Open trails, forest on both sides, only you, birds chirping, and the sunny road ahead – sounds like a recipe for a great Saturday! But it can quickly turn into a frustrating, rude awakening when you discover the rust on your bike chain.
This often happens when we spontaneously decide to get our bike and hit the road at the first signs of spring and summer, skipping maintenance until we want to hop on the bike.
But can you ignore the rusty bike chain? Is that safe, or is it something you need to take care of immediately? And what to do in such an instance? I’m answering all of that today!
Rusted Bike Chain – Is It Safe To Ride?
The short answer? It depends.
In the best-case scenario, your bike chain is moderately affected by rust. Superficial rusting can be scrubbed off or removed using other means, and it shouldn’t affect your chain’s condition too much.
The real trouble begins when your bike chain is more than 30%-40% covered in rust. This kind of damage may cause permanent chain impairment and is unsafe to ride with. You risk the chain breaking in the middle of the trail, which can lead to all sorts of unpleasant consequences.
Always check the condition of your bike, including the bike chain, before you ride it. Thoroughly inspect the chain, and if you see rust, consider performing maintenance before hitting the road.
Why the Rust in the First Place?
Most commonly, the rust appears as a result of prolonged exposure to moisture. Bikes kept outside, with no protection from rain or snow, can very quickly experience damage, so I highly recommend that you protect them from the elements, for example, by storing them in a garage or your apartment.
Additionally, if you live in a very humid climate, you might want to increase the frequency of your bike’s maintenance. Catching rust early on makes it easier to remove and safer for you to operate the bike.
If you haven’t cleaned and lubricated your chain in a while, that also can contribute to your rust problem. As I mentioned above, regular check-ups can save you lots of trouble in the future.
How To Fix a Rusted Bike Chain
Riding a bike with a rusted chain is not optimal for more than one reason. Not only are you risking damage to the chain itself, as well as the drivetrain, but you can also experience harm when the chain snaps unexpectedly.
This, combined with the fact that a rusty chain makes the riding harder, slowing you down and requiring more of your strength to cycle, does not work in favor of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. Meaning, you shouldn’t just look away and ignore the problem.
But how to fix a rusted bike chain?
Here is a quick tutorial for you!
Assess the damage
Even the best of intentions and efforts can’t save your chain if it’s mostly rust. At that point, you’re forced to replace the chain. If the damage is moderate, you might be able to salvage it. Turn the bike upside down, properly inspect the chain, and make the call.
Remove the chain from the bike
This step can be skipped if the bike’s chain is in fairly good condition. Meaning, it doesn’t require very thorough cleaning. However, if you’re not so lucky, you’ll have to remove the chain, which will make the whole process much more convenient.
To do so, locate the master link. Many modern chains have it. You can recognize the link by a specific pin/slot connection. To remove the chain, slide the pin out of the slot in which it’s in, within the master link.
If your bike doesn’t have a master link, it’s not the end of the world. Simply remove some of the links from the gear spikes. You’ll be able to detach the chain from the bike pretty easily after that.
Clean the chain
Removing surface-level rust and grime is important and should be done regularly once every 200 miles. How to clean a bike chain?
- Step first would be to degrease the chain. The best for this purpose is a bike degreaser solution. You can soak the chain in solution for 10 to 20 minutes if the buildup is severe.
- Following that, scrub the chain, removing the grime and rust. To make your task easier, you can use a steel wool pad. Apply WD-40 on the spots with rust to remove it. Alternatively, you can use lime juice to accomplish this goal.
- Once you’re happy with the result, rinse the chain with water and obligatorily use a dry, clean cloth to remove the water and moisture.
Pro tip: Use protective gloves when cleaning the chain. Especially if you’re using more aggressive detergents and formulas. These are rarely forgiving and can irritate the skin.
Reattach the chain
The cleaned chain is ready to be reunited with the bike. Put the chain links back on the gears. If you have a master link, don’t forget to reattach it, too, at the midpoint between the two wheels.
The last but very important step is to lubricate the chain. It will protect it from further rusting, as well as reduce the grime buildup, so your next cleaning is faster and easier. Use good quality bike lubricants to ensure your chain and other bike components are protected, and you’re not risking any damage.
Don’t forget to repeat this process every week if you’re using your bike avidly or every two weeks to a month if you’re more of a recreational biker.
Some people enjoy doing minor repairs or bike maintenance. Others despise it and try to limit them to a minimum. One is certain – nobody likes planning a day full of breathtaking views, wind in the hair, and discovering new bike trails, only to find the bike’s chain all dirty and rusty.
That’s why doing regular check-ups offers many benefits. And now, you’re equipped with the knowledge of how to handle rust on your bike chain. Remember – it’s best not to ignore the rust but to tackle it before more serious harm to you or your bike occurs. The whole ordeal can take around 40 minutes of your life, but it’s well worth it.
Meanwhile, see you on the trails!