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  1. #1
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Public Service Announcement: DRIVETRAIN WEAR

    My boss hates having to tell customers about this stuff; due to the nature of the beast and regardless of whatever 300-word spiel you can put together, it's always going to sound to some folks like you're trying to pull a fast one...

    Which it probably would be if you were talking about anywhere else on the bike... to some ears it probably sounds like,
    'Oh yes, your grips are worn and we have to replace those, but unfortunately that means we also have to replace your bars and your stem too.'

    So I'm composing an explanation here; if anyone wants to offer any refinements, I'll be sure to consider incorporating them. In fact, perhaps this is the best place for it, showing the development open-source style, and customers are free to join up and post a question or whatever... anyway, here goes.

  2. #2
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Drivetrain wear



    Some folks don't know it's a thing.


    Bicycle chains all have a 0.5" (12.7mm) pitch, which is the distance between the centres of their pins. It takes two sections of chain to make a link, meaning you have to adjust its length in 1" increments (except with single speed, where you might use a special half-link).
    That's the theory, anyway... and a brand-new drivetrain is a sweet symphony, transmitting drive with 98% efficiency. But in practice, over time the pins and rollers become somewhat worn; the chain becomes effectively longer, and some of your effort starts to go into chewing up metal...


    You don't really notice this happening, because it only happens slowly, and the lengthening chain deforms the chainrings and cogs over time, so it can be quite a while before any noticeable vibration develops... but your drivetrain is still losing efficiency all the while. Shift quality becomes affected, a throbbing vibration under power appears (it's the feeling of your chainring teeth being smooshed), and eventually the cogs or even chainrings can become so worn that the drivetrain poses a safety risk - the chain will jump over cog or ring teeth under high load, possibly dumping the rider on the road. It does take a lot of wear to cause this, except when worn parts are being mixed with new parts - a new chain on a worn cassette is the most common cause of dangerous slippage.

    This wear is the result of an unusual combination; a worn chain on a new chainring:



    ...Not a happy marriage.

    The chainrings, being larger, tend to wear more slowly than the cogs (cogsets come in cassettes or sometimes freewheels), which should usually be replaced with the chain. Some people buy two chains and rotate them every 1500km or so to get more life from an expensive cogset; others replace their chains when they're between 1/2 to 3/4 worn, before the chain has had a chance to cause much wear. Chainrings are more tolerant of wear; they can be used past the point it's visually obvious they're worn, but it's a bit of a grey area - they might look pretty good but not run smooth, or they might even run smooth but slip. To see if chainrings are still good, they're tested with a new chain and cassette to feel for vibration and slippage.

    This one was obviously toast many km ago.


    Cassettes are different - if you can see any wear, they've had it - this one is junk. It can be very difficult to say a cassette is good from a visual inspection; it might look virtually unworn but a new chain will jump over a couple of cogs... the vagaries of wear patterns can be subtle and confounding, which is why your LBS probably won't want to try a new chain on your old cassette unless you're changing it early.

    So all this stuff sounds like bad news; this can get expensive with only medium-quality gear - ~$30 for a chain, ~$60 for a cassette, and around a dollar a tooth for chainrings... ouch. But then, aside from the occasional tyre, this is pretty much the only ongoing expense of maintaining a bike; it compares pretty favourably with a car on a per km basis. More good news is that if you're disappointed with the mileage you've got out of your gear before having to replace it, there's probably quite a bit of room for improvement if you're prepared to spend a little time looking after your chain.

    Shiny rollers = dry chain



    Bad.



    Also bad

    Another no-no is throwing lots of lube at the chain in the hope that more's better - it can be nearly as bad as not lubing, and can make a horrible, horrible mess... the excess lube attracts all manner of crud, which works its way inside the chain and becomes grinding paste. You only want the lube inside the chain, with no more than a residue elsewhere. Put a single drop of lube (I like @FBinNY 's Chain-L No.5) on each roller as you gradually backpedal the crank, letting the lube seep into the chain for a bit, before grabbing the chain with a rag between the rear derailer and the crank and backpedalling for a while. Lube just keeps coming off the chain, even when you lube it sparingly, and more will come off again if you go for a short ride. All this is worth it to purge the excess lube and keep the black filth at bay... the Nuke From Orbit option of taking the chain off and shaking it in a jar is somewhat fraught, IMO - are you washing more crud out of the chain than you're washing into it?

    Nothing beats keeping it clean in the first place. New chains generally have the best lube; a light grease, it lasts for a long time before the first lube is required. A new chain will often have a sticky residue of this stuff all over it that will pick up dust like a magnet, so it's a good move to drag the chain through a rag damp with a little degreaser - after the chain's been through once, you feel it get suddenly slipperier through the rag. Often, this is all the cleaning necessary before a chain is to be lubed if it's been looked after (don't just aim a stream of degreaser at the chain), but a MTB or commuter can get pretty gungy in the line of duty... if it looks like it'll help, I hit the chain with a brush before I put any solvent near it.

    Drivetrain maintenance is a bit of a fiddly mess (you should probably do it outside and wear gloves), but it's not too bad if you stay on top of it; it's rarely needed and easily done then.



    Oil from the rollers, not the side plates

  3. #3
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    - this post reserved for future amendments -

  4. #4
    Senior Member ctpres's Avatar
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    Great understandable post with lots of pic's. I am in the rotate two chains camp. Have been rotating at about 1,500 miles but will change to 1,000. Thanks for the time and effort to put it together.
    Retired 75 YO. Got my sub 5 ET century at 50 and sub 7 RT at 75. Just want to finish at 80. USNR, USAF, USCGA - riding 2014 Zenetto Steath ZR7.1 Carbon

  5. #5
    ot.net slave
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    We keep an example of a very worn chain including the pin with grooves worn into it. Also a fox fork CSU with the crazy bushing wear, as examples of preventative maintenance. Lifting the chain up off the cassette sprockets to demonstrate how the two no longer mesh together is a good visual aid.

    - joel

  6. #6
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tomacropod View Post
    Lifting the chain up off the cassette sprockets to demonstrate how the two no longer mesh together is a good visual aid.
    Yeah, I'll get around to shooting some pics, that'll be one for sure. I'm on the limit of ten pics per post, which is why I reserved the first reply (smilies counts as pics BTW).

  7. #7
    It's MY mountain DiabloScott's Avatar
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    I think you should add one of those graphics that shows how the elongated chain rides up higher on the teeth - something like this:



    That really strikes a chord with people.
    http://diabloscott.blogspot.com/

  8. #8
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    tough one, average person is not a mechanic. and i already have enough problems convincing people that tires need air in them.

    successful drivetrain sell the other day tho. cogs worn to the point of missing teeth !! make a clear case

    thoughts .
    there are 4 situations I run into
    1. chain is worn slightly, drivetrain runs fine, replace chain is prudent as further wear will compromise cogs

    2. chain and cogs are badly worn, no drivetrain symptoms yet, new chain will def slip on old cogs

    3. same as 2. except drivetrain has skipping issues

    4. chain is broken (various cause) but cogs are worn such that a replacement chain will slip



    3 is easy, no one disagrees with evaluation when the bike is already 'broken'

    1 I'll recommend preventative replacement chain, but no pressure if they aren't convinced, remember a full replacement 6 months from now will actually net more profit

    2 same logic as above, further wear will lead to obvious skipping which then does the convincing for me

    4 is the only time the case when wear mismatch needs to really be stressed. I'll make the detailed explanation, if they think I'm trying to con them into 'unnecessary' cogs I'll invite them to save their money and sell them a chain for a DIY install; don't get blamed when it slips
    Last edited by xenologer; 05-25-14 at 09:51 PM.

  9. #9
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Thanks guys, I'll revise this when I get some more input.

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