Life & love at midlife, DIY, beauty reviews for the collagen-challenged, biking, cooking, wellness, and positive living.

Cleaning and degreasing a bike chain

I’ve put at least 900 miles on my Trek Verve 2 since buying it in spring 2014. When I bought that bike, I knew literally zero about bike maintenance – and I only know a little more than that now.  But a friend has been gradually teaching me what needs to be done, and from his advice I knew I was eventually going to need to learn how to clean, degrease, and lube my chain.  I did that job for the first time recently and wanted to share with you want I learned.  Disclaimer: these are not instructions.  I’m not knowledgeable enough to give you a step-by-step on how to do this.  There are lots of great web sites on how to maintain your bike, and I’d recommend googling to find a good tutorial. These are just a few things I learned the hard way and wanted to share with you.

I started my project with a special gadget that gets great reviews on Amazon: Park Tool Cyclone chain cleaning kit.

You do not need to buy this kit to get good results in cleaning and degreasing your chain.  When I told my friend that I bought the Cyclone, his response was, “You should have given me the $32 and I’d have cleaned it with a rag and some degreaser.”  But I bought it because I thought it would help since I’m a newbie, and the reviews for it on Amazon were outstanding.


The kit provides the cleaning tool, citrus cleaner, and a double-ended brush and gear pick.  The instructions provided with it walked me right through the process.  If you have a bike trainer, set your bike up on it and sit beside it on the garage floor so the chain is right in front of you.  If you don’t have a trainer, you are going to need a friend hold the bike upright for you – and at times, they’ll need to lift the back wheel off the ground so you can spin the pedal.  The Cyclone unit comes apart and clips onto your bike chain.  Meanwhile so that the chain is literally running through the gadget and being dragged through brushes and sponges which provide the cleaning action.

Here are a few things I learned that might save you some trouble if you’re cleaning your bike chain for the first time, too:

  • When the Cyclone chain cleaner is doing its thing, little flecks of greasy liquid fly out of it – so protect the work area with old towels or newspapers, and wear old clothes.
  • Also wear disposable gloves. The stuff will get allllll over your hands.
  • In order to get your chain to run through the Cyclone when it’s clipped onto the chain, you need to be able to spin the pedal backwards, and my experience is that this frequently knocked the chain off the front gears. It seems to work better if you lift up on the Cyclone tool to keep the chain nice and taut while spinning the pedal and keeping everything aligned.
  • Have a roll of shop towels handy while you’re working on your chain.  (If you aren’t familiar with shop towels, stop by an auto parts store and ask for them there. They’re like paper towels but with a cloth-like texture and much heavier and more durable when wet.)

After your bike chain is thoroughly cleaned and degreased, before you do anything else, you’ll need to dry your chain and then lube it. To dry it, just hold a shop towel around the chain while you run the pedal backwards for several revolutions to remove the excess cleaner.  Then, to lube your chain, put a drop of lube on each link and then run the pedal backwards to distribute the lubricant.  And be sure to remove any excess lube with a shop towel (same method as for drying the chain) – excess lube left on your bike chain can attract road dirt and damage it over time.  My local shop recommended this soy bike chain lube, though I’m sure each cyclist you ask will have a different opinion about what’s best for your bike.

One last tip. Remember I mentioned that while the Cyclone is working, it will flick greasy liquid all over you and the work surface beneath the bike? It also flicks that liquid all over the bike frame itself.  So plan to wipe down your bike well or give it a bath after the degreasing process is complete.

This sounds like a lot of work. The whole process including washing the bike took me just over an hour, and the chain runs so quietly and smoothly now that it was totally worth the effort. From what I’ve read and what my friends tell me, the chain should be re-lubed after every third bike ride, and cleaned once it starts to appear dirty or when greasy black dirt rubs off on a shop towel.  Cleaning and degreasing your chain can make it last longer, save you money, and most importantly, improve your ride.

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