If you're a serious bike enthusiast, like all of us here at OKfreewheel, you'll know that the chain on a bike is by far one of the most hardworking components.
It has to tolerate a great deal of metal on metal friction generated by the chain's interaction with the drivetrain components.
A well oiled and lubricated chain smooths this interaction with the drivetrain components, like the cassette sprockets and chain rings, but also ensures that the gears maintain proper shifting performance.
It also prevents the chain from becoming corroded.
There is, however, a fine art to getting just the right amount of lubrication on a bike chain.
If the chain is under-lubricated this will cause too much metal on metal friction and wear the chain out faster.
An over-lubricated chain is a magnet for grit and dirt, which has a similar effect to an under-lubricated chain in that it increases friction and wear.
Thankfully, if you're in the market for a good lubricant for your bike chain, you're spoiled for choice! There are countless brands out there all offering different types of lubricant.
In this article, we'll be discussing the best bike chain lubricants available today, including their pros and cons and different applications.
Let's dive right in!
The Types Of Chain Lube
In the world of chain lubricants, there are different types of bicycle-specific lubes intended for use with a particular bicycle.
These range from dry lubes, wet lubes, wax lubes, and ceramic lubes.
As you might expect, each of these have their pros and cons as well as an intended use.
Nearly all of the above types of lubes contain a set of common ingredients, including synthetic oils, carrier fluids that evaporate once the lube is applied, and additives like PTFE (Teflon) which have friction reducing properties.
In recent years, wax based lubricants have become increasingly popular with serious cyclists, thanks in part to the availability of testing data.
These waxes tend to be more expensive than other types of lubes, but they do offer some unique benefits.
Wax based lubricants can be used on both wet and dry chains. They don't need to be reapplied after every ride, so they can save you time when compared to other types of lubricants.
We'll discuss wax based lubes in more detail a little further down this article.
As you might have guessed from the name, wet lubricants are designed for use in wet/year-round conditions.
A wet lubricant contains water or another liquid solvent that dissolves the oil and allows it to flow freely through the chain. They also tend to have greater amounts of higher viscosity oils, as well as PTFE.
The best practices with a wet lubricant are to apply it sparingly, ideally to each chain link and remove any excess before using the bike.
Below are a selection of some of the best wet lubricant chain oils.
OUR TOP PICK
To increase the durability and length of time before reapplication, Green Oils wet lube contains N-Toc, a refined plant extract with similar properties to PTFE.
For those of us who are conscious about the environment, Green Oils is a great choice as it's 100% biodegradable.
In our testing of Green Oil, we found that not only is it extremely resistant to wet weather, it also didn't attract a great deal of grime and dirt, unlike other wet lubes at the same price point.
- Suitable for all weather conditions
- Didn't attract too much grime/dirt
- Widely available
- Other wet lubes last longer (but cost more)
Our second choice in the Wet Lubricant's category is by Muc Off. This wet lube formula has no harmful acids, solvents, or CFCs and is biodegradable (much like Green Oils).
It has Muc Off's integral Extreme Pressure Additives coating which increases the effectiveness of the drive chain.
In our testing of Muc Off we found that it did keep the chain running quietly. However, it did bring in a bit of dirt and grime which wasn't expected.
This lubricant holds up well in wet conditions, and keeps the chain rust free.
- Formula is biodegradable
- Easy application
- Holds up well in bad weather
- Attracts a little too much dirt and grime
Dry lubricants are designed for use in dry riding conditions, and are typically composed of roughly 10% synthetic oils and additives, and around 90% carrier fluids.
Being a lower viscosity lubricant means that these types of lube promise to lower friction and attract less grime and dirt.
There's a lot of contention surrounding dry lubricants.
The main focus of this contention is that owing to the high levels of carrier fluids in these lubes, they lack enough real lubricant to be effective.
Riders who agree with this notion would argue that you're paying for a product that is made up of mostly carrier fluid, which as we've discussed is designed to evaporate.
However, the brands below seem to have bucked this trend.
Maxima Pro Dy Formula is best suited for those of us who ride in dry, dusty conditions. The company behind this lubricant originated in the world of power sports.
Not only does this mean that Maxima's line of bike products have a high benchmark, but that they're designed to cope with high-stress applications from high-output internal combustion.
Testing the Maxima Pro Dry Formula revealed that it does keep the chain free from dust and dirt. Gear shifts were quiet and seamless as was the chain's operation.
That being said, when we exposed the chain to wet conditions, Maxima Bike Pro Dry didn't quite meet expectations.
- Kept the chain quiet and running smoothly
- Easy application
- Very thin consistency
- Didn't cope with wet conditions
Boeshield T-9 dry lubricant is developed and licensed by the aviation company Boeing.
As you might expect from a reputable company like Boeing, this chain lubricant is very high quality and aviation-grade.
The Boeshield T-09 Dry Lubricant comes with an easy-application nozzle, when we tested the efficiency of this nozzle we felt that it didn't disappoint. Application was a breeze!
The Boeshield T-9 formula blends the best aspects of both a wet and dry lubricant.
Once applied, it leaves a waxy film over the chain that works well in resisting dirt, but also stood up against wet conditions in our tests.
- Made to aviation grade standards
- Suitable for wet and dry conditions
- None that we could find
Lubricants with a paraffin wax base (the main ingredient in candles) have exploded in popularity in recent years.
This type of lubricant holds up well in categories like longevity, resistance to contaminants, and efficacy in a number of independent tests.
As we mentioned earlier, wax based lubricants are suitable for application on chains used in both wet and dry environments.
This is due to the fact that when wax lubricants are applied correctly, they form a hard, slightly dry layer of lubricant which keeps the chain running on a low friction.
Generally, these lubricants also contain additives like Teflon (PTFE) and carrier fluids along with highly-refined wax particles.
The one major drawback of wax lubricants is that they need to be applied to a spotless chain.
If they are applied to anything other than a clean chain, the wax won't adhere to the metal or dry correctly.
Let's take a look at a couple of the best wax based chain lubricants.
One of the most popular brands of wax based lubricants is SMOOVE.
Their universal chain lubricant has been around since 2012 and remains one of the top-selling wax based lubricants today.
It's formulated using a proprietary blend of PTFE and paraffin wax. The result is a slick, non-sticky lubricant that can withstand even extreme temperatures.
When we tested the SMOOVE Universal Chain Lube, we found that it performed exceptionally well in all areas including temperature tolerance, wear protection, and ease of use.
- Excellent performance across the board
- Easy to apply
- Requires a great deal of chain prep before application
Squirt Clean is another brand of wax based lubricant that has been around for some time now.
As with most other wax based lubes, Squirt contains a PTFE and carrier fluids. Unlike other wax based lubricants, it is also a blend of different waxes with a water emulsion.
This blend gives Squirt Chain Lubricant a unique smooth texture.
If stored in the correct way, this blend means that the formula doesn't separate (as can happen with other wax and water emulsions) or clog the nozzle.
We were impressed by how easily this product flowed out from the bottle and onto the chain. It left a thin, yet durable coating that held up well under a variety of conditions.
- Easy to apply
- Lowers the drivetrain resistance
- Resistant to dirt and grime
Ceramic based lubricants have started coming up over the past few years.
Ceramic lubes have often made bold claims that these lubricants can increase all round performance, but often come with an increased price tag.
Muc Off, who make both wet and dry ceramic lubricants, state that their ceramic lubricant has tiny 'pieces of ceramic' that reduce friction more effectively than synthetic oils used in dry and wet lubricants.
There is still limited data available that can corroborate the claim that ceramic lubricants are more effective than their dry and wet counterparts.
This makes it hard to say for sure whether spending more money on a ceramic based lubricant is better in the long run.
Nevertheless, we've reviewed Muc Off's Ceramic Lube below.
As we've mentioned above, there is still very little data out there which can determine once and for all if ceramic chain lubricant is a better alternative than traditional wet and dry lubricants.
One of the things we can say for certainty is that we loved the design of the Muc Off C3's pipette style nozzle.
It made applying this lubricant extremely easy.
This lubricant has an acrylic feel to it and contains ingredients like Fluoro Polymers and Boron Nitrides which are said to enhance the efficacy of the drive chain.
Muc Off C3 boasts sustained ultra long distance performance which works in wet, dry, and muddy conditions.
- Well-designed nozzle applicator
- Not enough independent data available to verify claims
How Much Should I Spend On Chain Lube?
As with all things of this nature, the answer to this question is ultimately down to personal preference.
Because there are so many brands of chain lube on the market, the price of chain lube can vary widely, from a few dollars a pop to over $60 at the top end.
That being said, it's worth considering the implications of purchasing a cheaper chain lube vs a high end one.
It's important to consider the idea that a cheaper chain lube could end up costing you more money further down the line.
Why is this the case?
Well, using a cheaper lubricant can lead to increased drivetrain wear, which translates to replacing worn parts more often.
This can cost a lot more than an investment in an efficient lubricant.
That being said, the higher price of a chain lube doesn't necessarily mean it's a better choice.
It's entirely possible that some cheaper products may perform just as well as their more expensive counterparts.
The best way to find out if a particular brand of chain lube will work for you is to try it out. If it works, then stick with it.
If it doesn't, then move on to another brand.
Can I Use Traditional Grease To Lubricate My Bike Chain?
Our advice would be that whilst grease works well for bearings and threads, you shouldn't use it to lubricate your bike's chain.
This is due to the fact that grease doesn't permeate the spaces between the chain links very well because it's too thick.
This translates to the viscous friction being too high.
The other downside of using traditional grease is that it is a magnet for all manner of grit, grime, and dirt. This will make cleaning the chain after use all the more difficult.
What About Aerosol Lubricants?
There are a number of lubricants sold as aerosols, but we also wouldn't recommend using these for your bike chain.
The main reason for this is that they're difficult to apply with precision.
This difficulty in application means that you run the risk of getting aerosol lubricant on your brake rotors/track, or worse still in the brake pads.
Any semi-serious bike rider will tell you that the last thing you want to do is negatively affect the integrity of your brake performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It OK To Use WD-40 On A Bike Chain?
The simple answer to this question is, no, it's not OK to use WD-40 as a chain lubricant.
This is due to the fact that WD-40 is not a true lubricant. The primary uses for WD-40 are for dissolving rust and as a solvent.
Can I Use Engine Oil As Bicycle Chain Lube?
The answer to this is similar to the one for traditional grease, in that you can, but it's not recommended as it is far too thick and won't permeate the inner components of the chain.
Can I Use 3-In-1 Oil On My Bike Chain?
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding the use of 3-in 1 oil on bike chains, with many people saying it is perfectly fine to use.
Much like traditional grease, engine oil, and WD-40, we would not recommend using this type of oil on your bike chain.
This is due to the fact that most 3-in-1 oils are vegetable based which will gum up your chain, but mainly is nowhere near as effective as proper bike chain lube.
The type of lubricant you ultimately use should be determined by the weather conditions you intend to ride in.
In dry conditions, you'll need to use a lighter lubricant, like a wax-based lube or dry lube. Traditionally, these lubes are easy to clean off and don't attract as much dust and dirt.
However, these types of lubricants don't always hold up in even light rainy conditions.
For these sorts of conditions, you'll want to go with a wet lubricant, naturally.
There's also the issue of value for money.
In a tube of wet lubricant, 100% of that formula will do the job of lubrication.
In a tube of dry lubricant, you're going to lose some of that lubrication as a percentage of that formula will be solvent, and simply evaporate.
We hope you've enjoyed our run down of the best bike chain lube!