Chain Lubes! To Lube or not to Lube?
January 5, 2016
To lube or not-to-lube is never the question; for a healthy bike you should clean and lubricate your chain often. But which lube to use is certainly the question!
The era of generic, do-it-all bike lube is over and today there is a wide selection of bicycle lubes that are tailored for specific riding styles and conditions. In general lubes fall into two groups:
Quite simply, Wet Lubes are designed for wet and muddy conditions. Wet Lubes are also a good choice for normal conditions and are quite often preferred by long distance cyclists, since they lubricate longer than other lubes.
Wet Lubes are wet to the touch. These types of lube are thick enough to adhere to the chain, which makes them fairly waterproof, but thin enough to penetrate deeply into the inner surfaces of the chain to provide excellent lubrication and wear protection.
A downside of wet lubes is that since they are wet, they will attract dust, metal fragments and dirt that can increase chain and drivetrain wear and can leave chain lube marks on your right ankle if the chain is not cleaned often.
Bottom line: these lubes should be used primarily in wet conditions or in normal conditions if you don't lube your chain often.
Caution: there are some wet lubes that are quite good at lubricating many parts of the bicycle, but are too thick for chains and drive train components due to a lack of penetration.
Best for: Wet conditions, cyclocross, urban commuter, winter riding, and a good choice for everyday riding when not lubing often.
As the name implies, Dry Lubes are designed for dry, dusty or sandy conditions. These lubes coat and penetrate the chain and being dry to the touch, do not attract the dirt and debris that increase chain wear.
Dry lubes are usually dissolved in a very thin liquid that helps move the waxes and lubricating agents deep into the inside surfaces of the chain. Once you apply Dry lubes they need to dry for 15 to 20 minutes before you ride your bike, so you need to plan ahead.
The downside of dry lubes is that they need more frequent applications since they wear off more quickly (especially in wet conditions) than wet lubes; Dry lubes provide only a thin coat of lube, so in wet conditions they will wash off faster, increasing chain and drivetrain wear and leading to a rusty chain.
A subset of Dry Lubes is Wax. To apply, you heat the wax until it is melted, then dip the chain in the wax. These lubes are very dry and are excellent for keeping your chain clean, but being easily washed off and flaked away, they should not be used in wet conditions. The downside: these lubes require the most attention and reapplication.
Best for: Road cycling, dry conditions, mountain biking (unless dealing with the wet and mud) and general summer riding.
Check out our Dry Lube.
Most conventional Wet and Dry lubes contain petroleum based products. Even though only small amounts of lube are used in cycling, they can have a negative cumulative impact on the environment. But there is an alternative in the wide selection of Green lubes now on the market. A type of Wet lube, Green lubes are based on plant based oils that have little on no negative environmental impact. Green lubes can be used in all conditions, but there may be a downside in a marginal loss in efficiency and longevity, a small price to pay!
Check out our Hippy Lube.
Spray or Drip?
Many lubes come in either drip or spray applicators. In general, drip allows for a more focused application and less of a mess. Some spray applicators have a focused spray and the increased pressure of the application can increase penetration. Drip applicators are more environmentally friendly.
Before you lube your chain and drivetrain it is best to clean your chain and drive train. Otherwise, you are not flushing out all the dirt, sand and metal bits from your chain that increase chain and drivetrain wear. A clean and well lubed chain and drivetrain will greatly increase the life of your parts and minimize replacement costs, creating more money to spend on interesting bike gear! Check out our Filzer chain cleaner and how to videos – we think they are the best on the market!
For both Wet and Dry lubes, clean the chain thoroughly and let dry for 30 minutes. If you do not let the chain dry completely, the chain cleaning fluid will start to breakdown the newly applied lube and the lube will not be as effective.
The best method to apply:
a) Wet Lubes
- Apply one drop of lube to each chain rivet as you rotate the chain backwards (about 3 to 4 rotations for the entire chain). Use a rag to wipe off any excess. Once applied, the bike is ready to ride.
b) Dry lubes
- Shake dry lube since waxes settle to the bottom of the bottle.
- Liberally apply lube to each chain rivet as you rotate the chain backwards (about 3 to 4 rotations for the entire chain). Repeat this process several times to move the waxes (which are dissolved in the thin fluid). Use a rag to wipe off any excess. Once dry lube is applied, you will need to wait 15 to 20 minutes to let he thin liquid to evaporate. Your bike is then then ready for the road.
A difficult question! The best answer is to apply when needed, but the frequency can be a week for some riders and months for others. A good general rule is to lube at least once a month unless facing messy conditions or putting on mega miles. And remember to clean your chain regularly – this will minimize wear and save money to buy other cycling ‘toys’.
Do's and Don’ts
Do lubricate when needed (dirty and/or squeaking chain).
Do consider cleaning your chain and drivetrain before you lube (the highly rated Filzer Chain Cleaner is one of the best).
Do not use lubes that are not specifically designed for bikes, such as WD-40® or motor oil.
Do not feel the need to lubricate new chains, they now come lubricated.
Written by Don Marino - a cycling industry veteran, renaissance man and all round wonderful person.