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In the past, I personally have only used WD-40.

However, I have occasionally had my bicycle looked over at the locally run, free service sessions and most of the mechanics there use a hand applied type of greasy gel (I forget the name).

Questions:

  1. Is WD-40 suitable for bicycle chains?
  2. Would alternatives provide better chain longevity?
  3. When shopping around for lubricant, what are the most important things to look for?
  4. What do you use and why?

    (optional added extra) Any tips for reducing chain wear?

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(Pretty sure this question has been asked/answered several times already.) –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 19 at 18:32
    
@DanielRHicks I couldn't seem to find any. NOTE: I will keep this open for a few days to give people time to answer. –  Xareyo Feb 20 at 10:35
    
Did you look to the right of this question? –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 20 at 12:20
    
Of course and none are related. Feel free to link. –  Xareyo Feb 20 at 13:27
    
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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This question leads to one of the great religious debates of the bicycle culture. Ask ten mechanics which chain lube is best, you'll get ten different answers. The honest answer is "it depends on your maintenance habits and the weather and your preferences, so you should try some different things until you develop an opinion of your own." That's tough to do without understanding what to look for.

The main species of chain lubricants you will see:

  • Oils of various viscosities. Often sold as 'wet weather' lube. Finish Line wet is an example.
  • Teflon in an evaporating solvent. Often sold as 'dry weather' lube. Finish Line dry is an example.
  • Wax in an evaporating solvent. White Lightning Clean Ride is an example.

Oil is a fine lubricant. It sticks on your chain fairly tenaciously in bad weather, so requires less frequent application. On the other hand, road dirt can accumulate quickly and turn into a nasty black paste, especially if overapplied. Wipe extra lube off the exterior of your chain after application!

The Teflon and Wax style lubricants have a lubricating substance in a solvent. The solvent lets the stuff flow, distributing the lubrication to the inner crevices of your chain, and then evaporates, leaving the lubrication where it needs to be. Then, like with oil, you wipe off the exterior of the chain. These chain lubes tend to leave your chain less messy, but can wash out more easily in rainy-day riding.

Take those considerations into account and pick whichever seems most suited to your situation.

As other answers have mentioned:

  • WD-40 does not make a great chain lube, what lubrication it leaves after evaporating is too thin.

  • Do clean your chain, externally with a rag at the very least, before re-lubing. If you do a thorough clean with solvent or degreaser & water, make sure your chain is completely dry before reapplying.

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Thank you for the detailed answer, it's a good summary which seems to cover all of the bases. –  Xareyo Feb 24 at 11:07
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Go to a bike store and buy purpose-made chain oil. It will generally come in 2-3 grades from "dry" to "wet". "Dry" you'd use in dry, dusty conditions. "Wet" you'd (obviously) use in conditions where it's frequently wet. You can read the blurb on each bottle to see what sounds best for you.

At the very least, wipe the chain with a rag before oiling. Ideally, use some sort of "chain washer" (ask at the bike store) to clean the chain before oiling.

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I live in a fairly mild to wet region, so on first assumptions I would have to go down the wet route. Like you said however it maybe worth checking out some shops to see what each say. –  Xareyo Feb 20 at 10:53
    
@Xareyo - The thing to beware of with "wet" oil is that it is stickier and collects dust/grit more rapidly than "dry" oil. Thus the chain needs to be cleaned and reoiled more frequently. –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 20 at 12:22
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Stop using WD-40. It's not a lube but a degreaser.

The most important thing to consider when buying a chain lube is your riding conditions. There are dry and wet chain lubes. Choose accordingly.

Any tips for reducing chain wear?

Make sure the chain is relativelly clean and dry before relubing. Relubing a chain full which is of dust and soil will make them act like grinding material which will wear your chain down.

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My reference to WD-40 assumes the generic and classic WD-40 and not the bike specific ("WD-40® BIKE") dry lube. –  cherouvim Feb 19 at 16:43
    
what about using WD-40 to clean the chain before lubing it? –  Michael Feb 19 at 20:08
    
@Michael: I have done that many times. Cleans the chain well. Not sure it its the advised thing to do though. –  mattnz Feb 19 at 20:14
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@Michael - Yeah, WD-40 is not a terrible choice for cleaning the chain, and is a pretty decent choice for cleaning gunked-up derailers and clusters. When I use it what I like to do is slide a section of newspaper up behind the chain and derailer when spraying, to keep the stuff off the tire. Just be sure to wipe off as much as possible before oiling. Then oil, wipe, and oil again, since the WD-40 dilutes the oil a bit. –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 20 at 2:04
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WD-40 is the wrong stuff since it pretty much evaporates off. Motor oil is also not ideal. 3-in-1 oil is also not ideal since it gums up. Using a purpose bicycle chain lube will improve longevity. The particular choice of lube is a bit of a religious choice, but they are marketed with specific conditions quoted. You can find one at your bike shop on which riding conditions you do, and then use it.

This link to Sheldon Brown is a good read on chain maintenance and when to replace your chain. For cleaning your chain, you can use something like the Park Tool CG-2.2 - its essentially a case, which you put in something like citrus degreaser and close it over your chain. then you spin the chain, and it brushes the chain and washes it in the degreaser.

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Thanks for the article link, I found the section on measuring chain wear very interesting. I've seen people measure them before and most have been reluctant to share what they are looking for. –  Xareyo Feb 20 at 11:00
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The practical aspect is that chain wear gauges like the cheap park one area a lot easier than his system though, even if they make you replace your chain earlier. –  Batman Feb 20 at 12:15
    
Yeah, in practice using a ruler is so awkward that few are apt to do it very often, or remember how to do it from one measurement to the next. And the gauge is cheap and easy to use -- you can easily do it daily if you want (which would be a good idea for me, since I always forget where the thing is). –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 20 at 12:27
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