What is the best bicycle bearing grease? Which type of grease to choose for bicycle bearings?

The Best Bicycle Bearing Grease

Updated: 27/01/2019.

What is the best bicycle bearing grease? In this post, a recommendation for bicycle bearings grease will be given. For detailed explanation of various types of greases, as well as recommendation of grease for extreme riding conditions, look at this (long) post: Bicycle bearing greases – explained

The mentioned (linked) post gives explanation why, by author’s experience and opinion, grease recommended in this post is the optimal choice (i.e. the best considering all the criteria, including the price).

Related posts are explaininig: Bicycle hub overhaul procedure and Bicycle bearing types and designs. Separate post deals with mounting (anti seize) pastes – not to be mixed with greases.

1. What is the best bicycle bearing grease and how to choose it?

There is often a debate among the cyclists and mechanics about what grease is the best for bicycle bearings. Some swear by “old axle grease that my (grand)father used to use…” Others recommend silicone, teflon, graphite etc. greases. After a lot of reading, researching and experimenting, the conclusion is the following (this is autor’s personal opinion, based on knowledge and experience so far):

Ordinary lithium grease (i.e. lithium soap based grease).

Dirt intrusion is the nemesis of bicycle bearings. Even worse than water intrusion. That is why it’s important to clean and re-lube bearings regularly – once, or twice a year (depending on riding conditions and mileage). Grease quality is less important – bicycle bearings don’t take much load and with enough dirt inside, even the best grease is useless.

2. Which lithium grease to use?

Grease label usually says “Lithium grease”, with, or without “Multi-purpose”. There is often a number of NLGI grease hardness, for bicycles it should be “2”, sometimes noted as “NLGI 2“.

This should be enough not to make a mistake. If there’s also written “complex” besides the “Lithium” note, or letters “EP”, that, except for a higher price, will not do any harm (nor much good either, at least for bicycle bearing lubrication).

Multipurpose lithium soap based grease, of NLGI 2 hardness grade
Multipurpose lithium soap based grease, of NLGI 2 hardness grade

3. How to decipher labels of various standards on grease packages?

Following advice from the previous paragraph, one can’t go wrong. However, those who want to be absolutely sure (and have no problems with noting important marks before going shopping) can read the following (shortest possible) instructions for deciphering standards’ labels.

Grease label usually has (often on the back) ISO, DIN, or both standard labels. They note which specifications the grease meets. How to read them?

3.1. ISO label

For bicycle bearing grease, label should be like this (bold is necessary, the rest can be one of the explained options):

ISO 6743-9, L-XCCEA-2

  • ISO 6743-9: this is the name of the standard by which the label is given. 6743-9 is standard for classification of grease characteristics.
  • L is ISO label for all the lubricants, while X is the label for greases. If there are no “L-X” letters, the product probably isn’t a grease.
  • Instead of each letter C, there can be B, D, E, F, or G. It doesn’t matter. They are sorted from slightly worse than C (B), over slightly better (D), to the best possible (G). These letters mark highest and lowest (respectively) working temperature of a grease. The “better” a mark, the lower is the lowest and the higher is the highest operating temperature. For bicycle bearing lubrication, even BB will do.
  • Letter E marks corrosion and water washout resistance. Instead of E, there can be F, G, H, I, or J – sorted from slightly better (F), to the best possible (J). E is the minimum required (and perfectly fine) for bicycle bearing lubricants.
  • Instead of the letter A, there can also be letter B. It is not preferable, but won’t do any harm in practice. B marks presence of EP additives. These additives help grease bear extreme pressures and are completely unnecessary for bicycle bearing lubrication.
  • The last mark notes the grease’s hardness (“thickness”), by NLGI standard grade. NLGI 2 grade is optimal for bicycle bearings. The rest are either too soft, or too hard. That’s why it has to be number 2.

Full, and rather long explanation of ISO 6743-9 standard labels and their meanings.

3.2. DIN label

If there is no ISO label, look for a DIN label (bold is necessary):

DIN 51502, K2K-30

  • DIN 51502 is the name of the standard that classifies grease characteristics. Instead of 51502 there can also be 51825.
  • K means it’s a roller bearing grease. Only such greases should be considered.
  • 2 is NLGI grade hardness. All other are either too soft, or too hard for the application.
  • After the first letter “K”, and before the number “2”, there can be some of the following letters (all the letters mark that grease has synthetic oils in it, which doesn’t do any harm, except that such greases usually cost more): E, FK, HC, PH, PG, SI, or X.
  • Same, after the first letter “K”, and before the number “2”, there can also be letters P, or F. They note additives to the grease. They don’t do any help, nor harm (except for raising the grease price).
  • Mark after thickness grade number, in this example it is a letter K, notes resistance to corrosion and water washout and highest operating temperature. Acceptable labels are also: G, N, P, R, S, T and U.
  • Finally, minimal operating temperature in degrees Celsius is noted. -30 represents -30 °C. Here -20 is also fine, unless riding in colder than -15 °C.

Full, long explanation of DIN 51502 standard labels and their meaning.

4. Short guide for grease shopping

Table 1 shows a list of required marks for ISO and DIN standards. Desirable values are listed from the minimum required (top), then respectively to the best possible (bottom).

  • Marks in brackets “()” usually mark EP additives, that a bicycle bearing grease is better off without, but they do no harm.
  • With DIN standard, marks with a gray background may not be present at all.
  • Bolded marks are exceptionally good values (all below are even better), marked just for reference, because any of the listed are perfectly good for the application.
  • For DIN standard, same mark defines both highest operating temperature and water resistance.
  • For detailed explanation of marks, see Grease labeling according to standards.
ISO and DIN labels a grease for bicycle bearings should have on the package.
ISO and DIN labels acceptable for a bicycle bearings grease
Table 1

Here are a few examples of perfectly “good labels” in both standards:

  • ISO 6763-9, L-XBBEA2  – minimum required, NLGI 2 hardness, with decent water washout resistance and operating temperature range.
  • ISO 6763-9, L-XDCIB2 – works in low temperatures down to -40 degrees Celsius (“D”), has exceptional water washout resistance (“I”) and EP additives (“B”).
  • DIN 51502, K2K-20 – NLGI 2 hardness, decent water washout resistance and maximum operating temperature (“K”), no noted EP additives, minimal operating temperature of -20 degrees Celsius (“-20”).
  • DIN 51502, KP2N-30 – EP additives (“P”), NLGI 2 hardness, high operating temperature and excellent water washout resistance (“N”), minimal working temperature of -30 degrees Celsius (“-30”).

5. Exception

For coaster brake hubs (hub brakes) – good choice are greases that can withstand high temperatures (generated when braking). Lithium-complex soap based greases, or (if not sparing money, or they are already at hand) – lithium complex with molybdenum disulfide (MoS2).

6. Author’s recommendations

Author’s recommendation of greases from Amazon.com on-line shop is listed below (clicking on an image leads to the Amazon on-line shopping website). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Note: listed greases are the ones I could find that are of good quality and with a world-wide distribution. Feel free to look for cheaper, locally available options. My 1st choice is local, Serbian made FAM FORPLEX 2 grease.

Mobil XHP 222 lithium complex soap grease. High quality grease for long term bicycle bearings protection and lubrication.
Mobil XHP 222 lithium complex soap grease. High quality grease for long term bicycle bearings protection and lubrication.
Mobil SHC 220 lithium complex soap based grease with a synthetic base oil. It has a wide temperature range - suitable for extreme cold (from -30 C) and extreme heat. Great quality at somewhat higher price.
Mobil SHC 220 lithium complex soap based grease with a synthetic base oil. It has a wide temperature range – suitable for extreme cold (from -30 C) and extreme heat. Great quality at somewhat higher price.

Related post – Types and designs of bicycle bearings:

Types and designs of bearings used for bicycles
Types and designs of bearings used for bicycles
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6 thoughts on “The Best Bicycle Bearing Grease”

  1. I’m doing this bike repair / maintenance, and to practice we’re removing the wheel bearings. But there’s nothing wrong with them initially, after refit they never rotate the way they did previously. The original grease is thick and tan coloured, like some types of automotive grease. But they have bought this ‘bike grease’ and it’s this red coloured liquidy stuff, and I think it must be the wrong grease as its weight and viscosity is entirely different from what the bikes were built with. Also we don’t have clean anything to wipe the bearings with. I think those two factors are why the refited bikes get nowhere near the right spin on the wheels, but I know nothing about this subject, I know about cars and I base this on that knowledge. Is there anything else that’d cause the refitted wheels to not spin right (besides wrong grease and dirt)?

    Reply
    • Factory grease, if older, could be a bit dried out, so that may be the reason the old grease is thicker. Having said this, bike grease should not be liquid, it should be of a peanut butter viscosity (or Nutella cream viscosity 🙂 ).

      Old grease, if not completely removed, in case it is incompatible with the new one, could cause the grease leaking.

      However, of the causes that come to mind for wheels not spinning nicely, I’d first check brakes and wheel alignment, see if there’s something in the frame creating drag.

      Finally, getting the right pre-load when assembling bearings could cause the wheels to spin harder, or develop play. This post explains the proper procedure for wheel bearings servicing:

      http://www.bike.bikegremlin.com/2016/09/29/hub-overhaul/

  2. Hi Relja, happy to see that I can access the English version of your web again! It seemed to be down a few days ago.
    I see that recommend the regular lithium grease. Sounds good, a lot cheaper than “special bike grease” sold in small containers, 50-100 ml for up to 10 euros or more.
    I have noticed that many bike shops use white grease, they claim that it is more water resistance. Not really worth the extra money in your opinion, I guess.

    And slightly off-topic but related, I would love to know your opinion on wax chain lube like Squirt for example.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Yes, it was down for about 2 hours – my fault. Didn’t update all the SSL/TLS certificates properly when migrating it – and set it to not allow connection without proper TLS/SSL encryption.

      As for bicycle chain lubricants, it depends on one’s preferences and priorities. The way based ones are cleaner. Though not very long lasting. Haven’t tried “Squirt” – they claim it’s long lasting.

      I wrote a few articles on that topic if that helps:

      Details, pros and cons of various types of bicycle chain lubricants
      Comparative overview of various bicycle chain lubricants

      Though it’s probably best to test for yourself and see what suits you best. I’m not a big fan of wax based lubricants (easily displaced and too easily washed out by water). But if cleanliness is a high priority, then they are a good choice. Same goes for riding in dry and sandy/dusty areas.

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