Looking after all the parts of your bike’s drivetrain is important, but the chain is probably the most important part to keep an eye on. That’s because the chain is both the one part that contacts the most other parts of the drivetrain and also the only part likely to go wrong if you ignore it long term.

That’s not to say that chain snap all the time - they don’t (and shouldn’t), but taking care of you chain is a fundamental part of making sure that your bike and its constituent parts last for as long as possible. 

The first part of chain care is cleaning it. Now there are a whole bunch of ways to clean a chain, and everyone you know will have their own method of cleaning that can range from the sublime - a sonic parts washer - to the ridiculous - taking it off and bathing it overnight. Not that chain bathing is a bad idea, it’s just an awful lot of hassle relative to what you get out of it. But there are a few less labour-intensive methods. 

If you REALLY love your chain you can treat it to the fanciest chain cleaning device around - Park Tool's CM-25

Cleaning

There are various ways to clean a chain, but one of the simplest is using a sponge and soapy water (with Fairy Liquid or similar). That stuff is quite an effective degreaser and will get your chain clean if you give it a good scrub.

The second method is very similar, but using a dedicated degreaser like Finish Line Speed Degreaser, Finish Line EcoTech or even Finish Line Super Bike Wash. The great thing about this stuff is that it’s made with cleaning your bike in mind so it’s really effective, and in the case of something like Speed Degreaser is made to work without water, so you don’t even have to rinse it afterwards.

Method three is using a chain cleaning device like the Park Tool Cyclone (or even the super fancy Park Tool CM-25) These things fix around the chain and clean it using hundreds of little bristles as you pedal the cranks. Outside of taking your chain off the bike, this is probably the easiest way to get it really clean and the bristles on the rollers get inside the links as well as outside. 

Checking chain wear

The other way a chain can wear your bike down is through stretching. All chains stretch over time, and as they do the way in which they contact/interact with the teeth on your chainrings, cassette cogs and rear mech pulleys changes and makes those parts wear down quicker than they should. 

If you leave it too long you can end up in the position where your whole drivetrain needs replacing, rather than just the chain. The best way to measure chain stretch is using a dedicated tool - like a Park Tool CC-3.2 or CC-2. They’re pretty cheap and really easy to use and we already have whole feature on using them that you can read here. 

Make sure you periodically check your chain for wear and when it’s worn too far replace it as soon as possible. 

Which chain to choose?

Aside from the one that came on your bike, there are a whole load of options on the market when it comes to actually replacing your chain. This one’s easy: if you’re running a Shimano drivetrain, use a Shimano chain. Sure, other manufacturers might claim their chain is lighter, will save you more watts or various other things, but Shimano design all their components to work together so you’ll get the best possible shifting performance using Shimano chains with Shimano chainrings and cassettes. 

The one thing to make sure, though, is that the chain you buy is the right one. You can use any 11-speed chains with 11-speed groupsets, and 12-speed chains with 12-speed groupsets but you shouldn’t mix by, for example, trying to use a 10-speed chain with your 11-speed groupset. 

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