I wanted to show a little extra love to my new fixed gear bike, so I ordered a trendy purple chain from KMC to make the bike colors really pop. I was surprised when I opened the box to find the chain felt a bit sticky. I washed and lubed the chain, and it still worked just fine, but it had me wondering why a brand-new chain would feel so sticky. Here’s what I learned.
Should Bike Chains Feel Sticky?
New bicycle chains may feel a bit sticky or greasy right out of the box. New chains are shipped from the manufacturer with a healthy dose of grease already applied so that they are protected from dust and debris during shipping and are ready to ride as soon as they are installed on your bike.
However, aside from that initial layer of factory grease, a chain shouldn’t really be sticky at all. Instead, it should feel slippery, smooth, and just slightly greasy to the touch.
In this article, we’ll talk about the reasons why new and used chains might feel sticky or greasy to the touch. We’ll also cover what to do about your sticky chain and how you’ll know if your chain needs to be cleaned and lubricated.
Why a Bike Chain Could Be Sticky
There are a few reasons a bike chain might feel sticky. These reasons vary based on whether your chain is brand new or has been on your bike for 1,000 miles.
For New Chains
It’s perfectly normal for a new chain to feel sticky at first. When a chain is assembled, it’s typically lubricated with high-performance grease. KMC says their chains are ready to ride right out of the box (after installation, of course). However, if the chain feels too greasy, KMC explains that you can wipe excess grease off of the outside of the plates. Be sure to avoid wiping the rollers in between the chain links: that’s where the grease is most needed.
If you don’t like the grease or lubricant that comes already applied to your bike chain, you can remove it with a product such as MucOff Bio Drivetrain Cleaner. It’s gentle on your chain but also biodegradable. Then, after you’ve cleaned your chain, you can re-lube it with the bike lube of your choice.
For my purposes, I generally use the chain as-is until it’s time to re-lube the chain after a few rides.
For Used Chains
A used bike chain shouldn’t feel sticky or excessively greasy. If it feels greasy, it probably has too much lube on it. Too much lube can be a problem because an overly greasy chain will attract dirt and grime, which can cause friction in your drivetrain, leading to wear and tear and poor performance.
On the other hand, a sticky used bike chain will be that way for a different reason. If your chain feels sticky, it’s probably really dirty. Over time, dirt and grime will build up and stick to the lube on your chain. This can make your chain feel sticky and indicate that it is time to clean it and re-lube.
So what can you do if your chain feels sticky or greasy?
What to Do About a Sticky Bike Chain
For New Chains
If your bike chain is sticky or greasy and it is new, you probably don’t need to do anything about it. High-grade lubricant that has been applied at the factory when the chain was being assembled might have a sticky feel. This won’t impact the performance of your bike. Your chain will be ready to use as is.
Of course, you’ll want to double-check your manufacturer’s directions, but most of the time, such as with KMC chains, the factory-grade lubricant is just fine to ride with and will hopefully last you through a few hundred kilometers.
For Used Chains
If your chain is used and it feels sticky, then you’re going to need to clean and re-lube it. After all, if your chain feels sticky, it’s probably pretty dirty. Cleaning and lubricating your chain should be done regularly anyway to keep your drivetrain in good working order.
For best results, you’ll want to use a commercial chain cleaner such as MucOff Drivetrain Cleaner or even WD-40 Bike Cleaner and Degreaser. Here are the steps to clean your chain:
- Use a brush to remove any debris from your chain
- Spray chain cleaner and degreaser onto the chain and allow it to sit for 10-20 minutes
- Rinse off the excess degreaser with hot water and dry with a paper towel or clean rag
- Apply the chain lube of your choice, making sure to lubricate the rollers of the chain, not the plates
- Gently wipe off excess lube so that it does not attract dirt and grime
If you recently lubricated your chain and it feels excessively greasy, you probably just need to wipe off the excess lube. Use a clean rag or paper towel, and gently wipe the excess grease away from the plates. Try to avoid wiping the grease away from the rollers because that’s where you need it most.
How to Tell if a Bike Chain Needs to Be Lubed
A bike chain is just one of those things that you won’t really notice…when it’s working correctly. If you’re listening to your bike, it will tell you when it needs to be lubed. But, honestly – your bike will start making noise when the chain is dirty or dry.
A dirty bike chain will creak or squeak with every turn of the pedals. The worse it is, the louder it will be. A dry bike chain will sound the same.
If you don’t clean and lube your chain, it might start causing shifting issues. At this point, the noisy chain isn’t just an annoying sound, but it might actually do damage to your drivetrain, necessitating new cassettes and chainrings, which are expensive.
For a full guide on properly lubing your chain for the conditions in which you ride (without overdoing it!) so you can avoid these issues, check out Can a Bike Chain Get Wet?
What Kind of Lube Should You Use After You’ve Cleaned Your Chain?
There are lots of different types of bike chain lubricants. If you are going to be riding in wet or muddy conditions, you’ll want to use a wet lube made just for this purpose. On the other hand, if you are going to be riding in dry or dusty conditions, you’ll want to use a dry lube.
My favorite type of lubricant is Squirt Dry Chain Lube. Make sure the chain is very clean the first time you apply it and that it gets into all of the rollers. Allow it to sit for several hours before you ride, if possible.
This type of lubricant is less messy to apply than oil-based lubes. I like it best because the drivetrain feels extra smooth and quiet compared to other types of lube. If you ride in wet and muddy conditions, you’ll need to apply it more frequently, but it will still work well.