The introduction of chains to bicycles revolutionized them in terms of popularity, utility, and even their basic form. Until then, bicycle pedals were attached directly to the front wheel. Since this limited the speed of the bike to the diameter of the front wheel, the result was the “penny-farthing,” on which the rider sat atop a wheel sometimes over two meters high, with a relatively tiny second wheel trailing behind. The penny-farthing was so unstable and resulted in so many severe accidents that soon after the chain-driven bicycle’s introduction in the mid-1880s, the latter became referred to as the “safety bicycle.”
A well-maintained modern bicycle chain has an average lifespan of over 4,000 km, meaning you could likely bicycle from Puerto Vallarta to New York City or Panama without ever needing to replace your chain. But the key to chain longevity is maintenance. Dirt is the main culprit for premature wear, so keeping your bike clean is essential.
You should give your bike a quick shower regularly, and definitely each time after riding it in the rain, through mud puddles, or otherwise getting it grimed up. A standard garden hose works fine for rinsing down your bike; in fact, the use of high-pressure washers can result in more harm than good, so resist the urge to blast your bike with one of them. Standard dish detergent is also advisable, whereas strong degreasers should be avoided, except for thorough cleaning of your chain and each of the parts that touch it (gears, derailleurs).
Most of your bicycle can be cleaned with a single sponge, but you should have a second sponge or some brushes handy for your chain and related parts. For removing excessive grease buildup in places such as between gears, a thin flathead screwdriver can save you a lot of brushing. Keep your bike right side up and clean it from the top down. Dry your bicycle afterward, ideally by leaving it out in the direct sun.
After washing and drying your bike, you’ll want to lubricate the chain. There are lubricants designed explicitly for bicycles; I especially like those that contain PTFEs (such as Teflon), which work like magic to repel water and dirt. On the other hand, the old stand-by of many workshops, WD-40, is so thin that it acts as a solvent and removes any lubricant you may have had on your chain. Este no es bueno.
Before applying the lube, run your chain through a rag that you hold stationary in one hand while using the other to pedal the bicycle in a backward direction. This will remove any leftover dirt. Then apply lube while pedaling backward by hand. Finally, run the rag along the chain once again to remove excess lube, which can collect dirt.
Even chains that are well-maintained will eventually wear, so they should be measured every once in a while for chain stretch. This term is, in fact, a misnomer as technically the chain itself doesn’t stretch, but it does become longer as wear occurs between rollers and link pins. If too much “stretch” occurs, it will begin excessively wearing down your gears. Since those are much more expensive than a chain, you’ll want to replace your chain before it is”stretched” beyond recommended limits.
Not only does keeping your bike well-maintained allow its parts to last longer, which saves you money, doing so will also avoid the embarrassment of being the squeaking rider that people can hear from a mile away!
Are you an avid biker looking for some adventure? Join us on November 16 and 17 for the annual Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastián challenge—a 70-kilometer route climbing from Marina Vallarta up to a Pueblo Mágico of nearly 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) in elevation. Register today: www.aequilibriumbikes.com.mx.
Remember: keep Puerto Vallarta safe and friendly by always sharing the road with care and looking out for bicycles.