Some of us bought our bikes because we wanted to be mobile. Some because we find them so very pretty. Some because they're so comfortable. For whatever reason you purchased your Dutch- or Dutch-type bike, if you got even a reasonable imitation of one you benefit from how little they demand in terms of maintenance. In previous posts we've walked through repair operations that you (or your trusted mechanic) might have run into in the course of owning the bike (tire and tube repair, shifter troubleshooting, etc). In this post, I'll walk through a large component of simply caring for your bike: lubrication.
In many ways, the chaincase defines the proper city bike. It makes them compatible with any wardrobe, and it's one of the main reasons why these bikes essentially don't have to be treated like a bike. They can be left outside in the rain and snow (and salt, if you're our Chicago shop bakfiets) every night of their lives, and won't punish you for it. That said, since your bike can last your lifetime, you'll want to take care of it to the minor extent it requires. Chain lubrication won't quite be your most frequent maintenance operation, but it's extremely easy and takes very little time. Once every nine months will be enough under even the most adverse conditions.
First you'll want to pick a chain lubricant. The thicker and stickier a lube is, the longer it will protect the chain, but stickiness attracts dirt. This leads to a constant dilemma when maintaining an exposed drivetrain; balancing how much grime covers my drivetrain and legs with how quickly my lube washes off when I ride in the rain or mud. Because the conditions inside a chaincase are so much cleaner and drier than the world outside, we can get away with using an extremely sticky, persistent lube that would attract a large amount of dirt and grime were it exposed. It will take a little longer to soak into the spaces inside the chain links (the only area where it actually does anything), but since we're only doing it once a year or so...that's okay. On a city bike, the tiny, tiny bit of extra drag introduced by a heavier lubricant will be imperceptible to even the most sensitive rider. For the most persistence, I recommend Finish Line Wet; a heavy, sticky synthetic formulated to stick to exposed chains through the nastiest conditions. It's also a beautiful shade of dark green. Dumonde Tech Original (the blue one) can be a fair substitute. Inside a chaincase, you can expect a heavy application of one of these lubes to last most of a year!
Lighter lubricants are just fine, but won't last quite as long or protect as thoroughly. That said, lighter oils and oil suspensions like good old Tri-Flow or Dumonde Tech Lite (the yellow one) can be quite useful for lubricating and providing a water barrier for your cables. Spending a few minutes letting the handy principle of capillary action pull drops of well-shaken Tri-Flow into your cable housing can not only substantially reduce drag and improve performance, but when applied thoroughly enough can also prevent the unfortunate wintertime disorder known as “Chicago cable freeze.”
Isn't physics great?
While they have some handy benefits, wax-based formulas and solvent-suspension “dry” lubes don't have much of an application on the mechanical systems of your city bike. Because they don't protect the chain as effectively, and because their dirt-shedding properties aren't necessary within the protected environment of the chaincase, wax lubes shouldn't be used. Neither type will work at all well within cable housing, so best to save them for your sporty bikes...if you must use wax at all.
Once you've chosen your formula, all that's left is applying it! The vast majority of you won't need any tools for this, except you bakfiets and Secret Service owners. You'll need a one euro coin, large flathead screwdriver, or other prying device to encourage the lower rear section of your plastic chaincase to pop loose.
All you with fabric chaincases need do is simply unsnap the snap.
Now that your chaincase is open, you can inspect your chain's lubrication and tension (refer to the rough guide in the last post for tension). If you cannot see lubricant on the chain – or if you see any corrosion – you should apply some. Nose the dropper tip or extended straw/noodle of your bottle into the chaincase until it's just touching the rollers on the inside of the chain. Carefully spin the pedals backward while gently squeezing the bottle enough to run a bead of lubricant along the chain, letting it soak into the spaces within the chain and coat the moving parts.
Continue this process until your chain is thoroughly soaked in lube. Congratulations, you've lubed your chain! This would also be a good moment to lubricate the shifter cable as it leaves the housing.
Close up your chaincase, and you're finished!