This post will offer a comparative overview of bicycle chain lubricants. It will include standard commercialy available lubricants that can be used for lubing bicycle chains, such as chainsaw bar oil, motor oil etc. It will also give comparison of lubricants sold and marketed as bicycle chain lubricants. They will be noted with a “B” letter in Table 1.
Detalined explanation of various lubricants’ characteristics is given in the post:
Bicycle chain lubricants – explained
Criteria upon which comparison is made is the following:
- Resistance to water wash off and rust protection.
- Durability – how long does it take between a re-lubrication is needed.
- Cleanliness – how well does it resist dirt and dust sticking onto the chain.
- Price – how affordable is it.
- Availability – how easy it is to find in small packages
Before the comparison table, a few important notes:
a) Lubricants sold as special bicycle chain lubes vary in price from one manufacturer to the other. They also vary in other criteria (cleanliness, durability etc.). That is why rates for lubricants with “B” mark should be taken with a reserve – they are given as a rough, average estimate.
b) Lubricants noted as dry lubricants, especially those sold as “bicycle chain dry lubes”, are often mixed with a solvent, so they can be easily applied to the chain by dripping, but the solvent evaporates completely after about 4 hours, leaving the chain dry.
c) Characteristics of “wet” (liquid) lubricants depend a lot on the lubricant’s “thickness” (viscosity). One same oil, if it is used thinned (less viscous) will not be as durable, but will attract a lot less dirt – and vice versa. It is explained in detail here. For comparison in this post, ISO VG 40 viscosity grade is compared, but it can be changed according to one’s preferences and riding conditions.
d) Mark 1 means the worst of the compared. For example – the most expensive, or most easily washed off by water etc. Mark 5 means the best of the compared. Mark 3 means somewhere in between the best and the worst, of course. So cleanliness of 5 doesn’t mean a lube doesn’t attract any dirt – just that it is (among) the cleanest of them all. The same applies to all the other criteria. For availability – mark 1 means it’s very hard to find in packages below 20 litres, while mark 5 means it is available in smaller, 100 ml packages and relatively widely available in stores and shops.
e) The comparison is more of a (rough) guide, than carved in stone scientific data. Riding conditions (temperature, rain, dust…), and characteristics of lubes from different manufacturers vary so much, that the only valid method is to test for oneself and see what suits best – according to personal prefferences, budget and needs. So, table 1 provides just a good starting point.
f) Do not use the average mark as a merit, but personal priorities. For example, as can be seen in table 1, chainsaw bar oil has the greatest average mark, but those who value chain cleanliness, or who ride in dry (and dusty) conditions wouldn’t use that for chain lubrication.
8 thoughts on “Comparative overview of bicycle chain lubricants”
hi, im from another country and in this place, people are “lazy” with the names.
What is exactly: paraffin oil?, hydraulic oil?
thank for answering
Hydraulic oil: mineral (or synthetic) oil based hydraulic fluid.
Paraffin oil: n-alkanes based mineral oil, also known as “kerosene” and “stove oil”.
You mention hydraulic oil. Does that mean that you can use the LHM (that i have watched you use in brakes) as a chain lubricant ? Does it also have lubricant properties ?
Total LHM Plus (not selling it 🙂 ) has excellent lubricating properties and offers good corrosion resistance.
Hi, quite confusing when you equalise Parrafin oil to Kerosene oil used for lubrication. I have seen a clip making wax lube better running by combining Paraffin wax with a little paraffin oil and i would like to know, if bothe are same, wherher Kerosene oil can be used in place of this paraffin oil? Kerosene oil which is rather used as a fuel oil (lamp oil) being an excellent cleaner of parts, washes out the grime and grease very easily and further more, it is said to contain very corrosive properties. So are both the same, am confused how such washing out and corrosive Kerosene can be used as a chain lube?
As far as I know, “kerosene” is a US term for “paraffin oil” used more widely in the UK.
English is not my native, so take this info with a grain of salt. 🙂
Greetings to Serbia from the Czech Republic.
I read your very interesting articles about chain maintanance and lubrication.
On Czech bike forums is the lubrication of chain a wide and never ending debate with many participants. Maybe because it’s one thing that everybody is able to do even when being totally clumsy and unskilful.
There is a number of cyclists here in CZ, who use motorcycle chain lubricants on their bicycle chains. Usually all possible sorts – universal, dry, wet, pure like Castrol O-R, enriched with PTFE or dissolved wax etc.
I have a question on you: Isn’t the way the moto lubes work the solution of the problem with the collecting of dust and dirt of standard oils (like chainsaw bar oil)?
The dissolved moto chain lube flows during aplication into the chain links, then the dissolver evaporates, and inside of the chain stays the sticky lube. Often later, when you touch the chain, the dried moto lube doesn’t make your fingers dirty.
Have you tested the moto lubes on your bike chains? And if, how are your thoughts about them?
Have nice and sunny summer holydays.
As you say, opinions on lubes are a can of worms. I try to provide comparable properties, and let everyone choose for themselves.
A colleague, a former cycling national team member (now an international referee) rides road bikes a lot. He’s been very happy with Motul motorcycle chain lube.
My opinion and experience is:
Motorcycle chain lubes are a bit more “tacky” (sticky) than I like.
Applying them using a spray is not very convenient and can get messy (though that’s avoidable with some rug and some caution).
My chains aren’t any cleaner when using “ordinary” oil.
But the lubes last a bit longer than ordinary oil.
So, apparently, they work great for some, and not that great for others. 🙂
On my motorcycle, I switched to Scottoiler a decade ago and never looked back.
It works by constantly dripping very little oil (that’s not too “thick”) on the rear chainring’s side. Very, very slowly, very little oil, but constantly – when the engine is working (uses a vacuum from the carbs feedback to dose it).
Since motorcycle chains spin very quickly, any excess oil, along with any dirt, gets flung off while you ride, and the fresh oil drips in.
A very small bottle lasts for thousands of kilometres.
And the chain is always perfectly clean and lubricated, making it last literally 5 times longer before it is worn and needs replacing.
Spray motorcycle chain lubes come nowhere near this.
For bicycles, extra complexity and weight of such a system are not practical.
Also, because of the low chain speed, the oil would need to be very “thin” (low viscosity) to provide a similar effect, but that would cause it to leak all over the drivetrain parts.
I think Scottoiller made some system for bicycles, but it didn’t catch on.