Bike Chain Lube – Why Is It Important

The importance of chain lube

Most modern bike chains have O-ring seals or X-rings and other fancy rubbery rings to keep all the grease inside the chain’s pins.

The non-sealed chains found on smaller bikes need lubricating. However, is bike chain lube needed on the bigger bikes?

The truth is, if you want to extend your chain’s lifespan or minimize its wear and tear, then you’ll need to lubricate it. Bike chain lube helps reduce the wear between the sprocket and chain, protects against corrosion, and reduces stretch.

Most bike chains already have their grease inside them, and lube isn’t there to change any of that. Chain lube protects the O-rings and ensures the factory grease already inside the chain doesn’t escape. The truth is that bike chain lube is essential since it helps extend the chain’s life.

In this article, we’ll look at a few reasons you should consider using a bike chain lube.

Top Reasons Why Bike Chain Lube Is Important

Bike chains are designed to transfer power from the bike’s pedals to its drivetrain wheels.

It’s typically made of metal and features moving parts like pins, rollers, and plates. Chain lube generally helps the chain last longer and perform better. Here are a few reasons why you need to use chain lube. 

1. Extends The Chain’s Lifespan

Metal-on-metal friction is usually a considerable bike chain problem. Dry chains wear out way faster. Chain lube helps reduce the rubbing of rollers. It, in turn, allows the plates to work more effectively.

You also have to remember the friction between the bike chain and the crank rings and cassette. Dirt makes metal wear out faster, so you need always to ensure the chain is clean at all times. Regular bike chain maintenance will help save you some money and increase your chain’s life three times. 

2. Protects The Chain From Environmental Conditions 

chain lube protection

Most riding environments will work against your bike’s chain. Sand, mud, and dirt will increase both wear and friction. Climate salt, snow, and rain can also cause it to rust faster. After taking a ride in the rain, it’ll only take you a week to start noticing rust.

Chain lube protects the chain from corrosion, and that’s why you need to lube the chain after such rides (use wet lubrication for wet conditions and dry lubrication for sunny and dry conditions). Lube also helps deflect abrasive contaminants. When you apply lubrication to your bike chain, you’ll help restore the chain and reduce the impact of environmental factors. 

3. Reduce Chain Noise 

When a bike chain gets dry, it starts getting noisy. When the chain becomes louder, it’s telling you it’s dry. With that said, some bike chain lubes cause the bike chain to start squeaking after they dry out.

When you’re done with your ride, use your finger to check how dry or lubricated the chain is. Using your finger is the easiest way to determine how dirty, wet or dry the chain is. Clean the chain and use lube to reduce any chain noise. 

4. Better Shifting

Shifting is a leading performance key factor. Issues that arise because of bad shifting will reduce the bike’s efficiency and make it slower. A dry chain can be one of those issues. If you check your chain and find that it’s not lubricated enough, apply chain lube to restore it to its optimal shape. 

5. Watts Savings

Chains that are completely dry consume around 20-Watts at 35-Kph. After you lubricate the chain, it’ll consume only about 5 to 10-Watts. When the bike chain becomes dirty and dry, on average, it’ll add about 5 to 10-Watts.

Lube allows the chain to stay in tip-top condition and saves energy. A fresh chain will roll smoother and faster. There are very many different lubes on the market to choose from.

Types Of Bike Chain Lube 

There are several different kinds of bike-specific chain lube out there, including wax lubes, ceramic lubes, dry lubes, and wet lubes.

Each of them has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Most lubes have synthetic oils and friction-reducing components like Teflon (PTFE). Anyway, here are some of the different types of lube for bikes.

1. Dry Lube 

dry lube

Dry lubes are designed for dry conditions, hence the name. They’re typically made up of about 10-percent additives and synthetic oils and are 90-percent carrier fluid.

Dry lubes, which are low viscosity lubricants, provide greater efficiency by repelling abrasive contaminants and lower friction. Their one significant disadvantage is that puddles and rain can easily wash it off. Zero Fiction Cycling suggests that dry chain lubes often look cleaner because they don’t have enough actual lubricant.

2. Wet Lube 

wet lubrication

Wet lubes are generally for wet conditions, although you can use them all year round. They contain higher quantities of viscosity synthetic oils and additives like PTFE. There’s more actual lube per/ml in wet chain lubes, and the oils increased viscosity means they can last longer and can’t be easily washed off by puddles or rain.

However, these same properties can also be a disadvantage. How, you ask? Well, the wet lube can turn the chain into a magnet of grime and dirt, mainly if you apply a lot of it. Furthermore, extra lube viscosity also translates to lower bike efficiency because of the added viscous friction. Use this kind of lube sparingly if you want it to work well.

3. Ceramic Lubes

Ceramic lubes have grown in popularity over the last couple of years. Manufacturers have bold claims of how it can increase bike performance. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t always clear what’s inside this lube or why they’re better than the other types of lube in the market.

Much-Off, one of the top dry and wet ceramic lube manufacturers, says that the ceramic lube it produces has small ceramic particles designed to reduce friction. The synthetic oils and additives in regular wet and dry chain lube can’t do this and their tiny ceramic particles.

Okay, yes, ceramic lubes might be a bit pricier than their counterparts, but the decreased friction it helps bring about will save you money in the long run because of the increased drivetrain longevity it leads to. However, ZFC says there’s limited publicly available information about ceramic lubricants and whether they provide what they claim they do.

4. Wax Lubes 

lube in wheel

Paraffin wax-based chain lubes have also become very popular over the last couple of years. Independent research and testing have helped show how well they do in the longevity, efficiency, and contaminant resistant aspects. The wax-based chain usually lubes a blend of highly refined wax components mixed with additives like carrier fluid and PTFE.

Some of the popular wax lubes out there include Squirt and Smoove, which are both very effective wax-based lubes. The key to why these kinds of lubes perform so well is that it settles and forms an almost dry, hard layer of low friction lube on the bike chain when you apply it correctly.

This increased dryness is essential because it helps repel friction-increasing contaminants that stick to the bike chain and work there to the coating of the drivetrain parts or into the chain’s internals.

However, one of the main disadvantages of wax-based lubes is that they usually need you to clean your chain before applying it thoroughly. If you don’t, the lube will not stick to the chain, nor will it dry out properly.

What About Grease?

We’ve added this section because we want to advise you not to use grease to lube your bike chain. While grease is suitable for threads and bearings, it will not get to the tiny gaps between the pins and rollers where the lube needs to go because it’s just too thick.

It’ll also produce a much higher viscous friction and attract all the grime, dirt, and grit you collide with during your ride. Unless you’re planning to ride your bike underwater, you might want to consider staying clear of using grease as a lube.

Do Aerosol Lubes Work?

lube spray

Some chain lubes come in the form of aerosols. But, they might not be the best option for bike chains because it’s hard to apply them precisely.

The risk of getting chain lube on the bike’s brake rotors/track, or worse still, the brake pads, is way higher than when you use drip lubes. It is not something you want to happen because it can negatively impact brake performance. 

Conclusion

As things stand right now, wax-based lubes are king. The efficiency and cleanliness help make them the clear top options.

The difference between a bad and good chain lube, according to ZFC, can comfortably amount to around 5 to 10-Watts at about a 250-Watt load. That being said, there’s not such a clear winner for wet conditions, but wax-based lubes still work very well in these conditions as well.

The only problem with this is that you’ll have to thoroughly clean your bike after the ride in the rain before applying this type of chain lube. If that’s something you find too cumbersome to do, then you might need to go the wet lube route, which is also not bad at all.

Hopefully, now you know all you need to know about bike chain lube and how important they are. Don’t deny your bike chain the benefits of chain lube.

References

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