remember is that if there is a nice thin coat of oil on the outside of the chain, that means that the 'inside' of the chain, where the lubrication is most important, is well lubricated. Adding more oil only causes an excessive buildup on the outside.


When should I oil my chain?

New chains come with a combination of lubricants on them. When these start wearing off, you will notice 'dull' areas on the chain as the bare metal begins to show. That's the time to oil your chain. If the chain is fairly new or you have been keeping it properly oiled and there is no buildup of black 'gunk' on the surface, spin the chain backwards as you slowly apply fresh oil. A couple of revolutions of the crank should let you cover the whole length of the chain. Once the chain has a light coat on it, hold your fingers around the chain as you continue to spin the chain backwards. This will distribute the oil over most of the surface. Some people like to take a rag soaked in oil and hold it around the chain as they spin it. Once you've done that, wipe off any excess oil with a rag till your whole chain has a nice thin coating of oil. Adding more oil only causes an excessive buildup on the outside.


How should I clean my chain?

The best way is to remove the chain and soak it in a container of solvent (degreaser). This cleans the chain inside and out. After you've soaked it, make sure to hang it up somewhere for a day or two so as much solvent drains off (and out) as possible. If you put a lubricant on your chain and there is still some solvent on or in it, the solvent will dilute or destroy it. Once it has dried, soak it in a container of oil so the oil has a chance to seep inside where it's needed the most. Wipe the chain off thoroughly so only a light coat remains on the surface. The 2nd best (and unfortunately messiest) way is to put some solvent on a rag and spin your chain through it. This way mostly cleans the surface but is acceptable if your chain isn't too dirty. (You can also use a good quality synthetic solvent spray) Make sure to wipe the chain off thoroughly when you're done. Apply a thin coat of oil to the chain as is explained in the answer above.


What kind of lubrication is best for my chain?

Talk to 10 people and you'll get 5 or more different answers. As a rule, a good quality 'machine' oil is the best. It provides a durable surface coating and it's natural capillary action allows it to penetrate deep 'inside' the chain to the pivot points where it's needed the most. A lightweight motor oil will also work quite well and has good penetrating qualities. Some of the synthetic spray lubricants on the market today are a bit easier to use and also work quite well but make sure they contain some kind of penetrant so they will soak in like natural oil does. And remember, don't over lubricate. A thin coating of lubricant on the outside of the chain is enough to protect the surface and usually indicates that there is enough lubricant 'inside'.


How do I know when I need a new chain?

All chains stretch with use and a certain amount of stretch is ok. The rule of thumb is to lay a ruler against the chain and measure it's length. Hold the left edge of the ruler against the center of a pin on one of the links. If the 12" mark on the ruler lines up with a pin or the pin is no farther than 1/8" beyond the 12" mark, you're good to go. If not, it's time for a new chain. The other consideration is dirt. If your chain is covered in a black 'gunk', and there is a lot of grit (especially if it's sand) in the mix, toss it. The damage done by the grit and the particles of dirt held by the 'gunk' will have scored the surfaces of the metal so even if you tried cleaning and lubricating the chain, it's effect wouldn't last long. And remember, the chain contacts all the surfaces on your drivetrain. It's a lot cheaper to replace a chain than a freewheel or the crank/chainrings which will be damaged by stretched or scored chain.


If I have to replace my chain, which one should I buy?

It's best to replace an old chain with the same one that was used by the bike manufacturer. But that's not always possible. And since the decision depends on several factors such as the type of bike, the drivetrain components, and the number of speeds, etc., it's best to bring your bike to a bike shop so they can recommend the best chain for you.