Shop tip: how to clean and lube your chain

By Patrick Loftus, Retail Service Manager

Cleaning and lubing your chain regularly is a quick and easy thing to do. It keeps your bike running smoothly while increasing the life of your drive train parts (the chain and gears). You’ll know when your chain is in need of oil if it (1) looks dry, or (2) makes a lot of noise. A properly oiled chain will look shiny and run quietly.

Basic Bike Maintenance Class







Cleaning and oiling don’t have to be separate maintenance items if you do it right. Following these steps will make it a pretty quick process:

  1. Start by putting the bike in a stand, or just lean it against the wall in a way that lets you freely spin the pedals backwards.
  2. Wipe the big dirt and grime off the chain first. Take a rag in one hand and hold it wrapped around the chain. With the other hand slowly pedal backwards, letting the chain slide through the rag while being mindful of the gears. Try to get all the big dirt off both the side plates and the rollers (the part of the chain that engages the gears). If the chain is really dirty, spray a light household degreaser on the rag and wipe. Try to avoid spraying solvent directly on the chain, as it can be difficult to remove and will repel oil.
  3. Now you’re ready for oil. Pick something that’s designed for bike chains, such as TriFlow or Phil Wood’s Bio Lube, and avoid products like WD40, 3 in 1 oils, heavy grease, or anything in a spray can.
  4. Apply the oil to the center rollers of the chain by holding the oil bottle in one hand and slowly pedaling backwards 5-6 times with the other. Once you’ve put oil on all the rollers spin the pedals backwards another 5-10 times to help work the oil in. You only need to oil the rollers on the chain, not the sides of the chain, or the gears on the bike.
  5. Wipe the chain lightly to get the extra oil off the sides of the chain. If your chain wasn’t too dirty to start then you’re ready to ride!
  6. For really dirty chains repeat steps 2-5, paying special attention to wiping the old grime off. The fresh oil will help loosen up the old grime.

Your chain is lubed! Following these steps will keep your chain running smoothly. If you’d like a more hands on lesson or need to pick up some chain lube, come by our Bike Shop at 1700 N.E. Alberta to talk to one of our friendly bike mechanics.

Download this tip as a PDF

Photos by Ben Latterell and Forrest Scott

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Hours: Open Wednesday-Friday 11AM-7PM & Saturday/Sunday 12PM-5PM. Closed MondayBike Shop Address: 1700 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211

Phone: 503.287.8786