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The best bicycle chain lubricant

Often asked question (and debate) among cyclists, whether beginners, or experienced: “What is the best bicycle chain lube?”

  • Short answer: chainsaw bar oil, diluted with about 30 % of diesel (or odourless mineral spirits).
  • For those prepared to re-apply lube more often, even during one long ride, wax based lubricants are also an option.

Chan that is clean and lubricated lasts a lot longer.

How often should you clean and lubricate your chain (and other recommended bicycle service intervals)?

There are already several posts on bikegremlin website explaining the topic, but the question is still often asked and debated, so this gives the shortest possible answer to the “eternal” best bicycle chain lubricant question.

If this question is posed to a large number of experienced cyclists, many of them will give a different answer… and they will all probably be right! How come? Because there is no “best” bicycle chain lubricant – only an optimal choice for given riding conditions, maintenance schedule and riding styles. This sounds more complicated than it is, so now it will be explained.

Post about various types of bicycle chain lubricants gives detailed explanation, but here it will just be noted that:

  • Lubes that resist washout by rain usually also attract a lot of dirt, and vice-versa – “clean” lubes are easily washed off by water.
  • For the above noted reason, lubricants that perform well in the rain are usually appalling for sand and dusty riding conditions.
  • Lubricants that are long lasting and don’t have to be re-applied every 50 kilometers usually attract a lot of dirt and make chain cleaning more difficult.
  • Lubes that perform wonderfully in the summer heat will not be as good in the freezing weather – and vice-versa.

In addition to that:

  • Single speed bicycles (with only one chainring at the front and back) can work fine with a very dirty chain – there are no tightly packed chainrings and there’s no derailleur shifting the chain from one chainring to the next.
  • Some cyclists hate cleaning the chain often. Some don’t like worrying about re-applying lube too often. Some value a clean chain very much. The types are not mutually exclusive, on top of that. 🙂

Is it now clearer why it is hard to give a universal answer to this question? Road bicycle ridden on pavement to relatively long rides will require different lubricant than an MTB that is ridden on dusty mountain roads, or through mud.

Decent, “universal” solution was given at the beginning of this post: diluted chainsaw bar oil. The thicker it is, the longer it will last and resist rain washout better, but attract more dirt – and, again, vice-versa for thinned down oil. Lubricants sold as “bicycle chain” ones, are often just an expensive package for the afore mentioned mix, or something similar.

For those willing to experiment and find an optimal lubricant for their riding style/environment, habits (how often they clean and lube the chain etc.) and preferences, it is worth looking into the following posts:

Clicking on an image below leads to the Amazon on-line shopping. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

For those insisting on clean chain, who don’t mind to re-lubricate often:

White Lighting - Clean Ride Wax based chain lubricant. Not very durable (in the rain), but very clean.
White Lighting – Clean Ride
Wax based chain lubricant. Not very durable (in the rain), but very clean. Apply first to a 100% clean and dry chain, then re-apply as needed.

Simple and cheap solution is chainsaw bar oil, from a local shop, or from Amazon (any will do, this is just an example):

Makita chain saw bar oil. Dilute with diesel if lower viscosity is needed.
Makita chain saw bar oil. Dilute with diesel if lower viscosity is needed.

The existing comments posted under this article (questions and answers) have been moved to this BikeGremlin forum thread:

14 thoughts on “The best bicycle chain lubricant”

  1. Hi Relja,

    “did you completely clean and degrease the chain”
    Yes, in a multi-step process. The chain was clean and dry, for sure.
    Probable I did not clean the wax from the outside thoroughly enough, but let it harden for full 24 hours. Maybe the natural paraffin candle (not scented, not coloured) was not good for the purpose, because I was not satisfied with the results.
    But that times gone, I will not buy a new Powerlink for each and every waxing.

    Perhaps I could try a paraffin wax – paraffin oil – xylene mixture for on-bike waxing.

    There are some comparative tests published on this topic. I think in this case the different lubricants should be applied different way during the test to get comparable results. If somebody run a 10000 km test after one initial lubrication, or apply different lubes with the same frequency then the results will be far from what can be expected in the real life. The real life usage patterns should be also simutated.
    Also two aspects should be compared: “speed” and chain longevity.


    • I really think chain lubrication it’s a matter of preference.
      Some people have a wicked obcession about having a clean chain.
      Other’s want minimal wear and lower drag.
      Some really hate cleaning the chain…

      I’m ok with spending 60 seconds on chain maintenance whenever I ride. And the thought of using degreaser on chain sends chills down my spine😂

  2. Relja,
    I would also be interested in your opinion on thick silicone oil diluted with disc brake cleaner.

  3. when it comes to bike chains all methods need matinence,all chains need cleaning at some point,i tried waxes,too expensive too messy and wax does not protect from rust,grease is too messy and attracts too much dirt,thin mineral oils give the smoothest result for me,i have been using a fine basic household mineral oil,i clean my chains with a rag dipped in thinners only,no need to be overly fussy about a chain as they are still going to wear no matter what you do and chains are pretty cheap.just keep them oiled and rolling.

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