Park Tool Chain Brite
Winter is the time that tests our souls. Specifically, it tests our ability to keep our chains clean and our sanity intact. Reduced or non-existent street cleaning combined with snow, ice, rain, plus the pairing of natural and man-made detritus, not to mention salting and sanding makes bikes a mess fast. A bike that looks like it just finished a cobbled classic, even if it was just from an hour spin, is a thing of beauty, a timeless aesthetic that binds us to our heroes, but a chain that looks that way is the fast road to ruined drivetrain components.
It is for this reason that we wanted to test out Park Tool's Chain Brite, a bicycle-specific chain degreaser, in the winter. Since we've been using hardware store finds for years, it seemed that winter was the perfect time to see if something made for bicycle chains makes the job any easier or does it any better.
It is true that a clean, lubed chain appears to run smoother. It's quieter and shifts well. It offers less frictional resistance, at least theoretically. And, possibly it should last longer. Where lube really matters is where metal rubs metal, like rollers on pins and plates against plates, the insides of a chain. Conversely, dirt in those places accelerates the wearing-out process.
We have a friend who figures the winter is sufficiently mucky that he basically does nothing about his chain from October to March and then replaces everything: chain, cassette, and chainrings. Maybe that works in a narrow cost-benefit analysis, that the time he would otherwise spend cleaning, he could be earning more money than he's saving by taking the time to do the cleaning. We're not of that mindset, and not sure if most people would save more money that way.
Since we don't like replacing chains until they've lived a multi-thousand-mile life, and like replacing cassettes and chainrings even less, we're fairly attentive to cleaning our drivetrain in the winter. We measure our chain somewhat regularly, too. Once we got bike-washing down to a habit, cleaning and re-lubing as often as two, occasionally three, times a week is no problem. Making it a habit means keeping a bike stand set up all the time as well as having all our cleaning tools in a bucket near the stand. At ride's end, add soapy water to the bucket, rinse the chain, pull out the chain cleaner, add degreaser, run the chain through it, rinse with soapy water, then water, spin out the excess, and let it air dry. Then lube the chain. Most days we get the bike as well. Might read long, but it's much faster than it seems. Do it when you're in damp cycling clothes, and you've got an incentive to do the job quickly.
If you want a good explanation of bike washing, Radio Freddy's Art Of The Bike Wash, on Belgium Knee Warmers has it all down.
Chain Brite is "specially formulated" for use in the (Park Tool) Cyclone Chain Scrubber. We asked what the special cleaning agent is; the answer is D-limonene. D-limonene "is the major component of the oil extracted from citrus rind," according to The Florida Chemical Company. Take the peel, steam it to extract oils and the stuff comes out. In recent years, it has become an increasingly-popular cleaning solvent. Park Tool won't tell us the concentration or what else is in the fluid, but we're guessing that the concentration is 5-15% based on what Florida Chemical has posted to their website.
If nothing else, Chain Brite does not contain harsh, volatile solvents. We're not for shooting WD-40 or kerosene into chains. Flammable, messy, can cause other problems on the bike, and needs to be disposed of professionally. We've been using Simple Green; relatively cheap and easy to find, but never know how or if to dilute it, are skeptical of their claims to use it on just about everything, and do wonder about the validity of the pro-environment claims we hear; it's more word of mouth "proof" than anything else. According to Wikipedia, Simple Green has come in for some criticism regarding toxicity, but then, that's for use in things like oil spills and soil remediation projects. It says nothing about its use as a chain degreaser.
We decided to try the Chain Brite two ways. One was as a cleaner diluted with a bit of water (probably 50-50) in our home-made component agitator, also known as an old Nestle Quik container. The other was at full-strength in our Park Tool Chain Scrubber.
Park doesn't recommend diluting Chain Brite with water, but we wanted to see how well it worked. Agitated for a minute or two, then rinsed with water. Seemed to work pretty well. We also tried it with the chain on the bike and in the scrubber. The chain definitely looks and feels much cleaner after going through the scrubber. Scrubbers seem like a crazy expense when everyone has used toothbrushes, but the scrubbers do work pretty well, can last a long time, ours is several years old, and you can generally find replacement parts for them.
You get 16 ounces of Chain Brite in a bottle. The Park scrubber is designed to take two ounces of cleaning fluid. Eight scrubbings to a bottle is incentive for us to dilute a bit, but we're not that careful in terms of our pouring skills.
Chasing Chain Brite with soapy water is something recommended by both Park Tool and mechanics at Competitive Cyclist. Park's head mechanic, Calvin Jones explains, "It cleans the cleaner and cleans the chain. The second chemical flushes out the grit. Running the same cleaner with soap and water can take out the loosened grit."
He also recommends using Chain Brite because it's a more "green" cleaner, one safe enough to pour down the drain. "Our water gets classified as 'dirty water,' (like) the water coming out of your washing machine. The best place to dispose of dirty water is a city sewage system."
You really should use soapy water after degreaser for a reason so obvious it's hard to realize. Degreaser left in your chain will prevent lubricant from settling into your chain; that's degreaser's purpose. So get it off. Dawn dishwashing detergent is a Pro mechanic staple; a little Dawn with a lot of water goes a long way. That and Pledge furniture polish are two unsung heroes of mechanicdom.
We went back to soapy water for the post-degreasing cleaning, if for no other reason than we usually have plenty of it left. Rinse with soapy water and then get the soapy water off with clean water. We like using hot water for the final rinse if we can. There is a general feeling that hot can clean off faster than cold, and there is some discussion about it on the Department of Energy website if you want an explanation. Short answer, the "energy" in hot water speeds reactions.
After using it for several washings, Park Tool's Chain Brite seems to be doing its job and doing it well. It's not an earth-shaker or game changer, but solvents rarely are. A clean, grit-free or close to it chain on a similarly clean cassette and chainrings works better and lasts longer. And that's the real point of Chain Brite.