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. It’s the perfect antidote for wet conditions that include muddy singletrack or those really long rides. We’ve learned this type of lube attracts dirt like nobody’s business on a dry day. It will work but expect to clean it A LOT.

 

When Is It Too Wet?

Mountain bikers are a tough bunch that will ride in pretty much any weather. Depending on where you live or ride, trail etiquette on rainy days varies greatly. Certain trails or areas could be closed for days, weeks, or even seasonally. While others can be ridden hours after a heavy downpour. Reach out to your local mountain biking organization to find out what’s the right move.

Basic rule of thumb: If you’re leaving big ruts, turn around immediately and exit the trail.

With that bit of info, here are a few of the most popular wet chain lube brands out there that can help ensure that your chain stays lubed up.

Muc Off Wet Lube

Shop: REI  |  Backcountry.com  | Amazon

Muc Off Wet Chain Lube
Since its inception, the Muc Off Wet Lube has been a go to for many cyclists out there. It’s easy to apply due to its thinner consistency. When squirting out of the bottle, it has a pleasant bubble gum smell. Once on the chain, it stays on well but at the same time repels most of the gunk from the trail. The only issue is it won’t shed dirt and grit like a dry lube on the dustiest of trails. If you want to use one lube for all conditions that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, this is a good option.

 

Muc Off Ludicrous AF

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Muc Off Ludicrous AF chain lube

Each brand continues to push the envelope into futuristic synthetic / fully biodegradable formulas on their offerings. For Muc Off, it’s their Ludicrous AF. And yes, Muc Off has confirmed the AF stands for what you think it does. Depending on which camp you stand in, it can be because of the hefty price tag. Or, that it’s “the world’s fastest chain lube.” Even as a wet lube, they claim that nobody comes close to their secret sauce in ANY condition. Be it sopping wet to chalk dust dry. For us, we just can’t justify its brutally high price tag to demo it. Let us know if you tried it.

 

Peaty’s Link Lube Wet & All Weather

Shop: REI (All Weather) | Amazon

Peaty's Link Lube All Weather Bike Chain Lube
Image appears courtesy: REI

If you’re a downhill mountain biking fan, you’ve heard of the rowdy legend known as Steve Peat. Nicknamed the “Sheffield Steel” or just Peaty, he’s racked up a lot of wins including being a three-time World-Cup Champion. This brand is a perfect trifecta of team members. Tom Makin is a Microbiological and Environmental scientist by trade. Bryn is a product designer developer guru. And last but not least, Peaty provides an unparalleled understanding of riding, racing, and the biking industry. We highlight their product catalog throughout this article.

 

When it comes to wet based lubes, this one bubbles to the top for nearly every condition. As you would expect from a man that’s more about riding and less about creating a fifty-page manual on how to apply chain lube. You don’t have to wait overnight for it to cure. You don’t have to bathe it in a tank. It’s ok to wipe off the excess. In simplest terms, you put that stuff on and roll. With that being said, a better option for an all-in-one lube would be their Link Lube All-Weather Premium.

 

Rock n’ Roll Gold

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Rock N Roll Gold Chain Lubricant 16 oz bottle

To categorize Rock n’ Roll Gold is a challenge. It does apply on wet, BUT it creates a protective membrane around the chain.  It’s one of the more futuristic lubes on the market. If you typically ride in dry and dusty conditions like Colorado or California then the Rock n’ Roll Gold is a good all arounder. Not as thin as the Absolute Dry but not as thick as their Extreme LV variety which we talk in detail under the Dry Lubes section. You can ride right away but its best applied overnight. Our friends LOVE this stuff for their spring, fall, and winter rides.

Pedro’s Chainj Lube

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Pedro's Chainj Bike Chain Lubricant
The go-to for decades is their Syn Lube and rightly so. It’s designed to deal with the worst conditions and the longest rides. But like many wet lubes, it can pick up dust and grime. For an all-rounder in the wet lube category, check out their Chainj Lube. This bad boy is designed to repel dirt and with a lower viscosity can be used on moving parts around the bike. This also translates to penetrating deeper into the chain.

WD-40 Wet Lube

Shop:  Amazon

For most diehard cyclists, bringing up WD-40 makes them cringe. The one that’s in your garage was developed in 1894 and does provide adequate protection, but it’s not as good as the ones specifically designed for mountain biking. Well, there’s now a WD-40 Bike Wet Lube that steps up their game. For the price, it provides a high-performance lubricant for those extra muddy and extreme conditions.

 

Dry Lubes

The second type 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.

Rock N Roll Absolute Dry

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Rock N Roll Absolute Dry Chain Lubricant

To put “King of Lubes” on your label, you better back it up with some serious protection and chain noise reduction. Personally, ever since we migrated over to the wax lubes we wouldn’t go back to dry. Despite that a few of our friends swear by this stuff. Rock N Roll is very specific on HOW to apply them. First, make sure that you have it set to the smallest sprocket on the cassette and it’s in the biggest chain in the chainring. At the point of curvature on the cassette, apply the Rock N Roll Absolute Dry as a flow (not a drip.) There’s never too much. Due to its formula and location on the chain, it allows for it to penetrate deeply into each link. How so? Because they market it as a ‘cleaner’ AND a lubricant at the same time.

Rock N Roll Extreme LV

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Since the Absolute Dry is the thinnest of their line, another option would be to pick up their Extreme LV chain. This one is specifically formulated for mountain biking and cyclocross. It’s designed to take a bit more mud and water. Although it has a wet lube viscosity, it doesn’t leave the “gloop” you’d see for that type. A good alternative for longer rides and gravel grinders.

 

Muc Off Dry Lube

Shop: REI  |  Backcountry.com  |  Amazon

Muc Off Dry Lube

 

We’ve come to find that the worst part about dry lubes is how quickly you need to reapply it. Nearly after EVERY ride it seemed like we were applying some more. Although our chain didn’t get clogged in gunk, it did get noisy quick. Out of any brands that provide dry lubes that aren’t wax or ceramic, Muc Off’s seemed the best to us. It leans a bit more to a wet lube and does do well in Tahoe’s dry conditions. Later on, we found out it has a bit of a wax component and that might be why it stayed on better than others on this list. This is different than their C3 Dry Ceramic Lube which we talk about under the Ceramic category.

 

Finish Line Dry Teflon

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This was our first foray out of the wet lubes into the dry chain lube world. In our hot dusty summer days of Tahoe, this stuff was WAY better than the wet lube we’d been using. Finish Line Dry Teflon applied easily and stayed clean. Now the bad news. We literally had to apply it for EVERY ride, and if we went above 15-20 miles, the chain got noisy quick. What it lacks in endurance, it more than makes up in keeping the chain clean especially when grime and dust is the biggest issue.

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.

Peaty’s Link Lube Dry

Shop: REI

Peaty’s say their Link Lube Dry are for those days that are “dryer than a camel’s tongue.” When you apply their lube, it will show as a light blue, but as it dries, it becomes clear letting you know that it’s ready. Best to let it dry overnight. What you’re given is a hard wax barrier against dirt and grime and yet still reduces friction and provides a quiet ride.

 

White Lightning Clean Ride Lube

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When we heard about White Lightning, the first thing that came to mind is the Burt Reynolds car from the movie of the same name. Could it help you outrun a corrupt sheriff while you’re smugglin’ Moonshine? A great option if you want a quick wax lube application. After just ten minutes, this stuff cures on the chain with a white film. Marketed to shed dirt AND grime while you ride, that’s exactly what it does. The wax coating turns into a black sludge which can be wiped away leaving a perfectly clean chain. Due to its thin profile, this is a great lube for short, dry rides.

 

Smoove Universal Chain Lube

Shop: Amazon

How can you not like a company that’s called “Smoove?” I just imagine a guy who owns this company rolling up in a ’76 Caddy stepping out rocking a white suite, a big fedora, and some platform shoes. The reality is Ruan Deyzel was a passionate mountain biker from South Africa that spent three years perfecting his concoction. The goal was to create the best mountain bike chain lube on the market. We haven’t picked up some yet, but everything we read about it, this seems to be THE wax lube for long rides that can battle the dusty elements. I can imagine that South Africa’s climate is similar to Tahoe’s and can’t wait to test this stuff out and see if it’s as good as it sounds.

Ceramic Lubes

The newest on the scene is the ceramic lube. Compared to some of the others on the list, it’s a fully biodegradable 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. Be VERY aware that some brands offer variations on the ceramic lubes.

Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Lube

Shop: Backcountry.com – Wet OR Dry | Amazon

Just like an Italian Beef sandwich, you can order up the Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Lube wet OR dry depending on your preference. For those days that your hard-charging in wet conditions that feature plentiful streams and possibly a bit of rain, the Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Wet Lube is the best mountain bike chain lube to go with. For those dusty and dirty days shredding spots like Moab, the Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Dry variety will then hit the spot. You can apply and go, but it’s better to give it the 3-4 hour set time so the stuff can permeate the chain and provide lubrication for a longer period. With its high price point, the provided applicator and thicker consistency compared to other brands help lessen its cost.

Unique feature: Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Dry Lube is sensitive to UV and with the provided UV light you can see where there are dry spots on the chain.

Finish Line Wet Ceramic Lube

Shop: Backcountry.com  |  Amazon

In the immortal words of Matt Damon’s character from The Martian, the company is “…going to science the s*** out of this” lube. This fully synthetic lube contains nano-sized platelets of boron nitride and micron particles of fluoropolymer. This allows the Finish Line Wet Ceramic Lube to build a ceramic coating around the chain. What results is a quiet pedaling experience. They believe in its scientific properties so much that they guarantee it will last AT LEAST 175 miles per application. We haven’t had a chance to use it yet and see if it truly is their best mountain bike chain lube but would love to hear from others out there.

 

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. A few years ago we switched to Finish Line Dry Lube and it worked well. 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. As our rides started getting longer and longer we noticed that this was the case. We’ve now transitioned over to a White Lightning and are pretty happy with it. Will we stay with it? It depends. We may just keep experimenting and see what the other ones are like.

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.

READ THE INSTRUCTIONS

The steps highlighted above regarding application are just a high-level guide. Be sure to read the specific product’s instructions. For example, some wax lubes you should NEVER wipe off after you apply. Instead, you need to let it cure so the white film protects the chain.

Let Sit Overnight

Depending on the type of lube, you possibly could skip this step and and just go for a ride. Since we normally use a wax-based lube, we like to let it soak in overnight. It just seems to help the chain get a little more oil into it and last longer.

As a chain lube buyer, be aware of your inclinations when picking the one you go with. If you’re the type of person that likes to slap it on and go, don’t buy a wax lube. Pick one like the Peaty’s LinkLube All-Weather that doesn’t need an extended dry time or require you to put one drip on each link.

Mountain biking 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:

16 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. Alex same. I’ve been riding more than a decade and have multiple centuries and an Ironman under my belt. And I flip the sucker upside down and have never owned a stand lol. I do all my own maintenance and minor repairs.

  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.

  4. I ride rock n roll gold on my roadie and rock n roll extreme on the mountain bike.
    For the roadie I like the all around ease of the gold. I’ve used it for casual rides and for my Ironman training. For mountain biking I ride XC and go for longer rides, in often muddy cruddy southeastern trails.

  5. Makes me curious about the ceramic lubes. I’ve been happy with what I’ve been using for so long that I may just be stuck in that habit. Hmmm….

  6. It is a shame that you did not review a few other truly high end lubes. UFO by Ceramic speed, Molten, SLIc, and Squirt. Personally I do not like white lighting to gunky. Rock and roll gold I. Utah has little longevity in Utah.

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