With long journeys and particularly during winter I have noticed that the salt erodes the chain very quickly, even when I have lubricated the chain beforehand. When you are missing proper chain lubricants, what would you use as a substitute? Could you use cooking oil if you are missing the right stuff, or should I keep a small bottle of oil with me on my rides?


  • What do you mean by chain lubricant? The thing that really matters is viscosity (marketed like wet/dry [1]). I am not sure but trying to find the extreme dry and wet choices may be the way to find proper substitutions, they may not be marketed as "bike oil". [1] bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/633/… – user652 Feb 7 '11 at 20:43
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    Lubricant is a general term that refer to substances meant to lubricate a bike's drivetrain; it doesn't mean a specific brand or type. – Neil Fein Feb 7 '11 at 21:35
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    Not really frugal, but belt drives don't need chain lubricant carbondrivesystems.com – Christopher Manning Mar 27 '11 at 9:08
  • I have noticed that some use a sock and chain lubricant to clean their chains, it can become prohibitely expensive with dirty chains and rather inefficient. For thorough cleaning, you can use cooking oil like here [1]. [1] bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/3304/… – user652 Mar 28 '11 at 19:04
  • Please define long and quickly. A 50ml bottle of oil lasts a long time - why not just carry some with you. – mattnz Oct 6 '12 at 8:04

If you go over to Bikeforums, and look in the "mechanics" section for chain-lube threads, you'll note that they go on and on and on and get downright cranky... People with their own home-concocted recipies, folks favoring waxes over oils, folks who use magic spells.. (well, not really but you get the idea)

It's a quandary. The ideal chain lube would go on like water, penetrate deep into the rollers, then set up like a nice, thick grease which would also act like a wax and not attract dirt and would prevent rust and..... I don't think it exists. Waxes don't attract dirt much, but they fall off. Greases don't get into the innards of the chain unless you heat 'em up and immerse the chain, and they attract dirt like magnets. I tend to use commercial lubes which at least penetrate well and set up to some degree, and I do a thorough cleaning as needed.


One option would be to use a cheap chain during winter and discard it in spring.

Another would be to not have the chain be salted in the first place, try a hermetic chain guard system.

If your bike doesnt have a dereailleur, you could try a chainrunner, but I have my doubts it protects against water getting into the lining. http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Chainrunner.JPG&filetimestamp=20100223153843

The Teflon-based lubricants are pretty good in summer, but dont help in winter.

Cooking oil is not suited for mechanical parts. (It chemically changes over time, contains acidity, etc)

  • Posipiet: by "hermetic chain guard system, do you mean things like inner hub or something else? – user652 Feb 7 '11 at 2:20
  • hmm, well, my bad, a hermetic system basically requires inner hub, yes. – Posipiet Feb 7 '11 at 18:43
  • Posipiet: I agree with your doubt about chainrunner. Suppose you don't remove it, the salty-liquid won't evaporate as easily and it may do more damage to your chain as without it. Then, again it protects in a way but it seems plastic that does not help evaporating. Risky purchase, won't touch it. – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 3:05

You might also consider using a stainless-steel chain.

Here's one source, there are probably others: http://www.connexchain.com/Bicycle-chains/9-Speed/1_327.html

  • is it a defacto that chains are made of some porous metal i.e. something that rust easily? I am not sure but I saw a chain looking a bit orange, a very thick chain used during winter. No idea ofthe material ideas? (not copper but perhaps some mixture) – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 3:00
  • I think that a stainless or nickel plated chain is the way to go, but you also need to keep the chain clean. Even a stainless chain will develop surface rust due to the build up of the minerals in the road salt if you never clean it. The metal itself won't rust, but there will be layer of minerals on the chain that will essentially make the chain act like a rusty chain. – Kibbee Oct 6 '12 at 0:44

Unfortunately, there isn't a substitute for simply keeping a bike clean. Even on a multi-day ride, it's possible to bring along a rag and a bottle of lube, at least getting off the worst of the salt and dirt before adding lube. Some bike shops sell small packets of lube, but those are getting harder to find.

Cooking oil is not designed to lubricate metal, and isn't going to do a very good job at keeping your bike lubricated. Wax lube works best in very clean environments, as it has a tendency to pick up dirt and, I assume, road salt, making the problem worse.

In winter conditions, I would stick with regular chain lube while keeping the drivetrain as clean as you can.

(If having a very clean drivetrain is important to you, you might consider looking into internal hubs or even shaft-drive bikes; both offer fully sealed drivetrains, but they do come with performance and weight trade-offs.)

  • neilfein: what about paraffin? Why do people use it? It seems to be some sort of substitute to chain lubricant such as chain oil. – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 3:11
  • I've never used paraffin; can anyone else comment? – Neil Fein Feb 8 '11 at 16:17
  • actually cooking oil is a substitute for cleaning the chains, I know a bit splitting hairs, but lubes have the function to clean the chains with sock. What do you think about it? I use the commercial lube for lowering the friction while riding but when I have very dirty metallic parts I regularly use cooking oil like: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/3304/… – user652 Mar 28 '11 at 19:13
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    @hhh - Cooking oil goes rancid, so I don't recommend using it. – Neil Fein Mar 29 '11 at 1:07
  • I meant a scenario where you only use cooking oil to take the junk out of the metallic parts, take it off and then use commercial lubes for lubrication. Strictly speaking, it is not lubrication per se but it is a substitute for the function of a lubricant i.e. cleaning the chains with cloth like sock. For cleaning dirty chains I have used cooking oil and then added real lubricant afterwards, it works. So my point is that cooking oil is a substitute in a way but you need to know how to use it, not to have rancid oiled chains, I am still uncertain about the best way to remove the oil – user652 Mar 29 '11 at 14:06

Jason Plank suggested a thing called hot wax here. I have no idea what it is, google returns more porn than bikes, so it would be helpful if someone pointed the right stuff.

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    Search for "paraffin" instead of wax. Paraffin is a waxy petroleum product that's often called wax: instructables.com/id/Lubricating-a-Bicycle-Chain-using-Paraffin – freiheit Feb 7 '11 at 5:13
  • Also had petroleum jelly (ie Vasonline) suggested before - it's certainly waterproof but isn't going to penetrate to lubricate bearing. It will also pickup lots of crud. ps don't search for vasoline+penetrate on google! – mgb Feb 7 '11 at 17:24
  • @freiheit: any idea whether the paraffin is cheap or why to use it? Could you use both paraffin and oil? After long rides, use paraffin and then during rides use oil? Oil looks much easier to carry. – user652 Feb 8 '11 at 18:10
  • paraffin needs to be melted, like on the stove. It's not a portable lubricant. I doubt you'd get good results mixing it with oil. – freiheit Feb 8 '11 at 18:44

Not really a substitute but the instrinsic goal is the same to get the chain more long-lasting. I met a guy that switched to thicker chains with other material during winters more here.


I have always used Phil's tenacious oil in the winter time. Very thick but lasts longer than most in some of the worst conditions.

  • john busteed: you mean bottled oil? (google returns bottled oil) Equivalent [1]? [1] global.ebay.com/… – user652 Feb 7 '11 at 19:47
  • No this - philwood.com/products/gohc/oilngrease.php – john busteed Feb 7 '11 at 22:08
  • According to the MSDS for Phil Wood Tenacious Oil, philwood.com/philpdfs/msds/Tenacious_Oil_MSDS.pdf it contains nothing but "petroleum hydrocarbon". This is some generic stuff bought cheaply in large quantities and then sold in little bottles as a bicycle-related product. The web site claims they blend in rust-inhibiting and other additives but no additives are mentioned in the MSDS so there is no reason to believe it. – Kaz Oct 5 '12 at 22:25

For lubricating bicycle chains, and other parts, we need a light machine oil, perhaps thinned a little bit by a solvent to help it get into the chain. Furthermore, an anti-rust additive would be helpful.

I found an oil which meets these requirements and is inexpensive (paid about $5.50 CAD before taxes for a 500 ml bottle at Vancouver Auto Parts). On the bike chain, it doesn't pick up a lot of dirt and isn't difficult to remove with detergents. It happens to be an air tool oil.

Not every light machine oil will necessarily have such anti-rust additive. Why it is important in an air tool oil is that these tools are exposed to water which condenses in the air compressor and makes its way into the supply lines.

This is the specific product I'm using:


The ingredients are published in its MSDS (material safety data sheet) accessible from the above product page. The exact formula isn't given away, but the MSDS gives us a good enough idea about what is in there. It's mostly hydrotreated oil (hydrotreating not only removes sulfur, but improves the quality of oils: the Wikipedia page does not tell all), a bit of napthtenic oil (thinner-bodied class of oils with some useful properties), a hydrocarbon distillate to help the product act as a penetrant, and a zinc-based anti-wear, anti-rust additive.

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