This guide is going to be very much based in The Real World. We’re going to be offering advice for people who don’t really want to spend loads/much/any time actually maintaining their drivetrain like a good human being does.
Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you aren’t such a person. And if you are such a conscientious person, you very probably already know what chain lube works for you. It’s very probably something involving wax and faff. Crack on.
Real world advice
This guide is for those of us who should know better (do know better in fact) but singularly fail to look after our drivetrains as well as we probably should do. We don’t want to spend much/any time doing bike maintenance. We have lives. Stupid busy lives. We don’t have spare minutes. And if we do, we spend them actually riding.
But you know what? Since the advent of single-ring drivetrain set-ups, my gears have never worked better, or for longer, without such little in the way of attention. Honestly, a scrape of black plasticine-encased jockey wheels with a small flat blade screwdriver every few weeks and a degrease-clean of the cassette and chainring every few months. It’s fine.
And I’m going to be bold and come out and state that any lube works in nice weather conditions. This guide is for lube that doesn’t mind being subjected to mud, grit and water. A UK lube in other words.
Dry lubes are all well and good in theory but personally I’ve had drivetrains wear out significantly faster when using dry lubes in the theory that dry lubes don’t attract filth and thus don’t wear out your drivetrain. That hasn’t been the case for me. Dry lube disappears after a few miles and leaves me with a squeaky drivetrain that eats itself distressingly fast.
Wet or decent ‘all condition’ lubes are where it’s at. I’d much rather have a slightly furry, black drivetrain that’s quiet and not eating itself than a shiny, squealy, destructive dry lubed set-up.
Other useful bits and bobs
Despite wanting an easier life when it comes to lubrication of drivetrains, there are a few things you need to go alongside a decent chain lube. Namely a pair of chain link pliers and some degreaser. You also need to have a rummage around and find some plastic bags and an old toothbrush or two.
The chain link pliers are for removing the chain from the bike easily. The degreaser is for cleaning said chain, and also the cassette (take the wheel out of the bike and tightly wrap a plastic bag around the disc rotor). The toothbrush is for agitating the black stuff off the cassette, chain and chainring.
I’d also recommend buying a few Powerlinks for your flavour of chain. Just in case one breaks, or goes missing during surgery, or is basically knackered.
One last thing!
Try not to leave lubing your chain until the minute before you go riding. Try to remember to lube the chain at the end of a ride. And remember to wipe off the excess lube with a old rag (it will really reduce how mucky your drivetrain ends up).
The following chain lubes have proven their worth over the years and are our go-to choices.
There is a common theme amongst a lot of them: you can buy them in large capacity bottles. Buying dinky bottles of lube is a serious waster of time and money. You will always, always, always need chain lube. Buy big. It’s loads better value.
Best Mountain Bike Chain Lubes:
Rock N Roll Extreme LV Lube 16oz (473ml)
Summary: “The lube down inside the chain creates a protective membrane to seal out dirt and moisture from the moving parts of the chain. Holding in place the best lube on the planet, for longer chain life, super smooth shifting and pedaling.”
Renthal All Conditions Chain Lube 250ml
Summary: “The all-new formula Chain Lube is specially designed to penetrate all parts of the chain. The high film strength and stable viscosity, across a range of temperatures, gives superb adhesion and anti-fling properties.”
Squirt Chain Lube 500ml
Summary: “Continuous application can be done without having to clean the chain. Excess wax that gets expelled by the chain does not attract dirt, hardens slightly and falls off during riding. Cleaning with a dry brush is adequate.”
Juice Lubes Viking Juice All Conditions Chain Lube 130ml
Summary: Designed to survive every crank of the Paris-Roubaix and crowned the “holy grail of Chain Lubes” by none other than some outfit called ‘Singletrack magazine’.
Green Oil Wet Lube 100ml
Summary: The best choice for those who want an eco friendly chain lube. As Green Oil’s founder Simon Nash would proclaim: “Destroy limits, not nature!”
SMOOVE Lube 125ml
Summary: We like this one so much we actually sell it in our Singletrack Shop! SMOOVE takes the best elements of wax-based chain lubes and combines them with the best parts of oil-based lubes without the negatives. Read our review.
Other useful stuff:
Tru-Tension Cycle Drivetrain Cleaner 500ml
Summary: “It’s easy to use with minimal effort, giving you the perfect surface to apply a fresh coat of lubricant. Spray and watch the grime drip away in seconds.” NB: Cover up your disc rotors!
LifeLine 2 in 1 Masterlink Pliers
Summary: “The LifeLine Pro 2 in 1 Masterlink Pliers make spliting and reconnecting a bicycle chain easier than ever before. The left two prongs pince the chain together. Meanwhile the right two prongs split the chain with a simple squeeze.”
While you’re here…
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