My Profound Realization Of Bike Chain Lube… It’s Not All The Same

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We’ve been mountain biking for years and used the same lube oblivious to the greater world. As we were standing at the trailhead one day, a friend remarked, “You running wet lube?” I looked at him with a blank stare. I had no idea what he was talking about. That was the moment I began to delve deeper into bike maintenance and the search for the best mountain bike chain lube.


Show Some Love To The Drivetrain

Just like any other sport, maintaining your equipment is critical to make sure it lasts, but at the same time, most of us don’t want to spend a ton of money or time doing it. No matter if you’re a mechanical genius or just an addict for cycling, the bicycle chain needs to be shown some love before going out on a ride. At a minimum, you should lube your chain after 50 miles of riding.


Wet Lubes

Back to the story at hand. When my friend brought up wet lube, I had no clue what he was talking about. That’s when I found out that there are a few classifications of bike chain lubricant. The first is the classic “wet lube.” These are normally made with higher viscosity synthetic oils that include friction reducing additives.

Dry Lubes

The second is the dry lube, named that way because they’re supposed to be used in dry conditions. More on that later. Typically, the ratio of lubricant to carrier fluid is much lower which translates to less dirt being attracted to the drivetrain.


Wax Lubes

This is a bike lube that has paraffin wax in it. The idea is that when applied correctly, the chain is encapsulated with a hard almost dry layer of low friction lubricant on the chain itself. One of the major cons of this type of lube is you literally need to strip off ANY grease or oil for the stuff to stick. A good entry wax lube that won’t break the bank but still work VERY well is White Lightning Clean Ride.

Ceramic Lubes

The newest on the scene is the ceramic lube such as the Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Wet Lube. Compared to some of the others on the list, it’s a fully biodegradable dry lube meaning you won’t be contaminating any streams, rivers, or tributaries. From a performance perspective, it’s WAY more weather resistant than a straight up dry lube. If you’re going to pick the “best mountain bike chain lube”, this one may be the closest to check all the categories. The only issue is that it needs to “cure” on your chain for four hours or longer before a ride.


Gunk City

Tahoe Mountain biking trail using the best mountain bike chain lube to use in dry conditions
Dry conditions in Lake Tahoe – a perfect place to switch to dry lube – Photo by: Local Freshies®

As I began to do more and more research, my jaw dropped. As those who mountain bike in Lake Tahoe know, our trail conditions by June get dry. Very dry. Bone dry. You’re kicking up A LOT of dust and dirt. Literally after every ride, I’d come home and the chain with the rear derailleur is filled with this nasty gunk. That was happening because I was running wet lube in these extremely dusty conditions.


How To Pick A Bicycle Chain Lube

So, out of all these bike chain lubes, which one is the best mountain bike chain lube? Well, it depends on the conditions you’re riding. For the normal recreationalist, a decent wet lube such as Tri-Flow superior lubricant will work most of the time. If you live in a desert-like place (like us) where water isn’t something you normally see a lot of in the summer, a dry lube is something to consider. This past June we switched to Finish Line Dry Lube and have to say it’s been a miracle. Instead of coming home with a gunk-filled chain, it’s stayed pretty clean and lubricated. The main complaint you hear from people who rock “dry lube” is it wicks off pretty quickly. Fortunately, we like to lube our chain before every ride so we haven’t run into that issue just yet.

Steps To Keep That Chain In Peak Performance

Like we said above, the chain is the most important part on your entire bike. You need to make sure that it keeps running smoothly, and to do this, a bit of love and maintenance is required.


Do A Quick Cleaning

Before you do anything, if you’re going to work on your bike, throw some cardboard, newspaper, or even an old towel down to make sure you don’t ruin your floor. While optional, a bike repair stand is a great investment if you’re going to begin working more on your own bike. We picked up a PCS 10.2 Home Bike Mechanic Stand and love it. With a brush, clean off any debris that exists on the chain, crank set, rear derailleur, or cassette. Next, grab a rag and spray some degreaser. As you pedal the bike backwards, slowly grasp the rag cleaning away the debris.

For A Thorough Cleaning

Most of the time a quick cleaning is all you need, but sometimes your bike needs a deeper scrubbing. While you could remove the entire chain and dunk it in some degreaser, another more efficient option is to pick up a chain scrubbing device such as the Park Tool Chain Gang Cleaning System or for a bit less the Muc-Off X3 Chain Cleaning Kit. You’ll fill it with some liquid degreaser, pump those pedals and voila… a clean chain!


Apply Some Of That Lube

While there are some spray lubes, we recommend buying one that has a tip. You don’t want the oil to end up on your brakes or on the tire itself. Hold the tip of the bottle near the chain. As you begin to pedal with your left hand, squeeze the bottle to create a light steady stream on the entire length of the chain. Once it’s applied, we normally count for 10 seconds letting it seep into the rollers and pins on the chain. Wipe off any excess on the outside.

Let Sit Overnight

You can go for a ride, but we like to let it soak in overnight. It just seems to help the chain get a little more oil into it.

Mountain bikin next to Star Lake near Lake Tahoe California
Oh the things you’ll see on a mountain bike when it’s well maintained – Photo by: Local Freshies®

As we’ve said earlier, we aren’t the experts on all things mountain biking but rather spreading the knowledge to you of what we’ve learned through our trials and tribulations. If you want to learn more about mountain biking such as how to get started, unique events like the Pearl Pass Tour, or find out about hidden mountain bike getaways, check out our in-depth guide found here:

11 thoughts on “My Profound Realization Of Bike Chain Lube… It’s Not All The Same

    1. Hey Michael,

      What would you suggest instead? Personally, before I bought my bike repair stand I used to always flip it upside down to lube the chain.

  1. Flip the bike upright before applying lube and apply it to the bottom line of chain. That way you ensure the lube is applied to the side of the rollers that go through the rings.

  2. I found one amazing chainlube that works in ALL conditions, applies easily, keeps the chain running smoothly, keeping dirt and mud of my chain. No more degreasing needed. The best is the price!
    Max Wax Wet and Dry Chainlube

  3. Here in Southern Idaho, dust is a way of life. My experience has been that any lubricant with a liquid component (yes, even so called dry lubes that use liquid as a carrier) fail miserably within 5 miles of travel on dirt….often to the point of rendering shifting a hit and miss prospect. The only reliable lube I have used for these conditions is hot dipped paraffin. Usually good for a couple hundred kilometers, dust washes off with hose post ride.

    1. Hi Dead Reckoning, we feel ya. We’ve switched to White Lightning Clean Ride lube during our dry summer months and we’re big fans of it. Usually lasts us about 2-20 miles rides before we need to re-apply. Even then we typically still put it on prior to the ride. We’ll have to check out the hot dipped paraffin that sounds like an interesting solution.

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