Wet lubes – good for the wet season – require frequent maintenance but last longer. On the other hand, dry lubes are suited to the dry seasons and require less maintenance but you will have to apply them every week.
If there is an emergency, you can use silicon spray or clipper oil as dry lube; and 3-in-1 or chainsaw oil as wet lube alternatives.
Let’s dig deeper and see what options there are to keep your bike high-performing all year round. Find What Can You Use to Lube Your Bike Chain?
Characteristics of an Ideal Bike Lubricant
A lubricant should be thin enough to reach the inner components of the chain but still thick enough to prevent any contact between the metals.
Too thick lubes are highly viscous that may reduce the performance of your bike as the drag force increases. This will make you slower and increase the rate of your chain wear.
On the other hand, excessively thin lube won’t be able to reduce the friction between parts and the chain will wear out quickly as a result.
Types of Bike Chain Lube
1. Dry lubes
Perfect for dry weather conditions, they usually contain 10% lubricant (additives and synthetic oil) and 90% carrier fluid.
They offer greater efficiency by lowering frictions as they are low in viscosity. The only problem is they get washed off easily by puddles or rain.
2. Wet lubes
Wet lubes have higher quantities of viscous synthetic oils mixed with PTFE-like additives. They last longer and don’t easily get washed off by the rain but they are more prone to gather grime and dirt because of enhanced viscous friction.
3. Ceramic lubes
Ceramic lubes have gained much popularity these days. Although their compositions are not clear yet, the manufacturers claim them to be more effective than dry or wet lubes as they contain ceramic particles that help reduce frictions.
These lubricants are expensive but they may save money in the long run because the reduced friction results in increased drivetrain (energy produced as you pedal) longevity.
4. Wax lubes
Wax lubes are now the most popular type of bike chain lubes because they scored high on longevity, efficiency, and resistance to contaminants in different individual test results.
They contain highly-refined paraffin wax particles, carrier fluid, and PTFE-like additives.
When applied right, they form an almost dry and hard layer of lubricant on the chain, which is low friction in nature.
Immersive waxing is the best on market now as it provides the most efficient and fastest drivetrain possible. For this reason, they are heavily used in professional races and time trials.
What to Use to Lube Your Bike Chain in an Emergency?
Chainsaw oil is too sticky to use as a bike chain lubricant. It can only be used as a wet lubricant in rainy conditions so that it doesn’t get washed off easily by water.
Clipper oil can also be used as a lubricant but since it is light you may need to use it frequently, which can be troublesome for many. But the positive side is clipper oils are rust-resistant and odorless.
Just like clipper oil, silicon spray also needs to be applied frequently. But the greatest advantages are that it is non-toxic and dries quickly.
Also, this substance is slippery, which allows for penetrating spring pivots and derailleur easily.
A 3-in-1 oil is a naphthenic oil that can be considered an “almost perfect” alternative to bike chain lubes. In lab testing, it outperformed many lubricants in terms of speed and power loss.
This oil also protects bike chains against tear and wear. It doesn’t degrade with temperature changes but acts as a magnet for dirt.
Lube Alternatives You Must Avoid
Motor oil, castor oil, engine oil, and gear oil
Motor oils are acidic in nature that may damage bike parts. As they are thick, covering your bike parts with them would be difficult too. You may need to add mineral spirit to make them thinner.
Castor oil, gear oil, and engine oil also possess the same property; so avoid them when lubing your chain.
Since petroleum jelly such as Vaseline is more expensive than any regular bike lube and doesn’t last long, it should not be applied on bike chains.
It also doesn’t work on the different high-heat components of the bike and may pick up a lot of dirt, requiring more maintenance than usual.
Like motor oils, cooking oils are also too thick to be applied as bike lubes. They will dirty your drivetrain because of their quick oxidation properties.
What’s more, cooking oils have no graphite in them. Graphite has weak covalent bonds that are known to minimize friction in machinery This means cooking oilds cannot help minimize the friction in bike parts.
Coconut oil is low in viscosity with low heat resistance as well. If applied, it easily drips off the chain and evaporates because of the frictional heat. As a result, you have to lube your chain after each ride.
Moreover, frequent use of coconut oil can also damage the spokes and the chain.
Although vegetable oils (e.g. peanut, sesame seed, cottonseed, canola, linseed, rapeseed, olive oil, and corn) make peddling easy, they attract more dirt and grime and cannot offer protection against corrosion.
Highly oxidative, they also degrade quickly and lose their protective and lubricating properties. The addition of water increases their oxidation even more.
Almost 100% white mineral oil, machine oil lacks anti-wear additives. Although not recommended, you can still use it as an alternative to bike chain lube if performance is not your thing.
Grease is too thick to be used as a bike lube. It won’t reach the gaps between the pins and rollers where the lubes are actually needed.
The friction of the parts will be higher too, aside from picking up a lot of dirt, grift, and grime, which will add to your maintenance work.
The actual purpose of WD-40 is to clean your chain. So, it should not be used to condition bike chains as it will wear away the existing lubricant.