Prompted by a question from reader Mark Baily, in this article I’m going to take you through the various different types of greases, lubricants and oils that you will use on your bike. I will also cover how best to use them. Not sure which parts of the bike need lubrication? Check out my infographic ’15 Key Places To Lubricate A Road Bike’.
There are essentially 3 different types of lube you will be using on most bikes. They are listed below
- Chain Lubricants (Dry/Wet)
- All Purpose Lubricants
1. Chain Lubricants (Dry/Wet)
There are two types of chain lubricants, dry and wet. These are pretty much universal terms, and most chain lubricant manufacturers will offer these two variants as a minimum. As a very simple rule of thumb, use dry lubes in dry conditions and wet lubes in wet conditions!
These go on to the chain wet, but then dry to a waxy finish. Most take a few hours to dry, so plan for this before heading out to ride. The positive side of a dry lube is they do not collect much dirt. If you are cycling in dry conditions then this should be perfect as you want as little dust getting onto your chain as possible as it can quickly damage components. On the downside, dry lubes wash off very easily and will need re applying after a wet ride.
Wet lubes are thicker, and stick to the chain remaining wet to the feel until rubbed away. These are perfect for wet conditions, as they offer a highly increased resistance to rain and are therefore more difficult to wash away. The downside is they collect dirt, and will need cleaning up a lot more regularly to stop damage to components.
Wet lubes should only really be used when the conditions call for it. They are perfect for your winter bike in harsh conditions, but clean up the chain and swap back to dry lubes in the summer to prevent grime building up within the cassette.
Can I Use Other Types Of Lubrication On My Chain?
I would not suggest using any other kind of lubrication on your chain. As with everything there are some exceptions, but chain lubes are made specifically for the task and I can’t see any reason to stray elsewhere.
The classic beginner mistake is to use a very lightweight household oil such as WD40. Whilst this will grease the chain in the short term, it is not meant for outside use, and will very quickly wash away. This kind of household lubricant is designed for low use parts and is best kept away from bikes. At the other extreme is motor oil. This is generally too thick for use on a bike chain, and will not penetrate the smaller parts used on bikes. It is also very sticky, so will pick up muck from the road very easily.
Application Of Chain Lube
Before applying lubricant, try to get the chain as clean as possible. There is no point lubricating over dirt that is already there, as this will continue to grind around all of your key components.
Depending on the state of your chain it might be best to use a chain cleaner such as this, however a piece of rag and degreaser can do a good job. Try to clean in the cassette and around the jockey wheels to remove any build up of grime that may get back into your chain.
The best way to apply lube is with your bike in a stand, or the back wheel off the ground. Apply one drop of lube into every chain link and work the pedals around gradually until you have completed every section.
Then run the bike through as many of the gears as possible to force the lube into the inside parts of the links where it is most needed. Be careful at this point, as any excess will inevitably find its way towards you!
As a new rider, leaving excess lube on the chain was the first thing I got told off for when I took my bike in for its 3 month service! The key place for the lubrication to be working on is the internal parts of the chain, so you would not expect to see it coated on the outside.
When you have applied the lube and run it through the gears a few times, grab an old piece of rag and gently wipe the chain down to remove any excess. This should stop too much grit being able to stick to the outside. If you have used a dry lube leave it for a few hours so it has dried out completely before taking it for a ride.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I LUBRICATE THE CHAIN?
There are so many variables here it is unreal. How often do you cycle? How far? On road or off road? What type of lubricant do you use? Have the roads been gritted? And I haven’t even scratched the surface…
I would suggest a general rule of thumb is about once a month, maybe slightly more in bad conditions, but you will get to know your own bike quite quickly. With experience you can feel when the chain doesn’t feel so smooth, and this will prompt you to give it a clean and lube. Remember, the lube is working on the inside of the chain, not the outside, so even if it gets slightly muddy you can still wash it down without feeling you have to re lube every time. All this will do in the long run is cause more grime to stick to the chain.
I personally have always used the Muc Off range of chain lubes. There are so many types on the market but the Muc Off range was the first I bought, and I have seen no reason to change over yet.
You can normally get a bottle for around £5 each, and this lasts me well over a year. I always have a bottle of the wet lube and a bottle of the dry lube in the garage so I can swap over during the different conditions in year.
Grease is a heavier, waterproof lubrication which is generally used in places on the bike you don’t take apart or see too often.
It has two key, but quite different functions:
- To keep key components moving and free from water entering
- To help places of static metal to metal connection from seizing up
In the first example grease is used heavily to keep moving parts of the bike running freely. You will find it in the bearings of
your wheels, bottom bracket and headset and also in the moving parts of your brakes and gear levers. You will not find grease in moving parts that are open to the air as, due to its thick and sticky nature, it would attract dirt too easily.
In the second example grease is used to prevent parts from seizing up or ‘cold welding’. Similarly to the first, these parts will all be shielded from the elements.
Key static areas to use grease on are saddle posts and bolt threads. These components sit against metal for long periods of time under pressure, and can seize up making them very difficult to remove. I would recommend greasing any bolt before tightening on a bike, and once every few months removing your saddle posts, cleaning it down and regreasing to prevent is seizing to the frame.
I use Lithium Grease by Weldtite.
I was introduced to this product by a local mechanic *insert joke here* and have never tried anything else.
It is perfect for both examples described above, and a small tube lasts me ages. It is a white grease, which really helps when seeing where you have applied it to components to save using too much.
3. All Purpose Lubricants
All purpose lubricants are your day to day workhorses for keeping the bike moving.
It is best to invest in something that has a waterproof element such as teflon and is suited to outdoor use.
For an all purpose lubricant, I prefer to buy a product in a spray can for ease of application. This is especially handy when blasting it into those hard to reach areas such as down cable housing. I tend to reach for my can whenever I am working on the bike. It can free up a sticking brake cantilever, stop a squeaking pedal, get your brake cables shifting smoother and a lot more besides.
As with all other types of lube, make sure you clear off any excess as, being quite thin, this can easily run down onto brake pads or other areas of the bike you don’t need it.
My favourite is again by Weldtite, the TF2 Aerosol Spray. This spray contains Teflon which helps to make it more waterproof, and has one of those handy red tubes for spraying it into hard to reach places.