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The Cyclist guide to chain lubricants

Choosing the right bike chain lube doesn’t have to be a sticky business

A well-lubricated drivetrain is an efficient drivetrain, and an efficient drivetrain is a fast and long-lasting one. This makes regularly applying lubrication to your bike’s chain one of the best habits you can get into. However, it’s not enough to mindlessly slather any old oil onto your chain.

Different conditions require different approaches. At the same time, using too much oil can be almost as bad as using too little, as old oil soon builds up and degenerates into a gunky mess. This means that before you start applying more lube, it’s often necessary to clean your chain with some degreaser first.

Which lube to choose?

As with so many things bike-related, it’s about getting the right tool for the job and then using it correctly. Chain lubricants come in several types depending on the conditions and your proclivities.

Wet lubricant is for wet weather conditions. It’s thicker and doesn’t need to be applied so regularly, and won’t wash away. This makes it suitable for practical commuter bikes but less good for racers as its viscous consistency quickly picks up dirt.

Dry lube is for dry weather conditions. It’s thinner and runs very smoothly. Needing to be applied more regularly; it’s more prone to being washed away by rain or when hit with a hosepipe. Picking up less dirt, it can be applied multiple times before becoming dirty.

Ceramic or wax formulas are posh lubricants designed for racers chasing the minimum of friction. They can be long lasting but tend to be expensive and don’t like wet conditions.

Covering all three categories, below we’ve collected six of our favourites. Read further and you’ll also find a guide covering everything you need to know about the three main different types of chain lube, along with a short guide to help you decide which is best for your cycling needs.

Six of the best bike chain lubes

Dry lube

1. Finish Line Teflon Plus Dry Chain Lube

No need to be too clever. I think 90% of bike shops in the UK use this ubiquitous Teflon-based dry lube as standard. With a consistency closer to GT85 than cooking oil, it’s ideally suited to dry conditions.

However, it’s also fine for winter if you’re happy to reapply it every one or two rides.

2. White Lightning Clean Ride Chain Lube

This chain-lube for dry or dusty conditions claims to clean itself. Who knows whether this is really true? What we can vouch for is that its wax-like finish doesn’t tend to pick up too much dust and detritus.

Meaning your chain remains relatively ungunked, its light consistency is best saved for summer.

Buy now from Tredz for £5.99

Wet lube

3. Fenwicks Wet Weather Chain Lube

Industrial chemists may disagree, but I think the main choice with regards to chain lube is still to go thin and have to reapply, or go thick and risk things getting gummy.

Designed with UK conditions in mind, this lube sits nicely in the middle for the rainier portions of the year.

Buy now from Tredz for £6.89

4. Finish Line Wet Chain Lubricant

I’m not that much of a fan of wet lubes on racing bikes regardless of season. However, on a commuter, continuous cleaning and re-lubing isn’t always an option.

This sibling to Finish Line’s Dry option is a good choice for utilitarian bikes and normally sees my single-speed safely through the winter.

Buy now from Tredz for £3.99

Ceramic lube

5. CeramicSpeed UFO Drip Chain Lube

For those determined to speed as much money as possible, CeramicSpeed’s UFO Drip lube has plenty of lab data to prove how many watts it might save you. You can even buy high-end chains pre-impregnated with it.

Based on waxes, trace oils and friction modifiers, these are all non-toxic, non-flammable and bio-degradable.

6. Muc-Off C3 Dry Ceramic Chain Lube

This medium-fancy-pants ceramic-based chain lube is both biodegradable and petroleum-free. Designed for dry weather riding, this leaves it both kinder on you and the environment.

With a green UV dye, it’s also easy to see exactly how much you’re slathering on, useful to stop you under- or over-applying.

Wet lube vs Dry lube

Lubricants tend to fall into one of two main categories: wet or dry. One might instinctively think that a dry lube is used on dry days and a wet lube saved for wet days. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

Dry lube - The ‘dry’ element refers to the actual lubricating substance that works on your chain, usually a waxy kind of deposit. Dry lube is applied as a liquid, before drying out to the leave the chain covered in the lubricating element.

Wet lube - Like dry lube, wet lube is applied as a liquid, but remains as a liquid on your chain. Wet lube is often characterised by the thick, black gunk found on drivetrains that have been neglected for long periods of time.

Decisions decisions

So which lubricant is best? Much depends on your riding conditions.

Dry lube is a lighter lubricant and less prone to attracting dirt, so it’s better suited to riding in fair conditions. The downside of a dry lube is that it is less durable, sometimes losing its lubricating property fairly quickly. Chains will also be washed clean of dry lubricant if it rains.

Wet lubricants perform well in a wider range of weather conditions, making them ideal for year-round riding. Rain won’t wash wet lubricant off your drivetrain and your chain will be more resistant to the salt corrosion often experienced during the winter months.

Using a wet lubricant will require a little more maintenance however, as its sticky nature tends to attract grime. Left unattended the can turn the lube into a lapping paste that makes quick work of your drivetrain. Regular degreasing and lubrication are essential if you opt to use a wet lubricant.

If you’re a fair-weather cyclist, making short trips on sunny days, then a dry lubricant is a perfect choice. If you want year-round performance and don’t mind some regular fiddling with your bike, a wet lubricant is your best option. Most keen cyclists, however, tend to keep a bottle of each around so they can react to changing conditions.

Ceramic lube

Finally worth mentioning is a third option, that of ceramic-based lubricants. Ceramic lube sits somewhere between a wet and dry lube, being applied as a liquid, but drying to a tacky substance.

Ceramic lubes offer high performance, low friction lubrication while featuring chemical formulas that ensure they aren’t washed away with the first splash through a puddle. Ceramic lube tends to be more expensive but requires fewer applications, less maintenance and offering better performance.

It’s worth adding that WD40 and various other spray-on ‘household’ lubricants are best avoided as not only are they not very good at lubricating chains, but also the spray nature of their application means it’s highly likely the lube will end up where it shouldn’t such as on brake pads.

See all of our road bike maintenance guides and the best bike multitools

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