Selecting a bike lubricant that suits your specific needs will keep your chain from wearing out prematurely. There are several things to consider when choosing a mountain bike or road bike chain lube, including potential weather conditions, terrain and usage.
Bike lubricant that stays wet to the touch until it's washed off is known as wet lube. This type of lubricant is very oily, which makes it fairly waterproof and ideal for rainy weather. However, it attracts a lot of dirt in dry conditions, so wipe down the outside of your chain to get any excess lubricant off before riding. There are some wet lubes that are too thick to be used on a drive train, so look for one that is fluid enough for your chain to function.
Drive train lubricant that goes on wet and is left to dry before a ride is called dry lube. It is made with teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene, and 'soaks' into the bike chain to leave it lubricated without moisture. Because it is dry, it doesn’t attract small particles like wet lube. For this reason it's better for dry environments where your bike chain will come in contact with a lot of sand, dust and dirt. That said, dry lube requires more frequent applications since it wears off so easily.
Wax lubes are essentially very dry lubes and, as the name suggests, are very waxy. In addition to lubricating your drivetrain, wax lubes also help keep your chain clean. Part of the reason it is so clean, however, is the number of applications that are required. Wax lube will either need to be washed off or it will have the ability to flake away on its own. This kind of lube does not last long when used in wet or muddy conditions, but it also leaves the least amount of messy residue.
Wet, Muddy Conditions
Wet lubes are ideal for rainy, wet conditions. Unlike dry lubes that can wash off too easily in the rain, wet lubes will stick to the chain and drive train. However, be aware that a wet lube can get “gunked” up with sand and grit fairly rapidly.
Dry, Sandy Conditions
Dry lubrication is perfect for dry conditions, Dry lubes tend to quickly wear off quickly in the rain. On the other hand, a dry lube is perfect in dry conditions since it will not attract as much dirt. In general, avid bikers prefer dry lube over wet, despite the fact that it requires more application and drying time. Use dry lube at least three hours before your ride, and reapply it regularly. You can also use wax lube for dusty condition, as it repels dirt.
For serious cyclists who are riding long distances, it is recommended that you use a wet lube. However, using wet lube also means that you'll have to clean your drivetrain off more, and if you're riding through particularly dusty or sandy conditions, you should still use a dry chain lubricant.
If you ride your bike a short distance to work every day, or if you only take it for a spin on the weekends, you should consider using a wax lube. It's important to not go overboard when applying this kind of lubricant, because too much will gunk up your chain. However, the perfect amount will not only keep your drivetrain running smoothly - it will also stay clean. In other words, if you're carrying your bike up to your office or on public transportation, wax lube is not as likely to get on your clothes as other forms of lubricant.
Mountain Bikes vs Road Bikes
When choosing a bike chain lubricant, the deciding factor should be the conditions under which you're riding. If you're going mountain biking in dry weather, chances are good that a lot of debris is going to get in your chain, and you should opt for a dry or wax lube. When riding in the rain, on a mountain or otherwise, you'll want a wet lube. However, if you're road biking on very clean terrain and need your lubricant to last, it could be a good idea to use wet lube, even if the conditions are dry.
Spray or Drip Lube
Most in the cycling community suggest using a lubricant with a drip application over a spray, because you can focus drops on the individual chain links and avoid getting the substance elsewhere on the bike. However, spray lubes are sometimes made with a very focused aerosol, which makes it easier to direct it straight at the chain without making a mess. The advantage of a spray lubricant is that the air pressure forces the lube into crevices in the chain that can be more difficult for a rag to reach.
What Not to Use
Avoid using WD40. It's too thin to properly lubricate the chain, and will attract a lot of grime, causing the chain to wear out quickly. The best thing to use on your chain is a lube that is specifically designed for the bike, preferably one that suits your terrain.
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