In any better equipped bike shop on the shelves, you will find a large selection of different types of chain lubricants.
But we have noticed that finding the right one for your bike can be difficult. Most lubricants are formulated with a specific task in mind, and each has its advantages and limitations.
The chain link consists of an inner and outer plate and two pins, each located inside the roller. The chain will eventually wear off (and creak) as these components rub against each other. You may have heard of the term “chain stretch”. The metal chain doesn’t actually stretch. In fact, it is these rollers and needles that weaken. As they are used and consumed, the distance between them increases. If used and driven for too long, a worn chain will sharpen the teeth on your cassette and sprocket and ultimately destroy them.
If you install a new chain on a worn cartridge and sprockets, the chain will not fit best and won’t work properly. Your new chain will skip under the force of the pedal. In that case, the only option for you is to buy a new cassette and sprocket, along with a new chain. Of course, you can avoid all of the above by replacing your chain on time and maintaining it properly during use. A few drops of the chain lube before driving extends the life of your powertrain.
Chains lubricants are designed to coat your chain with a slippery layer of oil mixed with additives that prevent expensive equipment wear, or at least slow that wear down. To get the most out of your chain lube, you need to know which conditions they are made for. However, no matter in what conditions you drive, keeping the drive clean is always the best option, as dirt will reduce lubricant efficiency and speed up the wear process.
Wet Chain Lube for Mountain Bikes
Wet chain lubricants are designed to stay on the chain when the ride gets messy. Oily adhesive lube is coated with friction-reducing elements such as Teflon or ceramic particles. Thin lube coating is applied to the chain and it holds the chain pivot points covered in an oil bath that is resistant to forces such as water and dirt penetration. While this lubricant does a great job of keeping your chain lubricated, it definitely does not keep your drive clean. As the lubricant mixes and mixes with the dirt, it turns into a black, sticky mixture that is often responsible for destroying your pants or applying unwanted tattoos to your leg. Chain cleaners or drivetrain cleaners between lubrications are the best way to prevent unnecessary clutter.
In my experience, wet chain lube isn’t as great for mountain biking as it is for any type of road cycling. The problem is dirt. Most wet lubes stick too much dirt to them and chain maintenance becomes a nightmare.
When I actually use wet lube in mud and rain, I use White Lightning Wet Ride. I’ve tried using Muc Off Wet Lube since I’m a fan of their products in general, but I wasn’t satisfied with its durability in wet conditions. So I switched to White Lightning and it’s extremely resistant to washing off and it doesn’t stick as much dirt as most wet lubes do when riding off-road.
Dry Chain Lube for Mountain Bikes
Dry condition lubes are designed for dusty and dry conditions. Just like wet oil, it is composed of oil and anti-friction elements, but the oil is less viscous. This is the purest oil you can use to lubricate the chain; the lack of a thick sticky oil mixture prevents dust and dirt from sticking to the chain. However, dry oil is not nearly as durable as wet oil and requires a frequent application to be effective. Also, when applying this type of oil, you need to have a very clean chain, otherwise you are lubricating the existing dirt, not the chain. This fluid is also great for all other bearings and cables on your bike because its low viscosity penetrates deep where it needs to lube any movable part.
For mountain biking, dry lubes are much easier to use than wet lubes. In my opinion, I would always choose to apply the lube more often than having to clean the chain all the time after using wet lube. And, to be honest, dry lube isn’t washed away by water that easily. At least not from inside the rollers where it matters.
From the cost perspective, I can tell you I waste a lot less money by applying dry lube more often than spending a ton of chain cleaner from using wet lube. This applies to all sorts of off-road bicycle riding. Since resistance to sticking dirt is my main criteria for choosing dry lube, I will always be a fan of Muc Off Dry Lube as it is best at that.
There is one downside with Muc Off. It’s not the best when it comes to chain wear. I’m used to using it, but honestly, I think Finish Line Dry Teflon Lube is a better option in terms of overall effectiveness.
Wax For Mountain Bike Chains
Wax-based lubricants provide long-lasting lubrication, such as wet lubricants, but in a formula that dries after application. The advantage is a longer lasting coating that should remain dust resistant. The main drawback is that the wax builds up in the rollers of the chain and between the pins. If not cleaned often, your chain will be sluggish when shifting and you will experience considerable pedaling resistance.
Did you notice I said, “should remain dust resistant”? It’s because most of them aren’t dust resistant at all. Although, the chain is much easier to clean after wax than after wet lube. Wax prevents dust from entering inside the rollers of the chain and you barely ever need to use a chain cleaner, which would remove the wax as well. You only need to remove the dirt with a soft brush or cloth.
As far as chain lubrication goes, Molten Speed Wax is by far the best lubrication there is. Even including all the lube types. It simply prevents chain wear better than anything else I’ve ever seen. Searching the internet seems like everyone is getting the same results. However, it comes at the cost of a pretty hard application to the chain. Wax needs to be heated indirectly until it is completely liquid before it can be applied.
The first time I bought it, I failed the application because I used a flame to heat it up. It can work if you have a thick pot that heats up slowly but in thinner ones, it won’t do good. I wish someone told me I needed to use hot water instead. Not directly though, but placing a pot with wax into hot water. The difference is similar to melting chocolate, bring the heat too quickly and it dissolves instead.
Since it’s not very practical to use this in most situations, for everyone that prefers wax there are good spray wax options. I didn’t test many of them, but Muc Off Dry Wax did a good job every time.
Ceramic Chain Lube for Mountain Bikes
Ceramic lube is the newest innovation as far as chain lubricants go. It usually comes in wet and dry options the same as normal ones. However, there is a bit different formula composition. Ceramic lube has small particles that protect moving parts from anything reaching inside. That way your chain stays lubricated for much longer and stays resistant to dust and water better than it would with standard lubes.
I find this to be effective in most situations. Especially beneficial for mountain biking because as far as I experienced, dry weather versions are as resistant to sticking dust and mud as ever and it reduces the frequency of needing to reapply the lube. Kind of solves the only downside of dry lubes in mountain biking.
As far as wet ceramic lubes are considered, it goes a long way as well. Sticks dust the same as standard wet lube but since dust particles have a hard time reaching inside the moving parts, it easier to clean regularly. All you need to do is use warm water and a rag to clean it on the outside.
It is, however, a bit more expensive and may not be worth the price for everyone. I use it mostly when I’m riding far from home because I may not have the chance to do the usual chain cleaning.
Since I love so Muc Off Dry Lube so much, the ceramic option basically solves the only downside it has. Muc Off C3 Ceramic Dry Lube is essentially the same in everything as a regular one except it has ten times better lubrication and wear resistance. It’s still the best on the market in terms of keeping the chain clean in dusty conditions but now it gets into the highest bracket of all lubes in every aspect.
Muc Off C3 Ceramic Dry Lube is by far my favorite choice for mountain biking, and everyone I know is amazed by its effectiveness.
How And When to Clean Your Chain
Before we talk about how to apply chain lube, first, I’d like to mention a few important things about chain cleaning.
Cleaning the chain with degreasers often is not a desirable thing. After cleaning with a degreaser, the lube has a tough time getting between all tiles and pins when greasing. Even worse, if all the degreaser/chain cleaner has not been flushed or has not completely evaporated, then even the remnant of that degreaser left under the new oil layer remains blocked and cannot completely evaporate.
The result is that the chain links and pins remain under-lubricated and the chain is worn out faster, shifts worse and turns slower. Of course, it is advisable to clean the chain with a degreaser from time to time. If the bike is driven in the rain, through a lot of water, or in the mud, the chain itself has mostly lost its lubricant layer and then it is enough to wash it with water and soap or clean it with a rotary brush cleaner. If you have an air compressor, remove as much water or degreaser from the chain as possible or leave the bicycle in the sun for the medium to evaporate from the chain. Make sure to do this properly, especially if you decide to clean the chain with a degreaser more often.
When you decide to use a degreaser/chain cleaner, it’s best to have a chain cleaning device as well. I used to clean the chain with an old toothbrush. It’s not a bad way to do it, but it takes a lot more time and you will get really dirty in the process. I’ve used two chain cleaning devices. One from Muc Off and the other from Park tool, and I can safely say that the Park Tool’s one is considerably better. You can find it with their own chain cleaner and a cassette cleaning brush on this Amazon link.
The Best Way to Apply Lubricant
Personally, I like to track my chain stretch and replace my chain at the beginning of a new season. I find it easier to start new seasons and summer months with a new chain and a clean drive.
To lubricate your chain, shift gears and adjust it so that it is centered on the cassette and on the middle or small sprocket in the case of 2X. Put your bike on a rack, flip it upside down, or ask a friend to hold it for you. Slowly turn the pedals backwards.
You can start applying oil with a continuous jet on the chain, but I prefer a drop on every roller. If you apply oil one drop to each link, it will have minimal waste. Once you have walked the entire length of the chain and you are sure that you have lubricated all the links, stop applying the oil and move the pedals backwards faster. It will help the lubricant/oil to penetrate more easily where needed. After 10 to 15 seconds, grab a cloth and wipe off any excess oil from the outside of the chain, the sprocket on the rear derailleur and the sprockets on the sprocket. Finally, pedal forward and shift through all gears, moving the chain through the entire gear range on the gear.
Your chain is now protected and ready for the next ride!