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Clean and lubed: Keeping your chain well cared for

During my years as a mechanic, probably the most commonly asked question was “what lube is best?” Not all chain lubes are created equal.

by Ben Dawson


This article originally appeared in our April/May 2012 issue.

During my years as a mechanic, probably the most commonly asked question was “what lube is best?” Not all chain lubes are created equal. While one might be good in the dry, another will be better in the wet and mud. What’s best for riders in B.C. might not make as much sense for riders in Ontario or Quebec. There are also some terrible products out there that aren’t really good for anything. Talk to your local bike shop mechanics and see what they recommend. My favourite lubes stays clean, are easy to apply and help clean off old lube for quick re-application.

Tools Needed:

  • Bucket of water
  • Degreaser
  • Lube
  • Chain cleaning tool

Step 1
Start with a clean chain. There’s no point slathering more lube over dirt. You don’t have to completely clean your chain every time you need to lube it, but make sure it isn’t filthy since dirt and sand will wear out components faster. A clean, well-maintained drivetrain can last three times as long as a dirty, neglected one.

Step 2
Fill the chain cleaner with degreaser to the recommended level (usually about half way).

Step 3
Snap the tool onto the chain and position it under the chainstay. Rotate the cranks clockwise about 15 times to let the degreaser do its job.

Step 4
Remove the chain cleaner and pour out any remaining degreaser. Rinse it out, and then start over again with fresh degreaser. Two cycles only takes a few extra minutes, but it results in a much deeper clean.

Step 5
The chain will likely still have some dirty and potentially corrosive degreaser still left on it. Fill the chain tool to the brim with water and run the chain through it again with 15 rotations of the crank. As with Step 4, rinse and repeat.

Step 6
Dry the chain off with a clean rag.

Step 7
If you can spare the time, wait an hour or two for the chain to dry or blast it with an air compressor. When completely dry, it’s time to apply lube.

Step 8
Apply lube by holding the bottle to the top of the chain. Gently squeeze the bottle while spinning the cranks backwards. A thin line of lube will come out and onto the moving chain. Continue for two full revolutions of the chain, but don’t apply excessive amounts as too much lube will make the chain attract more dirt. If you’re coming back from rides and seeing chain lube splattered all over the rear wheel and back half of the bike frame, you’re over-doing the lube.

Step 9
Apply the same bead of lubricant to the other side of the chain under the chain stay.

Step 10
If you have time, wait a few hours for the lube to penetrate into the chain and then wipe the chain with a clean rag to get rid of the excess. The chain shouldn’t look too globby but will have a nice lubricated sheen.