Bicycle Maintenance: Chain Lubrication 101

Bicycle Maintenance: Chain Lubrication 101

  • Bicycle Maintenance
Bicycle Maintenance: Chain Lubrication 101


One of the major indications that you need to improve the condition of your cycle is a squeaky chain or rust formation on the drive train and moving parts. The first solution that might come to mind to lubricate a chain might be to use products such as WD40 or oil. While this might work on some metal parts of your cycle, using these on your chain is a definite no.

Before we explain what to use and what not to use to lubricate your chain and transmission, letÌ¢åÛåªs start with answering some basic questions.

How does chain lubrication help your cycle?

Despite what you might think, chain lubrication actually helps improve your ride in more ways than one.

1. Ensures smooth moving parts. This results in silent movement of the chain over the cassette and chain wheel. This is the primary reason youÌ¢åÛåªd want to lubricate your chain. Who likes squeaky chains anyway? Besides smooth moving parts also means it is that much more ideal to ride fast.

2. Prevents rust. Lubricants pretty much form a really really thin layer over the parts itÌ¢åÛåªs used on. This helps prevent rust from forming and increases the life of the components.

3. Reduces wear and tear. As mentioned above, the lubricant forms a layer over the components. This prevents direct metal to metal contact which in turn reduces damage caused by friction.

What are the different types of lubricants (lubes)?

Dry: Dry Lubes are used when the riding conditions are predominantly dry and dusty. The lubricant itself sets up in a dry state even though it might be more on the liquid side at the time of application. The major disadvantage of Dry lubes is that they wash off very easily even with the slightest of rains. They are most effective when the chain is allowed to set for a few hours before the ride once lubricated.

Wet: Wet Lubes, as the name suggests, are ideal for wet conditions. They are traditionally oil based lubes which form a protective film that repels water unlike Dry Lubes. However, the downside to Wet Lubes is that they accumulate dust and gunk very very easily when riding in dry and dusty conditions.

What's not a lube: WD40

WD40 is a water-displacing, rust-removing solvent. While its composition does contain a small amount of lubricant, this works more for metal hinges like doors and windows. A bicycle chain moves much faster and requires much more lubrication. In fact WD40, being a degreaser, removes the lube from your chain hence causing more harm than good. However, one way it can be used is to clean the chain BEFORE lubricating it.

How to lubricate your chain:

HereÌ¢åÛåªs a step-by-step guide to lubricating your bicycle chain.

This is what you need: 2 pieces of old cloth or rags, soap water and a lubricant

1. Prepare your surroundings.

If this is your first time, chances are things will get messy with the dirt, water and lubricant. It will definitely help to spread some newspapers around if youÌ¢åÛåªre doing this indoors.

2. Wet the cloth.
Take one of the cloths and dampen it with soap water. The reason you're doing this is because a damp cloth will be able to clean off more than a dry cloth.

3. Clean the chain.
While holding the wet cloth around the chain, pedal backward to run the entire chain through the cloth a couple of times. You can also use WD40 to remove the dirt and grease on it. This ought to clean up the chain well and prepare it for the lubricant.

4. Lubricate.
Apply the lubricant on each of the links on the chain. This can be done while rotating the pedal backwards like in the previous step. The part you're aiming for is the pin on each link. (Look at the diagram to understand better)

5. Wipe off excess.
Use the other dry cloth to wipe off any excess lubricant on the chain. We do this so because extra lubricant can attract dust particles which can accumulate and harm the chain and cassette. Once this is complete, your cycle is good to go.

You can even watch this video to understand better.

How often should you lube your chain?

The answer to this relies completely on you. It depends on the frequency of your rides and the length of your rides. There are people who lubricate once or twice a month, and there are those who lubricate after 10-15 hours of riding. Whatever floats your boat. You will be able to tell if the bicycle needs lubrication just by riding it or listening out for the moving parts.

While thatÌ¢åÛåªs how you can tell if your bicycle needs lubricating, an easy way to tell if youÌ¢åÛåªre over doing it is to watch out for the formation of whatÌ¢åÛåªs called Ì¢åÛå÷gunkÌ¢åÛåª. This is basically a mixture of excess lubricant and dirt.

So that pretty much wraps up all the basics you need to know about bicycle chain lubrication. Remember, using lubricants might be a small investment now but it is certainly going to make you happy and save you a lot of money in the long run.

By Satish Narayanan

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