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Because I have sometimes spent a lot of time digging around for bike parts and only discovering the existence of something awesome after many hours of browsing, I'm wondering whether there could exist a type of chain lubricant that wouldn't be so dirty. On my current bikes, even if I roll up my pants, I'm bound to get greasy dirt somewhere (assuming I don't have a chainguard).

I could imagine that the tradeoff would be that this has to be applied more often or something (thus being less widely known because lay people want worry free bikes).

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If the lube is properly applied it should not be thrown off the chain, so you will only get lube on things that touch the chain. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 31 at 14:28
    
@DanielRHicks yeah but that's my problem exactly, i always end up inadvertently touching the chain. – Sheraff Jan 31 at 14:32
    
Get some gaiters. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 31 at 14:36
    
@DanielRHicks I know there are other solutions. I'm asking about lube. – Sheraff Jan 31 at 14:37
    
Nothing will be perfect. Chain wax is probably the least likely to rub off, but when the chain gets dirty the dirt rubs off regardless. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 31 at 14:39

The answer is not really. Chains are dirty and they get you dirty.

Dry lubes tend to be better than wet lubes in this regard, but they'll both quickly get your legs dirty. But dry lubes are normally not considered to be good for wet riding.

You can clean your chain periodically (e.g. Park Tool CM-5.2 Cyclone (TM) Chain Scrubber, which clamps onto the low tension part of the chain, runs the chain through a pool of cleaner with some foam and bristles to scrub it as you back pedal), and relube it, but the crud from road and stuff will make any lube dirty quite quickly. Some more elaborate and thorough ways of cleaning a chain (with considerably more work) are outlined here.

The other options are chain guards or full chain cases (possible with an IGH if you need gears) or belt drive. And tying your pant legs helps a good amount too.

Edit: I've added some notes on chain cleaners from some chain manufacturers (Shimano, KMC, SRAM). Follow at your own desire. Many people use chain cleaning machines like the Park Tool CM-5.2 or remove their chains and soak them in a solvent for a bit, but manufacturers are generally against this. YMMV. FWIW, I own a CM-5.2, but I don't use it very often.

KMC does not recommend the use of a chain cleaner like the Park Tool CM-5.2 (in the CG-2.2 kit):

Clean your chain after every ride, especially after riding in the wet.

Always use a piece of dry cloth to clean the chain.

Do not forget the sprockets, front changer and derailleur pulleys.

To remove mud or sand, use the bristle brush (which comes with every 120ml packing of KMC’s chain lube Pro), use light soapy warm water, if necessary.

Do not use acidic or alkali based detergents (such as rust cleaners), these can damage the chain and may cause breakage.

Do not dip your chain in (aggressive) degreasers - they remove the remaining grease from the chain’s bearings, and may cause cracks. They are also bad for our environment.

If the chain is really dirty and difficult to clean, besides using a brush for the inside, try putting some solvent on a cloth and use it to clean the chain’s exterior.

Try to avoid a so-called ‘chain washing machine’ in combination with solvent. This will instantly ruin your chain.

Some lubricant brands advise you to completely degrease the chain, KMC does not recommend this.

Shimano recommends wiping the chain with degreaser.

In dusty conditions you can wipe off the outside of the new chain with a rag that is wet with a gentle degreaser to keep dirt from sticking to the grease. and Maintenance interval depends on the usage and riding circumstances. Clean regularly the chain with an appropriate chaincleaner. Never use alkali based or acid based solvents such as rust cleaners. If those solvent be used chain might break and cause serious injury.

You should periodically wash the chainrings/sprockets in a neutral detergent and then lubricate them again. In addition, cleaning the chain with neutral detergent and lubricating it can be an effective way of extending the useful life of the chainrings/sprockets and the chain.

(From Shimano SI-09R0A-002-00)

From SRAM Technical Manual 2010:

Clean dirty chains before oiling. Do not use any acidic agents. Cleaning agent must be rinsed off after a few minutes with water. Apply oil after chian is completely dried.

Regular lubrication will extend the chain's service life. Apply oil to the chain links rollers and allow to work in.

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Add that you can choose a bio-based lube and it's nicer on your skin if you do get it on you. You can also wipe down the chain after rides. I add lube to the chain and use a rag and back spin the chain through the rag using only lube to wash it - lube rinse. – Brady Jan 31 at 12:33

I've used a wax based lube on my commute bike for years and it does a pretty good job of lubricating the chain without leaving a mark on my legs or clothes. I use White Lightning Clean Ride, but there are other brands with similar products.

It's not completely clean, it still leaves a greyish dirty smudge on skin or clothes if you touch the chain, but it's easily washed off -- it's not nearly as noticeable (or as hard to wash off) as the dark black smudge that oiled chains can leave.

I never clean the chain or cassette, relying on the shedding action of the wax to keep it clean, I just apply the lube liberally, spin the pedals for 30 seconds then wipe off the excess. I do tend to get a waxy buildup on the derailleur gears, which I scrape off every year or so. I reapply every couple weeks, more often in rainy weather.

Some people say that the wax lubes don't do as good a job of lubrication as oil based lubes, but I measure my chain regularly and tend to get around 2500 - 3000 miles out of it before it shows enough wear to replace. The chain is noisier than a oil lubed chain, and may even be less efficient, but I'm ok with losing a few percent efficiency if it means I never end up with a chain tattoo on my work pants. Admittedly, my commute is pretty easy, mostly flat, not much shifting of gears - and this year is the first year in about 4 years that it's been significantly rainy, if you have a serious rainy season, the wax may not stand up as well.

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Not really - lubes and oils need to be soft or liquid to do their job. Else they're paints.

For some things spray-on "Dry Glide" may help, but that's absolutely not a chain lubricant or a grease.

I have always simply tucked my right pants cuff into my right sock when riding. Short socks may not do the job so sometimes I use a velcro / hook-and-loop-fastener strap. You can roll your pants let up but I found that doesn't stay up for long.

Close-fitting cycling pants may help, but I can't bring myself to wear them only, and have normal trousers on top.

Chain guards is your only other option, unless you're able to pop for a belt drive bike, and my impression of belts is that they still shed dust.

You didn't specifically say but I suspect you're also noticing oily hands when digging around the parts. Auto-mechanics hand cleaners like citrus-based ones, or traditional ones like Swarfega work well. You can also use toothpaste in a pinch. Another technique is to wear disposable nitrile gloves, or to rub hand cream on before you start getting dirty.

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Pumice soap (e.g. Lava) is another option. – Batman Jan 31 at 7:18
    
@batman agreed - anything with an abrasive is good for removing oil, which is why toothpaste is a workable subsitute. At last resort I've had to soap up and stick my finger in the kid's sandpit to get the right amount of sand. This tends to clog pipes though, so its really last resort. Many handcleaners use small granules of nylon, which will float in water, whereas sand sinks. – Criggie Jan 31 at 8:12
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Here in Germany, the mechanics hand cleaners have sawdust in them (Teroson Teroquik is the one I use henkel-adhesives.de/industrielle-anwendungen/…). It's the best I have ever used. I used the pumice/sand ones in the US till I moved here. The sawdust works better, and biodegrades. – Brady Jan 31 at 12:31

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