From a maintenance perspective, chain lube is pretty indispensable to almost all cyclists, regardless of what type of bike you ride (unless your bike has belt drive). Many of you reading this likely already know the basics of chain lubrication: dry lube for minimal dirt buildup when riding in dry conditions, and wet lube for extra tenacity and protection during the rainy season or winter. Lots of chain lubes even double as practical lubrication for things like derailleur pivots and shift inner cables.
Still, there is a dizzying array of chain lubes out there. Chances are, you have to live with a bottle of the stuff (or two – one wet and one dry) for at least a few months at a time. While manufacturers will be chomping at the bit to tell you why their particular lubes are the best, and should be supported by your cash, just how user-friendly can chain lubes be?
THIN AND RUNNY
One thing I definitely do not enjoy is chain lube that’s so thin and watery that it ends up everywhere else…apart from where you want it. Zefal Dry Lube is a particularly egregious offender, and so is Boeshield T-9 Bicycle. With both of these, the drip bottle itself tends to get slippery lube all over while you’re just dripping the stuff into your chain’s pins and rollers.
That said, the mechanics at Art’s Cyclery do rate Boeshield T-9 pretty highly precisely due to its very light nature; it is useful for lubricating mechanical pivot mechanisms such as the shifting innards of a Shimano STI lever. Just…have a rag ready to clean up after yourself, I guess.
WAXING AND WANING
Another pet peeve concerns wax-based lubes suspended in a liquid carrier solution. This is a modern take on what is supposedly the ultimate dry lube you can apply to your chain: paraffin wax. Melting paraffin in a small vat, and bathing your chain in it, effectively seals the whole thing from water ingress, while giving a lubricating effect and naturally sloughing off dirt. That said, the whole process is pretty messy and requires removal of the chain from the bike, which is becoming a no-no with modern 11- and 12-speed drivetrains.
Wax-in-liquid-carrier lubes, then, are a way of reducing the faff and increasing the convenience of protecting your chain with paraffin. But do they work?
When I first ran one such lube, Squirt, it certainly felt like it was delivering on its benefits. However, as time went on, and more applications of the stuff made it onto my chain, I noticed it wasn’t keeping the chain as clean as it should be and I felt the chain getting draggy. Worse, it stubbornly clung onto the chain’s insides even after multiple passes through a degreaser-filled chain scrubber.
SO WHAT MAKES A GOOD CHAIN LUBE?
I don’t have the equipment required to measure friction within a chain as it runs through derailleur cages and cassette/chainring teeth. We can assume that they do their jobs of lubricating a chain, at least at the basic level. With all chain lubes set to the same bare minimum requirement, it’s actually living with the lube that will pretty much make or break it for me. If it does its job with the least amount of fuss and the most convenience, it’s gravy.
Which of the chain lubes I’ve tried has been gravy, in my experience?
- Tri-Flow Superior Soy (wet lube). Many a mechanic’s favorite, it just does its job without mess, and it’s pretty tenacious in foul weather. Additionally, it’s at least partially made from soybean oil – good for aspiring Greenpeace crusaders.
- Weldtite TF2 All-Weather (wet lube). This dark green liquid could pass off as Efficascent Oil, which is a favorite of masseuses and a popular home remedy. It’s a little more watery than Tri-Flow, but does just as good of a job. It can just about pass as the only lube you need.
- Muc-Off Bio Dry (dry lube). High profile due to their sponsorship of Team Sky, this is the most user-friendly lube I’ve ever had. The drip bottle feeds lube via a long, thin spout, flowing out milky white but with enough weight to it to make pinpoint application easy. Withstands a bit of rain, too.
- Finish Line Dry (dry lube). In terms of performance, it’s as good as Muc-Off, but it comes in the typical “stubby spouted drip bottle” form factor that many lubes do.