dandy MECHANICS Part One: The Chain

Mechanics corner

By Owen Gerrard

Illustrations by Chris Simonen

Part #1: The Chain

In this dandy mechanics column we will explore each part of the bicycle individually, and examine what special role it plays in making your whole machine run smoothly.

So this is the first in a monthly “mechanics corner” column in which we will work to impart some bicycle basics to everyday dandy cyclists, while at the same time inspiring shy, gentle, private, brimming, beaming, big-toothed and high-gummed, genuine grins in our readers.

Wow, that's a lot to do, well no it's really just two things.

Let's break it down and start with the mechanical aspects of the blog. The focus of this column will be to provide some “ggg” advice regarding what your bike is doing and what you can do to make your bike keep on doing it well. Hopefully this forum will demystify the bicycle for our regular readers and riders. Bikes aren't magic, they have variations but they all work in a similar and certain way.

In terms of smiles - my favourite part - here is my take: Bikes should be fun, but they can be frustrating. Knowing more about your bike will make dealing with problems a little easier.

Each column will be followed by a special Bike Spotting session where we ask cyclists in the street to tell us what they know about this month’s featured bicycle part.

Without further adieu, our first part is: The Chain!

Do you know where your chain is? Do you know what it does? What colour is it? Is it broken? How long does a typical bike chain last?

The chain on your bike is the central part of what is called the "drive train".

Basically, the chain connects your pedals to your rear wheel. Specifically, it connects your crank to your cassette or freewheel. The job of the chain on your bike is to move when you pedal and in turn move your rear wheel. Previous to learning this, I had written off the basic functioning of a bike as some a non-understandable type of magic. You can imagine my relief in finding an engineering-centred explanation. Let's face it magic is scary, and in the realm David Copperfield and Birthday Party Clowns. Bikes are not scary.

Maintaining your chain is quite important as it connects your crank to your rear wheel.  If the chain wears out, it generally causes damage to all the parts it touches. This type of repair is called a "drive train replacement”. It is very expensive; very undesirable. You can mitigate the damage done to the drive train through proper maintenance. You should lubricate and clean your chain regularly. By regularly, I mean biweekly in the winter and monthly in the summer. Also, timely chain replacement is sensible. The “timeliness” of that replacement depends on how often you ride and how well you maintain your chain, of course!

The colour of a chain should be either silver (premium chains are nickel plated) or a bronze brown. If your chain is black, then it needs cleaning. If your chain is orange or rusting, it needs lubrication. Generally, a well-lubricated chain will look like it did when new and be tacky to the touch. Not wet, tacky. If the chain is black and wet to the touch, then it requires cleaning. An overly wet and dirty chain erodes your drive train faster, leading to premature "drive train replacement.”  Remember, this is expensive and therefore undesirable.

Now, it should be understood that chains wear out over time. Chains stretch as you use them. Chains begin to stretch after 1,500-2,000 km depending on quality, rider weight, gear choice etc. If you change your chain before it stretches to an unusable point, you can effectively stop the chain from causing damage to the crank and cassette. You should be able to take your bike to your local bike shop (LBS) and have them measure your chain for wear. This is usually free of charge and fast. Your LBS has a tool called a “chain checker.” You can purchase this tool for home use if you like. Park Tools makes several versions that are all good and are generally moderately priced.

Well, I hope that helps you and remember: clowns are scary, bikes are fun.

And it’s a good idea to maintain your chain!


About the author:

In 1995, Owen Gerrard began his first stint as a bike messenger. He had been riding avidly for a couple years so the transition to biking-for-pay was an easy one. He got his first bike shop job in 1999. Since then he's done almost all the jobs available at busy bike shop, stock boy, coffee fetcher, mechanic, sales, sales manager, purchaser, general manager.  His approach to bikes is a practical one. He doesn't believe in magic fixes or miracle solutions. He believes good habits and simple maintenance are all you need to keep a bicycle running well for a long time. He is currently the manager of one of the dandiest bike shops in town, Sweet Pete's.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Bike Spotting: How do you care for your chain?

Sweet Pete's will adhere reflective tape to your bike for free - if you contribute to our dandyCOMMUTE series! Send us your story and photos today and you will be entered into a draw to WIN A BIKE at the end of 2013.

Sweet Pete's now at two locations: photos by Molly Crealock




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One response to “dandy MECHANICS Part One: The Chain”

  1. Randy says:

    These diagrams are really helpful. I’ve never had a chain tool properly explained to me before (I learned the hard way to not push the rivet all the way out..)

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