How Often Should I Lube My Bike Chain?

Your bike chain is exposed to constant and wear and tear. Can easily pick up dirt and other debris that can create rust and may result in snapping. To prevent this from happening, you should apply the lube, otherwise called chain oil.

When Should I Lube My Bike Chain?

For the average cyclist once or twice a month is fine, but it really depends on what you’re using your bike for. A mountain bike used for a lot of off-road will most likely need a clean and lube after every outing.

Below we go into more detail and explain why it is recommended to keep the bike’s drive chain in good condition. Chains and drivetrains are the dirtiest parts of your bike, and this dirt is detrimental to the bike’s lifespan and performance.

Benefits of Lubricating Bicycle Chain

Extend Chain Life

Metal friction is one of the main problems for bicycle chains. Since a dry chain can wear much faster, lubrication can help prevent the rubbing of rollers and plates between each other.

There is also friction between the chain and the cassette, jockey wheels, and crank rings, sprocket, or derailleur pulleys, thus it is important to lubricate and perform regular chain maintenance to extend its life.

A loose bike chain will sag close to or below the chainstays as the chain hangs between the rear cogs and chainring. The chain might skip as you pedal, or even drop off the gears. See How to Tighten a Bike Chain for a step-by-step process on how to tighten a bike chain.

It is also important to keep in mind that dirt can accelerate metal deterioration or chain wear, so clean your bicycle chain before lubrication.

Protection from Environmental Conditions

Mud, sand, rain, snow, salt and other debris can cause the chain to rust out. Further, riding environments that work against your chain can result in damages, thus, lubrication is important to be able to protect the bike chain from corrosion in wet conditions and for it to not attract abrasive contaminants in dry sunny conditions.

Reduce Chain Noise

Noise is the first sign of a dry chain and it usually becomes louder, when not given proper attention.

Some chain lubricants dry out after a time, so you have to check your bicycle chain by using your finger, as it is the easiest way to determine how wet, dry or dirty it is. 

To make the bicycle chain sound quiet, you should clean and lubricate it.

Better Shifting

Problems caused by bad shifting can make the bike slower and reduce your efficiency, and one main reason that can cause this problem is a dry chain, thus it is important that you check the lube and apply it if needed.

Types of Lubes

Dry Lube

This type of lube is ideal for a dirt bike or mountain bike chain because they pick up more dirt and debris.

Dry lubes are best used in dry environments since it’s thin and waxy, which can prevent dust, sand and dirt from sticking to your bike chain. It is ideal if you do most of your riding during sunny summertime conditions.

Furthermore, dry lubes wash off very easily and that means riding through wet trails will leave your chain void of any lubricant.

If you ride predominantly in dry and ideal weather conditions, make sure your bicycle chain is very clean and apply dry chain lube frequently.

Pros:

  • Ideal for dry environments
  • Not Tacky
  • Does not hold on to dust and grit
  • Waxy
  • For summer riding

Cons:

  • Takes a couple hours to dry
  • Does not last long 
  • Need frequent application
  • Bicycle chain needs to be clean
  • More expensive

Wet Lube

This type of chain lube is more suitable for wet conditions because it can stay wet on the bike chain for a long period of time and can prevent moisture from penetrating the rollers and chain plates.

Wet lubes are good for wet, muddy and humid conditions since it’s thick and sticky, which allows it to stick better to the bike chain despite the rain splashing. It is ideal if you enjoy riding long distances in all weather conditions.

Additionally, wet lubes don’t get washed off easily from rain or puddles and it lasts longer. It is also a good choice for anyone who is looking for a bike chain lube that doesn’t need frequent applications and drying time.

 Pros:

  • Ideal for wet, muddy and humid conditions
  • Stays on much longer
  • Does not need frequent applications
  • Ideal for longer rides
  • Does not need drying time
  • Can be applied even if chain is not optimally clean
  • Ideal for winter riding

Cons:

  • Holds on to more dirt and other debris

Wax Lube

This type of chain lube is based on paraffin wax and has grown in popularity in recent years because they are tested and scored well on longevity, efficiency and resistance to contaminants.

Waxed-based lubes or chain wax are usually made of a blend of highly-refined paraffin wax particles and additives such as PTFE and a carrier fluid.

For a wax lube to be able to penetrate the rollers and dry properly, your chain must be thoroughly clean and you also need to leave enough time for the wax to dry and harden. If you ride in wet conditions, you need to clean, dry and lubricate the chain afterwards to avoid corrosion.

Pros:

  • Efficient
  • Resistant to contaminants
  • Stays on much longer

Cons:

  • Longer drying time
  • Need time to harden
  • Needs serious chain cleaning or a completely brand new chain for it to stick effectively.
  • Not effective on dirty chain or worn chain

How Often Should I Lube My Bike Chain?

After Every Tough or Long Rides

If you are using a mountain bike, it is important that you take care of the chain because these types of bikes need to constantly perform while riding. 

If you do not lubricate the chain after every tough ride or long ride, it may cause minor incidents that can result in significant damage. So even if the bicycle does not get any dirt, you should lubricate the chain after a long or tough ride.

After Every 100 Miles (for regular bikes)

For regular bicycles, it is not necessary to lubricate the chain frequently because these types of bikes are not often exposed to dust and debris.

However, it does not mean that you can leave the bike without proper maintenance. So, it is still necessary to lubricate the bike chain every 100 miles.

If you do not have the tools to count the distance, it is a good rule to lubricate the chain once or twice every month.

When the Bike is Exposed to Dirt, Mud and Other Debris

If your bike gets exposed to a lot of mud and dust, then it is important that you lubricate the chain. However, you have to wash the chain with soap and water or use a chain cleaner before lubrication.

If there is too much dirt left in the chain, lubrication will be ineffective, therefore, cleaning it first is important.

How Often Should I Lube the Bike Chain with Dry Lube?

For dry lubes, you should lubricate the chain once every month if you are riding a maximum of 5 miles a week in good weather conditions.

 If you are riding an average of 30 miles per week, then you have to lubricate the chain after every two weeks.

For long rides that are about 50 miles on average, you have to lubricate the bike chain after every ride.

How Often Should I Lube the Bike Chain with Wet Lube?

Wet lube can last for a longer time, so you can lubricate the chain once and then use the bike for a month and continue doing so every season. However, during the rainy season, the lubricant can be washed off almost every day, so you have to apply it regularly.

How Often Should I Lube the Bike Chain in Summer?

During summertime, you will not face many troubles, thus lubricating the bike chain can be really straightforward. This is because most of the dirt during summer is dry and does not tend to get attached to the chain.

Lubricating once a month during summer will maintain the bike’s regular performance, but if optimum performance is more significant to you, then you can lubricate the chain every weekend.

For rough rides or mountain rides, you need to wash your bike and lube the chain after every ride, no matter what season.

How Often Should I Lube the Bike Chain in Winter?

Lubricating the bike chain during winter is very important, this is because many problems arise in winter, like muddy roads, rain, snowfall and salt on the road.

Therefore, it is best to lubricate the chain every weekend during the winter season and lubricate with a one-day interval if the streets are too muddy or there is too much snowfall on the road.

How do you lubricate a bike chain?

Step 1: Degreaser

Apply degreaser to the bicycle chain

Step 2: Clean

Remove any grease and grime from the chain and cogs. You can scrub off the debris with a brush and a clean rag, however, this can be a messy method.

You can use a chain cleaning tool to keep everything contained and prevent the black stuff from getting into your clothes.

Step 3: Dry, Lubricate and Wipe

Dry the bike chain with a rag and then apply the bicycle chain lube on the chain links.

Next is to wipe off the excess lube from the chain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Motor Oil To Lube Bike Chain?

Motor oil, motorcycle lube and engine oil should never be used on bicycle chains because they are thicker and heavier, hence they will not be able to penetrate the O ring chain and X rings. 

These types of oils and lubes are not compatible with bicycle chains, thus it is best to use them only for a motorcycle chain or for what it is intended for and use the proper chain lubricant for bicycles.

What is the Difference between Wet and Dry Lubricant

Wet bike chain lubricants do not attract dirt, but hold them in. However, wet lubes can suspend grit particles, which means it will not actually come in contact with the components or drivetrain.

Dry lubes, on the other hand, do not hold dirt and other debris, as they fall to the ground when they hit dry lubricant. However, as these particles fall to the ground, your bike chain is also losing lube, thus the need for frequent applications.

Conclusion

Whether you have a mountain bike, road bike or a regular bike, you should always have time to clean and maintain it. This is to prevent serious damages caused by constant wear. 

The chain is an important component of a bicycle, thus, you have to be able to clean and lubricate it after every rough or long ride, after 100 miles or after it has been exposed to mud, dirt and other debris.

If you use your bike regularly, you should lubricate your bike chain every month or every 150 to 200 miles or 240 to 320 kilometers.

However, how often you need to lubricate will depend on the conditions you ride in and the type of bike chain lube you use.

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By Paul P.

Paul Panha is an avid cyclist and sports performance enthusiast. Regularly on the road testing (and buying) new bikes. Paul is a co-owner of GetBike.fit and is the head resident author here.