Chain Lubes – A One Stop Guide For You 

 January 6, 2022

By  Max Shumpert

Let me ask you a question - How often do you check your bike chain? I'm guessing the answer is only a few times. 

Here is another: Do you systematically clean and oil your chain after each ride? Or do you only notice it when it squeaks when it's dried out?

Don't worry; you are not the only one in the same situation, but as an expert, I would say a well-cared-for chain makes for a happy bike and a comfortable ride. 

Everyone should understand how the chain works and the process of cleaning and lubricating them properly. Thus, we have created this article to know what you need to know. Let's get started.

Anatomy of a Bike Chain

A bicycle chain is made up of four fundamental parts:

  1. Links on the outside
  2. Inner hyperlinks
  3. Pins
  4. Rollers

There are two link plates on each chain link. Rollers are placed between these link plates where the inner and outer links connect. All of this is kept together by a pin. The rollers are the significant component of the chain that contacts the chain ring's teeth or cassette.

They allow the chain to articulate as you pedal, together with the pins. When you properly lubricate your chain, the oil penetrates the rollers, allowing them to move quickly.

Cheap chains vs. expensive chains

  • A high-end chain brand like Shimano provides you with SIL-TEC and Chromizing surface treatments that create a durable surface and reduce friction for your bike. 
  • Shimano Dura-Ace/XTR and SRAM Red/XX1, some of the Top-of-the-line chains, use hollow pins, which reduces weight. These hollow pins can also increase strength due to extra peening.
  • KMC’s range-topping chains come with a gold “Ti-Nitride” coating, stating that the more advanced the layer the chain is equipped with, the more expensive it is.

From the above points, we can conclude that you can acquire a manufactured and coated chain to run faster, quieter, and last longer, which will also be worth every penny you spend on it. Or, you can still go for a cheap/ affordable chain and properly maintain it to receive outstanding performance.

Why should you lubricate your chain?

One of the most general questions that we come across is, why are we doing whatsoever?  If we talk in a common language, lubrication is used to ride your bike smoothly.  Well, that’s true, but there are more advantages that lubrication provides to your bike chain. Let’s take a look at them:

  1. Extended chain life from wear
    As the chain is made of metal, due to friction, dry change wears much faster. Lubrication helps prevent the rubbing of roller plates between each other, reduces the friction between the chain and cassette, crack rings and Jockey wheel.
  2. Added protection from environmental conditions
    The riding environment works against your chain. Sand, mud and dirt will increase the friction and wear.  Also, Rain, Snow, road or climate salt can cause your bike chain to rust out.  Applying lubrication to the chain can reduce the influence of environmental factors and keep the chain like new.
  3. Reduces chain noise
    This occurs when the lubricant dries out completely. You can check your bike chain by using a finger if dry. To prevent it, clean and lubricate your chain properly to make it sound quiet.
  4. Better gear shifting
    Gear shifting is one of the key factors of bike performance. Bad gear shifting can make you slower and reduce your efficiency; hence it is essential to lubricate your chain and check how much is required.
  5. Watts saving
    When chain lubrication becomes dry, it consumes about 20 Watts at a speed of 35 km per hour. In contrast, an adequately lubricated chain consumes about 5 to 10 Watts (depending on the brand). Thus,  by properly lubricating your bike chain, you can save a lot of energy and increase your pedaling efficiency.

So the question arises - Can you use any kind of lube on your chain?

The answer to the question varies from person to person. Why? Because we heard/learned or saw at some point in our lives, most people use just any lubricant available in the garage to lube their chain as the purpose is full-filled and very few use the appropriate one.

“What…? Was I using the wrong lubricant this whole time? Oh man, please tell me, how can I know which one to use?”

To answer this question, let’s look at the types of lubricants and their properties.

Lubes – Types and Properties

Several lubes are available for varied reasons and need to fulfill different scenarios. But before we can go through the types of lubes, let's look at the properties of chain oil.

A chain oil must,

  • Protect your chain from corrosion or rust.
  • Stick to your chain in extreme weather conditions.
  • Penetrate the spaces between your chain links and minimize friction.
  • Maximize the drive train's durability and usability. 
  • Prevent the dirt from sticking.

What are the different types of lubes?

Though chain lubricants are broadly divided into Dry and Wet, we have further classified them depending on their use in particular weather or trail conditions. Take a look at them: 

Chain oil for extremely dry conditions: Dry lube

Dry - Chain Lube

Finish Line Dry  Chain Lube

This lube is ideally designed for riding in dry conditions like their name. They are usually made of around 10 percent lubricant that involves synthetic oils and additives, and the other 90 percent includes carrier fluid.

While they provide greater efficiency by attracting fewer contaminants and lower friction, they also become a lower viscosity lubricant.

Looking at its assembly, we can say that you are spending your money mostly on carrier fluid which is supposed to and designed to disappear into thin air.

The only downside here is that dry lubes are often easily washed off by rain or puddles.

Chain oil for extremely wet conditions: Wet lube

Wet - Chain Lube

WPL Wet Chain Lube

Unlike the dry lube, wet lube generally contains greater quantities of synthetic oils with higher viscosity and additives such as PTFE.

They are designed for riding in wet or all-year-round conditions to get more lubricant per millilitre. Due to its increased viscosity lasts longer and is unlikely to get washed off your chain if you encounter water. 

Isn't that great?!

However, you should wipe off any excess lube before riding to use it efficiently. Consider cleaning the drive train after every ride if you want to maximize your chain's performance, the lube's benefit and optimize the drive train's life. 

It's the irony that the only downside to this lube comes from its strength. Its properties make it a magnet for dirt and grime, and the higher viscosity results in lower outright efficiency when compared to thinner lubes.

Chain oil for extreme weather conditions: Rainy day lube

This type of lube is best for extreme wet conditions. While the high performance makes it last longer during rainy days, its unique, attractive, and excellent water repellent formula keeps the ride smooth on wet and muddy trails. 

The lube makes its way through each chain link to offer good lubrication and protection, providing the ultimate protection against corrosion.

Chain oil for every cause: All round lube

All_condition - Chain Lube

Wolf Tooth All Condition Chain Lube

When you choose a chain oil, you might wonder if any lube can be ideal for any extreme conditions and is prepared for any circumstances.  

Well, there is. There are lubes of this kind available in the market, which eases your job of constantly changing the chain oil and providing universal characteristics and properties.

Chain oils for e-bikes

E-Bike - Chain Lube

FL E-Bike Chain Lube

One might also ask if electric bicycles and e-bikes need a special chain oil?

The answer is yes. When it comes to a motorized bike, it puts higher tensile forces on the bicycle chain than a standard bike. An e-bike lube is designed to absorb these tensile forces safely and minimize friction while protecting your chain from rusting.

Wax lube

It's beyond imagination that lubricants can be based on paraffin wax - the stuff used to make candles. But, it's true. 

They have become quite popular among bike enthusiasts due to their efficiency, longevity and resistance to contaminants.

Ceramic lube

While they have been popping up over the last few years, they claim a smoother, quieter ride while increasing the chain's performance. 

But, with excellent attributes comes higher prices. They are somewhat pricey, making it challenging for a few riders.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Bicycle Lubricant

The type of ride

You need to consider the time of the year you ride your bike the most. You might not like to go out bike riding during wet weather conditions. Or, you are one of those fitness freaks who rides their bike irrespective of the extreme weather conditions. 

This way, you can be sure which type of bicycle lubricant will suit your lifestyle - be it the dry lube for dry conditions or a lube that can be used all year round. 

The type of bike 

The deciding factor can also depend on the kind of bike you ride. For example, if it is a road bike, you would need a wet lube even if you are riding on clean terrains and the environment is dry.

As for the mountain bikes, or if you wish to go mountain biking in dry weather, you can opt for a dry or wax lube to withstand the dirt, grime, and a lot of debris from sticking.

What’s the best chain lube - Dry Vs. Wet?

  • While dry lube is ideal for dry conditions, they also feature not holding the dirt. But, at the same time, wet lubes are not attracting any dirt, but they do hold the dirt.
  • The dry lube falls out with the dirt, which means your bike would lose the lube, but it successfully keeps the grit from entering the drive train. On the other hand, wet lubes always hold the dirt and suspend the grit particles, but the dirt does not contact the drive train.
  • Even though wet lubes can be used in all weather conditions, lasts longer, and offer better pedal efficiency, dry lubricants can outweigh all the combined benefits since they don’t pick up as much trail debris as the wet lube.

How to clean and lube your chain?

Now, it's time to put on the gloves and get started with the job.

1. The first step is the pre-clean.

Get a degreaser and fill a squeeze bottle with it. Dribble the degreaser on the chain as you spin the pedals backward. You can now soak a rug in a degreaser to firmly hold the chain and continue spinning the pedals. 

After cleaning the chain, you can rinse off all the remaining de-greaser on the chain using clean water. You can let it sit in the sun for 10 minutes to dry and use a dry rug to wipe the rest. 

But, degreasing is essential, when,

  • You are changing your lube brand.
  • You are switching from wet lube to dry lube or vice versa.
  • You got a new chain.

2. The second step takes us to oil the chain

After getting your chain cleaned, you are supposed to lubricate those chains. At this step, you must be careful not to let the oil get anywhere other than the inside of the chain where it is needed. 

3. The last step

Finish up your work by wiping the excess oil. You may think that more oil can give you more efficiency. But, any lube, especially an oil-based lube, can attract more grime and can stick to your bike, making more mess. So, it's better to wait for five minutes and then wipe off the extra.

The question still remains to know the proper methods to clean the chain, right? Let's take a look at our next question to answer your query.

How do I properly clean my chain?

The most efficient and best way to thoroughly clean your chain is to,

  • Remove the chain and soak it in the degreaser or white spirits.
  • You can leave it in the liquid for an hour or choose to leave it overnight. 
  • After soaking it well, take the chain out, spray it with a fresh degreaser, and scrub it using a toothbrush.
  • You can also consider using soap and water at this point for extensive cleaning. 
  • After you have rinsed it well with clear water, let it dry in direct sunlight.

Even though this process takes a lot of your time, it's worth your effort and time if you prepare for a big event or an important race. 

Two issues that you must look out for during the process of cleaning are:

1. Tight Links 

Tight links that no longer bend smoothly are known as tight ones. These are caused mainly by dirt or corrosion between link plates. However, they can still be fixed by cleaning, lubricating, and flexing back and forth. 

And if not dirt or corrosion, these close links result from improper pin installation or severe chain damage. In case of damaged chains, it is highly recommended to replace them. Moreover, when it comes to poorly installed link pins, you can consider working the pins back into position while using either a chain tool or your hands. 

Get yourself a Bike chain repair kit

2. Chain Stretch

With extensive use, the chains become longer. This is known as Stretch. The chain stretches with every use and as they wear between the rollers and the link pins. This can further cause extra wear and tear on your rear cog teeth and chain rings.

So it is your responsibility to replace the chain during the right time since replacing a chain is much cheaper than buying a whole new cog set.

The best method to apply - Spray or Drip?

The spray might be an easy choice for any individual since it dries in a few minutes and easily applies. However, the only downside to this method is that it can get to other parts of the bicycle, which will result in collecting dirt and grime. 

On the other hand, using the drip method, you can apply the lube directly to the necessary parts of the bicycle chain.

How Often?

You need to get your bike chain cleaned and lubricated at least once every month. This is required to enhance your bike’s performance and the chain’s longevity. However, if you are a frequent rider or are riding through dirty terrain and challenging conditions, cleaning and lubricating them after every ride would be more beneficial. 

How to tell if your chain is worn

The easiest way is to pull in the chain at the front of the ring and observe if it is starting to lift off the top and/or the bottom from where it sits on the chain ring's teeth. If that is the case, then it means that your bike chain has started to wear or is already worn out.

People Also Ask

Why do I need a chain lube?

You will need a good chain lube to smooth the chain's engagement during your ride and maintain proper shifting performance. While it helps you withstand corrosion and reduce friction, it enhances the chain's longevity by reducing drive train wear.

How often do I need to apply chain lube?

It entirely depends on how often you ride your bike. But, it also depends on the type of ride you enjoy. Typically, applying once every month or every 150-200 miles will render you great results. However, if you are an adventurer who likes to ride through muddy terrains, then lubricating will be more beneficial after every ride. 

What's the difference between wax and oil lube?

Oil can be a perfect choice for your bike since they're easy and keep your bike's chain running quiet and smooth. But, if you are choosing to use this lube, you must be ready to clean and degrease your chain regularly since oil-based lubricants are dirt magnets.

When it comes to wax lubes, you get the best of both worlds due to their oil-based counterparts, which provide the same quiet and smooth riding experience, but with not so much grime.

Can I use chain lube as a cleaner instead of a degreaser?

Even though many riders do this, you must not. Suppose you use a wax-based lube, which is meant to clean the chain as you ride. In that case, you may only require to wipe the chain using a rug and apply the lubricant.

But, if you use an oil-based lubricant, you will end up with grime and dirt not only on your bike but also on your socks and shoes; unless you clean the chain, de-grease it, lube it properly. This is because oil-based lubes are not designed to clean your chain.

What is a good lubricant for a bike?

A good lubricant for a bike should always,

  • Reduce the chain friction. 
  • Increase the life of your bike chain. 
  • Increases the performance of your bike. 
  • It enables a smooth, comfortable, noise-free ride.
  • It reduces the wearing of your drive train.

A good lubricant - be it a dry lube, wet lube, or wax-based lubricant- is good for you and your bike if they provide you with these benefits.

Can WD40 be used as a bike lube?

You probably shouldn't. This lubricant is too thin to lubricate your bike's chain properly and will attract a lot of grime. This can also eventually lead to the wearing of the chain. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of your bike if you choose a lube that suits your terrain and is specially designed for bikes. 

Final Thoughts

A bike lube is as essential as any other bike gear or biking component. Reading about chain lubes and purchasing one can be different experiences. But isn't that what we live for - Exploring and experiencing!

At BikesReviewed, you can find the latest reviews, brand guides, and more about bikes and their essential gears. It aims to bring you closer to the best products so that you can shop seamlessly without much hassle.