Updated: Dec 10, 2021
So when was the last time you replaced your chain, anyways?
If I may impose upon you one morsel of advice regarding the maintenance of your bicycle it would be to replace your chain more often! Undoubtedly many of you have experienced the deflating moment at a bike shop when they say you need to spend upwards of $500 on a new drivetrain because you didn’t replace your chain for over a year. Well friends, that moment can be easily avoided so let's dive in and find out what it’s all about.
Bicycle chains have a difficult task at hand as we mash on our pedals day after day. Lubrication? Maybe. Wipe down after every ride? If the chain is lucky. Point being, chains bear a large portion of the stress of our riding yet they are often neglected. At the most basic level, I recommend wiping down your chain with a clean, lint-free rag after every ride. This alone goes a long way towards keeping grit & grime from accumulating on the chainring(s), cassette and pulleys. By doing this consistently you can often avoid having to do deep cleanings of the drivetrain, unless riding in extreme conditions. The best time to lubricate your chain is right after you finish a ride: wipe the chain down, apply lube, let it sit overnight then wipe it off again and roll out. This gives the lubricant time to penetrate around the rollers and tack up a bit, which will attract less dirt on your next ride. Keeping your chain clean & lubricated will quiet the drivetrain and reduce friction dramatically.
The quality of most modern bike chains is excellent which is part of why we are able to neglect them as we do. SRAM Eagle XX1 chains, handmade in Portugal, are so durable that they will sometimes wear out a chainring and cassette before the chain is actually stretched. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to err on the side of replacing your chain too often rather than trying to eek every last mile out of it. Chains wear in ways that are not always measurable by typical chain wear gauges, however elongation of the chain is still the most accessible measurement to determine wear. Investing $20-30 in a chain wear measurement tool is money well spent and will save you hundreds in the long run (I like the Rohloff Caliber 2 tool). Another often ignored aspect of chain wear is that pedaling and shifting performance steadily decline from the first day a chain is installed but this decline occurs gradually so we don’t tend to notice until a new chain is installed and we feel the improved power transfer and shifting performance. Yes, your bike will shift better and ride smoother with a new chain and yes, higher end chains are typically worth the added cost if you value crisp shifting and improved durability.
As a general rule, particularly for modern 1X drivetrains, I recommend replacing your chain at least once a year if you’re riding the bike regularly. Specific mileage recommendations can be difficult to provide because of the drastic difference in chain wear between riders because of variables like body weight, power input, amount of climbing, how well the chain is cared for and level of smoothness in pedaling and shifting. Some cyclists like to use apps like Strava to keep a log of their mileage in relation to each chain they install, which can be very helpful. If you keep your chain clean & lubricated and make an effort to pedal smoothly & shift with finesse, I guarantee that you will extend the life of your chain. Establishing these habits of proper chain care & replacement will notably improve the performance of your bicycle and allow your chainring(s) and cassette to potentially last for many years, saving you hundreds of dollars while also improving your experience on the bike. So when was the last time you replaced your chain? Not sure? Swing on by the shop and we’re happy to take a look at your drivetrain and figure out what it might need.