Public Service Announcement
In addition to regularly cleaning and lubing your bike chain... Check your chains for wear! I always forget, and it is an expensive mistake.
What does that mean?
Over time, your chain will stretch from normal wear. There are a few types of chain checking tool. I like the Park Tool one, pictured here. Periodically, check your chain. To avoid replacing your chain rings ($$) and cassette ($$), as they get ground down by your stretched chain, spend the money on a new chain when you get to the .75 mark. If you wait too long, riding a really stretched chain for a long time, a new chain isn't going to sit well on your chewed up cassette and chain rings. The next step is most likely having to replace your cassette and chain rings... Ugh.
This is something you can do at any Grease Rag open shop, or at home if you have a chain checking tool.
How often do I change my chain?
I asked our friend Charlotte how often I should change my chain.
I too am guilty of not checking my chain frequently enough (and I have paid the price! literally!). Chain stretch depends on a few factors - how often you clean your chain, how well oiled you keep it, and if you are a spinny cyclist (like to pedal in an easier gear but pedal really fast) or a crusher (like to pedal in a hard gear, but pedal slowly). I think a good rule of thumb is to check your chain when you think you're hovering around 500 miles (I feel like I've heard you have to replace a chain every 600-1000 miles, but this TOTALLY depends on weather conditions. Winter kills chains. So does bike polo). I try to check mine every other time I clean my chain just to keep an eye on things.
As a point of reference... I just checked my chain and I was OVERDUE! I did an emergency chain change this morning, and it looks like I changed it at 1,045 mi., and I should have done it sooner. I would consider myself between spinny and mashy, and I give myself a 6/10 on chain maintenance. Meaning, I don't let it get squeaky or rusty, but I'm not constantly cleaning it or fussing over it. I only rode in the rain twice so most of those miles were in perfect conditions.
So do as I say, and not as I do, and check your chains regularly!