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What's the best chain lubricant for a bike used for riding in normal(ish) clothes, year-round?

I've been using Tri-Flow, but that tends to leave black greasy/dirty stains on pants, shoes, etc. I've heard of melting solid parafin, but that seems too labor-intensive.

Most important: not picking up dirt; not staining anything that touches the chain. (yes, I know of various ways to keep clothes away from the chain, but none are perfect)

Must also work in a wide temp range and wet conditions. For my area, I'll ride in temps from 30F (-1C) to 106F (41C). With heavy rains in winter. Just this last week I've ridden in drizzle, 55F (13C), and 107F (42C)…

Would be nice if it was long-lasting…

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For reference, some other answers to a related question on lube: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/3/…. I don't think its a duplicate, because this question does specifically ask about 'not picking up dirt'. –  Kevin Aug 27 '10 at 6:25

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I prefer White Lightning. The major proviso is that you must shake it thoroughly before application. It's wax-based, so it generally picks up less dirt than most of the alternatives. You want to wash the "new chain goop" out before the first application, but after that don't normally need to clean the chain at all -- just add more lube every few weeks (or few hundred miles...)

The only thing I've used that is (or was) better was pure Teflon -- years ago, you could get tubes of pure DuPont Teflon (two varieties, one for bearings, one for chains). It was difficult to get the chain thoroughly lubed initially (you basically had to put a tiny droplet at the edge of each roller, then "massage" it in with your fingers), but once you did, it lasted nearly forever. Unfortunately, at least AFAIK, this is no longer made -- but if you happen to run across some for sale, it's well worth grabbing some. In case you care, here's what they look like: alt text

This is the bearing grease. If memory serves, the chain lube was printed in red instead of blue (and said "chain" instead of "bearing", of course).

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+1 for White Lightning. I've been using it for years in heat, rain, snow, dust, slush, sand and anything else a city commute can throw at it. –  Scottie Sep 20 '10 at 8:22
    
This isn't 100% Teflon, but looks interesting: www2.dupont.com/Consumer_Lubricants/en_US/products/dryfilm.html –  Jay Sep 24 '10 at 3:41
    
Wait, here is some old stock: calhouncycle.com/productcart/pc/… –  Jay Sep 24 '10 at 3:44

Tri-Flow works the best. Any wax or lubricant that contains wax is only somewhat useful on a brand new chain, or a chain that has been thoroughly cleaned. Wax lubricant does not work well when riding in wet conditions because a lot more road grime gets kicked up into the drive train and the wax tends to do the opposite of what is advertised.

You aren't going to find a chain that doesn't leave stains on your clothes. Your best bet is to get a chain protector to keep your clothes and your chain separated.

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I find automatic transmission fluid (aka "the red stuff") works really well. It's pretty thin, so it gets into all the places it needs to go, and it doesn't seem to attract dirt/dust that much. Oh, and you can get a quart of it for four bucks!

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I'm a big fan of Pro Gold. Year round, all weather. Road bike. Commuter bike. http://www.progoldmfr.com/products2/ProLink_Chain_Lube.htm

Apparently the Pro Gold company got their start making lubricants for mining equipment. So think of lubricating metal in adverse conditions. Anyway, the downside to their bike chain lube is that it can be hard to locate locally. It's available online though.

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According to the MSDS, this looks like nothing special. Notably absent is any rust inhibiting additive. The bulk of it is "aliphatic hydrocarbon" and in contains a lot of napththa as a solvent. There is a small amount of hydrotreated oil, but its naphthenic. This doesn't have anything to do with mining equipment, and everything to do with putting some ordinary junk into little bottles and selling to gullible cyclists. You can get better lubricant for less, and easier to find, and without carcinogens like napththa and napththalene. –  Kaz Oct 6 '12 at 3:45
    
Heh, some place called "Triboutique" (the name should put you off, if you have brain cells) sells ProLink in Canada: three little 100 ml bottles for almost 30 bucks. LOL! triboutique.ca/Pro-Gold-ProLink-Chain-Lube-p/pg_prolink3.htm Snake oil! –  Kaz Oct 6 '12 at 3:46

Have you considered trying something with a different application method? Hosing your chain down with Tri-Flow works, but there is a lot of excess to go along with that. This summer, I switched from T9 to using motor oil on my chains, and it seems to work well in all the areas you discussed. I have heard a lot of people don't like using motor oil, but it hasn't let me down yet. It keeps the chains quiet and happy on both my bikes, even in the worst of rain (puddles up to the bottom bracket).

I'm in a fairly cold environment (80F to 20F) so I've been using 30 weight oil, but any weight should work. I use an oil can with a hand pump (similar to this one), which makes it easy to apply one drop per roller. After giving the drive train a good spit (keeping the chain moving for a minute or two), you can wipe any excess off the plates. This allows you to put on just enough lube, without creating a dirt trap, or having lube flinging off onto clothing. It may sound boring to oil the chain in this way, but after a few runs at it, it becomes quite relaxing. Still is takes ~5 minutes to lube it up, though.

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If you've never tried Boeshield's T-9, I highly recommend it. It's the bike advocate's WD-40. Fairly lightweight penetrating dry lube. It's a good balance of most traits - it goes on clean, is fairly long lasting for being as lightweight as it is, doesn't build up (quickly), and it's very easy to apply if you get the aerosol version. I use it for road and mtb unless I'm riding in mucky conditions. It's also a good lube for squeaks and creaks, sticky shifters, derailleur pivots, etc. Get a can and it'll last you nearly forever.

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