First of all, I want to thank the Fernwood community for all of the support I’ve gotten as a result of the article published in the last Village Vibe.

In this article, I’d like focus on a fundamental of bike maintenance. In my experience, this is one of the most neglected maintenance tasks—anyone can perform it. It will significantly increase the longevity and performance of the entire bicycle drive train: the proper cleaning and lubrication of the roller chain.

This maintenance can even be accomplished without tools, provided your chain has been fitted with a ‘missing link’ chain connector. To properly clean your roller chain, remove the chain from your bike. Place the chain in a water tight glass bottle, add paint thinner, and seal with the lid. Shake the bottle until the chain appears to be clean. Remove the chain from the bottle and allow it to dry. Replace the chain on the bike and apply new lubricant.

Your chain can be partially cleaned without removing it from the bike but you will not achieve the thorough removal of contaminants from within the rollers and bushings. When you apply the new lubricant it will simply carry back with it any residual contaminants deeper into the chain.

What, you may ask, is so important about thoroughly cleaning the chain and how will it make my drive train last longer? The answer of course, is diamond and sapphire. Hang on; we’re talking about cleaning a bike chain here. What could diamond and sapphire possibly have to do with that? Allow me to explain…

The vast majority of bicycle components today are manufactured with aluminum alloy. If you are fortunate, some or most of the cogs on your cassette are made from an alloy of titanium. Titanium and aluminum, like most metals, are subject to oxidation. In fact, both metals will react instantly when exposed to oxygen concentrations found in ambient air and a thin oxide film will form on the surface. Paradoxically, it is this thin oxide film that protects the metal surface from further oxidation.

As you ride your bike, the friction between the various metal surfaces of the drive train wears away this thin film and forms a sludge which accumulates in whatever oil you have on the chain along with water, silica, or anything else that happens to get flung up by the tires and sticks to the chain. The reason that the thin film of oxide is so effective at protecting those alloys is that oxides of both aluminum and titanium are particularly hard and stable. The mineral corundum is an oxide of aluminum. The crystal form of corundum often containing both aluminum and titanium oxides is… wait for it… yep, sapphire, second only to diamond in terms of hardness. So, that dark grey grunge that leaves the way cool chain ring tattoo on your new khakis, or pretty much anything else it comes in contact with, is also an ideal industrial grinding compound busily eating away at your expensive drive train components resulting in diminished performance and more frequent replacement.

Pictured above:

These jewel like hubs were specially made for Victoria VeloTech by Phil Wood & Co., of San Jose, California. They have been anodized to increase the thickness of the protective oxide film.” Photo: Chris Ward