Chain, Chain, Chain . . .

Who knew that a simple post about Basil’s new chain cleaner would inspire such lively discussion?  Or such plumbing of  psychological concepts and philosophical musings?  Now we do!


Saul, formerly representing the Saul-ist crowd (as identified by Ian) has, despite his impassioned defense of Basil’s right to dirt (I am not mentioning the dreaded “f” word Saul himself employed*), has nonetheless admitted the importance, even the Zen-like bliss, of achieving a clean chain.  Above, the chain on Saul’s 1994 Cannondale, before cleaning.


Above (and below), Saul’s Cannondale’s chain, in all of its newly pristine glory.  It’s a thing of beauty, non?


Basil would agree, I’m sure, that dirt has its place, but one cannot look at such a perfectly manicured chain without noting with pleasure the lovely glow of the links, and knowing, with a marvelous certainty, how beautifully they will flow through their paces when the steed is ridden once again.  Zen, one way or another: That’s what this is all about!

* “funk” (shudder!)

41 replies on “Chain, Chain, Chain . . .”

First, let me say what an honor it is to be recognized in words and pictures for my efforts promoting good bicycle hygiene. Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of The Mayo Clinic, stated years ago that good dental health could add 10 years to your life. Similarly, good bicycle maintenance can add years to your bike’s life, while continually enhancing yours…not to mention the Zen effects. I would like to thank all those who have taught me and allowed me to reach this point in my life, where someone would think I am worthy of this recognition.

In closing, for those of you who actually looked at these beautiful chain pictures, this is my Kona Fire Mountain mountain bike, which is probably 10 plus years old. The cobalt blue Cannondale, with yellow carbon replacement fork, is clean enough at this time.

Here, here! A fine speech indeed — however, I am abashed to realize that I mis-identified the steed in question. As I rushed out the door yesterday, it occurred to me that the frame in the photos was the “wrong” color. Sure enough, something was wrong all right: my identification of the bicycle. The moral is probably “more zen, less rushing”, which is, after all, probably a good idea any time.

Although the Cannondale chain is clean enough, it has stretched/worn to the point that it is necessary to replace it. This will be done tonite.

Yes, we now have another topic for the chain gang to ponder. How do we know when the time has come to change the chain? Similarly, the “gang” may want to contemplate how a cat knows when its face is clean.

I was kind of hoping that excellent maintenance would leed to infinite longevity, but it seems not. Alas, Basil, marvelous creature that he is, can’t maintain his chain in quite the same way the felines look after their own coats. (On the plus side, Basil never demands savory salmon shreds for dinner, which I consider no small thing.)

Talking about such fine things can cause a ‘chain reaction’.
Didn’t ya know? :)

Peace :)

PS. I think you can post a comment on my blog. If I have inadvertently disabled the ability, please accept my apologies first and let me know how I can assist.

It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.
Winston Churchill

I don’t know, Saul. Being Prime Minister must also bring great clarity. My “life-chain” looks a lot messier than one that can be resolved one major link at a time. Fighting world wars may provide the impetuous impetus to a more effective prioritization system than the one I use every day!

Well done Saul, all pics passing muster (with or without dirt) for being shown in Bromptonaut’s company – at least by my judgement. I do look forward to Brommie’s posts on other maintenance issues such as component analysis & replacement, personal degreasing & Maine Coon attention?

Saul’s pics are lovely indeed, but my own ignorance is likely to severely limit posts on other maintenance issues. Maine Coons excepted, possibly: ours require a lot more daily maintenance than Basil or Argyll ever will — and they are noiser about demanding it, too. (There’s probably a reason this isn’t called “The Maine Coon Diaries”, in spite of the fact that the creatures are most diverting!)

“one cannot look at such a perfectly manicured chain without noting with pleasure the lovely glow of the links”

Ah, but alas the glow is so fleeting. Fortunately, the image remains with us and gives a goal for which to strive.

Success is not the goal, but a means to aim still higher…Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern olympics (before it cost billions and billions)

de Coubertin has a lot to answer for, Saul! But he’s not wrong. I like Browning’s “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what’s a heaven for?” Ditto for women, Bromptonauts, and cyclists of all kinds!

How DOES one know when a chain needs replacing? (And would my boy cat’s face be clean if his sister didn’t tend to his mug as well as her own?)

An excellent question, Cathy, and one I see Saul has addressed thoroughly below.

I don’t know the answer to your second question because the cute is too much to contemplate . . . our felines wrestle on occasion, but no one is sweet enough to do more than lick an ear or two in an invitational pre-wrestling move. The boys just want to tumble, and the girls just want to not be annoyed!

From the site of the late great Sheldon Brown,

Measuring Chain Wear
The standard way to measure chain wear is with a ruler or steel tape measure. This can be done without removing the chain from the bicycle. The normal technique is to measure a one-foot length, placing an inch mark of the ruler at the side of one link pin, then looking at the corresponding link pin 12 complete links away. On a new, unworn chain, this link pin will also line up exactly with an inch mark. With a worn chain, the link pin will be past the inch mark. [For accurate measurement, the chain should be held under some tension — either on the bicycle, or hanging. Also, use a metal ruler or tape measure. Wood, plastic and cloth all can expand or shrink.– John Allen]
This gives a direct measurement of the wear to the chain, and an indirect measurement of the wear to the sprockets. first, let’s look at how to do this with a ruler that measures in inches.

If the link pin is less than 1/16″ past the mark, all is well.
If the link pin is 1/16″ past the mark, you should replace the chain, but the sprockets are probably undamaged.
If the link pin is 1/8″ past the mark, you have left it too long, and the sprockets (at least the favorite ones) will be too badly worn. If you replace a chain at the 1/8″ point, without replacing the sprockets, it may run OK and not skip, but the worn sprockets will cause the new chain to wear much faster than it should, until it catches up with the wear state of the sprockets.
If the link pin is past the 1/8″ mark, a new chain will almost certainly skip on the worn sprockets, especially the smaller ones.

This is fascinating, Saul. Not to mention that I had no idea (perhaps because I’d never thought specifically about it) that chains were uniform across bicycles. It makes sense, though, that this is the one piece you’d hate to discover was a proprietary item.

Is there something I’m unaware of, in the posting mention of Saul “formerly” representing the Saul-ist crowd? I hope the pressure hasn’t been too great?

No, no — Saul has brilliantly held up the ethos of the Saul-ists, which, if I may be so bold, I’d define (perhaps not subtly enough) as “dirt is life” while also embracing the importance of the regular maintenance (“striving is quality of life”, perhaps?) that are both essential to the satisfying cycling life. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that Saul listed slightly toward the (perhaps somewhat mis-guided) Brommie side of things when he produced that beautiful chain on his Kona.

My bicycle toolbox in the garage contains a Park Tool chain wear indicator, a “go, no go” gauge that will identify when the chain wear or stretch has reached replacement time. I would recommend this or a similar device over attempting to use a steel ruler (by all means, try both – & you’ll probably give up on the ruler). I cannot recommend the very common practice, of running the chain until your LBS tells you that the chain needs replacing. BTW, the standard Brompton chain seems to be of minimal standard & owing to the small size of the wheels, the wear on the rear cogs is accelerated (often leading to the need to replace both chain & rear cogs at the same time). In all, a fairly easy process for those who’ve mastered the technique of Brompton hub gear rear wheel removal/installation?

Very useful tip, here, Ian, and some shocking information, too. You can imagine how little I, personally, want to replace anything on Basil, never mind cogs. And then there’s this: “a fairly easy process for those who’ve mastered the technique of Brompton hub gear rear wheel removal/installation”. Gulp. One day — but not until there’s space in the basement — I’ll have to face this secret terror. In the meantime, I’ll be watching that chain like a hawk.

Maine Coon maintenance? No experience – & I suspect I’d far prefer Brompton surgery?

I cannot recommend do-it-yourself surgery on Maine Coons, who are unlikely to be anywhere as cooperative as Bromptons when it comes to replacement parts.

Other forms of MC maintenance are a good idea, though. A bored Maine Coon is a Maine Coon who may take matters into his own paws, with perhaps less-than-optimal consequences for the resident humans. Taking “maintenance” to its broadest definition, of course. (Though possibly what is being maintained in this case is human equilibrium?)

I, too, use the Park measurement tool; however, I thought the above explanation provided an understanding of the wear process, and also into’d some of the followers of this blog to Teach a man or woman to fish, yada yada…

“This is fascinating, Saul. Not to mention that I had no idea (perhaps because I’d never thought specifically about it) that chains were uniform across bicycles. It makes sense, though, that this is the one piece you’d hate to discover was a proprietary item.”

Bicycle chains are uniform in measurement from linkage to linkage, I believe; however, they come in different overall lengths and quality levels.


My mission in life is to enlighten, illuminate and offer spiritual insight and understanding while at the same time providing excellence in dental care.

Just in case you think this chain of bicycle chain comments has said all it can, & in case it all seems so easy, I should caution you to prepare for the eventual demise of your bicycle chain. Start thinking about your chain life & what you will do when the time comes (& remember our companion Murphy?). I would suggest that if you turn up at an LBS & expect to purchase a chain for a Brompton then you can expect a tale worthy of one of Brommie’s blogs? Bicycle chain width & LBS expertise (& Murphy?) may lead to an interesting discussion. So, Basil & Argyll may use a common chain but I say, “know your Brompton” & I suggest you obtain your chain & rear cogset (quantity & ratios to suit your Brompton) earlier than Mr Murphy recommends (even if you have to present it back to the LBS for installation?) Oh, & this is where multiple Bromptons comes in really handy…

“The eventual demise of my bicycle chain”, Ian?!? What a horrifying thought. Mindful of all the helpful suggestions here, I shall take the proper steps to ensure that both Basil and Argyll need never go (shudder!) chainless, nor suffer blunted cogs from my neglect. Do I sense a veiled suggestion that perhaps a third Brompton might supply the essential spare? That’s very, very tempting, though perhaps less economical, overall, that just picking up the chain itself. But it has a certain charm . . .

Comments are closed.