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How to get a perfectly clean drivetrain in 4 easy steps

In this article you’re going to learn how to get the ultimate clean drivetrain.

I used my Cannondale M300 to do a mountain bike trail multiple times. Suffice to say my drivetrain was in need of some serious cleaning afterwards. And sometimes a rag and a toothbrush just isn’t enough. If you want a really clean drivetrain this is the way to do it.

To get such a clean drivetrain you do need some speciality tools but their reusability makes it worth the investment. And cleaning your drivetrain as detailed in this article also means your chain, cassette and crank will last longer.

Another big advantage on using this procedure to get a clean drivetrain is that you don’t have to spray water onto your bicycle. When using a hose on your bike you always run the risk of damaging your hubs or bottom bracket, because water might seep into it and start corroding stuff.

This whole procedure takes about 45 minutes. Let’s get started.

Video Tutorial

Step 1. Cleaning the chain

Your drivetrain consists of the crankset, derailleur, cassette or sprocket, and of course the chain. All of these will be cleaned, but I always start cleaning the chain without removing it from the bicycle. For detailed information about this procedure read my blog “How to clean a bike chain without removing it in 2 easy steps“.

I use mineral spirits and a chain cleaner tool, or chain scrubber. The mineral spirits act as a strong degreaser. After 50 rotations of the crankset, the mineral spirits will have dissolved all of the grease and the majority of the dirt will be caught by the wheels within the chain cleaner.

After I’ve used the chain scrubber, I dry the chain and remove the mineral spirits with a towel. This also removes the last of the grease. You know you’re finished with this step if hardly any grease stays on the towel.

Step 2. Cleaning the crankset

Now you have a clean chain you can start with the crankset. Before removing the crank I always remove the pedal first.

Although you don’t necessarily need any specialty tools for this I do. It just makes the job easier. In this case it’s a Padre 15mm Pedal Wrench 831.

You have a left and right pedal. Removing pedals is done by rotating the wrench in the opposite direction you would be riding towards or moving towards the back wheel. That means counterclockwise for the right pedal and clockwise for the left pedal.

Without the pedal I remove the dust cap with a screw driver. Your dust cap, if you have one, might be different from mine. I use crank bolt wrench to remove the crank bolt and finally pull the crank with a universal crank puller and an adjustable wrench.

I use about 2 liters of mineral spirits in a bucket with an old dishwashing brush to get the crank totally clean. This way you can quickly and easily remove the grease and dirt. The brush get’s into hard-to-reach places. With the crank removed you can submerge it totally enabling you to get your crank brand spanking new. After I cleaned the crank I rinse it with water.

It’s also much easier this way to clean the frame and bracket.

After I’m finished cleaning the crank I reinstall it on the frame. Make sure you put some grease on the bracket spindle, the inside of the crank, and the pedal threads before installing.

Step 3. Cleaning the cassette

Next up is the cassette. For a detailed explanation of how to clean your cassette read my blog called “How to clean bicycle cassette in 3 easy steps“.

Before you can remove the cassette you need to remove the rear wheel.

With the wheel laying on the ground with the cassette facing upwards you can use a chain whip, cassette lockring tool and adjustable wrench to remove the cassette.

The lockring that holds the cassette in place may differ for each bike. Make sure you have the right tool. In this case I’m using the Park Tool Cassette Lockring Tool FR-5.2G. This tool fits most lockrings from bikes from the 80s and 90s (this Cannondale M300 is from 1998).

The cassette get’s exactly the same treatment as the crank, getting submerged in a bath paint thinner and cleaned with a brush. Just as with the crank I rinse it with water to remove the paint thinner.

Before reinstalling the cassette, put some grease on the hub.

This wheel uses a freehub with splines, making sure the cassette can only go on in one way because one of the splines is wider than all the others.

You can reuse the lockring tool and wrench to tighten it. Since the cassette won’t move out of itself you don’t need a chain whip this time to hold it in place.

Since the wheel is removed anyway I used the opportunity to more easily clean the wheel using WD-40 and baby wipes.

The same goes for cleaning the rear derailleur.

Step 4. Greasing the chain

After you’ve put the wheel back into place you have a a very clean drivetrain. However you’re not done yet. You still need to put some grease or lube on your chain, whatever you prefer.

greasing chain

I use Forte Red Chain Grease for various reasons. I used to apply it using a Q-tip, but I now simply use my fingers and also leave some on the outside of the chain.

I reuse the paint thinner by putting it back in their bottles for later use. The debris will sink to the bottom. If you feel your paint thinner is really dirty you can filter it using a nylon pantyhose.

And that’s how you get a perfectly clean drivetrain!

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