Whilst you might think the wheels of your bike would bear the brunt of riding, it’s actually the chain, or the whole drive chain system, that takes the biggest beating. It’s constantly under pressure, and pretty much always in motion.
The hundreds of plates, links, and rollers that comprise a bicycle chain boast more moving mechanisms than an entire bike in general. Keeping them all properly lubricated is imperative to maintaining your bike and overall riding performance.
A chain can’t function properly unless it is exposed, so it’s impossible to fully protect it from adverse weather or other environmental messes that might impair your riding efficiency or bring you to a halt altogether.
So how best can you take care of it?
Lubing The Chain: When To Do It?
Do you ride your bike every day, regularly throughout the week, or on a consistent basis?
If yes, then you should absolutely be not just lubing, but thoroughly cleaning your bike’s drivechain, ideally after every ride but at the very least once a month. This will ensure you are always riding at your best, not wasting your time by exerting unnecessary energy.
You’ll also be much safer when your chain is properly lubed - even if you’re wearing a helmet, you still don’t want to fall off!
Should you experience difficult riding conditions, like heavy rain or significant mud and dirt in your path, it’s worth re-lubing your chain as soon as the ride is over.
This will make sure there’s no opportunity for rust or corrosion in between cycling trips.
With all that said, you should also listen out for any unusual sounds during your commute or exercise. A noisy chain is usually a dry chain, especially if the links are binding at all, and that means it’s lube time.
Trust your gut and lube freely!
The Importance Of A Properly Lubricated Bike
Primarily, lubing your bike chain prevents the issue of friction, stopping the metal rollers, plates, and links from grinding against each other.
Too much time spent unlubricated and wearing down will quickly render your chain useless.
Moreover, the lubrication oil creates a thick layer of protection, like a coating, for your whole drivechain. Whilst it won’t entirely prevent environmental damage, it certainly stands in the way and reduces the impact of water, mud, and salt on your bike.
If you don’t want your peaceful, cathartic bike ride to be interrupted by an incredibly annoying squeak, you should stay on top of lubing. Otherwise, the whole movement system is likely to sound like a very poorly tuned orchestra.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though? A well-lubricated chain ensures optimum performance for every cyclist, from amateur to professional. Control your own destiny and keep that chain lubed up good!
When it comes to dry versus wet lube, you’ll find that it comes down to personal preference and individual bikes. Wet lubes can be applied less frequently, but will pick up more dirt than their dry counterparts.
Dry lubes apply ‘wet’ and quickly evaporate to create a lubricating layer, usually a combination of ceramic, Teflon and/or wax. They’re great at keeping you dirt free and smoothly riding in good conditions, but not very dependable in the rain.
Lubing For Beginners
First things first, the biggest tip I can give you is this: lube in moderation. All bikes are different, and you will eventually work out the perfect routine for yours with a degree of trial and error, but little and often is the key here.
You might want to apply some degreaser before you start. Again, this will depend on how regularly you clean your bike; you don’t want an overly-polished chain, as this will prevent the lubrication you’re trying to achieve!
If you’ve degreased, then be sure to sluice down the chain with water and completely dry before you move on to any next steps. Failure to rinse off then dry leaves grime AND water behind, minimizing the performance of your lube.
Those who clean and lube regularly will find that wiping the chain thoroughly with a dry cloth or rag is sufficient. Others like to scrub down to the nitty-gritty with a toothbrush before they’re ready for oil, it simply depends on how thorough you are.
Apply one drop for every link of the chain, or ‘roller’ - the piece that separates each pair of inner plates, which are connected by rivets - and gently back pedal the chain so the whole drivechain system moves.
This ensures even lube distribution!
Many will tell you to wait a while after lubing before you next saddle up, and it is advisable. A dry lube needs a couple of hours to settle, wet lubes less so; I’d suggest doing your lubing the night before you intend to head out.
Forward thinking works!
What To Avoid
When it comes to picking out a good lubricating oil for your chain, mineral-based formulas that have been purposely produced for use with bicycles and their various parts are your best bet. You can find them online or in any bike shop.
Though it may be your first thought, a household oil spray like WD40 is going to have the opposite effect of your intentions and actually dry out your chain. Its formula is far too thin to successfully lubricate at all. Avoid entirely, it isn’t worth the risk!
Motor oils - the kinds you’d use in a car, truck or other motorized vehicles - will be far too thick for use on your humble bike chain. As a result, the oil won’t penetrate the train deeply enough for the desired effect, and will probably just make a mess.
Vegetable oils are another no-go, as these will very quickly become gummy and actually slow up the movement of your drivechain system.
Think of it like applying a big old layer of paste to the chain - you just wouldn’t do it!
If you’ve just gotten a new chain, you won’t need to apply lube. Chances are, it’s already been applied prior to packaging, and will be good to go without the need for degreaser or lube.
Just a wipe down of the chain itself should have you good to go.