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One would probably wonder why anyone would bother to keep and use an old chain on a refurbished lightweight bicycle when new ones are relatively inexpensive.  The answer is simple � the original chain has a wear pattern that perfectly matches both the front(rings) and, more importantly, rear(cogs) sprockets.

Considering how much the chain is used on a bicycle, the natural and logical thing to do is to replace the chain with a new one.  Sometimes this works well and sometimes it does not.  Everything will seem good, with the new chain installed, until the rider shifts onto the smallest or second from smallest cog and then applies force to the pedals.  Quite often, the result will be chain skip (the chain jumps over the tops of the sprocket teeth) which, at best, is annoying and can actually prove to be dangerous.  A chain skip can catch the rider unaware, causing him or her to fall, crotch first, onto the top bar.  You fellows can relate to this situation and, perhaps, the ladies can too.

The novice bicycle restorer will look at the
original chain and think rust, junk, pitch it out and get a new one, and he or she will think these things for good reason.  Used and neglected chains look and feel ugly and don�t work worth beans without some tender loving care(TLC).

So, to the novice restorer, do not rush out and buy a new chain.  Take the time to clean and loosen up the one that came with the vintage bicycle.  Yes, it just might be an oily, greasy contaminated mess or, worse yet, a length of rusted something or other that one would assume would never work again.  Often times, few things could be further from the truth.  Chains on the old ten speeds, unlike their ultra light, incredibly skinny modern day twenty-seven speed counterparts, are incredibly tough.

It is not necessary to completely remove the chain from the bike for cleaning and lubrication purposes.  In fact, the chain cannot even be removed without a special tool, commonly referred to as a chain breaker.  However, if one does have access to the proper tool, removing the chain will make the whole refurbishing process easier.  See Park Tools for an example of what this handy and necessary item looks like.

Let�s assume that you do not have a chain breaking tool (the chain does not really get broken, just taken apart at one single pin location).   Leaving the chain on the bike, avoid the urge to apply force to the pedals without being extremely careful.  Damage to the rear derailleur might be the end result.  Don�t even think that you can pedal backwards(this could create even more damage).  Of course, the chain must be moved, however; if done carefully, any damage to transmission components is unlikely.

Begin by thoroughly lubricating the old chain with WD 40 or some similar penetrating oil.  Be careful and don�t waste lubricant by over doing it.  With careful pressure on the spray head and with the plastic nozzle extension attached, it is possible to ooze, rather than spray, the lubricant out of the can.  The purpose here is to cover link plates and begin getting some lubrication penetration into the pins and bushings.  Do not expect one application of penetrating fluid to do the job.  After applying the lubricant, let is sit for a while before trying to wiggle things loose.  You can even come back and give the whole mess another shot later, once again allowing it time to sit and soak in.

The next item in the �fix the chain� program is to begin testing and pivoting each and every link.  Wearing a pair of gloves (protecting your skin against chemicals and solvents is a really good idea), grab each of the link combinations and attempt to pivot one link back and forth on the other, until it moves freely and without binding.  It might even be necessary to use a couple of pairs of pliers to facilitate this task with some of the really stiff links.  Repeat this process for each link combination until all links move without binding or dragging (it is not at all difficult for the novice to identify stiff or dragging links).

Once satisfied that all is moving as freely, and it might take several attempts over a few days to get things to this state, wipe the chain clean of excess lubricant.  Leaving a chain flooded with lubricant is actually counter-productive to helping the chain and sprockets achieve a long and trouble free life.  Road grime (dust, sand, gravel, glass and who knows what else) will adhere to a wetly lubed chain.  This debris mixes with the excess lubricant, forming a very effective grinding compound that will accelerate chain and sprocket wear.  After wiping the excess oil off of the chain, shift your attention to the sprockets, both front (rings) and rear (kogs).  These too should be cleaned.  Special tools are available that makes this kind of cleaning easier.  The best one used to date is offered by Park Tools.  It is, quite simply, a plastic brush that fits nicely between each of the rear cogs.  Interestingly enough, a pop-sickle stick works very well also(the stick fits nicely between the cogs and can be whittled to any shape that you want in order to facilitate the cleaning task).

While cleaning the rear cogs, the WD40 will, once again prove, to be a useful substance to use.  Be careful with how liberally the penetrating oil is applied.  You do not want to flood the wheel bearings with this stuff.  Remember, ooze don�t spray!  Once the cogs are clean, wipe them off with a rag.

Test the drive mechanism by pedaling forward slowly and carefully, all the while keeping a close eye on the rear sprockets.  If it looks like the chain is going to start falling off of the kogs, then the rear derailleur will need adjustment before continuing.  Once satisfied that the unit can pedal forward without incident, try moving the pedals backward ensuring, of course, to be very careful as you do so.  As you pedal backwards observe the chain links as they go around the rear derailleur idler sprockets.  These guys have a very small diameter and any chain stiffness will best be identified here.  You will actually see and, perhaps, even feel the stiff links as they pass through the derailleur. 

If satisfied that the chain is freely moving, set up the transmission in accordance with the procedure offered at the Park Tool web site and then begin testing the shifting mechanism.  Ensure that all is well with the transmission then, assuming that the rest of the bike�s mechanical state is acceptable, take it out for a test ride but BE CAREFUL!  Now is not the time to try standing on the pedals in an effort to push the bicycle to its ultimate limit.  Rather, go slowly, testing the mechanical integrity of each shift to ensure that all is well.  If so, ride around for a while before taking the bicycle home.

After the initial test ride, wipe the chain, cogs and rings clean of the WD40 lubricant and apply a chain lubricant to each and every link.  "ProLink" is a very good chain lubricant.  You will need to use it frequently for the first few rides as the "ProLink" will gradually wash out all of the penetrating oil.  After that, one need only apply the "ProLink" as required.  While on this topic, always apply chain lubricant to the inner run of the chain.  Centrifugal force will cause the lubricant to move towards the outside run of the chain, where, hopefully the crud will fall off as you ride.

If the chain and sprockets combination works well (no skipping), then you will have saved yourself the expense and hassle of buying a new chain and probably a new rear cogs assembly.  If not, go make a donation at the local bike shop and buy a new chain.  You will also benefit from purchasing a chain breaking tool at this time because it is very difficult to remove and replace a chain without one of these babies.  In fact, you might as well get the breaker.  It is a valuable tool to have with you at all times when out on the road.  One never knows when a chain will fail but one can be absolutely certain that it will not fail when the bike is hanging in the garage.

If the drive train works well, with the new chain installed, great!  If you begin to experience skipping (most pronounced on the smaller cogs), then you will be forced to locate and purchase a new chain and cog set.  Of course, you will need a special tool and an increased level of understanding of how to remove and replace cogs.  The Park Tool web site has a terrific article on this topic.

Very few of the bicycles contained on these pages have new chains.  The old ones are working just fine and no plan has been made to replace any of them, even during a full refurbishment.  However, every effort will be made to keep the chains clean and properly lubricated, assuring minimal wear, long chain life and, hopefully, trouble free rides.
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