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How to clean and lube your derailleurs

Cyclist magazine
26 May 2020

Keep your mechs clean and well oiled and they'll reward you with better shifting. Here's how

Given that their job is to shunt a greasy bike chain up and down the cassette or chainrings, your derailleurs have a tough old life. To make matters worse, they exist directly in the firing line of spray coming off the wheels, so it’s no surprise that they have a tendency to get gunked up.

That’s why it’s good practice to give them the occasional scrub and lube. Keeping yours clean and moving freely will expand their service life and help ensure you never miss a shift. Here’s how...

Insider tip: Your sprockets and chainrings don’t require any specific oiling as they receive sufficient lubrication from the chain as it runs through them. In fact, excessive amounts of oil will attract dirt and eventually wear them out quicker.

How to clean and lube your derailleurs

You will need: Degreaser, brush set, lube, grease, flat-head screwdriver
Time taken: 15 minutes  
Difficulty: Easy


1. Spray down with degreaser

Short of fully disassembling the derailleur, your best option is to start by spraying it down with degreaser. Don’t go too mad, though, as soaking it through will potentially drive out grease from inside the pivots.

Roughly the same procedure applies for both front and rear mechs.


2. Clean inside the cages 

Get a brush and scrape off the dirt that’s accumulated on the inside of the cages of both the front and rear derailleurs. If you’re feeling especially conscientious, you could even remove the chain first, although it’s easily possible to accomplish a decent job with it still in place. 

3. Clean off the grime

If you’ve left it a long time since you last paid your rear derailleur any attention, you might find the jockey wheels caked with grime. If it’s really bad, you can use a flat-head screwdriver to scrape the worst of it off, and then use an old rag to wipe away any residual grime. 

4. Inspect the jockey wheels

Like the rest of your drivetrain, the jockey wheels will slowly wear out with use. As they do, they go from having a blunt, flat-topped, profile to having spike-like teeth. Once they do, they’ll need replacing.


5. Oil the jockey wheels 

Whether you’re replacing them or leaving the existing ones in place, your jockey wheels would probably appreciate a squirt of lube.

Remember to use the lube  appropriate to the seasonal conditions you’re likely to encounter. Wet lube for wet weather and dry lube for... well, you get the picture!

6. Lubricate the pivots

There are four pivots on the rear derailleur, and two on the front, that can benefit from occasional lubrication. If they get sticky it can lead to poor shifting. This is particularly noticeable when moving down the cassette or into the small chainring. Give each a squirt of grease and shift the mech to help it sink in.

Your sprockets and chainrings don’t require any specific oiling as they receive sufficient lubrication from the chain as it runs through them. In fact, excessive amounts of oil will attract dirt and eventually wear them out quicker.