There are few components on your bike that work as hard as your chain does. It doesn’t take much effort to keep a chain clean and lubricated, but choosing the right chain lube can be a little confusing. Wax or oil? Wet or dry? Is $10 chain lube as good as the $30 bottle?
It doesn’t take much effort to keep a chain lubricated. But keeping it clean and lubricated gets tricky with so many different lubes making all manner of claims. Wax or oil? Wet or dry? Is $10 chain lube as good as the $30 (or $150!) bottle?
In the same way properly inflated tires can make or break a ride, a well-lubricated chain can mean a quiet, smooth ride rather than a creaky, squeaky one. Here, we’re rounding up our favorite chain lube options for all different riding styles.
Plus, we’ve included our favorite Pro Tips on how to choose the right chain lube for you, tips for application, how to clean your chain, and other frequently asked questions! Scroll down for all the details.
BEST OVERALL CHAIN LUBE: Squirt Lube
The wax-based Squirt Lube is one of the easiest lubes to apply, thanks to its thicker texture. It’s become a go-to for Bikerumor editors for the last decade thanks to its high performance-to-price value. As one of them succinctly summed up, “Literally, there is nothing wrong with this product.” That’s high praise for anything bike-related!
Unlike greasier options, this lube goes on thin and dry and stays that way. It sheds gunk even on wet or muddy rides, and keeps your chain clean and quiet. It’s also biodegradable, so you don’t need to feel guilty washing your bike in the driveway.
Application is easy, and it doesn’t take much to coat your chain…but you’ll probably want to reapply about every 3-4 rides. The wax lube stays smooth and doesn’t even require shaking before applying it to your chain, just don’t let it freeze or it will permanently separate and can’t be shaken back into solution.
- Type: Wax
- Size: 4 ounces
- Price: $14
- Price per ounce: $3.50
PROS: Easy application, great all-condition performance
CONS: Will separate in the winter if left outside, needs frequent re-applications
BEST WET CONDITIONS CHAIN LUBE: WD40 Specialist Bike Wet Chain Lube
While the original WD40 itself shouldn’t be used as a chain lube, WD40 Specialist Bike Wet Chain Lube is a great, inexpensive option for those who often ride through mud or in the rain.
This Bikerumor staffer spent much of her cyclocross career using this lube for every race and rarely went through more than one chain per season. It applies easily in a thick coat, and stays in place even on the rainiest of days, keeping your chain quiet and pedaling smooth.
This wet lube shares the same issue as other wet lubes: It requires frequent chain wipe-downs, cleanings, and reapplications. Because wet lubes are designed to stay on even when being ridden through deep puddles, they also pick up a lot of grit and grime.
- Type: Oil
- Size: 4 ounces
- Price: $9
- Price per ounce: $2.25
PROS: Great for rainy or muddy rides
CONS: Messy under drier conditions
BEST DRY CONDITIONS CHAIN LUBE: Muc Off C3 Ceramic Dry Chain Lube
Bikerumor editors love Muc Off’s C3 Ceramic Dry Chain Lube for general purpose riding. It’s optimized for dusty, dry conditions, which means it’s perfect for normal road, gravel, and mountain bike conditions. The biodegradable petroleum-free formula uses nano-particles of ceramic and synthetic polymers to lightly coat your chain. Expect smooth and quiet riding for long distances.
It may sound like a gimmick, but we love that this lube contains UV dye that glows under the included UV flashlight light, so you can see if your chain is completely coated. That and the thin pipette make the application foolproof.
While it’ll hold up to humidity just fine, avoid using this on rainy or muddy rides. It’s not meant to last through soaking wet conditions. Read our full review here.
- Type: Oil
- Size: 4 ounces
- Price: $15
- Price per ounce: $3.75
PROS: UV reactive for easy application; smooth, quiet performance
CONS: Won’t last in wet conditions
BEST WAX CHAIN LUBE: CeramicSpeed UFO Drip
Technically, CeramicSpeed refers to their UFO Drip as a chain coating rather than a lube, but it does the same thing. It’s one of the priciest options on this list, but if you’re looking for a wax that will reduce friction as much as possible on your chain while also being really easy to apply and lasts a long time, this is the one to beat.
We’ve been using this wax in all riding conditions for since it launched and found that it’s long-lasting, quiet, and smooth. As in, REALLY long-lasting, REALLY quiet, and REALLY smooth. It’s like the chain disappears.
Its thick formula makes application easy, though ideally should be done at least 8 hours before your ride. Unlike regular lubes that remain liquidy, this one dries fully. And when you need a little top off, there’s usually no need to clean the chain, because the wax sloughs off grime and grit as you ride…just drip a light coat on it and you’re ready to go. Read our full CeramicSpeed UFO Drip review here.
- Type: Wax
- Size: 6 ounces
- Price: $45
- Price per ounce: $7.50
PROS: Super quiet friction-fighting performance that lasts and lasts
BEST CHAIN LUBE FOR LAZY MECHANICS: Wolf Tooth WT-1 Synthetic Chain Lube
Want a chain lube that’s easy to apply and that cleans and lubes at the same time? Enter Wolf Tooth WT-1 Synthetic Chain Lube, made in partnership with SCC Tech’s chain lube experts. The oil-based lubricant combines a small amount of detergent, and Bikerumor testers found that the blue color made for easy application (and faded quickly).
Because it cleans your chain, you can skip the degreasing process before application, but you will want to wipe down your chain for the first few rides after using it. The lube lasts up to 400 miles, so you won’t have to repeat the process often, but you may need to use more product than normal to achieve best results. Read our full review of the Wolf Tooth WT-1 Synthetic Chain Lube here.
- Type: Oil
- Size: 2 ounces
- Price: $19
- Price per ounce: $9.50
PROS: Blue coloring makes application easy, cleans while lubricating
CONS: Pricey, requires generous use to do its job of cleaning for you
BEST CHAIN LUBE FOR METICULOUS MECHANICS: Dumonde Tech PRO X LITE Chain lube
As one Bikerumor editor put it, “I have a literal library of lube, and I come back to Dumonde for just about every bike.” This oil-based lube is unique in that it uses a “liquid plastic” polymer technology to create a somewhat permanent coating on your chain. Sounds weird, but it will last longer than any other lube you’ve ever used.
It’s a bit more expensive up-front, and it requires a multi-step application, but you apply sparingly so one bottle should last you a really, really long time. Basic soap and water cleans any gunk off without stripping the lube, so you just spray it clean and head back out for another ride. You only need to re-apply when you start hearing your chain.
- Type: Oil
- Size: 4 ounces
- Price: $22
- Price per ounce: $5.50
PROS: Lasts a really long time, secretly used by some of the best mechanics
CONS: Non-biodegradable, expensive up front, very specific application process
BEST FUN CHAIN LUBE: Peaty’s Link Lube Wet
That’s right, there’s room in the chain lube category for “fun” options, and Peaty’s Link Lube Wet is the perfect candidate. Why? Because in addition to being a great wet condition chain lube designed for the ugliest of days and muckiest of mountain bike rides, it is Irish coffee-scented.
Silly? Yes. But actually, it smells great. It’s also one of few lubes that combines high-viscosity oils with wax to form a thick lube. The wax helps it to last longer on your chain, while the oil keeps your chain moving quietly and smoothly as mud kicks up. Perfect for those seemingly year-round muddy UK conditions…which makes sense since it was developed there! And it’s biodegradable. Read our full review of Peaty’s Link Lube Wet here.
- Type: Wax and oil
- Size: 4 ounces
- Price: $18
- Price per ounce: $4.50
PROS: Smells and works great
CONS: Wet conditions only
3 “SPARE NO EXPENSES” LUBES WE LOVE
If you’re the type of rider for whom cost is no object and marginal gains are the final gains to be had, these three lubes from absoluteBLACK and Silca are incredible. They’re also incredibly expensive, but for the rider looking to eke out that last 0.5% efficiency gain, it’s how you get there. Left to right, they are:
At $20 for 0.47oz ($42.55/oz), this is by far the most expensive lube we’ve tried. And, technically, you’ll need two bottles (or one $145 4.7oz bottle) to soak your chain for the initial application (then pour it back in the bottle!). Like other wax lubes, it coats the chain in a dry layer that sheds crud for you. Unlike the others, it’s infused with Graphene to dramatically decrease friction and dries black. If you want the same lube that’s put many a World Tour cyclist atop a podium, this is it…just be careful, it drips out really fast! Available directly from their website, check out our tech coverage for more details.
Silca Synergetic Wet Lube
Besides being the cleanest wet lube we’ve ever used (seriously, it remains cleaner and lighter than the very best dry lubes), it’s also the most expensive at $25 for 2oz ($12.50/oz). Based on F1 technology, it blends nano-particles of Tungsten Di-Sulfide in an advanced ZDDP oil to create a barrier layer that reduces friction while also protecting metal surfaces against wear.
Bonus points that you can apply it to an already-lubed chain, no need to fully degrease it first. An ultra-fine gauge application needle makes it easy to precisely lube each chain roller with no waste…just don’t toss it in your travel bag, because it’ll probably break. The only real downside is that it settles hard and requires A LOT of shaking to redistribute those nano-particles before application. Get it at Backcountry or Competitive Cyclist.
Silca Super Secret Chain Lube
At $25 for 4oz ($6.75/oz), it’s less expensive than the other premium wax-based lubes here, yet performs about as well. It shares the F1-derived Tungsten Di-Sulfide additive, except in a wax base instead of oil. It settles, too, but remixes fully in just a few shakes, unlike the oil. Silca says it provides all the benefits of a full hot wax chain bath, but in an easier to apply (and reapply) method. Available at REI.
Chain Lube Buyer’s Guide
Know the lube lingo: There are several different types and styles of chain lube, and each has its pros and cons.
- DRY: Best for dry conditions, often thinner when applied, stays a bit cleaner, and is less likely to leave grease marks everywhere.
- WET: Best for wet conditions, often thicker when applied and stays “wet”, which makes them more likely to stain your socks.
- ALL CONDITION / ALL WEATHER: Made for dry or wet riding, which puts it somewhere between dry and wet lube.
- WAX: Made with a wax compound in a thick, liquified form that dries and then flakes off over time, sending dirt and grit with it.
- OIL: Oil-based, usually thinner liquid, or may come as an aerosol spray.
- CERAMIC or NANO-PARTICLE: These lubricants contain tiny particles of ceramic and other microparticles in a wax or oil base, and claim to reduce friction even further.
Consider your riding style and conditions: Think about where you ride most frequently. Are you typically finishing rides splashed with mud, or caked with dust? If you’re usually finishing rides wet, opt for a wet lube. If you’re a commuter who rides in different conditions, look for a lube labeled all-condition or wet. Wax-based lubes tend to last longer than oil-based options, so if you know you’re a lazy bike mechanic, opt for wax.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chain Lube
Why do I need chain lube?
Think about all of the work that your bicycle chain does. It’s what makes your bike move forward, and every revolution of your pedals forces each chain link to click over hundreds of teeth on your chainring and cassette. You’re basically grinding metal on metal.
If the chain is dry and rusted, coated with a layer of dirt and dust, it reluctantly creaks and grinds through each pedal strok until finally, mid-ride, it gives up and snaps.
Chain lube protects against rust, and it keeps that chain moving freely, bending and conforming to every turn of the pedals. It also helps it slip on and off chainring teeth and slide across cassette cogs, making for a smooth, quiet, and efficient ride.
How often do I need to apply chain lube?
Unfortunately, the answer here is “it depends.” If your chain is looking or feeling gritty, or you’re starting to hear it squeak, that’s a good indicator that it’s time to clean and re-lube your chain. This may come after a few muddy, wet rides, or it could come after several hundred miles of dry riding.
How do I apply chain lube?
The right kind of chain lube won’t work well if you’re applying it incorrectly. Thankfully, it’s a pretty simple task, though it can be messy if you’re not careful. (Stay off white carpets while applying it.)
Start by cleaning and degreasing your chain (keep reading for tips on how to do that).
For oil-based lubes, most experts recommend dripping a single drop of lube on each pin in the chain. Use the quick link as your starting and finishing point so you don’t do it twice! Let it sit for 30 seconds, then backpedal for 15-20 revolutions to allow the lube to sink in and penetrate the nooks and crannies of the chain.
Once you’ve done that, take a clean rag and wipe down any excess lube before heading out the door. Don’t skip this step or you’ll instantly start to collect grime.
For wax-based lubes, some brands recommend soaking the chain in the lube overnight, but generally speaking, a thorough coating left on the chain overnight will do the trick.
Can I use chain lube as a cleaner or instead of a degreaser?
No, though many riders do. Often, people will skip the degreasing step and just lube the chain, counting on the lube and subsequent wipe-down to remove most of the built-up gunk.
Since wax-based lubes clean as you ride, you may only need to wipe down your chain unless you can feel grit trapped in there.
But oil-based lubes aren’t designed to clean your chain (with the exception of the Wolf Tooth WT-1 Synthetic mentioned above). In fact, it can just end up creating a sludge that acts like liquid sandpaper and wear down your entire drivetrain faster, costing you more in the long run. Not to mention getting all over your socks, legs, walls, car…everything.
What’s the difference between wax and oil lube?
The more common oil-based lubricants are classic because they’re easy, and in most cases, they keep a chain running quiet and smooth. But unless you’re regularly cleaning and degreasing your chain, oil lubricants are dirt magnets, attracting dust and grit as you pedal.
On the other hand, some cyclists might have experience using actual wax, which provides the same smooth and quiet riding experience without as much grime. Originally, waxing a chain required a labor-intensive wax melting process (and the use of a slow-cooker or saucepan). While it was cumbersome, the results couldn’t be matched by oil-based lubricants.
Thankfully, now technology has allowed for the development of wax lubricants in liquid form, making them as easy to apply as their oil-based counterparts. So, with wax-based lubes like Squirt, you get the best of both worlds.
Which is better, wax or oil chain lubes?
In most cases, our choice is a good wax lube for their clean, quiet, low-maintenance performance. Buuuuut, that said, we’ve also tried many wax lubes that barely last through one or two rides, or don’t seem to lubricate as well. So, stick to our recommendations here and you’ll likely fall in love with wax lubes for most conditions.
Is there a time I should choose oil over wax lube?
If you’re riding inside on the trainer, you may want to stick to an oil lube. Wax sloughs off as it’s used, so you may end up with a carpet stained by “greasy” chunks of wax if you’re not careful.
And if your riding conditions are beyond sloppy, you may need a thick wet lube to overcome the constant onslaught of rain, mud, slush, and grime.
Why are some lubes labeled as biodegradable?
It’s only in recent years that lube companies have shifted to looking for eco-friendly options. According to The Ecologist, many lubricants were made with environmentally unfriendly Teflon and petroleum distillates.
Think about how you wash your bike, near a storm drain or on the grass in your backyard, or how your chain lube may get into the soil if you’re out on a long ride. It seems like a minor thing, but finding a chain lube that is biodegradable is just a small way to help reduce your carbon footprint (or tire tread in this instance).
Why can’t I just use regular WD40?
Actual WD40 might seem like a substitute for chain lube since you use it to silence squeaky hinges or loosen tight bolts. But using WD40 on your chain is doing more harm than good: It acts as a degreaser, not a lubricant.
Use WD40 to clean your chain if you don’t have any Simple Green or your chain is so dirty that grease-fighting dish soap isn’t doing the trick, but don’t use it as a lubricant. (That said, the WD40 brand does make a chain lube that we recommend above.)
Can I use the same chain lube on all my bikes?
Yes. Your choice of chain lube should be more condition-dependent rather than bike dependent. If you’re heading out on a wet or muddy ride, opt for wet chain lube. (Those tend to be popular with cyclocrossers.)
Ride in the desert? You’ll want a dry chain lube to avoid a buildup of grit. If you bounce between settings, look for an all-around chain lube, though be prepared for frequent cleaning and reapplication, especially after particularly dusty or muddy rides.
How do I switch from wet to dry chain lube?
Clean your chain and use a degreaser to remove any lubricant buildup, grit and grease, and make sure it’s fully dry and wiped clean. Then, simply apply the new chain lube, let it sit for a few minutes, and give it a final wipe down to avoid grime-attracting buildup. You’re ready to ride!
What about switching from oil to wax-based lube?
If you’re making the switch to a wax-based lubricant, the same rules as above apply: Clean and degrease your chain first. But it’s even more important when making this switch, since the oil lube and wax lube won’t mix well together, so you want your chain to be completely oil-free before making the transition. (Even if you’re starting with a new chain, clean and degrease it, since new chains come coated in heavy grease.)
Are those expensive chain lubes worth it?
Depends. Like most things in life, as you reach the upper echelons of performance, the price increases exponentially faster than the benefits.
In reality, the very best chain lubes might reduce chain friction by maaaaaybe 1-2% more than the other really good ones we recommend here. But keep in mind, those other really good chain lubes are already reducing a lot of chain friction. So, 1-2% better than something that’s already really good is truly a marginal gain.
So, the perceived performance gains are subtle, but there are other benefits: Longevity and silence.
The Silca, absoluteBLACK, and CeramicSpeed lubes are the quietest we’ve used. When we’re cruising along and can’t hear or feel our drivetrain, we trick ourselves into feeling like it’s faster. So there’s that subliminal benefit, too.
They’re also some of the cleanest and longest lasting. And some have ingredients that better protect the drivetrain, extending its lifespan.
Bottom line: Yes, they’re better, but maybe only worth the price if you’ve already optimized everything else.
Why do your chain lube recommendations differ from lab test results?
There are several 3rd party labs and bloggers that publish their own test results based on lab tests, machine data, friction and chain wear measurements, etc. Those are great, and we generally agree with their findings…in a lab. The lubes we’ve chosen here simply represent the very best that we’ve actually used in the wild, on dirt, in rain, through mud, and across the desert, etc.
Hearing how quiet some lubes are, or seeing how clean (or not) they remain over miles of grit, grime, and gravel, is very different than what you “see” in a lab. Blasting your bike with a pressure washer between CX races? You probably don’t need to be slathering ultra-expensive, long lasting lube on that bike because you’re just gonna drip more on between laps. But if you’re dialing in your bike for that one big fondo or gravel grinder of the year, then it’s definitely worth splurging for something that’s more likely to last through it.
How do I properly clean my chain?
The best and most thorough way to clean your chain is to remove it, soak it in degreaser or white spirits for an hour (or overnight), then spray it down with fresh degreaser and scrub all sides of it with a toothbrush. Then maybe some soap and water, then allowing it to completely dry (like in a low-temp oven or direct sunlight).
Yes, this takes time, but if you’re prepping for a big event, complete overhaul, or switching to one of the premium chain lubes mentioned here, it’s worth the effort.
Alternatively, chain cleaners like the Park Tool Chain Gang kit often get it “clean enough” without having to remove it. The kit comes with a cassette cleaning tool and degreaser, too.
If you’re really time-crunched, the Finish Line Speed Bicycle Chain Degreaser works so well it’s scary. It literally blasts grease and dirt off your chain, leaving nothing but bare metal. The downsides are it’s not biodegradable (but is at least ozone-friendly), and that all that grease and grime ends up getting blasted onto whatever’s behind the chain…which can be your bike, garage floor, etc…make sure it doesn’t spray onto your disc brakes!
Should I degrease a new chain before installing it?
Here’s where it gets funny…most chain manufacturers will say no, that the stock grease is perfectly fine. Most chain lube brands will tell you that grease is too thick and a magnet for dust and dirt. Anecdotally, we’d agree on the latter (third party testing backs that up, too) and recommend using the cleaning method above to completely clean your chain first if you want to get the best possible performance from a lube.
How can I extend the life of my chain?
Appropriate chain cleaning and lube reapplications will help elongate your chain’s lifespan. After every ride, give your chain a quick wipe down to dry it off and remove buildup, especially if it got wet during your ride.
How much is too much chain lube?
Many riders over-lube their chains. Generally, if there’s anything more than a light coating of chain lube on the outside of the chain, you’re just wasting lubricant, and risking it getting into other parts of the bike including the brake surfaces or rotors.
Excess lube also ends up on the teeth of your cassette, chainrings, and derailleur pulleys. It becomes difficult to properly clean your drivetrain, collects dirt, and accelerates wear on your cassette and chainrings.
Avoid this by wiping down your chain after applying lube, ensuring that it’s nearly or entirely dry to the touch.
Have more questions about chain lubes and maintenance? Leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them!