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Gravel Bike Chain Longevity

Old 04-26-21, 07:22 AM
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vicyclist
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Gravel Bike Chain Longevity

I've been road cycling since the 80s, but some friends talked me into gravel biking last year. I bough an old '91 GT Tachyon and converted it to 700C and have been having a lot of fun, but much of it is new to me...particularly what I should expect of some components. The 8-speed Shimano chain on my road bike is pushing 7000km and is still good. In contrast, I started experiencing some skipping and jumping on the Tachyon's cassette, put my chain checker on it, and it dropped right through the link. When I compared it to the new chain, it was indeed seriously "stretched". That's less than 2000km. When I bought the bike from the original owner, he put a new SRAM PC-830 on it. So is a PC-830 just a poor quality chain? Is this the result of riding in a wet climate in fall and winter and the chain getting covered in grit? It does get pretty nasty, so I clean it after every ride. Still...it seems like I should be getting a lot more than 2000km out of a chain, especially with regular cleaning.
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Old 04-26-21, 07:29 AM
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Chain wear is VERY dependent on conditions and maintenance. Also the narrower modern chains do tend to wear faster then the older bushinged ones did back in the day.

Cleaning- Do you take the time to flush out the chain's inner contact surfaces? Or do you do what most do, which is to wipe the chain off with a rag? This second method can just drive into the chain's pivots some of the grit. Sure the outsides of the chain look clean but it's what's inside that counts WRT wear. One analogy I use is about caring for our mouths. If all we did was to wipe off our lips the teeth would still be covered with food and rot out sooner then if we brushed the teeth with proper brushes and tooth paste. Andy
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Old 04-26-21, 07:32 AM
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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
I've been road cycling since the 80s, but some friends talked me into gravel biking last year. I bough an old '91 GT Tachyon and converted it to 700C and have been having a lot of fun, but much of it is new to me...particularly what I should expect of some components. The 8-speed Shimano chain on my road bike is pushing 7000km and is still good. In contrast, I started experiencing some skipping and jumping on the Tachyon's cassette, put my chain checker on it, and it dropped right through the link. When I compared it to the new chain, it was indeed seriously "stretched". That's less than 2000km. When I bought the bike from the original owner, he put a new SRAM PC-830 on it. So is a PC-830 just a poor quality chain? Is this the result of riding in a wet climate in fall and winter and the chain getting covered in grit? It does get pretty nasty, so I clean it after every ride. Still...it seems like I should be getting a lot more than 2000km out of a chain, especially with regular cleaning.
My mountain bike chains last around 2000km, while my road bike chains last around 8000km. I attribute this to the dirt that gets on the chain while riding. So If you're riding offroad, it sounds ok to me.

I'm not happy with it either, but it is what it is, so I just replace them when it's time to.
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Old 04-26-21, 07:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
Chain wear is VERY dependent on conditions and maintenance. Also the narrower modern chains do tend to wear faster then the older bushinged ones did back in the day.

Cleaning- Do you take the time to flush out the chain's inner contact surfaces? Or do you do what most do, which is to wipe the chain off with a rag? This second method can just drive into the chain's pivots some of the grit. Sure the outsides of the chain look clean but it's what's inside that counts WRT wear. One analogy I use is about caring for our mouths. If all we did was to wipe off our lips the teeth would still be covered with food and rot out sooner then if we brushed the teeth with proper brushes and tooth paste. Andy
Thanks, Andrew. My usual cleaning routine is to hit the chain with a light spray from the hose, then scrub it with Simple Green and a cassette brush and/or toothbrush, then rinse it again with light spray from the hose. I don't consider it clean if there are still gobs of goop inside the links.
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Old 04-26-21, 07:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Amt0571 View Post
My mountain bike chains last around 2000km, while my road bike chains last around 8000km. I attribute this to the dirt that gets on the chain while riding. So If you're riding offroad, it sounds ok to me.

I'm not happy with it either, but it is what it is, so I just replace them when it's time to.
I'm at least glad to hear I'm not alone. I'm not sure what to make of it. The LBS guys said my chain should be lasting longer than 2000km and my two friends who got me into this are both running the original chains that came with their bikes when purchased three or four years ago...and they're 10- and 11-speed, so I'd expect them to wear somewhat faster. For that matter, as far as I can tell, they're not doing anywhere the maintenance I'm doing.
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Old 04-26-21, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
I'm at least glad to hear I'm not alone. I'm not sure what to make of it. The LBS guys said my chain should be lasting longer than 2000km and my two friends who got me into this are both running the original chains that came with their bikes when purchased three or four years ago...and they're 10- and 11-speed, so I'd expect them to wear somewhat faster. For that matter, as far as I can tell, they're not doing anywhere the maintenance I'm doing.
You certainly can use the chain for a lot longer. I've run the same chain on my mtb for 7000km. But expect to replace everything when you're done (chain, cassette and probably chainrings). It's cheaper to replace the chain when it's due.

Once I decided to experiment and use 3 chains, rotating them every 500km to extend their lifetime, and run the drivetrain to the ground with them. I did a lot of km (considering it was a mountain bike) with them before having to replace everything. Maybe 15000km. Economically it worked, but drivetrain performance was not great and it was definitely noisy for a lot of km, so I switched back to replacing chains at 0.75 wear.

I now treat chains like tires, brake pads or tubes. I have always at least one spare chain, and when I put it on the bike, I buy a new one. I always feel a bit of ecological remorse every time I throw a chain though.
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Old 04-26-21, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
Thanks, Andrew. My usual cleaning routine is to hit the chain with a light spray from the hose, then scrub it with Simple Green and a cassette brush and/or toothbrush, then rinse it again with light spray from the hose. I don't consider it clean if there are still gobs of goop inside the links.
You are likely leaving water or a water/Simple Green solution in the tiny crevices of the chain after removing some or much of the lubricant. When I used Simple Green on my chains (I use mineral spirits now) I put the chain into a 250F oven to vaporize the water, then re-lubed it.
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Old 04-26-21, 03:53 PM
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I wouldn't wash it. Just wipe off any gunk with a rag. Maybe soaked with some light lube or solvent if the gunk is tough. Then just oil the chain.

Some of the new lubes don't gunk up a chain as bad as lubes use to. So try some different ones and look for those that claim to keep your chain cleaner.

The new lubes don't seem to last as long on the chain, so lube more often.
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Old 04-26-21, 06:37 PM
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Originally Posted by dsbrantjr View Post
You are likely leaving water or a water/Simple Green solution in the tiny crevices of the chain after removing some or much of the lubricant. When I used Simple Green on my chains (I use mineral spirits now) I put the chain into a 250F oven to vaporize the water, then re-lubed it.
I dry it with a terrycloth rag, then hit it gently with compressed air. It might leave a little water behind, but I don't think enough to cause a problem.
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Old 04-26-21, 06:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
I wouldn't wash it. Just wipe off any gunk with a rag. Maybe soaked with some light lube or solvent if the gunk is tough. Then just oil the chain.

Some of the new lubes don't gunk up a chain as bad as lubes use to. So try some different ones and look for those that claim to keep your chain cleaner.

The new lubes don't seem to last as long on the chain, so lube more often.
I do that often with my road bike, which I generally avoid riding when it's wet. I kind of built the gravel bike to expand my options specifically in the rainy season. One 60-80km ride on the trails and logging roads on a wet day and the links are full of grit and goop and needs a deep clean, not just quick wipe-down. A wipe-down might make the outside look pretty, but it doesn't do much to address the problem. FWIW, I've been using Finish Line wet lube...at least until the last few weeks when things started drying out. It seems to penetrate the rollers and stick to the chain, so no complaints there. I've asked at three local bike shops and it's what they all recommended. My gravel-riding friends use it as well...the ones I mentioned above who do little maintenance and are still riding 3-4 year old chains. Not sure what my problem is.
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Old 04-26-21, 06:47 PM
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I found wax tripled the chain life on my gravel bike. The best part is there is nothing to clean off at the end of a ride.
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Old 04-26-21, 08:47 PM
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As this thread devolves into a "which lube" one...

I don't understand how anyone can say what's inside the chain pivots without X ray vision.
I do believe using water to clean chains is a quagmire of potential rust without serious heat to evaporate off the remaining water.
Wiping off the outside of a chain does nothing to the insides were the wear happens, except increase the likelihood of driving what was on the outside to the inside.
I think the pros and cons of waxes are well understood. I consider the cons to out weigh the pros, others will disagree.

I think I've said all I'm worth. Andy
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Old 04-26-21, 11:52 PM
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https://cyclingtips.com/2019/12/the-...ciency-tested/

https://cyclingtips.com/2018/03/fast...ves-you-money/

The first article shows that old SRAM chains (not eagle) are middle-of-the-pack when it comes to wear. Not abysmal, but not the best you can get. Chain lube matters way, way more than chain choice when it comes to wear.

The second article shows that wax is by far the most durable solution for dirty conditions. Now whether it's right for you is another question. You can find some pretty decent wax-based drip lubes like Squirt, but those work best when used on a degreased chain anyway - at which point you might as well dip.
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Old 04-27-21, 02:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
I think the pros and cons of waxes are well understood. I consider the cons to out weigh the pros, others will disagree.
I used wax for 5 years. Chain was clean, there were no more dirty jockey wheels and tooth, and everything seemed better.

Last year, during confinement, I ran out of wax, so I got my old zefal oil from the closet and suddenly realized wax was crap.

My drivetrain may look dirtier now, and I spend more time cleaning it, but I improved chain life by 25%, reduced drivetrain noise, and the chain stays lubricated for a lot longer.

I think a lot of people is making the same mistake as me. We've been using wax for so long we forgot how good oil is.
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Old 04-27-21, 08:26 AM
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The link smashndash provided on chain lubes says what I've read in many other places: nothing preserves a drivetrain like wax. That said, I know people who use wax and I just don't want to spend that much time on bike maintenance. I was also under the impression that wax is best for riding in dry conditions and my gravel-biking is definitely not in dry conditions. That said, reading that article (and a few others) have me thinking that my problem may be my combination of wet lube and really gritty riding conditions. I've been using wet lube on the gravel bike to keep water out of the chain when riding, but if I'm going to be cleaning the chain (with water) after pretty much every ride and then re-lubing, maybe it makes more sense to just go with a quality dry lube. If I'm thoroughly cleaning the chain between rides, most of the wear has to be happening during a ride from the grit picked up during that same ride. Right? In which case the less sticky the lube, the better.
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Old 04-27-21, 09:09 AM
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If I was concerned about water intrusion from riding in the wet, I certainly wouldn't wash the chain with anything water or water based..

How do your friends with longer lasting chains treat theirs?

Is your chain covered with mud? If so then I guess a spay from the hose will be needed. Otherwise, just put it in front of a box fan to dry it quickly. Sometimes I've sprayed WD-40 on the chain and cogs thinking it might displace water from the impossible to get too places. Then lube before the next ride.

WD is claimed to stand for water displacement. And it did displace water many times when my distributer cap on my first car would get wet after going through deep standing water.
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Old 04-27-21, 09:19 AM
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That's just it. My gravel chain is typically full of gobs of muddy grit after a ride. I've got a Park chain cleaner. It works well on my road chain, but whether I fill it with some kind of water-based degreaser, mineral spirits, or kerosene, it doesn't do much to get the inside of the links clean...and if it's not getting the gunk out where I can see it, I don't trust it to do any better in the pins and rollers. That's why I use a light spray from the hose and then scrub with Simple Green and a cassette brush or toothbrush, then rinse again with a light spray. I hit it with compressed air after getting it as dry as I can with terrycloth, so I don't think there's much water left in the chain at that point. I've never used WD-40 on a chain. It will definitely displace water, but I expect it will also interfere significantly with chain lube.
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Old 04-27-21, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
................. I've never used WD-40 on a chain. It will definitely displace water, but I expect it will also interfere significantly with chain lube.
That is why you lube it before the next ride.

I never remove my chain till time to replace. KMC recommends not using a chain washer on their chains. They say just lube them. They have stated somewhere that the new lube will flow in and push the bad stuff out.

But what about your friends with the longer lasting chains, what do they do?

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Old 04-27-21, 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
That is why you lube it before the next ride.

I never remove my chain till time to replace. KMC recommends not using a chain washer on their chains. They say just lube them. They have stated somewhere that the new lube will flow in and push the bad stuff out.

But what about your friends with the longer lasting chains, what do they do?
They seem to do very little. Neither one does their own bike maintenance. If their bikes are dirty after a ride they get hosed down, maybe hit with a brush and soap if it's bad. As far as I can tell, they just keep adding lube. I asked both this morning what their routine is. I heard back from one. He uses Rock n Roll Gold and just keeps adding more periodically. When there's a problem with the bike, he takes it to the local shop and they perform unspecified maintenance on the chain while they have it. I've known him for years and his bike doesn't go into the shop very often. I was also riding behind him the other day and his whole drivetrain was thick with black grease and goop.
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Old 04-27-21, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
The link smashndash provided on chain lubes says what I've read in many other places: nothing preserves a drivetrain like wax. That said, I know people who use wax and I just don't want to spend that much time on bike maintenance. I was also under the impression that wax is best for riding in dry conditions and my gravel-biking is definitely not in dry conditions. That said, reading that article (and a few others) have me thinking that my problem may be my combination of wet lube and really gritty riding conditions. I've been using wet lube on the gravel bike to keep water out of the chain when riding, but if I'm going to be cleaning the chain (with water) after pretty much every ride and then re-lubing, maybe it makes more sense to just go with a quality dry lube. If I'm thoroughly cleaning the chain between rides, most of the wear has to be happening during a ride from the grit picked up during that same ride. Right? In which case the less sticky the lube, the better.
Riding in the rain is tough. There's pretty much nothing that both sticks to the chain in rain and doesn't attract grit/dirt.

If you go with a dry lube, you HAVE to dry + relube the chain (and ideally clean it too) after your ride or it will rust. You can mitigate this by buying a somewhat corrosion resistant chain: https://cyclingtips.com/2020/04/wipp...-chain-review/ but nothing is 100% rust-proof.

Rock n Roll Gold and Squirt are two popular dry lubes that my friends and I have used and liked. Everyone has their favorites of course, which is to say that there are many good lubes. But there are also many terrible lubes.

If you go with a wet lube, it will attract more dirt and grit and that will create a grinding paste that destroys your chain... but you can just wipe, lube and ride again. Yeah, the chain probably won't last as long as being extremely diligent with a dry lube but you can just get a new chain a bit more frequently.

If anyone knows of a wet lube that doesn't attract grit, let me know. That's pretty much the holy grail.

I will say that my wax chains, even though they seem to last forever, don't feel as fast as Rock n Roll. I do wonder why that is. Regardless. I don't use wax for the speed. I use it for the cleanliness and longevity. I'm surprised that the commenter above saw his oiled chain last longer than his waxed chains. I have yet to properly wear out a chain past 0.5% here in CA. My first chain rusted out because I let it soak in the rain (oops) and my second waxed chain got caught up in the spokes (don't ask) and mangled itself. I'll see how many miles I get out of this one.
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Old 04-27-21, 10:01 AM
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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
They seem to do very little.
Me too. My chains last a long time.

I just lube them every few hundred miles. When I was using the older types of lube that gunked up a chain, I even lubed less and they still lasted longer than those that wash their chains and care for them.

One of the other things that I don't think was mentioned is the torque you put into the cranks. If you pedal in higher gears with more torque (mashing) then I'd think you'd get more wear than someone that uses lower gear ratios and spinning.

Maybe not, because that person using the lower ratios will be spinning the chain more. But I lean toward the masher wearing the chain out first. Never seen any studies on it though.
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Old 04-28-21, 05:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
One analogy I use is about caring for our mouths. If all we did was to wipe off our lips the teeth would still be covered with food and rot out sooner then if we brushed the teeth with proper brushes and tooth paste. Andy
Don't forget the floss.
Pro tip*: you don't have to floss all your teeth... just the ones you want to keep!


* I'm a dentist.
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Old 04-28-21, 07:16 AM
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Iride01 mentioned WD-40. Do the WD-40 lubes displace water like their original product does?
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Old 04-28-21, 07:20 AM
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I am of the view that what lube you go with makes relatively little difference in chain life. The main thing is that you keep it lubed. The difference is that different lubes last longer under different conditions.

The major factor is conditions. Dry, dust free miles are easy on any chain/lube combo, and wet, muddy is hard on any chain/lube combo.

I use the same lube for all pavement, gravel, and MTB.

As far as chain life for gravel.... depends on conditions.

I dont use soaps and degreasers on my chain unless it is part of a serious deep cleaning off the bike. I am of the camp that feels I am more likely to wash crap into the rollers than out of them.
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Old 04-28-21, 08:14 AM
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Iride01
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Join Date: Jul 2017
Location: Mississippi
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Bikes: '20 Tarmac Disc Comp '91, '78 Raleigh Competition GS

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Originally Posted by vicyclist View Post
Iride01 mentioned WD-40. Do the WD-40 lubes displace water like their original product does?
Just to be clear, I've only used the original WD-40.

Certainly if they don't say water displacing on their bike lubes, then I wouldn't assume that. I've never used any of their other products that I know of.
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