Of all the different components on your bike, the chain is one of its hardest workers. It’s essential for keeping your pedals and wheels turning smoothly, and your gears shifting efficiently. The constant metal-on-metal contact between the chain and the gear sprockets means that it eventually wears down, which causes slippage when you try to shift gear. While the chain itself isn’t the most expensive thing to replace, it’s important to maintain it the best you can, as a wearing chain will also wear down other, more expensive, parts of the bike’s drivetrain.
One of the best things you can do to help your chain last as long as possible is to keep it lubed. Lubrication helps reduce the friction caused by the metal-on-metal contact, and essentially forms a barrier between your chain and sprockets to stop them from wearing each other out.
Failing to lubricate your chain regularly will not only lead to early wearing out of the drivetrain, but also risks corrosion and rust.
To help keep your bike ticking over smoothly, here’s our guide to what you should look for when choosing the right chain lube for your bike, and also a list of our top picks.
What to look for
There are so many different types of chain lube that it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your bike. There are wet lubes, dry lubes, wax lubes and ceramic lubes. Most contain synthetic oils, plus additives like PTFE (Teflon) to reduce friction. Each of them has its own advantages intended use, which we’ll break down for you here.
The right price
While you may not want to spend a fortune on chain lube, it’s worth understanding how the cost of a bottle fits into the overall cost of maintaining a drivetrain. Once your chain is worn, or your drivetrain is rusted, you’ll need to replace not just the chain, but also the gear sprockets and the chain rings on the front. This is where it can get expensive.
So, a cheap lube could end up costing you a lot more in the long term, if it results in poor efficiency and more drivetrain wear. Investing in something that does the best job, will help you keep your drivetrain running for longer, saving you money in the long run.
Which lube you use on your bike will depend on the kind of weather conditions you’re cycling in. For example, dry lubes are designed for riding in dry conditions. The lubricant has a lower viscosity, which basically means that about 90 percent of the fluid will evaporate after some use, leaving about 10 percent oil behind. This is fine when the weather is perfect and dry, but if you do get caught out by the rain, or wind up riding through lots of puddles, it will very quickly wash away and need topping up. One of the other advantages though, is that dry lube is less likely to attract grime from the road, so you won’t need to clean your chain as often.
Wet lubes, on the other hand, are designed for wet weather conditions. They have a much higher viscosity (meaning more oils), and should last longer as a result, because it won’t simply get washed away. However, it does leave your chain feeling sticky, which makes it a magnet for dirt and grime, especially when you’ve applied too much. This leads to many more chain cleanings as a result. Your best bet is to apply it sparingly and wipe off any excess afterwards.
As well as weather-specific lubes, there are other types available, such as those made from wax and ceramic particles. These have their own advantages that are worth considering.
Ceramic lubes are designed to increase performance, so you may want to give these a try if you’re racing, for example. They’re claimed to contain tiny ceramic particles, which are meant to reduce friction even better than the synthetic oils found in wet and dry lubes. They’re more expensive, but if they increase efficiency as much as they’re supposed to, this means your drivetrain will last a lot longer as a result, saving you money in the long-term.
There are also wax-based lubes, made with paraffin wax particles and PTFE. The thinking behind wax lube is that it forms a hard layer that’s almost dry, and significantly reduces the friction on the chain. This not only increases the drivetrain’s efficiency, but also prevents contaminants from sticking to the chain and working their way inside. The only word of warning if you do decide to go for a wax lube, is that your chain needs to be exceptionally clean and dry before application. This means even a brand new chain out of the box needs to be completely stripped of grease and oil.
The perfect choice for serious cyclists
This wax-style lube from Finish Line contains boron nitride ceramic particles and builds an extremely durable coating over time. With every application the ceramic coating is enhanced, helping it to last much longer than conventional wax lube. It’s perfect for dry climates and dusty off-road conditions, making it a great option for gravel cyclists and racers, as well as off-road tourers.
Designed for year-round use
WD-40 has a big reputation in the maintenance world, and this all conditions chain lube lives up to its name. Apply it in the dry or the wet, and ride year-round in all weathers. It excels in all conditions, preventing friction damage to your chain and doesn’t build up or leave any deposit on the chain itself after use.
One application lasts 100 miles
As you can guess from the name, Finish Line Dry Teflon chain lube is designed for use in dry conditions. It’s got an estimated 100 miles in each application, making it a great option for long rides when there’s no likelihood of rain or puddles. It’s especially effective on dry and dusty roads, so great for gravel riders and off-road tourers.
Specially engineered for high mileage
When you ride an e-bike you’re likely to cover a lot more mileage than the average cyclist, so you need a chain lube that’s going to hold up to long distances. Not only that, but with the assisted acceleration that you get with a motor, e-bike chains are put under an immense amount of torque, or pressure. That’s why an e-bike specific lube like this one is essential: it’s specially formulated to cope with those conditions.
Wax lubricant that sheds grime
This wax-based lubricant from White Lightning goes on wet but dries to a wax finish, allowing it to shed dirt and grime while riding. This helps keep your bike running smoothly, while small particles of the outer wax structure flake off, taking the dirty stuff with it. This is how it self-cleans. If you go through a lot of the stuff, there’s an option to buy a 32oz container, which is perfect for storing in the garage.
Great if you store your bike outdoors
This waterproof lubricant from Boeshield is specially formulated to flush out dirt and grime, even from the hardest-to-reach parts of the chain. It leaves a thin and waxy film behind that clings to the chain’s surface, keeping it lubricated for months of use. This waterproof layer helps to prevent the build up of rust, making it a great option if you have to store your bike outside.
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