In today’s post for the Bicycle Boot Camp, I’d like to discuss chain lube, as this is an area that can greatly affect your bicycle’s performance and function. Without a well-lubricated chain your shifting ability will suffer, and your pedaling efficiency will suffer, and your rides will just be not as enjoyable. When your chain is skipping and won’t hold in gear, you’re not going to have fun.
A well lubricated chain will run smoothly, shift quickly and smoothly, and give you a much better experience on the trail. That’s also not to say that you need to buy the most expensive lube either to get good chain performance. So what is the best mountain bike chain lube? Let’s dive in!
What kinds of chain lube are there?
There are essentially three main kinds of chain lube: Petroleum (oil) based, wax based, and newer polymer based. Each have their strengths and ideal uses and effective environments. These three can be categorized also as either a wet lube or a dry lube. So which lubricant is best for me?
Petroleum or Oil based chain lube – stay out of the dust, but not any longer.
Traditional oil lube is great for wet and cold trails. This is commonly referred to as a wet lube, as in it stays wet and doesn’t dry on the chain. The oil will repel water and keep your chain running smoothly.
Most of these oils come in either a spray can or dropper-type bottle to apply to individual links. The spray bottle can apply a lot quickly, but also be kind of messy and get all over your bike and wheels. This lube is not so great in dusty, gritty areas. The wet oil will attract lots of dust and dirt and your chain can get dirt and gritty in a hurry. Also, with a wet-type lube like this you can get yourself oily, especially on your right leg.
There are some relatively new petroleum based lubes which behave more like a dry lube. These feature a carrier fluid (solvent) which cleans the chain then leaves the lubricant behind to remain on the chain and keep it working smoothly. ProGold ProLink is one example which I’ve had great results with. It goes on wet, but stays behind dry. No worry about black chain marks on your leg or clothing.
Wax Based – From days of Paraffin to today.
Back in the day, cyclists used to melt paraffin wax, dip the chain in it, then hang it to dry. This worked well to allow the liquified wax to enter all the crevices and crannies in the chain, then seal it when solidified and keep dust out, but the longevity of the lube wasn’t as long with wax as with oil based lubes.
Newer wax-based lubes feature a carrier fluid which deposits the wax lube on the chain then dries away. Some of these allow a longer lubrication than the old paraffin. Some of these new wax lubes also incorporate Teflon and other modern lubricants, but still rely on the wax base. Wax based lubes tend to keep your chain very clean by shedding dirt and grime off the chain during use.
The biggest downfall for these lubes are low temperatures, where the wax thickens and clumps together making reapplication on the chain difficult. Storing this lube inside at room temperature will help avoid this. I’ve used both White Lightning Clean Ride, and also Boeshield T-9 which both work very well. With these wax-based lubes it’s important to remember to shake them well before putting on your chain, as the wax particles will settle to the bottom of the bottle after a short time.
Polymer based chain lube – Wave of the future?
Liquid plastic chain lube? Really? Yes, really. The latest innovations in chain lubrication come through polymer based lubes. These work in a similar fashion to wax, in that they go on wet, but dry and remain dry through use. After application, the polymer in the lube bonds to the chain surface to provide a low-friction, sealed surface which won’t wash off. This requires the chain to be thoroughly cleaned and degreased before first application.
One of the main innovators in the polymer lube market is Dumonde Tech. I have yet to try them out, but they are on my list. I’ll give them a try this summer and post a review here.
So which is best?
Which chain lube is the best? The answer isn’t which is best, but rather which is best for you. Typically, a thick, wet lube will hang on best in wet climates, although the newer wax and polymer lubes are showing great promise in this area along with the hybrid-ish ProGold ProLink. In a dry, dusty climate stay away from the thick, wet lubes, unless you don’t mind a black, gunky chain that you need to clean very frequently. A gritty, dirty chain will greatly speed up the wear on your drivetrain.
What is most important is to follow the manufacturers instructions for applying the lube on your chain. That can make the difference between a good experience and a bad experience. In dry areas a dry lube typically works best, such as ProLink, Boeshield T9, and Dumonde Tech.
In my experience, my favorite has been ProGold ProLink, but that may change as I test and review Dumonde Tech lube and Rock n Roll Extreme lube. I’ll be posting reviews of these in the coming months.
Please, leave comments below and let me know your thoughts on what chain lubes you like, and any requests for reviews.