Home » Basics » Best for bicycle » The best bicycle chain lubricant

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.

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.

13 thoughts on “The best bicycle chain lubricant”

  1. Great site, when I am in trouble and don’t know what part to choose, I go to you, thanx.

    I am looking for chainsaw oil and I see a lot of ‘bio’ oils that are advertised as bio-degradable and based on plant oils.

    I suppose that for lubricating my bike chain I need to buy a mineral oil based chainsaw oil and not a ‘bio’ oil?

    Reply
  2. I think findig the ultimate chain lubricant is almost like finding the Holy Grail. I read your 3 articles on this topic and found them to be among the most comprehensive honest and sober-minded ones on the net. I have some more practical questions.
    (Why) Do you think diluted chainsaw bar oil is better than simple common (sewing) machine oil? Maybe because you can freely set up its thickness/viscosity as you wish? Won’t the oil paint thinner ruin the paint on the frame or the carbon itself? I am looking for “clean” lube, makes me no problem to reapply after all rides (~150 km) if it attracts no dirt. What do you think about thin (ISO VG 10, 15, 22) hydraulic oils?

    Reply
    • Hi Jani,

      Some interesting questions. 🙂

      Paint damage?
      As far as I know, most bike paints aren’t oil-based – so they can’t be damaged with oil-based mineral spirits or paint thinners.
      Also, for all I could test – after an oil paint has completely dried, paint thinner is useless.
      EDIT: to avoid any misunderstanding (just in case), nitro based paint thinners are not as harmless, especially with oil-based paint.

      Chainsaw bar oil?
      It’s sticky, stays in place.
      Mineral spirits allow it to become very “light” and reach the inside of the chain (perhaps even help with some dirt-wash out), then they partially evaporate, leaving the more persistent lubricant in place.
      Also, I like being able to get the viscosity right – depending on the temperature and the riding conditions.

      There’s nothing really wrong with sewing machine oil.

      Hydraulic oils?
      They are OK.
      I use Total LHM Plus for Shimano hydraulic brakes, but it costs several times more than chainsaw bar oil, so that’s the main reason why I don’t use it on chains.
      But I don’t think it’s any worse in practice – might even be argued it’s a bit better in terms of dirt accumulation.

      Perfect lubricant?
      Yes – it could be argued that it doesn’t exist.
      Depending on the riding conditions and the maintenance schedule, choices may differ.

      Clean lubricant?
      Wax-based ones, like “White Lightning Clean Ride” (Amazon affiliate link), are as good as it gets – but I’m far from happy with the prices (especially taking Serbian import taxes into consideration).

      Relja

  3. > I use Total LHM Plus for Shimano hydraulic brakes, but it costs several times more than chainsaw bar oil, so that’s the main reason why I don’t use it on chains.

    In Greece, LHM are comparable more or less (but not so easily found). Per litre bottle:
    * Engine Oil, Gear Oil, ATF: 3€+. Usually 3-5€ and found everywhere.
    * Chainsaw oil costs 5€ for brand names like Makita, Husqvarna and 3€ for noname (VG10, 30, 100 all cost pretty much the same).
    * Sewing machine oil costs 12€ for Singer and 5,5€ for noname.
    * LHM costs 4 – 12€ depenging on brand with Total LHM Plus costing 6,5€

    Reply
  4. Relja,
    Thank you for detailed answer.

    Oil paint tinner
    The most common one (here in Hungary) consists of linseed oil and white spirit. I think the white spirit is the essence from our point of view.

    “reach the inside of the chain (perhaps even help with some dirt-wash out), then they partially evaporate, leaving the more persistent lubricant in place”
    I tried this effect with thick silicon oil diluted with disc brake tinner. I am not fully sure that the most of the mixture did not flow out as it flowed in. Anyhow, it was VERY slippery on the floor of my flat, I almost have broken my neck. Certainly I have wiped the chain right after I applied the lube. After the spirit fully evaporated – very quickly – the thick oil which remained inside still leaked out during the ride and attracted lots of dirt.

    “Total LHM Plus for Shimano hydraulic brakes”
    I mean no bike-specific, since they are way more expensive than they should be. E.g. shock absorber oils SA 15 costs 5 EUR and HME 10 costs 4,5 EUR per litre and non-bike-specific LHM is also similar, including the world champion Hungarian VAT. They are very thin, therefore I think should be clean.

    Wax-based ones
    I used to apply molten wax bath on my old 8 gear chan, on which the speed link was reusable. Indeed, the chain was not oily but still covered by dry dirty wax, and also the gears, pulleys and even the chain fork. They were harder to clean than if they had been oilly. The paraffine wax I used may not have been hard enough. I am afraid the (harder) wax would easily flake away from 11 gear chain especially 1x one. Also, I think if I started waxing, then I could not easily convert back to oiling, since wax is rather difficult to remove without a trace.

    jani
    (A system analyst, who also enjoy analysing and understanding things similarly to you. Thanks for discussion.)

    Reply
    • disc brake tinner => cleaner
      speed link => Powelink

      paying no attention to typos

    • Hi Jani,

      Thanks for the detailed feedback.

      Out of curiosity: when trying the wax as a chain lube, did you completely clean and degrease the chain before first applying it?
      I’m not a huge fan of wax-based lubes, but I know that’s recommended by most wax-based chain lubricant users and manufacturers – to start with a completely clean and bone-dry drivetrain.
      It’s also recommended to clean any wax on the outside of the chain.
      Finally – let it cure overnight, if possible, not start riding right after applying the lubricant.

      It’s quite a hassle, and I’m not sure it’s worth the time and the effort, but I do plan to make a primitive comparison test of a wax-based lube vs the chainsaw bar oil and note the differences in chain durability, re-lubrication intervals, and cleanliness.

      It would be interesting to prove myself wrong about doubting the wax-based lubes. 🙂

      Of course, I intend to exclude the winter months from the testing, since that would be totally unfair towards the wax-based lubes (salty, winter roads). And I plan to use a commercially available “White Lightening Clean Ride” – since it’s my understanding that lube is “generally accepted” as a “high-quality wax-based chain lubricant.”

      Relja

  5. I tried wax and wax based lubes. They don’t wear that long, they still require cleaning and I don’t think they lubricate as much as oil.

    I clean my chain using engine oil. I like to use hydraulic fluid on the chain.

    I once used sintetic wood floor wax as lube… It was as good as a dedicated bike lube, if not better.

    Reply
  6. 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.

    Regards,
    Jani

    Reply
    • 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😂

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

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Paulo Cancel reply

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


Google chosen content: