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I've been trying to figure out what I should use when cleaning my bicycle chain. When I first purchased my bike, I knew I needed to lube my chain when i did regular maintenance. I purchased some White Lightning Self Cleaning Bicycle lube, which suggested to me that I only needed to put that lube on the chain and everything would be fine.

I recently purchased another brand of lube, and it didn't say anything about self cleaning. I've read in several places that a degreaser is needed and a cloth and some soap to clean a chain properly, and then lubing takes place afterwards.

If I buy White Lighting self cleaning lube, do I need to go through the regular chain cleaning steps? or can i just lube my chain and go?

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Basically, the "very dry" lubes contain tiny particles of a wax-like substance suspended in a "vehicle" that quickly evaporates once applied. Slightly "wetter" oils (still in the "dry" category) contain Teflon or some such in a "vehicle" that contains a touch of heavier oil (just enough to make the Teflon adhere and provide a thin oily coating to help resist rust). Then you go through the range of "medium" oils until you get to your extra-"wet" (& heavy) oils which are designed to withstand being nearly continuously wet. As you go down the range the dirt-catching tendency of the oil grows. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 27 '12 at 18:51

3 Answers 3

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I've used white lightening and thought it was good. I never use oil based lubes now - they're just too messy and you end up paying double because you need to first buy the oil and then also buy expensive degreaser to wash them off again.

I do get through wax based lubes faster than oil - you have to reapply more often. Compared to the faff of oil based lubes though, it seems worth it.

You do have to still clean your chain and cogs off every so often. How often depends on the weather, distance and type of terrain you've been cycling through. But, it seems like far less mess and time is required than oil based lubes. To clean I soak the chain in a mix of hot water, washing up liquid and something like kitchen/hob surface cleaner.

I think my girlfriend appreciates it too as I make less of a mess when doing any bike maintenance.

I forgot how nasty oil based lubes can be until recently when I stopped on a trail to help a guy with a broken chain. His chain was gunked up nastily. The oily emulsion looked like it held particles of grit in it well, so I'm sure he was grinding through his chain and transmission with it. Also, I gave up trying to wash the stuff completely off my hands after I got home, and ended up with marks that lasted a few days until my body shed a layer of skin. I wouldn't have had that problem if he'd used a wax based lube.

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It depends -- on the lube you use, the type of riding you do, and how much of a maintenance nut you are.

  • The "drier" the lube you use, the cleaner the chain will stay (though "dry" lube does not protect as well against moisture).
  • If you ride on roads, and rarely ride in the rain or slop, you need less chain maintenance.
  • Some people have to have their chains spotless, others can tolerate a bit of grime. Keeping the chain spotless probably adds 5-10% (over "moderate" maintenance) to chain and sprocket life (though you can overdo it and actually make things worse). But that extra 5-10% life is not that significant.

One important thing to do, after lubing, is to use a rag to wipe the outside of the chain. This removes a lot of grime and also removes excess lube that will attract more grime.

I generally use a chain washer system about once a season (and when I was commuting regularly I'd use it about once a month). Others do more, less, or none at all.

(FWIT, I also generally use a Teflon or wax-based "dry" lube, though I used to switch to something heavier when I did winter riding.)

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White lightning in particular is a waxy lube, not an oil based lube. The idea is that as dirt gets embedded in the lube, the wax flakes off instead of trapping the dirt particles and leaving them in a position to work themselves in between the plates of the chain.

Most other lubes are oil based, so they don't have this property. I don't have much personal experience with wax based lubes so I can't comment, but I have met cyclo-tourists who carried a block of paraffin wax which they melted and dipped their chains in every night as part of their regular maintenance. This never seemed to be a maintenance savings to me.


If I buy White Lighting self cleaning lube, do I need to go through the regular chain cleaning steps? or can I just lube my chain and go?

Since White lightning is not a grease, using a degreaser is probably not necessary except when you switch from an oil based lube to a wax one. When you buy a new chain, it comes greased, but that grease should be clean of grit.

If you don't keep reapplying white lightning as often as recommended or the chain looks visibly dirty, then you're running the chain effectively without any lube or grit protection, so you should clean fully before reapplying.

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I guess my next questions is whether this Wax lube (which is a dry lube?) is going to be cost effective. I use the bike for commuting, about 9km round trip each weekday, but I avoid rainy days. I'll just have to do some math. –  meltdownmonk Aug 27 '12 at 16:08
    
@meltdownmonk, If you're riding that consistently, then investing in a chain washer as Daniel R. Hicks suggests might be worth it. A chain washer costs less than a new chain. –  Mike Samuel Aug 27 '12 at 16:21

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