Terms such as wet/dry/xyz/winter/summer/autumn lubricants are not well defined. I find it very hard to determine which bottle is worth buying, spray, bottled, wax, parafin, purple, green, Y (other things) -- now, my brain encountered a stackoverflow.

Can one measure objectively which oil is more appropriate to a particular usage case?

Help Questions

  1. Which properties to look for in chain oils?
  2. Are there standard terms by which to judge chain oils?
  3. Is there an index of different properties in oils that would cover things such as viscosity?

I must confess the topic is more like a research type of question and hence hard to attack directly. Things such as soft matter/dynamics research require computing power, numerical analysis, statistics and understanding of the inner structures. For unknown souls, you may like to watch directly into the dragon's mouth here. Do not think that this question is solved even if I accept an answer.

  • Ok. I edited the title. The question body is difficult.
    – user313
    Feb 7, 2011 at 23:16
  • wdypdx22: well it changed the topic all together, better just to remove it now. Perhaps, too challenging topic.
    – user652
    Feb 8, 2011 at 3:26
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    wdypdx22 - The question was originally asking about quantifying terms used to discuss bicycle lube. I think your most recent edit went a bit too far, although I certainly agree the question needed to be cleaned up! Feb 8, 2011 at 16:13
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    If you don't like mgb's answer, you shouldn't accept it as the accepted one. I think the question is quite answerable. Feb 8, 2011 at 19:33
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    @Neil Fein: well enough, I took the bait. Now 50 points rewarded to a person who can answer the question. Have fun!
    – user652
    Feb 12, 2011 at 18:43

2 Answers 2


I've talked to a lot of folks about chain lube. I've met quite a few people with strong opinions, and they vary wildly. Some folks swear by paraffin wax based lubricants like the White Lightning line of lubricants. Other folks swear by oil-based lubricants like Phil's Tenacious Oil. Still others won't ride without a teflon based lubricant like Tri-Flow. Everyone who swears by one of these three types of lubricants will tell you the others are terrible and will destroy your chain or some other nonsense. The rhetoric is silly -- each of them works well enough. I've had good and bad luck with different products in each category.

When it comes down to it, you just need to find a lubricant you like and use it. The biggest deal, according to some very experienced mechanics I've talked to, is to keep your chain clean. Your chain needs lubricant on it, but it doesn't take much to keep it lubed. The big thing that destroys chains is dirt. If you clean your chain frequently, it will last a lot longer. When you clean it, you should be able to run your finger along the links (the top or bottom, not the sides) and have your finger come away with a little bit of lubricant on it. If there's nothing there, you should lube your chain. If you do this, what lube you choose won't matter nearly as much.

That said, there are some differences to take into account. The two things I think most about are waterproofness, wetness, and application instructions.

  1. Waterproofness: If you ride your bike in the rain, you need a lube that will resist washing off. A lot of the inexpensive lubricants you can buy are not very waterproof, so by the end of your ride the whole thing has washed off. That's bad for your chain. If you look at the lubricants you're considering, the bottle should explicitly say if it's waterproof. For this condition, Phil's Tenacious Oils work pretty well, as does Boshield's T-9 lube.
  2. Wetness: Some lubricants leave the chain with a glistening wet surface. When you put it on, you should be able to wipe this off a lot, but some lubes (like oils, and some of the teflon-based lubes) will leave an oily sheen whenever they are present. This oily sheen can pick up dust from the environment. If you're riding in a dusty environment you want something that will dry completely and still work. For dry conditions, Tri-Flow makes a product that dries completely and leaves a teflon lubricating layer. Boshield's T-9 is good here too -- it dries and leaves a parafin wax lubricating layer.
  3. Application Instructions: Different lubricants require different rituals to apply them. Some of them suggest you put them on the chain, wait 30 min, and wipe off the extra. Others suggest you lube the chain and immediately wipe off the extra. Some even suggest putting it on the chain, wiping off the extra, and then letting the bike sit in a warm space for 12 hours before use. Depending on what you're doing, this may be impossible. My girlfriend and I accidentally bought a bottle of the "sit in a protected place for 12 hours" stuff on a bike tour, and it was terrible. We were camping, we had no protected place for it to sit. When you apply the stuff "wrong", it works very poorly; we were applying it every 2 hours of riding, and still getting some nasty wear and squeaking.

So there you go: there's no one answer. If there were, you wouldn't see so many products on the market. If you give it some thought, and do some experimentation with a couple of the products that suit your needs best, you should settle on something you can use well, and go through slowly. Chain lube doesn't need to be a big expense.

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    thanks for distinguishing ride conditions, that's critical. Also, a lot of the lubes I see say "apply, ride, wipe". Which is fine for touring but commuting it means either affing or carrying lube to work so I can lube, ride home, put on glove, wipe.
    – Мסž
    Feb 15, 2011 at 0:51
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    One other criteria: toxicity. After working in a bike shop for a while I become quite sensitive to the kero bath and also to the solvent in some of the solvent-based lubes. Others didn't bother me. Now I'm not working in a bike shop I just minimise exposure, but it is something to think about.
    – Мסž
    Feb 15, 2011 at 0:53
  • @moz: what is "kero bath"?
    – user652
    Feb 15, 2011 at 21:09
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    @hhh: "kero bath" is a common term for a parts washer (tokentoolroom.com/machinery.html). Broadly, a container and some kerosene with a pump and resevoir. You can get the same effect using a jar, toothbrush and some kero.
    – Мסž
    Feb 15, 2011 at 21:23

Not really - the only 'scientific' thing they could really quote would be viscosity.

What you care about is also how long it lasts, how much road crud it picks up, how it handles salt, how it is in rain - and all over the temperature range from -30C to +30C depending where you live.

ps - ok with the new title, my algorithm is: go to my LBS, confess that I've just been using cheap 3in1 oil from the DIY store and ask what they use.

  • the first paragraph is not true. There are things such as breaking point, stress and other factors. The resistance of fluid, viscosity, is one factor among many although important.
    – user652
    Feb 12, 2011 at 19:01
  • @hhh - true, what I meant is you can't just say "10W30 is the correct oil" it depends on how and where you ride, how often you do maintenance - lots of things outside the chemistry of the fluid.
    – mgb
    Feb 12, 2011 at 20:17

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