The benefits of a clean drivetrain are immense, with savings in energy and costs. A dirty drivetrain works poorly and everything wears out faster as well.
Words and photos: Mike Blewitt
'Never lubricate a dirty chain'.
You may or may not have that etched into your brain, but I know it plays over and over in my head each time I lube a dirty chain before going for a ride. The benefits of a clean drivetrain are immense, with savings in energy and costs. A dirty drivetrain works poorly and everything wears out faster as well. With high end chains and cassettes costing so much and being pretty hard to get hold of currently, keeping your drivetrain clean really does pay off. That doesn't change the fact that thoroughly cleaning your drivetrain and bike can take time that we don't always have. And it's pretty messy as well.
I tend to do a full wash on my bike with soapy water, degreaser, a myriad of brushes and a hose. Then I use about half a dozen rags for the final clean up, and my compressor as well if I have the time. But I don't always have the time for that.
I have used chain cleaners on and off for about two decades, and some have worked well, and some quickly degrade given the degreasers going through them. I like removing a chain to clean it thoroughly, but on top of time this also uses up quick links. Most quick links for 12-speed chains are single use. Sure, you might get another use out of them, or you can buy multi-use ones. But chances are the one on your bike right now can be used securely once. As such, keeping the chain on there for cleaning is a bonus.
A reliable source told me that the Made in England Weldtite Dirt Trao Chain Cleaning Machine was the best they had ever used. And a few months later through an La Nina summer, they said it again. Given how gritty everything has been with more rain on the east coast, I was ready to try one for myself.
The chain cleaner is like most, with two pieces that clamp over the chain when it's on the lower side of the drivetrain. The chain passes through a series of brushes to scrub it on all four sides while being covered with the degreaser. The Weldtite unit has a small compartment on top to fill with degreaser (in this case their provided 75ml citrus degreaser) which you then release with a button.
It was easy to hold the chain cleaner in place, despite not having a handle like some. I held it with a finger ready on the 'trigger' while backpedalling the bike. Releasing the degreaser and letting the chain run through had the pleasing result of seeing the dark grey sludge collect at the bottom of the device.
I filled the top compartment twice, until I was happy with the result. Of note, this doesn't clean your drivetrain – it cleans your chain. So with a stiff brush it is worth scrubbing your chain ring and jockey wheels as well, and between the cassette. There will be some degreaser on the ring and jockey wheels to assist.
While the chain didn't come out as clean as it would from a full removal, soak, scrub and dry – it was pretty good for taking just a couple of minutes and leaving it in place.It is also more thorough than a spray and wipe job with a degreaser and rag, and a lot cleaner as well. You can take the whole cleaning unit apart if needed, to get any grit or grime out.
The Dirt Trap now sits in the bucket near the hose, to assist with a faster clean down after dirty rides. I'll still do a more thorough clean of the chain and drivetrain from time to time, but keeping the chain cleaner each week is now a lot simpler to do. And I know that will make my whole drivetrain work better and last longer as well.
- No mess, no fuss chain cleaning
- Quite durable
- Struggles on built up wax lubes