The Importance of Lubing Your Bike Chain
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Pop quiz: Name the basic bicycle maintenance task that takes about 90 seconds, requires almost no skill, and helps keep your prized two wheeler running quieter and more efficiently, while also preventing rust and extending the life of your drivetrain. The answer, of course, is lubing your chain. So what do you need to know to reap this bevy of benefits. Below are some tips and tricks that will help you get the most from your next lube job.
Tip # 1 - Not all lubes are created equally
While you might think lube is lube, there are some important considerations, starting with choosing a wet or dry variety. Generally speaking, wet lubes are more viscous and sticky, which helps them repel water but also attract dirt. Thus, it’s best to use wet lubes only in wet or muddy conditions. Conversely, dry lubes go on wet, but then dry out, leaving a protective—and lubricating—layer that will keep you chain running smooth and quiet without picking up trail gunk. The downside is that dry lubes require more frequent application even in the best of riding conditions, and have particularly fleeting effectiveness in wet or muddy conditions.
Beyond these basics, there are all manner of chain lubes to choose from. We’ll skip recommending one brand over another, and instead suggest you try a few different options to see which works best for where and how you ride. Finally, remember that motor oil is never an acceptable chain lube substitute, as it contains metal particles and acids that will cause your chain to weaken and wear more quickly.
Tip # 2 - Clean your chain first
2. Before applying chain lube, it’s critical that you clean your chain. Otherwise dirt and grime build up, diminishing the lube’s effectiveness and accelerating drivetrain wear. To avoid that, get in the habit of wiping down your chain with a clean rag after every ride, and occasionally using a degreaser to give your chain a more thorough “bath.” How often you do the later depends on the conditions you ride in and type of lube you use; figure once a month is a reasonable starting place. Begin by soaking a clean rag in the degreaser of your choice, then firmly grasp the chain with your rag while backpedaling. Repeat until your chain is clean, then dry it using another clean rag.
Tip # 3 - Use a single drop on each chain link
Now you’re ready to apply chain lube. While slowly backpedaling, dollop a single drop on each link, taking note of your starting point so you don’t overdo it. Next shift the chain up and down the cassette, which helps distribute the lube into the chain’s rollers and pins. Now gently wipe away any excess (otherwise it will attract unwanted dirt) and wait at least 20-30 minutes before riding. Indeed, some dry lubes require an hour or more to fully set up, while wet lubes need less. Make sure to check the manufacturer recommendations and when possible lube up the night before so it has plenty of time to settle in and do its job.
Tip # 4 - Determine your frequency for optimal performance
How often you lube you chain is a function of the type of lube you use and how often and in what conditions you ride. If you frequently ride in rainy or muddy conditions, your chain will need more TLC than someone whose daily commute is on dry, clean tarmac. In general, remember that noise (squeaking, creaking, grinding) is the No. 1 indicator that it’s time to lube your chain. For some, this will mean applying lube before every ride. Others may be able to do it once a month. Just remember that moderation is key. Too much lube will attract dirt and form a gritty, drivetrain destroying paste. So be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations and occasionally degrease your chain so you’re starting fresh.
Follow these recommendations, and your bike’s drivetrain will last longer and deliver many miles of efficient, noise free performance.