Despite being one of the most important parts of the bicycle, the running loop of metal is being overlooked by many riders. Poorly maintained and neglected, the chain might ruin the entire drive system including the chainring and cogs in the cassette by excessive abrasion and friction. Professional biker Richard Gasperotti describes what happens to an average chain when you leave it with no attention for a certain period.
A week passing by should remain without any noticeable inconveniences. A properly maintained chain works as silently as a glider in the sky, bringing you nothing but the joy of a perfect ride. The pleasant whizz coming from the rear of your bike belongs to the all-embracing experience of a happy cyclist. A well-greased chain contributes not only to an immaculate and rapid shifting but also to prolonging the life of both the chainring and the cassette. Part of the maintenance routine is wiping off the lube from the surface of the chain links, however, the remaining lubricant attracts dirt and, no matter how well cleaned, any chain turns slightly dirty after a week in operation. Thus, touching the chain with a calf, hand or trousers leaves a smear. Take it or leave it, this is part of cycling.
A strange sound resembling the swordplay of a fork and a knife might be heard during the ride. Squeaking noises coming from down there are trying to notify you of the onset of lube shortage and the worsening chain condition. Annoying screeches originate partly from the friction between the inner and outer plates of the links and partly from the dry chain rolls rubbing against the teeth of the chainring. Even though the chain itself seems clean and polished, contact with some parts of the drive train might make you dirty too, since the black mass of smear resembling dense heating oil gathers in some places like between the teeth of the chainring, the cassette, and derailleur pulleys. Should the chain get wet in the rain, the most worn-out parts might turn orange overnight, showing evidence of early rust.
The sound produced by the drive train during every ride is similar to what you might hear in a theatre when all orchestra members start tuning simultaneously. Its awfulness makes you shudder. Since the bushings, pins and rollers inside the chain links went completely dry, the chain gets stiff and the links might seize. The shifting got slow and incorrect, which drives you even crazier than the permanent squeaks. As chains are usually made of steel that is a harder alloy than the rest of the drive train, the abrasive links start slowly grinding down the teeth of the chainring. You might experience skippings between the gears that can’t be fixed by fiddling with shifters or any kind of additional maintenance. This is too late, mate.
Looking like something brought from a ship-breaking yard, the stiff and rusty chain might refuse to set the bike into motion. The good news: if you persuade the bike to ride, you don’t even need to use the bell on the cycle path since you can be heard miles ahead. Even if kept in a dry place, the rust might prevail on most of the surface. Some of the links might even fuse together, creating an unusable piece of steel. Bad news for anyone coming to this point: the deformation of the drive train components seems to be irreversible and the lifespan of the parts has been remarkably cut.
The other issue is a chain stretch created by tension while pedalling. Professional riders change the chain twice or even three times during the Tour de France. According to experts, the chain should be replaced after each 2,000 to 3,000 km of riding. Worn chain with stretched links causes damage on the rest of the drive system and ends by premature replacement of both the chainring and the cassette instead of changing just the chain. Not only you’ll spend approximately 5 times more on parts but, on top of that, the cost of the service will match its complexity too.