Bike Chain Lube Explained

Bike Chain Lubrication

If you are an avid cyclist, you may be wondering about bike chain lube. What’s the deal?

Bike chain lube is something that many beginner cyclists ignore, but using the lube correctly is very important for maintaining your bike. 

This guide will explain everything you need to know about bike chain lube. We will cover what bike chain lube is, how the lube is made, and what will happen to your bike if you don’t use it. 

Furthermore, we will also tell you how to choose the correct chain lube for your bicycle. 

Let’s get into it. 

What Is Bike Chain Lube?

Bike chain lube is a mixture of oil and additives such as antioxidants and corrosion inhibitors.

Lube is designed to coat the bike chain with a film of oil. This film is quite slippery and will prevent bike wear.

Bike lube has three primary jobs. The first is to keep all of the bike’s components moving. It will also prevent water from entering the parts. Its third job is to prevent pieces of metal and metal connections from seizing or freezing up. 

There are three kinds of lube: wet, dry, and wax. 

Wet Lube

wet lubricant

Cyclists will use wet lubricant to protect the bike chain against water, dirt, mud, and grime. Wet lube is very thick and sticky. The oil contains anti-friction chemicals such as ceramic particles or Teflon. 

When you apply the oil to the chain, it will act as a thick shield against grime on the trail. However, wet lubricant will not protect the bike’s drivetrain from dirtying. 

Furthermore, wet lubricant will typically turn into a black sticky substance when it mixes with dirt. This substance can stain your skin or clothes as you ride, which will be something to watch out for. 

Dry Lube

dry type lubricant

Dry bike chain lube is much less thick than wet lube is. The lube is comprised of many of the same ingredients, but it has a very different consistency. 

The main difference between wet and dry lube is that dry lube will prevent dirt and mud from sticking to the chain and creating a messy, black goo. Instead, it will stay in one place and will not transfer to your clothes or skin. 

However, you will have to thoroughly clean your bike chain for the dry lube to be effective. If your chain already has dirt on it, the dry lube will simply cling to the dirt and not the chain. 

Since dry lube is a thinner consistency, it can flow down into deeper cracks, pivots, and cables on the bike. The lube will then help all of the inner parts of the bike to work like new. 

One last thing to note about dry lube is that you will have to reapply it frequently for it to work correctly. The lube tends to dry out quickly. 

Wax Lube

chain wax

Wax bike chain lube is a mixture of wet and dry lube. The main benefit of wax lube is that it is a thin consistency as you pour it on the chain, but it will dry as a thick layer. 

Many people prefer wax lube because it is easy to apply, and it lasts much longer than wet or dry lube. However, wax lube can dry in some cracks and crevasses of the bike, leading to problems when shifting gears. 

How Is Bike Chain Lube Made?

Bike chain lube is made by mixing oil with other chemical additives. Here is a list of common ingredients that are in many chain lubes: 

  • Teflon – Polytetrafluoroethylene, more commonly known as Teflon, is often a main ingredient in most bike chain lubes. This ingredient repels water and lubricates well. It also prevents dirt from sticking to it. 
  • Ceramic lubricants – You will commonly find chemicals such as boron nitride in bike lube, which are called ceramic lubricants. This ingredient is a key factor in reducing the wear on bike parts.
  • Dry lubricant additives – Dry lubricant additives include molybdenum disulfide, graphite, and other chemicals. 

What Happens if I Don’t Use Bike Chain Lube? 

chain protection lube

Is bike chain lube really necessary? Let’s find out what will happen if you don’t use chain lube on your bike. 

Your Bike May Rust

One of the main advantages of bike chain lube is that it will prevent the metal parts of your bike from rusting. If you don’t use lube, expect to see rust at some point on your bike chain. 

Depending on how you store your bike, it may take a while for rust to appear. However, if you live in a humid climate, rust can appear as quickly as one month. 

Your Bike Won’t Shift Properly

Bike Won’t Shift Properly

Something else that you could run into is that your bike will not shift properly. Bike lube will keep your chain running smoothly.

If you fail to grease your chain frequently, grime could build up and clog the chain. The built-up grime and dirt will then prevent smooth shifting. 

The Chain Could Snap

The worst thing that could happen if you don’t use bike chain lube is that your chain could snap.

As mentioned above, over time, your chain could become clogged with dirt. There is also a potential for it to rust. Both of these factors could weaken the chain and cause it to snap. 

How Do I Choose the Perfect Bike Chain Lube?

How often to lube chain

There are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing the perfect bike chain lube. Let’s take a look. 

What Conditions Are You Cycling In?

The first thing to think about is what conditions you will be cycling in.

Dry Conditions 

Dry lube will be the best choice if you are riding in dry conditions. If there will be a lot of dirt and dust on the trails, dry lube will protect your chain the best. 

Summer will typically be the best season to use dry lube, depending on your location. 

Try to avoid using dry lube in wet conditions or trails with a lot of puddles since water can potentially wash off all of the oil.

Wet Conditions

wet weather lube

If you are cycling in wet conditions, wet lube will be the way to go. It is not likely for water to wash away wet lube since the lube can flow into deep nooks and crevasses of the bike.

For this reason, your bike will work like new throughout the whole ride. Many cyclists use wet lube all year round. 

What Kind of Bike Are You Riding?

You can also choose a certain lube depending on the type of bike you are riding. 

  • Road and time trial bikes – Wax-based lubes will be a good choice for road and time trial bikes. However, you will need to clean your chain after a wet ride to avoid corrosion. Another thing you can do is to lube a separate chain and bring it with you on the ride. That way, you could simply switch the bike chain and continue cycling. You could also use wet lube in rainy conditions. 
  • Mountain, cyclocross, and gravel bikes – When you ride these kinds of bikes, you will most likely encounter a lot of dirt and grime. In this case, dry or wax lube will work best. The most important thing you need your lube to do is to protect the drivetrain from mud and dirt. You could also have a few bike chains on rotation as well as mentioned above. This way, you could bike for longer without worrying about your chain. 
  • Commuting bikes – Cyclists who ride bikes only for commuting purposes usually do not want to spend a lot of time maintaining their chains. The best lube for this will be wet lube. However, you will need to clean your bike regularly. You should also use mud flaps in combination with wet lube as well. 

How Long Do You Want the Lube To Last?

If you don’t want to worry about reapplying bike lube that often, wax lube will be the way to go. Wax lube will last about 300 miles on your bike until you have to reapply it. 

When it comes to dry lube, you will need to apply it multiple times throughout the week. While dry lube works great, it doesn’t last very long. Cyclists who want their bike performing at 100% efficiency will need to stay on top of a maintenance schedule. 

Lastly, you could probably get away with applying wet lube about once a month. You may have to lube it more frequently, depending on how much you cycle. 

Conclusion

We hope that this guide has helped you understand bike chain lube a bit more. 

There are three main kinds of bike chain lube: wet, dry, and wax lube.

Many cyclists use wet lube when they ride in wet conditions. The lube is pretty thick and creates a protective layer of oil to prevent water, dirt, mud, and grime from getting on your bike chain. 

Dry lube, on the other hand, is much less thick. You typically use dry lube in dry conditions to prevent dirt or mud from sticking to the chain. 

Finally, wax lube is a combination of the two. It is very easy to apply, but it thickens when it dries. For this reason, you can get it in all of the nooks and crannies of the bike. It will also last the longest.

Sources

Last Updated on June 6, 2021 by Matthew Carpenter

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