When to Replace a Mountain Bike Chain – Tips & Tricks

The chain, a very important part of the bike and most often neglected, wears out easily when overused. After a long usage period, each chain link’s internal bushing slowly stretches, making the chain longer than usual. This will increase the pressure on the cogs and chainrings, causing them to wear faster and hamper the shifting quality. In this article we’ll discuss when to replace a mountain bike chain.

Replace a mountain bike chain when the chain is elongated 0.5 percent. So, if a 12-inch chain has a length of 12 1/16th of an inch, it is time to replace the chain. A worn chain will be stretched, jump gears, sluggish, or sloppy. 

Alternatively, you can use chain-wear tools to check when your chain is due for replacement.

How Long Does a Mountain Bike Chain Last?

Although there is no particular expiry date on the MTB chain, you should not continue using your chain after you notice it has worn. This is because it will cause further damage to the bike and pose a big danger to the cyclist. 

A mountain bike chain usually lasts 2000 miles depending on riding conditions, riding intensity, and mountain bike chain maintenance. 

Bicycle owner's manuals, such as this one from Cannondale, state that as long as you change your bike chain as needed, the more expensive drivetrain parts will be protected and will continue to function properly because your chain is made to wear a little more quickly than the other drivetrain parts. The use of the bike chain and environmental factors will heavily influence how long a bike chain lasts and the longevity of each individual MTB chain largely depends on how they are treated. While a  properly maintained MTB chain should last its expected duration, a mismanaged chain may not so check out our tips for quick and proper mountain bike chain maintenance to make sure your MTB chain lasts as well as possible.

How Often Should You Replace a Mountain Bike Chain?

Your MTB chain will quickly wear out if you pay little attention to maintaining it, and this will cause you to change the chain periodically. 

Replace a mountain bike chain when it is stretched, sluggish or sloppy. In general, a chain needs to be replaced every 2000 miles if it has proper routine maintenance.

On the other hand, as explained in this post by Dedham Bike, if you take proper care of the chain, it will last for over 3200 km or 2000 miles. So, depending on how long it takes to cover this distance, you should be prepared to replace your chain whenever you reach the limit. Replacing your bike chain would also help in saving money because if you wait until your chain starts stuttering under load or snapping, you'll most likely have to replace your chain with one like this, and your cassette with something like this, or the entire drivetrain like this, which will be expensive. This is because your cassette and chain are intended to function harmoniously, with the chain being made to glide easily over the cassette's teeth. When the cassette's teeth wear down, it can no longer grip any chain.  

Similarly, you might be interested in learning more about the most common mountain bike problems. Be sure to read our related article for more information.

When to Replace a Mountain Bike Chain

Although there is no fixed distance or period of time, you should change your chain before it begins to show significant wear. Chain stretch measurement is the best method for determining whether to replace your chain. 

Replace a mountain bike chain that is 0.5 percent elongated or less. The maximum allowable elongation of a mountain bike chain is 1%. The length of a new bike chain, from the middle of the pin to the middle of the next pin, should be exactly 12 inches across 12 links. Therefore, replace a chain if the length exceeds 12 1/16 inches (0.5%). Additionally, replace the chain cassette after a mountain bike chain has been replaced 3 times.

In this article by Interflon, replacing a chain before 1% elongation between links is the most reliable advice. However, you should replace your MTB chain before it is 0.5% longer than the normal 12-inch length for precautionary reasons. You can either use a digital or manual chain wear tool to measure a chain to check for wear before replacing it.

Indication 1. Chain Wear Indicator Indicates Lengthening

According to this article by Park Tool, any standard measurement equipment, such as a ruler like this or tape measure like this, can be used to check that your 12-inch bike chain has not increased by more than 1/16th inch before deciding whether or not to change it. The length of a new bike chain, from the middle of the pin to the middle of the next pin, should be exactly 12 inches across 12 links. Therefore, it would be necessary to replace a chain if it exceeded 12 1/16 inches (0.5%). You can measure it by tightening the chain. Check where the 12-inch mark of the ruler lines up by lining up the ruler's zero-inch mark with the center of a hole. The condition of the bike chain is excellent if it is at the center of a hole. The chain has begun to show some wear, but it is still manageable if the hole is less than 1/16th inch outside the 12-inch line. You should replace your bike chain if the hole is more than 1/16th inch after the 12-inch line.

You can use a tape measure or ruler to see if your mountain bike chain has stretched to decide whether you should replace it.
Using a standard ruler to measure the length of a chain. Image source: ParkTool.

Indication 2. Bike Chain Measurement Indicates a 1% Chain Elongation

There are various bike chain measurement devices available for measuring chain elongation, such as this Park Tool CC-3.2, this KMC digital checker, and others. To measure elongation, as explained in this post by Bike-components, hook one end of your chain measurement tool over one roller or pin. The other end will either lie on top of the chain or can be inserted into the gap between two rollers. If it falls between the rollers, your chain is strained and has to be changed. If the tool does not fall between the chain's rollers, your chain has not exceeded the 0.5% stretch limit and does not require replacement. After checking using the 0.5% side of the tool, turn the tool over and test the 0.75% side. If the tool becomes stuck between the rollers, your chain elongation is 0.75% and needs to be replaced.  The chain stretch ranges from 0.5% to 0.75% if the tool does not fall between the rollers or pin, and some manufacturers recommend changing the chain at this stage. If the tools freely enter the chain, the chain elongation is more than 0.75%, and the bike chain needs to be replaced as soon as possible. 

To determine when to replace a mountain bike chain measure to see the amount of chain stretch using a chain wear tool like this.
The image shows how to use the 0.5% side of the Park Tool cc-3.2 tool. Image source: The Draft.

Indication 3. Check for Chain Slipping and Shark Teeth on the Chain Cassette

In addition to the two indicators mentioned above, you can inspect your bike's cassette for signs of chain wear to determine when to replace a mountain bike chain to prevent the rapid wear of your sprockets and chainrings, as explained in this article by Good Cycles. If you ride your bike with the new chain and apply pressure to the pedals in a few smaller gears, you can quickly tell if you need to repair the cassette. They don't line up properly if the chain slips, but if there are no issues, the cassettes will line up well. 

You will require a new chain and cassette if the chain measurement is incorrect by more than 1/8th of an inch. However, there are some things you should keep an eye out for, such as if the cassette's "teeth" are beginning to seem more pointed in some spots. Or if one cog is wearing down faster than the other. You might also apply the rear brake and press the pedals. It's usually time for a new cassette if the chain slips over the top of the gears or has problems shifting. The cassette does not need to be changed as frequently as the chain. After two to three chain replacements, you will likely need to buy a new cassette like this.

According to this article by Rotor Bike, the bike chain often lasts for shorter periods than chainrings and cassettes. If you keep them in good shape, the normal wear ratio is one cassette and one chainring change per three chains. Sadly, many variables can influence how your drivetrain wears, and it is not exactly precise. All of the drivetrain components should be inspected frequently. Check the shape of the teeth on both the cassette and chainrings; if they have the appearance of a shark tooth, this indicates excessive wear and should be replaced. The gears will also stop working efficiently, arguably the most obvious symptom of something being wrong with your drivetrain.

The teeth on a worn cassette start looking like shark teeth.
This is what the cogs on a worn cassette would look like. Image source: goodcycles.

Similarly, you may also find interest in a similar article explaining how to fix a mountain bike chain. That article will give you not only more information but also a step-by-step guide. Additionally, learning how to replace a mountain bike chainring may also be of interest to you. If so, be sure to take a look at our related article for more information.

Stretched Bike Chain Symptoms

The more you use a bike chain, the more it stretches.  When a chain stretches, it doesn't align correctly with the rear cassette and chainring's teeth. When this occurs, it indicates that the chain must be replaced. The symptoms displayed by the bike chain indicate the degree to which the chain is worn. The more signs a bike chain exhibits, the sooner it has to be changed. 

Stretched mountain bike chain symptoms include jumping gears, a sluggish chain, and chain slop. 

Symptom 1. Jumping Gears 

Jumping gears on a bike is one of the earliest signs of a strained chain. When the chain links no longer line up with the cassette cogs, the chain never seems to settle down and act appropriately. Jumping gears will prevent you from changing gears smoothly when biking. When worn chains aren't changed, the cog and the chain "bond" with one another. When you try to put a new chain on a worn cog, the new chain won't fit well into the worn teeth.

According to the Sloane Maintenance manual, the chain will skip as it travels over the teeth. It's usually most obvious when riding up a hill. It may be unpleasant if you're standing up on the pedals and the crank suddenly lurches forward, threatening to throw you over the handlebars. Routine inspections will help to prevent jumping gears. Inspecting your chain at least twice a month will help you recognize when it begins to wear as this is a good indication of when to replace a mountain bike chain.

Symptom 2. Sluggish Chain

A sluggish chain is one symptom of chain wear; a worn chain will not glide properly along the cogs on your cassette and derailleur pulleys, which should be avoided for a smoother ride. Riding with a worn-out chain and drivetrain slows you down and forces you to use more power to pedal. Rusted components of your drivetrain might slow you down even if the rest of the system is in great working order, and when riding with a worn chain, it feels like it is difficult to pedal. It is probably caused by the sluggish worn chain, which means there is a stiff movement of the bike chain as it moves through the drivetrain and causes you to expend more energy than necessary. This Bicycle Safety and Information Report by Bruce Burgess shows that a sluggish chain increases the risk of a fall since the rider can lose control of the bike.

Symptom 3. Chain Slop 

As explained in this book, The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair

by bike expert Todd Browns, chain slop happens when the chain has excess side-to-side flexibility as it wears. This happens when a rider applies too much torque to the chain, usually when climbing or trying to change gears when under load. Chain wear from side to side that cannot be detected by measuring chain length is known as chain slop. Slop has the same symptoms as chain stretch: delayed shifting and shifting irregularities. A sloppy chain does not respond as well to the action of the derailleurs, resulting in poor shifting and other issues like increased noise. Chains develop lateral flexibility as they wear due to friction between the inner and outer plates, which can alter shifting even before elongation effects are felt. When slopping happens, the chain lags behind shifts, giving the impression of messy cables. 

According to this Transportation Research Board article, chain slop increases the probability of bicycle fatalities by four times, so when a chain slop is observed when riding, you should check your bike chain for wear as soon as possible.

It is very important to check for chain stretch so that you know when to replace your mountain bike chain.
If you notice any symptoms of a stretched chain measure it using a wear indicator to confirm whether your chain needs to be changed or not. Image source: Amazon.

How to Choose a Mountain Bike Chain That Will Last the Longest

Bike chains are the core of a bike, and choosing a mountain bike chain that will last a long time involves more than selecting a popular band name and bike enthusiasts need to consider many factors when choosing a bike chain. The bike chain is an important component of your bike's drivetrain, and it connects the front portion of your drivetrain—the pedals, crank, and chainrings/sprocket—to the back—the cassette/sprocket and rear hub. 

To choose a mountain bike chain that will last the longest, look for a mountain bike chain that is compatible with the drive train being used and that has an appropriate length for the number of gears. A regular mountain bike chain with 116 links will need to be shortened to fit the drive train.

The chain converts pedal power into forward movement, so getting the appropriate one is critical, as is maintaining it. Furthermore, quality chains can increase the lifespan of drivetrain parts like the rear derailleur and cassette. Also, choosing a chain that will last the longest depends on its quality, affecting the shifting and pedaling performance.

Step 1. Determine Drive Train Compatibility 

As explained in this article on chain compatibility by Park tool, it is best to choose drive train manufacturers' chains when choosing bike chains that will last longer. Select a chain like this manufactured by the same company that manufactured the drivetrain like this one, so that the chain links can line up properly with the cassette cogs and the chain can settle down and act appropriately. 

With the introduction of 10, 11, and 12-speed drivetrains, determining drive train compatibility when choosing a bike chain has become more important. Chains have become increasingly thin and narrow to fit such a wide range of drivetrains. As a result, chain compatibility has become more brand-specific. For the same speed drivetrain between brands, a chain even a few millimetres thicker or narrower could cause faulty shifting. In essence, this means that in some gear ratios, the chain angle would be excessive, resulting in grinding or skipping problems. Drivetrain manufacturers design chains to work in tandem with derailleurs, rear sprockets, and shift levers. The size, shape, and height of a side plate on a chain can all vary between brands and models, and these differences can affect performance if you do not consider drive train compatibility. 

Step 2. Ensure Chain Length Is Sufficient But Not Too Long

When selecting a bike chain, it is critical to consider if the chain is of a suitable length. A chain is the right length when it can be used with both the front and back biggest rings engaged. The chain shouldn't hang on the smallest rings (front and back) but shouldn't be too short. A normal bicycle chain has 116 links like this, and manufacturers pick this size because it is long enough to fit around the largest chainrings while still fitting around the largest gear on the rear cassette. There's a big chance you'll need to adjust the chain length to fit your bike properly. On rare occasions, you may need to lengthen the chain. 

To adjust the bike chain to the right length, you can either trim the new chain by setting the old chain next to the new one and counting links so that they can be the same number of links, or you can remove the old chain and then install the new chain and measure it on the bike to make things much faster. Because there are so many crank and derailleur combinations, fitting the chain to the optimum length is critical for drivetrain durability and shifting performance. Installing a chain that is too short or too long can have an impact on performance, and it can create a safety hazard for you. The more gears a bike has, the narrower the chain has to be to keep the flex and allow it to traverse between the gears. Hence, having the correct speed chain for the number of gears on the bike is critical. We go into this in more detail in our step-by-step mountain bike installation guide.

Step 3.  Buy a High-Quality Chain

According to this article  from KMC high-quality bike chains are thought to be faster and quieter due to their high flexibility. These attributes also increase pedaling efficiency and power transmission. A high-quality bike chain allows your gearbox to work well with smooth gear changes. High-end chains are built with links that aid in gear shifting and short ramps that allow the chain to advance between gears. High-end bike chains like these are primarily designed for smooth shifting and made of toughened materials for durability. 

A high-quality chain is necessary for the bike to shift quietly and smoothly (when tuned properly). The roller pins on high-quality chains are kept lubricated for a long time. They are housed safely in a watertight manner, giving the chain more flexibility and more effective power transmission while pedaling. High-quality chains are frequently made with nickel or stainless steel to boost resistance to strain and corrosion, and some versions even include weight-saving features like hollow pins. Even lighter-weight chains made of titanium or alloy steel like these that are are available from companies like KMC. 

If you replace your mountain bike chain with a high-quality chain like this, you will definitely feel that it has better action and may even have a longer lifespan.
A high-end mountain bike chain like this is quieter, faster, and could last longer. Image source: Amazon.

How to Shorten a Mountain Bike Chain

A bike chain is a key component of the drive train, and incorrectly sized bike chains can create major shifting issues and diminish a user's enjoyment of their bicycle. There are several reasons why you should shorten your bike chain, and one of the most important ones is to get the proper length of a new bike chain when you replace the worn-out one. 

To shorten a mountain bike chain, place the bike on a stand, remove the old bike chain, remove extra links, reassemble the chain and reattach the chain to the bike. 

Once you are through thinking about when to replace a mountain bike chain and are ready to add a new chain, remember that it is easier to shorten a chain than it is to lengthen it. As a result, chain manufacturers produce them in set lengths that are always on the longer side. Before using a new bike chain, you would need to shorten it. Your bike chain should be cut shorter to ensure optimal performance. Read this post by Park Tool for more on chain length sizing and their video tutorial gives very handy advice.

Step 1. Place the Bike on a Stand

Place your bike on a stand like this to make it easier to remove the chain. If the chain is dirty, you must clean it; this will allow you to simply remove the chain.

Secure your mountain bike on a bike stand like this for any kind of maintenance including replacing the chain.
A bike stand holds the bike in place so you can easily remove the bike chain. Image source: bike24.com.

Step 2. Remove the Old Bike Chain

Remove the old chain to determine if it is worn out. After removing the chain, you must determine whether it needs to be replaced or shortened. If the chain is worn out, it may need to be replaced. A bike chain can be removed using either the master link or a chain tool like this. Use the chain tool to detach the chain from the bike  if your chain doesn't have a master link. Not all chains do, so be sure to check your chain. The master link may be darker or lighter than the rest of the chain link so that you can identify it right away. You can simply choose any link to break the chain with the chain tool if your bike does not have the master link.

You can easily split the mountain bike chain to shorten or replace it, using a chain tool.
Use a chain tool to remove the chain from the drivetrain. Image source: enduro-mtb.

Step 3. Measure the New Bike Chain

You should decide how many links to remove when measuring the new chain. This step must be done with caution because it will greatly affect how efficiently your bike runs. There are several methods for determining the ideal chain length. You can put the new chain alongside the old one and, if necessary, remove any extra links. If the old chain is the correct length, lay it alongside the new chain. Always align the outer plates with the outer plates and the inner plates with the inner plates. If this does not work, simply count the number of links in the new chain and remove any extras.

Lay the old and the new chain next to each other - link to link - to size the new chain.
This is how you should compare the new chain to the old chain to get the correct measurement. Image source: Park Tool.

Step 4. Remove Extra Links

To shorten a brand-new bike chain to the required length, you would need to remove two half-links at a time.

Step 5. Reassemble the Chain

Choose the locations at both ends of the chain where you can reattach the master link. In order to push the links back together, you will need a chain tool like this. After you have inserted the master link on both ends of the chain, you will hear a clicking sound. Check to see whether you have already reconnected the chain properly. After that, maintain the chain's stability by applying more force with a screwdriver to the master link.

Attach the replacement chain to the mountain bike drivetrain once you have trimmed it to the correct length.
Use a quick-link remover to reassemble the chain. Image source: granfondo-cycling.

Step 5. Reattach the Chain to the Bike.

Place the chain back on the bike once you've already joined the ends. To avoid an uncomfortable ride, make sure the chain is not too tight. If you believe the chain is too tight, loosen it slightly. And if you somehow find yourself with a tangled chain, be sure to take a look at our related article explaining how to untangle a mountain bike chain for some tips and tricks.

Tools to Check for Chain Wear 

Chain wear can be checked using mechanical tools and is an important indicator of when to replace a mountain bike chain. The tools can be manual or digital. Both manual and digital tools require humans to use them, but while manual tools require humans to calculate the chain wear, digital chain wear tools specify the chain wear automatically.  

Tools to check mountain bike chain wear include manual checkers and digital gauges.

Method 1. Manual Bike Chain Wear Tool

Manual chain wear tools like this are commonly used to measure chain wear. There are various types of manual chain wear tools, each with its own way of calculating wear. Examples include the Pedro Chain Checker Plus II, the Park Tool CC-3.2, and the Shimano CN-42 Checker. 

As discussed in this post by Bike-components, Shimano's TL-CN42 Chain Wear Indicator is a gauge that allows you to correctly, simply, and quickly determine the level of wear on a chain. It measures chain length directly and eliminates roller wear from the equation. It requires two hands to operate. 

As a result, one hand will become filthy from the chain. It is considerably more time-consuming to use than a typical chain gauge. This Shimano CN-42 Checker is more accurate since it measures the chain with three tangs; two tangs are close together and, when pressed into the chain, push the rollers firmly apart. The third tang makes contact with the same side of a roller as the nearest tang, about 10 links away. Based on the fact that both of these tangs apply an identical force to the rollers, they measure the separation between the pins those rollers encircle. If the third tang enters the chain, it has been extended by 0.75 percent and should be replaced but if it does not enter the chain, the chain is within specifications and has not worn out.

To know whether your mountain bike has stretched to such an extent that it has to be replaced, measure the wear using this chain wear tool from Shimano.
The Shimano TL-CN42 Chain Wear indicator is used to measure chain wear. Image source: bike-components.

Method 2. Digital Bike Chain Wear Tool

According to this article by KMC, the Digital Chain Wear Checker allows for finite wear-checking. The Digital Chain Checker allows you to precisely measure the length of the chain to hundredths of a millimeter. Although it is expensive, it can be used to monitor chain wear in minute increments. It must first be turned on before you can use it. Push the zero button to calibrate after fully squeezing the checker. With its curved end facing the chain, insert the chain checker. Squeeze the checker completely and place the straight end of the chain checker between the chain rollers. 

The chain is in good condition if the chain checker reads 0.00-0.40mm. The chain exhibits slight wear when it shows 0.4-0.8mm and requires that the elongation be checked on a regular basis. When the chain checker reads 0.8mm or more, the chain is excessively worn and should be changed right away. An example of a digital bike chain wear tool is this KMC Digital Gauge.

The KMC digital gauge can show stretch to a hundredth of a millimeter so that you know exactly when it is time to replace the chain on your mountain bike.
Use the KMC digital gauge to measure chain wear accurately. Image source: cyclingtips.
Tool Manual or Digital Wear Tool Amazon Link Price
Shimano’s CN-42 Checker A manual wear tool Shimano’s CN-42 Checker ~$30
Park Tool CC-3.2 A manual wear tool Park Tool CC-3.2 ~$10
KMC Digital Gauge A digital wear tool KMC Digital Gauge ~$90

How to Check Chain Wear Without a Tool

Checking a chain without a tool is actually very straightforward and just means that you have to measure the pin-to-pin distance of your chain using an object that can measure distances or lengths. 

To check a mountain bike chain's wear without a tool, use a ruler to measure chain stretch. First find the zero mark, then count 12 links and determine the length at the 12th rivet. A worn mountain bike chain will be more than 12 1/16 inches in length.

As explained in this post from Trek, using a standard ruler to check chain wear can be an alternative method to checking chain wear with a digital or manual chain wear tool. The requirements needed are a ruler and steady hands. It is also a straightforward and reliable method of checking chain wear.

Doing this can properly evaluate how much the chain's components have worn, and it eliminates any doubt about roller tolerances and wear, instead focusing exclusively on the chain's true pitch. For more details, read this book, Bicycling Essential Road Bike Maintenance Handbook by Todd Downs. 

Aside from using a ruler, you can see if your bike chain is worn by moving gears so that your bike chain is in the largest ring and the smallest gear on the cassette. Then, at the front of the chainring, pull the chain. The chain is beginning to wear or is already worn if it begins to pull off the top and/or bottom of where it rests on the chainring teeth. This 'pull' is possible because the pitch of the chain has extended and so no longer rests properly in the teeth.

Step 1. Find the Zero Mark

The Zero Mark is the beginning part of the standard ruler you want to use to measure. Place the zero mark of a ruler squarely above the center of one of the chain pins while the chain is still attached to the bicycle.

Step 2. Measure From Zero Mark

Place the standard ruler side by side with it and pick a part of the chain that does not include the master link. The measurement should start from the zero mark for accuracy and to avoid errors.   

Step 3. Count 12 Links

When you start measuring, count 12 links. A complete link is made up of one inner link and one external link. A new chain's rivet should be precisely 12 inches (304.8 mm) from the ruler since a complete link is 1 inch. When counting 12 links, avoid any part of the chain that contains the master link. 

Step 4. Measure Chain Rivets

If the rivet is less than 1/16′′ past the mark, your chain is fine for 9-speed or lower drivetrains. If it's within 1/16′′ or 1/8′′ of the mark, you should replace the chain, but your drive train components should be fine. If it is more than 1/8" past the mark, you will most likely need to replace both the chain and the cassette in which case a set like this could be a good option.. As soon as the chain hits 1/16", on 10, 11, and 12-speed versions, you should replace it.

How to Make a Mountain Bike Chain Last Longer

A bike chain is an important part of the drivetrain, and the longer you ride, the more the chain stretches.

To make a mountain bike chain last longer, clean the chain after rides, lube the chain frequently, and do regular maintenance.

When you maintain your bike chain to last longer, you avoid excessive wear and lengthen the lifespan of the cassette and chainring. You need to always observe the bike chain because when it gets stretched, it will get more difficult to change gears and end up breaking. When that happens, it usually leads to spending more money on the bike, so check out our guide on mountain bike tool kit essentials to make sure you have all the tools to do maintenance on your mountain bike.

Step 1. Clean the Chain on a Regular Basis

According to this article by Jenson USA cleaning a bike chain involves using a brush, a dry cloth or rag, and soapy water. You can start with the chain and turn it with the pedal while a soapy cloth is wrapped around the chain on the derailleur. Then you could move to the rear derailleur and brush all the moving parts. Wipe everything with a dry cloth after you are done. Cleaning a bike removes all the dirt stuck on the chain after a rough ride and all the grime in between the links of the derailleur's sharp bends. 

When you clean a chain, all the gunk that was blocking it up and reducing its motion while you were pedaling is removed. It's important to clean a chain because it makes it possible to spot links that aren't moving properly. To locate them, slowly turn the pedals while keeping an eye on each link as it passes through the rear derailleur's sharp bends. Chain jams and chain slippage are easier to avoid by spotting bent links that are not smoothly curved. Cleaning your bike's chain regularly will help preserve it from rusting, increase its lifespan, and make your cycling more efficient. To learn more details on how to clean your bike, refer to this article by ParkTool.

Step 2. Lube Chain 

According to bike manufacturer MEC, after you clean the bike chain, lubricate it immediately. A cycling specialist, This article by Sheldon Brown advises to never lubricate a dirty chain as this wipes abrasive particles into the rollers. Lubricating entails applying a tiny drop of chain lube to each 2-4 chain links where they intersect. To ensure that everything, cassette included, gets a good even coating, shift into another gear and add another 10 to 12 drops. When you're through, use your rag to wipe any remaining lubrication from the chain, as excess lube can trap dirt and contribute to grime buildup. It is good to care for your bike chain to preserve its lifespan properly. You must first ensure that your chain is properly lubricated. Lubricant will help keep your bike chain working properly as it drives forward, allowing you to travel as fast as you want. Making sure the chain has as much lube as possible is important since the chain's torque propels the bike along. A dry chain will be stiff and could break much more easily than a fully lubricated chain. A good chain lubricant like this can improve shifting performance by smoothing the chain's interaction with the cassette chain drive and chainrings. It also aids in corrosion prevention and lowers friction and drivetrain damage. If you have run out of lube check out our article that provides mountain bike chain lube alternatives that you can find around the home.

Step 3. Provide Regular Maintenance 

Regular maintenance will extend the life of a mountain bike chain, as explained in this post by Trek. To frequently check the entire chain, raise the rear wheel of your MTB off the ground while standing to one side. Examine each chain link for rust, dirt buildup, and compressed links while you slowly rotate the nearest pedal This is easy to do with a bike stand. You can check this  ultimate list of tools for mountain bike maintenance to learn about more tools that will make routine maintenance simple. Regularly inspect the brake and derailleur cables. Wheels and pulleys should be watched carefully to prevent binding or rigidity. You should also keep your bike in good condition by lubricating the gears and brakes on a regular basis. A chain is composed of hundreds of nuts and bolts, so maintaining tightness is critical since loose bike parts can cause considerable wear and tear, poor performance, and safety concerns. For more details on the regular maintenance of a bike chain, read this article by British Cycling.

Mountain Bike Chain Care Do’s Don’ts
Clean Chain Always dry off after cleaning.Always use soap when necessary.  Don’t use high-pressure car washes or washers.Don’t use only one sponge.Cleaners that are acidic or alkaline should never be used 
Lube Chain Always clean off excess lubricant.Always apply lubricant in drops. Only lubricate the chain's moving components at all times. Don't lube a dirty bike.Don’t use WD-40 for lubrication.  
Regular Maintenance Examine the gears.Inspect the cassette. Don't ignore a stretched chain.Don't soak chains in degreasers.
Materials For Mountain Bike Chain Maintenance Use Example Price
Rag Wipe drivetrain components clean.They are used to clean the bike chain to remove dirt. Amazon Basics Microfiber Cleaning Cloths ~$15
Cassette Brush Clean the sprockets on a bike cassette. Scrape the gunk off the derailleur pulley wheels and chainrings. ParkTool GSC-4 ~$10
Mountain bike chain lube. Lubricate the chain to maintain function and integrity.  Rock 'n' Roll Gold Chain Lubricant ~$20

You may also be interested in learning if a mountain bike chain guide is worth it. Be sure to check out our related article to find out more.

How to Clean and Lube a Mountain Bike Chain to Make it Last Longer

Regular cleaning and lubricating of an MTB chain will help maintain the performance of your bike chain, and doing so will keep your bike running properly and will extend the life of both the chain and the drivetrain. Based on your preference, you can either wash your bike at home or at a registered bike wash shop. 

To clean and lube a mountain bike chain, the chain should be cleaned using a lint-free cloth and degreasing solution, followed by cleaning the chainrings and derailleur, and finally lubricating the chain. 

For more details on cleaning and lubing a mountain bike chain, read this post by Park Tool.

Step 1. Clean the Chain

Wrap the chain with a clean cloth or rag and slowly backpedal the drivetrain through it to remove any outside dirt. While backpedaling, use your free hand to inspect the chain for tight links and straighten the links. 

Soak a clean rag in degreaser and hold it over the chain while you rotate the pedal backward so that you coat it thoroughly and rub dirt and grease off it.
Clean your mountain bike chain by using a clean rag. Image source: Road.cc.

Step 2. Clean the Drive Train, Chainrings, and Derailleur

If you don't have a particular tool, degrease your drive train with a brush. You could also use a toothbrush. Simply apply degreaser to the brush, and use it to scrub the chainrings, derailleur, and other parts. Repeat until all the gunk and dirt is gone.

Use a brush to scrub all the drivetrain components so that everything is kept nice and clean and to avoid having to replace your mountain bike chain or other components.
Using a brush scrub the drivetrain components. Image source: Park Tool.

Step 3. Lubricate the Chain

Apply lubrication in drops after cleaning your bike chain. It is vital to lubricate the inside links of the chain, which are in contact with the gears and chainrings.

Lubricate your mountain bike chain with drops of lube so that you don’t over-lubricate it.
When lubricating the chain, use two to three drops and turn the pedal to make it circulate through. Image Source: Park Tool.

Step 4. Wipe Excess Lubricant From the Chain

Using a dry rag, remove any excess lubrication since excess lubricant can cause undesirable dirt to attach to the chain and cause wear.

Use a clean dry cloth to wipe all the excess lubricant from the mountain bike chain.
Wipe off any excess lubricant after lubricating. Image source: Park Tool

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