Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Ahhh! chainsuck!!!

Posted by Tony | January 12, 2010 | 19 comments so far

Of all the bike mysteries out there, chainsuck is probably the weirdest, most difficult to pin down and potentially one of the most expensive. One of my bikes has always suffered from it to an annoying extent and after a recent ride when 3 of us Moles were all struck down at almost exactly the same time it has got me thinking about how and why.

As you may have realised over my many articles, I have 3 MTB bikes. One which could never suffer from any chainsuck of course – the sliding dropout Alfine-Inbred on which the chain is always under tension. One bike bike that never suffers from chainsuck, the Trek Fuel EX 8 and one that has always suffered terribly – the worst of any bike that I have ever owned, my 2007 Clockwork Orange.

So what is chainsuck? Basically it’s when the chain remains attached to the chainring as it turns, instead of heading down to the rear mech. In mild form it feels like a catch on the pedal stroke. In extreme form the chain is dragged up to the gap between the inner chainring and chainstay leading to the chain becoming jammed. This is when things can go badly wrong.

Further pressure on the chain can break/bend it, damage the chainstays (especially for carbon or aluminium frames) to the point where the chainstays can be seriously damaged. The rear mech can also be wrapped into the spokes or otherwise completely bent on the hanger.

Sorry no pics, but you try googling “chain suck”; or maybe not.

So what causes it. Well theories include worn, hooked chainrings catching on the chain and not releasing it evenly. Stretched chains doing likewise. Certain chain/chainring combos. Poor chainline. Mud/grit definitely makes it more likely to happen. Finally a worn / poorly tensioned (B screw) rear mech can also be the culprit. You also get it on road bikes where mud isn’t an issue. However nobody really knows for certain.

Conditions certainly play a big part like a couple of Sunday’s ago (27/12) when Keith, Dave and myself were all struck down at the same time climbing up Yew trees to Polesden Lacey. Dave’s chain was wedged so tightly between the chain stay/chainring that we had to loosen the chainset to free it and he was lucky that it didn’t chew the chainstay. This must have been due to the claggy mud we were riding through at the time.

So back to my Orange. Well I’ve changed the chain and cassette, plus put new cables on her, but still the problem persisted. Only when I got home did I realise that rear mech is out of alignment. Is this the problem? Maybe, it’s never been a smooth gear changer and there is only one way to find out – dipping into the pocket for a new mech. I’ll keep you posted!


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  1. PIJ says:

    You used to be able to buy anti chainsuck-plates; tellingly my Klein Mantra came fitted with one as standard. I guess these days, with the massive variation in frame design, plus with many full-sussers having banana shaped swing-arms, then they would be virtually impossible to fit.

    Sorry for being the Posting Monkey today; surf the web or paint the bathroom were my choices. Go figure where I end up.

  2. tony says:

    “ better than watching paint dry” you heard it officially from PIJ!

    Thanld for the Chainsuck link. It chainsuck War and Peace.

    It’s quicker to replace the whole drivetrain on my bike than read that.

    Back to the bathroom!

  3. PIJ says:

    Anything is better than watching paint dry! To be honest I didn’t read much of that article beyond about paragraph 1 – clearly he had a lot of paint drying to do!!

    Muddymoles is cool – love the way it goes off piste, and everybody keeps the humour up. Some people often take postings on websites to be personal affronts, and they can get nasty, yet here there is an underlying sense of fun.

    Saying all that, hate to get personal here, but are you guys using the same lubricant?

  4. Matt says:

    Phil, thanks for your comments. We do try and keep things civil but it’s helped by the fact a lot of us ride together these days so we know each other quite well.

    But we do get comments from people we’ve never met (or rather never met… yet) and I hope people appreciate the fact we’re just trying to enjoy ourselves. Some of the threads on the bigger forums get pretty snarky at times which isn’t really our style. But then, we’re all entitled to an opinion.

    In terms of lube, I’ve got oil for the winter and a thinner’dry’ lube for the summer. Can’t remember what the hell either are called! Some people use chamois butter for other things but I can’t comment on that!

  5. Andy C says:

    I got some cocoa butter for Christmas, but Mrs C won’t let me post the pics or write-up on this site!

    My ‘lube de saison’ is ProLink, ( as recommended by the mechanics at my LBS (Cycleopedia, in Surbiton).

    I have tried the wet lubes, mainly Finish Line (both Wet and Dry preparations) and the dry lubes, e.g. White Lightning and Rock ‘n Roll.

    I find the dry lubes don’t really last a longish ride (20+ miles), and the chain seems to be a lube-free zone at the end of such a ride, especially in the wet & mud.

    Finish Line seems pretty good, and you can always cary a small bottle around with you and reapply if conditions warrant it. It does seem to be quite sticky, especially the ‘wet’ formula, and attracts the sand and grit. This may well shorten the chain life.

    I have been quite impressed with the ProLink so far. It seems to adhere well, and still be present at the end of a ride; though I have to confess I have not attempted any particularly long rides since I’ve started using it.

    Perhaps an update is required after I’ve been using it for a few months.

    What we need is a Mole type analysis of miles covered between chain replacements, where only one lubricant is used per chain. My money is on Matt, Dave or Tony to have carried this out.

    Meanwhile, I promise not to soil my chain with any other lubricant than ProLink, and let’s see how long the chain lasts.

  6. Dave says:

    I use a special dry lube made from Ferrous Oxide. It’s Orange in colour and slightly powdery but does take a little riding to get it to maximum efficiency.

    Failing I squirt some dry lube on from a bottle I bought in Cycleworks, no idea what the make is.

    For stats you need to talk to Colin, he’ll have a spreadsheet showing the oil consumption against chainlife…..bound to.

  7. PIJ says:

    I used the ferrous one on my motorbike – works a treat with 100bhp to play with. Did try a sticky motorcycle lube on my cycle once; lasted 100 metres until the chain snapped. Little too sticky me thinks…. the chain was a right old tangled mess.

    Not had chain suck since the 1990’s to be honest – surprised it still exists. I used to use a Scottoiler on my motorbike – made naff all difference to chain life. It did, however, free me up from having to lube the chain daily.

    Mad keen on the dry lubes, but they only last a maximum of 20 miles as you say, no matter what the manufacturer claims. Add in a bit of wetness [oo, er, missus!] and you can forget it.

    Halfords cheapo wet lube winter, dry for the summer – although I’m a little wary as to how expensive the dry lubes are tending to be these days. Starting to talk in terms of £1 per ride.

    Perhaps we’ve gone far enough on lubes already? Geek alert, geek alert!!

  8. Paul says:

    Hi Guys, so far I’ve managed to resist the temptation to use some of my motorcycle racing lubes on the MTB. I reckon they would protect well but just add unwelcome resistance.

    The finish line wet lube works for me most of the year. Only seems to be lacking on very dry rides when the dust seems to dry it off after about 10miles.

    So I might try some of my dry motorcycle racing lube this summer

  9. Rob Gee says:

    You didn’t mention whether you replaced the relevant chain ring/s? I would recommend doing this as your next step if you haven’t already.

    My experience of chainsuck- I recently bought a Cove Hustler frame and transferred the XT drive train from my Specialized Rock Hopper (no chainsuck). Within one week, I had chainsuck (with only only the inner chain ring,and only up hill) within 1 and a half hours of riding in wet and reasonably muddy conditions. The chainsuck became worse to the point where after 5 minutes of level riding in dry conditions I was getting chainsuck. I initially shortened the chain by a link, then when this didn’t work I replaced the inner chain ring. This thankfully worked. I also now use a dry lube called Squirt, which is by far the best lube I have used (Finish Line dry and wet, White Lightening dry, wet and extreme being some of several used over the years).

    I can now ride for 4 hours with silent and seemless gear changes in any conditions. Not only that when I get the bike back the chain and cassette look cleaner! It is supposed to be a long lasting lube too and doesn’t require a degreasing cleaner. I was sceptical but it ticks all the boxes and then some…and no hint of chain suck. All for under £20. Nice one. Good luck.

  10. PIJ says:

    I used Squirt for about 6 months. Have now changed over to oil for the winter. The Squirt was very good in the summer, and indeed better than White Lightning [which can be a right faff to apply]but the wet rides kill it quite quickly. Be aware that I got through a good few bottles in that time – it is quite runny and more goes on the floor than the chain. Also if you have to wash your bike after a ride [D’oh! how likely is that in the UK??] the chain often goes rusty pretty quickly – more so than any other product I’ve used.

    Note that it leaves a white waxy residue behind that resembles…. My wife thinks I love my bikes too much as it is; the Squirt makes it actually look as though you do!

    Lube is like tyres though – we all have our favourites, and different experiences of using identical products.

    Er, painting the bathroom again – white on white this time. Fun, fun, fun.


  11. Rob G says:

    Hi Phil,

    What oil based lube you use? Does the rear mech wheels get grimey?

    And yes squirt is aptly named, not only does it look like mens climax product but it also squirts during the initial application!

    Are you going back to squirt this spring/summer depending on weather?

    It was nice going out today despite the wet and rain. Better than thurs in the no traction wheel spinning slush.

  12. PIJ says:

    Hi Rob G,

    I use a Halfords brand sticky one. Seems to work well enough, indeed very well, but you do have to clean the transmission after a wet ride, so a bit of a pain, but no hassle with a little chain cleaning machine [or better still a toothbrush]. My first hose down leaves a little oil slick on the patio, so at least I know it is still working!

    I’m a bit pedantic with my transmission, so my rear mech looks new all the time. OK I’m bordering on anal with my transmission. OK, OK! I do clean every link…. individually.

    Squirt is lovely in the summer, but I’m not convinced it would have lasted 5 miles today. It seems to “chip off” and erode in the wet. By far and away it is the best dry lube though, and I will go back to it if things dry out. I sense you don’t like the wet lubes? Can appreciate that, and can fully understand why you’d want to go dry for as long as possible. Guess a lot of it depends upon where you ride? We tend to seek out the gloop of natural trails. Good for the skin apparently.

    Brilliant to be out today – very, very technical due to ice over mud, but dry and warm. T-shirt weather. As usual on dry days we looked right plonkers pitching up into the street covered in mud… People just don’t understand us bikers!


  13. pij says:

    Checked – I use Halfords own brand semi-synthetic. Doesn’t leave a horrid mess behind.

    By the way, Halfords seem to have an odd sale on at the mo’ – look like bits and pieces that have been lying around in the store room for years. You know the score; customer returns, old stock or stuff missing the packaging. Found an old Crud Guard for £1 and a carbon / ti saddle for £15. Tool box spares really. Bit random in nature, and not worth travelling for, but if you are in a branch may be worth a punt on the lower shelves to see what they are chucking out. Or not!

    Oh yes, if anybody out there in MTB UK land fancies an Urge helmet as advertised in Dirt… don’t bother looking yet; only available in France… for around £110… plus postage… Oh to be an MTB fashionista!


  14. Rob G says:

    Thx for such a detailed reply!

    I rarely used to clean my drive train but since the past onset of chainsuck I am getting a little fanatical about cleaning mech, etc too.

    Know what you mean with Halfords. Was looking for some Lizard Skin Sus boot/cover and they were selling them for £1 (rpp approx £10)!? Needless to say by the time I got to the shop they were all gone. The sceptic in me thinks they were most likely bought by staff and sold on Ebay for a sizeable profit.

    Spent far too much last year on bike stuff so determined not to singe the wallet too badly for 2010. But we’ll see…

    You been to Coed y Brenin? Thinking of taking my wife there Easter sometime for singletrack action may even get her to talk to me about ‘lube’…hmmm…

  15. tony says:

    Since I started the blog I thought that I’d better let you know my personal “lubing habits”.

    After every ride the drivetrain gets a quick hose down to remove the mud. Then a spray of water dispersant spray. A couple of hours later I wipe the chain and give it another light lub.

    In the winter I use finish line ceramic lube for the best bikes and anything for the Alfine hub Inbred!

    In the summer I use a dry lube like White lightening or Finish line. I also carry very small bottle of lube in my Camelbak for my serial non-lubing offenders……Dave!

  16. Rob G says:

    Who ever Sod is (and his stupid law) he needs shooting. Chain suck back, shite. May have had a chainsuck epiphany though. Noticed the chain suck was occurring at rhythmic timings on the ride so decided to have a closer look with the bike on the stand. I noticed the chainsuck occurred at the power-link nearly every time. Make sense??

  17. PIJ says:

    Hi Rob G,

    I used to live in North Wales, so Coed y Brenin is a yes! Bit of a trek to get there, but well worth it. Log cabins at Trawsfynedd were a hit with my wife at the time, and the pub did excellent food – but was always empty so one wondered how it survived.

    Been some years since I’ve been back though, so all changed since. Improved I should imagine.

    Lots to do around there, but you have to really look for stuff. To be honest once you’ve got into the rythym of the place, having a bike can be a bit of a pain!

    As for spending money on bikes, you’ll probably last until February! You’re already thinking of a trip away…. Ha ha!


  18. tony says:

    Ah bliss. The chainsuck is no more.

    I have changed the middle chainring for a deore steel ring, new chain and new (non-shadow) rear mech.

    Indexing beautifully and absolutely no sign of chainsuck.

    I think that changing to the new steel middle ring was the major thing.

  19. Related: Ride report: Wednesday 3 February - muddy again | Rides | Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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