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When is the right time to change my bicycle’s chain?

By Felipe Siston

Viva! We Love Cycling is just starting a new section called The Expert. Here you can ask whatever you want to know but have never been brave enough to do so. The one and only rule is: the question must be somehow connected to the cycling world. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Showing a bit of love will be also most appreciated.

You can address you message to jan@welovecycling.com, like Ike Brazil did. Check it out bellow.

Ike Brazil: Dear Expert. I had a mild accident with my bike a couple of weeks ago. I was out for a ride when the chain broke up, blocking the back wheel. How do I know it is time to change the chain?

Poor you, Ike Brazil. I’m happy you send us this question instead of looking for an answer from any ordinary oracle on the internet. Try to Google this question and you can find up to 22 million results. It will take less than a second. But what’s the point of wading into a haystack as big as the population of Australia to pick up one single answer? Expert’s readers will keep it simple and smart.

Algorithms may reveal some guy somewhere talking about a chain he used every day for almost 20 years. Physical limits, however, speak louder than digital results. Trust that and one day you will say goodbye to your chain. In London Bike Kitchen words “a chain lasts as long as a piece of string – it varies from rider to rider, and type of chain. A single speed chain will last longer than an 11 speed chain, for example.”

“Till-it-brakes” may hurt you or your wallet

If you care about not surprising your wallet with high spends, never wait for your chain to break to search for a new one. “Till-it-brakes” riders will most likely visit a hospital sooner than the bike shop. “The chain is the cheapest part of your drivetrain and should be changed regularly”, advise professionals. However, proper cleaning and oiling is the best way to postpone unnecessary changes.

The maintenance equilibrium

Some people use ultrasonic equipment to clean their bike chains. Ok, we do respect them, but a good brush dipped in diesel also works amazingly well. After that, make sure you lubricate the chain properly (especially in rainy weather). We suggest here a common maintenance technique:

Proper lubrication does not mean emptying a new bottle of grease in you chain or ignore a dry chain squeaking around. Excess also will be a problem. Grime buildup often happens when a chain isn’t wiped down after being oiled so dirt is attracted to the excess grease.

Riding your bike is how everything begins. Tension on the pedals and a dirty, improperly lubricated chain are the best mix to wear out chains. Leaving your bike forgotten in a corner doesn’t help either, especially outside. Instead of you enjoying your chain’s lifetime, there will be the rust.

Taking measures

In order to check if the chain needs changing, professionals recommends precision: use a chain checker tool, like Park Tool’s CC-2. Set the tool to position zero before taking the measures. Place the pins inside the links and gently move the black part of the tool until the chain’s tension limits your movement. If you reach 0.75-1.0, it is time to find yourself a new chain.

But, if you can’t get to a proper tool, we must say that you already have in your hands all that is needed to answer that first question: take two of your fingers and pull the chain on the large chain ring. Did you expose an entire ring’s tooth? That means your chain does not fit tightly and it’s the time to change it. Watch this short video if you need a review: