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Bike Chain Lubes, From Wet to Dry, And Which Is Best, and Where (IMHO)

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I’ve used a lot of chain lubes in the last decade. It seems I’m trying a new one every year or two, so I’ve acquired quite the base of knowledge built up on what I want to use, where, and why.

First, much of the cycling world has gone “dry” lately. There are a lot of wax-based lubes out there that have people all buzzed about not having to deal with a grimy chain anymore – myself included. For a while, I used White Lightning Clean Ride chain lube for a time, but the stuff was so dry the drivetrain was noisier than I could tolerate. Then I switched to Finish Line’s Dry Wax Lube and I really didn’t like that for the same reason. Finally, I settled on Squirt Wax Based Dry Chain Lube last year. Now that, I like. It’s a better combination of dry, but not too dry to cause a noisy drivetrain – that is, unless you go on more than a six-hour bike ride – which I’m very much prone to do! The big plus is that it really is clean. I can touch my chain without getting greasy gray lube residue all over my hands. And that, I love. It’s also great on the gravel and mountain bike because there’s nothing for dirt to really “stick” to like a wet lube. Like I wrote earlier, the only down side is having to reapply every six to eight hours of ride time.

I used squirt on our whole fleet last year. Road bikes, gravel bikes, road tandem and mountain bikes. And I went through a lot of it, having to buy two bottles so far. I did get fair chain life, also. Probably a few thousand miles a chain.

Above: That’s a well-cared for chain and cassette using Squirt – but I have a special trick to keep the wax buildup to a minimum. I clean the chain and cassette with a mild degreaser every five or six reapplications. The buildup is actually supposed to be a good thing and the instructions on the bottle recommend leaving it be, but I can’t stand a messy lookin’ drivetrain.

While there’s no question I’ve enjoyed the cleanliness of the wax based lube, I decided to switch back to wet on the road bikes next season. Specifically, to my favorite wet lube of all, and I’ve used a few; Sunlite light spray lube, Boeshield T-9 (technically a dry lube), Finish Line Wet Heavy Duty chain lube, there was another spray lube in there but I can’t remember what… but I’m going back to the crème de la crème of wet bike lubes, Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube (FLCWL for short, because that’s a lot to type) for the Trek and the Venge. Now, FLCWL is, without question, a messy lube. If you have to touch the chain on the road, you better hope you’ve got a pair of plastic gloves or some grass nearby to wipe your hands on. The stuff gets nasty. However, and this is why I’m going back, if you truly want a whisper-quiet, fast, functionally smooth and perfect drivetrain, Finish Line’s Ceramic Wet Lube is where it’s at. The stuff is slippy. Also, and this is only a minor point, the wax lubes wash off almost instantly in the rain and, on the rain bike, that’s really not a good thing. I was caught in two or three showers last year and the last time convinced me I should be riding a wet lube rather than no lube if I get caught in the rain.

I will, however, stick with Squirt dry lube on the gravel bikes (and possibly Mrs. Bgddy’s road bike if she so chooses because she doesn’t like getting her hands dirty on her chain – I am more than understanding in that regard). Even though the wax lube is vastly superior to any wet lube in terms of cleanliness, there’s no beating a quiet, trouble-free chain that’ll last a full week or two in the heat of the season and you won’t have to worry about if you hit some rain.


10 Comments

  1. kirkmtb says:

    I’ve always thought that dry lubes don’t penetrate to where they need to be quickly enough before they “set”. I get good chain life with a wet lube even in damp conditions.

    • bgddyjim says:

      The trick with the dry lube is working it in before it sets. If I run the crank backwards and coat the rollers and stop, that’s exactly what will happen. If I run the chain round a couple dozen times, the lube will work in.

  2. Linda says:

    I have an Electra townie go ebike. What would you recommend for it?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Linda, it depends on the conditions you’ll be riding in. If you’re going to be riding in wet weather, you need a wet lube. Finish Line’s Extreme Condition wet lube would be great. If you’re riding in dry, dusty weather, I’d go with Squirt – you just have to remember to lube your chain regularly. If you’re going to ride in nothing but great conditions, Sunlite spray lube is really simple and won’t gum up your chain – you can spray it on and wipe off the excess and it’ll clean and lube the chain at the same time. The heavier duty lubes take a little more attention cleaning so things don’t get mucked up over time. I have crazy expensive equipment so I take expert care of my bikes – I can use something a little heftier because I clean my drivetrains regularly. If you want quick and painless, I’d go with the Sunlite Pro Lubricant in the spray can. It’s great stuff. Just make sure, whatever you go with, to wipe the excess off.

  3. Linda says:

    Thanks Jim! Lots of good information.

  4. I use a dry wax lube on all my bikes now, as I basically never get caught out in a rain shower. If I do get rained on, the dry lube certainly washes off in a hurry and you end up with that squeaky drivetrain. I am yet to try the latest “craze” of actually waxing my chain, that sounds too much like hard work.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I have two friends who actually have their own little crockpot (slow cooker) dedicated to waxing chains They keep two chains in rotation so they’re never “without a chain, ready to go” and the chain lasts a week or two if you stretch it… about 400 miles. They love it and say it’s the best thing ever… with six bikes to manage, that’d be 12 chains – crap, four for the tandem! 14 chains, and you could see how that would get out of hand in a hurry – which is why I’ve never bothered. That and I’d have to buy stock in a wax company.

  5. […] Bike Chain Lubes, From Wet to Dry, And Which Is Best, and Where (IMHO) […]

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