clean and lube your drivetrain on the cheap

this is a little piece that I started the other day
thought it was lost
now it is back

years ago I had planned for my blog to have more information like this
but... just like working on my bikes
I have let certain things slip down my list of priorities

this morning as I strolled into work
I ran into a friend on the sidewalk
he was finishing up his morning bicycle commute into work and walking the final steps to his office building

the morning was chilly which had me questioning his bare legs
the question was not verbalized
yet, I questioned his sparse gear in my head
the question floating in my head got bumped in priority as I noticed his bone dry chain
so rather than cracking on his pale chicken legs being visible on this brisk morning
I reached down and pinched his chain
there was no risk of any oil or grease marking up my fingers
maybe some rusty red dust
but certainly no oil residue

so I gave him a quick chain lube recommendation
used the terms "bicycle specific lube"
then I told him to apply the lube sparingly
make a few rotations
let it sit for a few minutes
then wipe the excess away
he thanked me for the tip then admitted to having a tendency to apply too much lube
a tendency which he had not performed in quite some time

when I returned to my office I scanned the Internet for interesting bike stuff in between my morning tasks
in my searching I chanced upon this mtnbikerider site
within a number of his posts I scrolled down to a post where the author spoke of a Mercedes Benz mechanic who had told him that they used transmission fluid for lubing chains and cables
this intrigued me

this immediately had me thinking of Tim Grahl of Blue Collar Mountain Biking

so here it is...


what you will need: bicycle, a low hanging tree limb, and an old t-shirt, an old cardboard box, then finally some degreaser and some lube

in the bike shops there are all sorts of "bicycle specific" lubes and cleaning products
I have had good luck with a variety of these bike shop products
never finding them to be too expensive
always finding that I am more likely to lose the container or spill the contents before I am ever able to empty things out from use alone
but... for those looking to save a buck there are some options for cleaning and lubing that should do the job just as well without the bike shop mark up and the bicycle specific label on the outside of the container


in an effort to save a buck and experiment with some alternate cleaning and lubing options we are going to shop outside the Local Bike Shop
no... this does not mean that we are going to order our stuff online... we would never do that
no... we are going to purchase non-bicycle specific products to clean and lube our bicycle

DEGREASER: as a degreaser I like SIMPLE GREEN
it was a number of years ago that I was teamed up for the 24 Hours of Canaan with a friend from Idaho, Aaron Couture
Aaron always knew the latest and the greatest
Aaron always mixing the old with the new... loving his thumb shifters... but swapping out from buytl tubes to laytex before the race and other such things
so when Aaron purchased some SIMPLE GREEN for the degreasing purpose I took notice
for my degreaser mixture I like to go roughly ONE to ONE water to Simple Green in an empty Windex spray bottle
then I mark up the old spray bottle with a Sharpie so that I know what the boys are spraying in each others eyes

CHAIN LUBE: for the LUBE we defer to the recommendation from MTNBIKERIDERS to use transmission fluid, Dexron III
again... the volume of fluid is greater in it s original packaging then we need for the lubing process
so we use an alternate bottle... MTNBIKERIDERS recommends the use of an old saline solution bottle from his contacts... use what you have

with our bicycle, our old t-shirt rag, and our newly acquired Simple Green degreaser and Transmission Fluid lube we head out towards that tree with the low hanging limb
an old cardboard box works well as ground cover to catch all the dirt/grime/and fluids that drop off the bike

we hang the bike from its seat on a low hanging branch
the wheels need to be high enough that they do not touch the ground
the bike needs to be far enough away from the trunk so that the cranks do not make contact on each rotation

spray a liberal amount of the Simple Green mixture on the whole drive train
this can be done with or without the rear wheel on the bike
if things are really dirty
it may be best to remove the rear wheel
as this will make it easier to clean the cassette as well as the rear deraileur

let the degreaser sink in for a few minutes
then wipe it clean
with the rag make a fist around the chain
pedal the cranks with the free hand
pulling the chain through the clinched fist
rinse and repeat
others may get out their brother's tooth brush to get things super clean
but that is not my style

clean the front and rear deraileurs with some focus
as a clean part functions much better than a dirty one

then... with things clean
lets try out the transmission fluid as a lube

again we apply a liberal amount of fluid
no need to soak the chain
but... we will put more than a few drops on
rotate the cranks so that the chain moves and distributes the lube
again... give it a few minutes to soak in

then with a clean section of the t-shirt rag repeat the closed fist process
removing all excess lube
the lube needs to be on the inside... not on the outside
clean the excess lube off the deraileurs as well
any excess lube will act like a dirt magnet
gunking stuff up pretty quick
so it is best to keep it clean

return the rear wheel if it had been removed
with the bike still resting in your tree stand go through the gears
do a few minor adjustments
then go ride your bike

it is not uncommon for there to be a third step in the cleaning and lubing process on my bikes
I like to put a layer of wax lubricant on my chain
as I am clearly not motivated to boil down a bar of paraffin wax
I go with the bicycle specific wax lube options
White Lightning or Pedros work well for me
again.... I apply it
let is rest for a few minutes
then wipe away the excess

MTNBIKERIDERS has another tip; Furniture Polish as Bike Polish
on muddy rides is helps to spray down the frame so the mud does not adhere
I recall in some muddy mountain bike races we would spray our pedals and cleats with spray cooking products like PAM... this would keep the mud out of the cleats for at least two minutes