A Cleaner Chain

I kind of love the post-ride currying Basil gets.  I wipe down his rims, removing any brake dust; give the spokes a swipe; carefully inspect and brush his tire treads with a soft manicure brush; and generally tidy and look him over.  Every ride, or every thirty miles, I also clean his chain, carefully, with rags, brushes and devoted attention.


I thought I was doing a brilliant job of maintaining his most important mechanical component.  Oh fool I!  Between the brushes in the image above is a slurry of muck dredged from Basil’s chain by a mechanical cleaner after I’d done my bit.

I’d read that the Park Tool Chain Scrubber did a rather nice job on bicycle chains, and did it faster than a human with a rag, a brush, and so on could manage.  Basil and I had cycled down to an LBS and picked it up, and I put it to the test, with these distressing results.

This is what Basil’s chain looked like before I used the Scrubber, and all that muck was extracted:


Really, it doesn’t look terrible does it?  (We had just gone through a couple of puddles on a short run just before I took this photo.)  And yet the Scrubber managed to pull that sludge, and who knows what else (that stuff is right above the magnet meant to catch metal particles so they won’t abrade the chain in use or while it’s being cleaned)  from Basil’s [theoretically] clean chain.  The horror!  The shame!

This was quite shocking, and I felt a bit of a failure.  There I was, confident that I was doing my best by him, and what?  It was as if I’d done nothing at all!  The evidence is incontrovertible — here is how Basil’s chain looked after:


The Chain Scrubber, that far more efficient cleaner, attaches to the lower bit of chain, and just fits on a Brompton.  You either use degreaser, or a bit of detergent mixed with water, and fill the device to a well-marked line.

Then you turn the bicycle’s pedals backwards thirty times.  I was initially clumsy at this, but soon got the rhythm right.  Steadying the device is necessary; allowing it to tip even slightly results in a puddle on the floor.  Also, pedalling too rapidly results in a slight fine spray.  Both mishaps are easily avoided, however.

You go through the process once, then rinse and refill the scrubber, attach it to the chain again, and pedal backwards thirty more times. Sadly, the Scrubber also managed to extract yet more sludge on the second go-round, though noticeably less than on the first go-round.


Then you dry the chain and lubricate it.  I can’t deny it:  Once the Scrubber had done its stuff, Basil’s chain glowed.

I’m solacing myself by noting that Basil is a sturdy soul, and not at all concerned with small failings in his cyclist.  He’s the type who always looks forward:  In this matter, I’ll take my cue from him.  And I’ll make sure to haul out the Scrubber regularly.  Lesson learned.

34 replies on “A Cleaner Chain”

Get over it. Our kids do better with a bit of dirt, and they are probably better accepted by their friends. We can only do the best that we can, while trying to minimize the mistakes of those before us. Besides that, perfect parental units can and will make kids even crazier than they may be on their own….just sayin’.

Hah, hah, Saul! I may be guilty of treating Basil with a lot more reverence than I ever treated the (human) kid! Basil is probably a lot more at ease with his scrubbier experiences than I imagine. Maybe my awe-filled new Bromptonaut state is lasting too long? (On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about Basil’s character — he’s already fully-formed, unlike a human kid!)

Of course, if the chain is too clean you can’t get those cool chain tattoos, which are somewhat difficult for you anyway due to the spiffy Brompton yellow chainguard.

Wierdly, Saul, Basil’s yellow guard is not an OEM chainguard — it’s an aftermarket by a (you’ll be surprised here) quirky UK company. They must get the paint from Brompton, though, because the match is spot-on.

Go know. What a valuable source of knowledge this blog has become. I now wonder what trouble this confusion has created in my life and finances. Thank you. Even virtually, our time together is so enlightening.

BTW, there is a certain joy in cleaning and lubing the bikes, although I certainly do not do it with the regularity and, if I may be so bold, compulsion that your efforts seem to demonstrate. I used to keep the mountain bike very clean until I realized that may have been quite a tell that I wasn’t a real mtn biker…which, of course, I am not. Think “zen and the art of bicycle maintenance”. Cleaning and lubing just means the bike(s) is ready to rock and roll on the road or trail and again “get dirty.” It’s a beautiful thing.

any chance I can get my chain cleaned before our next ride? I don’t want you to feel embarrassed to ride with me.

Oh the quandary? Do I admit to Saul-like tendencies or do I suggest that all Bromptons deserve Brommie-treatment? Whilst I’ve been in awe of that pic of a clean, new-looking chain (careful here Ian) I’m struggling to imagine I could possibly match Brommie’s efforts? Surely it’s not so simple to attain that look? Yes, that’s the answer; denial, wrapped in a little self-belief that my methods are sufficient? So, my congrats to you Brommie & keep up the good work on maintenance for Basil & Argyll.

Saul-like tendencies, eh? This may prompt one, such as myself, to ask, “Is a tendency better, equal to or worse than a treatment, as in Brommie-treatment?” I ask this with the knowledge that I happily ride a fine looking and satisfactorily maintained Cannondale road bike, purchased new in 1994.

Us Saul-ists probably have a tendency to make-do with our level of maintenance, happy in the belief that our bike performance is what matters. True happiness usually comes with the purchase of a new Brompton & that memory can be so ingrained that exceptional maintenance is the result. I’ve seen the condition in others but the closest I’ve come to a new Brompton purchase was for my wife & with maintenance entrusted to me, I’m afraid there has been an equalization of maintenance standards between all 3 Bromptons. Perhaps the purchase of my own new Brompton could put me on the path to Brommie-perfection? Or maybe for you Saul?

Saul-ists…a level of appreciation and respect that I do not believe I have heretofore known in this life, although I have no doubt that I have been worthy of it. I have observed the joy and happiness of being the proud owner and rider of a new Brompton, which truly deserves excellence in maintenance and care, with excellence, not perfection, being the operative word. We can a achieve excellence; not perfection. Even a Brompton can have a funky, yes funky, chainguard and require other continued improvements. No matter what is done to clean a Brompton, there is always dirt and wear. It’s the circle of life.

now i’m gonna have to take pre and post-op macro chain cleaning pics. I know it won’t compare to the Park Chain Cleaner (truly), but hopefully it meet the approval of this august group of cyclists who care about their bikes.

Careful here Saul, we wouldn’t want a deluge of offended or agrieved chain-cleaners (I’m assuming other input has been quiet owing to shock & awe from Brommie’s excellence?) I know your reputation will be on the line & I wish you luck with striving to represent all Saul-ists but suggest you take care with any pics of chain-abuse – something foreign to most Bromptonauts?

Oh my; I disappear for a few days and miss all the excitement! There’s much food for thought here, but I’d better get on to that next post before I’m in even more trouble. Rest assured that Basil and I will be considering chain-cleaning approaches and philosophy in detail — no doubt with Aretha echoing in the background.

Ian, you may have diagnosed the condition: “True happiness usually comes with the purchase of a new Brompton & that memory can be so ingrained that exceptional maintenance is the result.” Ah, yes! On the other hand, Saul, you and your Saul-ists may have carried the day; after all, Ralph, Robinson, and Peregine are beautiful Bromptons, and your (Saul’s) Cannondale is a worthy (and beautifully functional) steed in itself. Much to consider, here!

Brompton hygiene! Such an important consideration demands a full and frank discussion. Thanks for fighting the good fight against the funk, Brommie.

Maggie is getting one of these.

Chandra, Chandra

Not only is it a good idea, but it is an essential part of bike maintenance that allows for smoother cycling, shifting and preservation of your Brompton. Cleaning your chain brings you closer to your Brompton, and also demonstrates to the world your knowledge of importance of bike maintenance and the love you have for your bike.

Maybe the Diarist would even dare to share the pictures of my dirty and clean chain with y’all.
I took them just for you. As you might imagine, I don’t often document my bike maintenance with pictures.

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