A Squeak-Free Clean Bike Chain with the Hebie Chainglider
- by Ken Self
- Published: 24 July 2012
Why don’t cyclists like riding in the rain? Is it because steel rusts and carbon fibre dissolves in water? Or could it be that riding in the rain throws up mud and grit that gets on the chain so it’s harder to pedal and wears out the chain faster? You then need to clean the chain and lubricate it, just in time for the next shower or storm. Time and money that could be better spent riding around and sipping latte.
And why don’t more people commute on their bike wearing their normal clothes? Some would have it that lycra is more comfortable. But surely the real reason is the risk of oil and dirt from the chainring soiling your clothing. There is also the danger of catching your trousers in the chain while mixing it with the smokeboxes. Or worst of all, looking like a complete dag by tucking your trousers legs into your socks.
The Hebie Chainglider is a clever solution to the problem of dirty chains and flapping trouser legs. At least for those of you with internal hub gears, a singlespeed or a fixie (and a beard).
The Chainglider is a plastic chaincase that fits just about any chain and fully encloses it to stop water and dirt getting in. As an aftermarket accessory it does not have any fitting points on the frame but is instead supported by the chain itself. This may cause some people concerns about the friction caused by having the chain constantly rubbing on the plastic chaincase. There was a specific issue with Rohloff hubs where the chaincase was rubbing on the Rohloff causing scoring and was therefore not recommended by Rohloff. This issue has since been addressed with a Rohloff specific design and Rohloff now says:
With the use/mounting of a Hebie Chainglider SPEEDHUB (typ 350) one has to pay attention that parts made of plastic are unable to scratch on the surface of the hub case!
With the first series of Chaingliders scratching marks occasionally appeared on the hub case by the grinding touch of the Chainglider’s rear side. In October 2006 the rear part has been modified to prevent a possible abrasion. Scratches on the surface cannot diminish the stability of the SPEEDHUB case – they’ re just ugly.
You can read more about this here >
So what about the friction issue? Well, here at BNA we don (metaphorical) white lab coats and spare no effort to test the products we review. For the Hebie Chainglider test I used my Velosmith Jota touring/utility bike with Rohloff hub, 44T chain ring and 16T sprocket and Rohloff SLT-99-T chain. All the drivetrain components have done about 11000km. The Hebie Chainglider is a model 350 and comes in two parts: one for the chainring and chain and the other for the rear sprocket. You need to order the parts to suit the size of chainring and sprocket on your bike and the type of hub.
The test approach was to set up the bike on a friction trainer then ride it at threshold for 5 minutes while recording cadence. The first run would be with a dirty chain. Then, leaving the settings unchanged, I would clean the chain thoroughly and repeat the test. Finally I would install the Hebie Chainglider and run the test again.
The idea is that power output at the pedals has to equal the opposing frictional forces from the trainer, gears and drivetrain multiplied by cadence. By riding at threshold I could keep my power output at the pedals reasonably constant, so more friction means lower cadence. By keeping the friction from the trainer constant and keeping the Rohloff in the same gear throughout, the only variation in friction should come from the drive train, including the Chainglider.
For the test I started with a fairly dirty chain after a week long tour on gravel rail trails and a muddy trip on the Main Yarra Trail to Westerfolds Park. I had wiped down the chain to remove the worst of the dirt and had oiled it lightly but had not given it my usual, thorough clean. I set up the bike in the trainer with my Garmin, tightened up the tension and adjusted the gears until I could not possibly pedal faster than 100 rpm in a burst, and with maximal effort could sustain around 80 rpm, which is right in my power zone.
Setting up was a good warm-up, so I started pedalling and started the Garmin. For 5 minutes I time trialled and by the end of it I was pretty wasted. To recover I got out the chain cleaner and got to work. To clean the chain I first ran the chain through a dry cloth to remove all surface dirt and grease. Then I used a Park tools chain cleaner with Ooomph brand degreaser, diluted 50:50, which cleans the deep ingrained gunge. After a thorough going over I then wiped down the chain with a cloth, recharged the Parktools cleaner with Oomph and had at it again. When done, I brushed the chain ring and sprocket clean and dried again by running the chain through a dry cloth. To lubricate I put a drop of Finishline on each link, spun the chain a bit then wiped off any excess.
All that was enough time to cool down and recover for the next test with a clean chain. I had cleaned the chain with the bike still on the trainer so everything was set up identically. Five minutes later the second test was complete and I was just as tired as after the first test.
For the final test run I had to fit the Hebie Chainglider. The chainring and sprocket sections each break apart into two parts so they can be fitted around the chain. The parts snap together easily starting first with the chainring section. The sprocket section is installed next; it slides onto the chainring section and is adjusted for the length of the chain. This is a little trickier as it is quite a tight fit using interlocking ridges. My thinking was to find the position that made the least noise and therefore least friction. I also had a good look at the rear hub and confirmed that there was no contact between the Chainglider and the gear casing. By the time I had fitted the Chainglider I had cooled down and recovered enough for the final test run. Another 5 minutes of hurt and the test was over.
The results were very interesting. The first run with a dirty chain gave an average cadence of 83 rpm. The second test with a clean chain gave a predictably better result of 85 rpm which is a little over 2% improvement. The surprise was the Chainglider, which gave 86rpm which is even higher than the bare chain. I can only put this down to having become used to the test. The test was not entirely scientific, but was reasonably objective. I’m satisfied that it shows that a clean chain is better than a dirty chain and also that any friction from the Chainglider over a clean chain is negligible.
Turning the pedal on a trainer is one thing but what about on the road? I took it for a few rides on a mix of suburban streets and shared paths including the unsealed sections of the Main Yarra Trail between Ivanhoe and Templestowe. The Chainglider is hardly noticeable. There is almost no noise, certainly nothing I could discern above the whirr of the Rohloff. On the first ride, when under load, I did hear some squeaking. I don’t like squeaks and rattles from my bike so I tracked it down to the Chainglider rubbing on the third bottle cage that sits under the downtube. A bit of tape around the bottle cage at the contact point eliminated the noise as confirmed on the next ride. At times I was quite convinced I could hear less drivetrain noise with the Chainglider than without. Possibly just my imagination or maybe the Chainglider helps to dampen the noise of the chain contacting the chainring and sprocket. Certainly it was quieter than a dirty chain.
As for keeping the chain clean the unsealed paths were a good test. Recent rain meant there were plenty of puddles and mud although not as bad as the Goulburn River High Country Rail Trail that I toured on recently. Nevertheless, after several km of gravel there was a good coating of dirt on the Chainglider. A week or so of daily riding on that and it would be chain cleaning time.
The Chainglider certainly kept the chain from catching or soiling my trouser legs. It also worked to keep my trouser legs from catching in the chain and chain ring, and from any soiling from those. I did notice that my trouser cuffs were gently brushing the Chainglider on each revolution so it would be prudent to use trouser clips or (gasp) tuck your trousers into your socks, to prevent soiling the cuffs on the muddiest paths. It does however keep the the Chainglider nice and clean on top.
As a tourer who often takes to unsealed roads and rail trails, the Chainglider is a welcome accessory. Out on the road it’s often not easy to clean and maintain the drivetrain, so preventing it from getting dirty is a better option. For the commuter or frequent recreational rider who likes hassle free cycling and wearing street clothes, it adds a level of convenience. And if you commute in your office clothes it could even save you a bit of dry-cleaning from chain ring stains. It’s hard to put a value on convenience but given that it is aimed primarily at the Internal Geared Hub market, it is an inexpensive add-on. As we have seen, it does just what it’s supposed to do.
The chainring section comes in sizes for 38T, 42T, 44T and 48T and costs $50. The sprocket section comes in three type for sprockets 18-22T, a Rohloff version for 15-17T and a SRAM i-motion version for 18-22T. The Rohloff version costs $44.
The Hebie Chainglider is imported by Joad Sportz Supplies and is available direct or from bike stores across Australia.