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Good afternoon,

I'm quite mechanically inclined (formerly an auto mechanic and currently an engineer) but relatively new to cycling. Compared to other contexts I'm familiar with, I've noticed that bike chain lubricants, for example the Park Tool chain lube (https://www.amazon.com/Park-Tool-Synthetic-Blend-Bottle/dp/B000AOA290) or the Finish Line wet chain lube (https://www.amazon.com/Finish-Line-Bicycle-Chain-Lube/dp/B000WYCD5O?th=1) are very expensive per quantity compared to automotive lubricants. I'm wondering if anybody has extensively tried any of the following as bike chain lubricant:

-Automotive Transmission Fluid (ATF)

-Manual Transmission Fluid / Transfer Case Fluid / Gear Oil

-relatively "heavy" motor oil, ex. 10W-40

In my general experience I've found that ATF is usually the best lubricant for almost any purpose, for example I've found that ATF lubricates air tools better than air tool specific lubricants.

I'm planning on trying ATF out before I spring for another bottle of Park or Finish Line chain lube. Has anybody else tried any of the above for bike chain lubrication?

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    Roller chains are funny things - the lube needs to be wet enough to get inside them, then also needs to be dry or set or settle so the rollers are lubed inside. The outside is relatively less important. Its this two-stage nature that makes chain lubricants expensive compared to motor oils. That said, anything's better than nothing. – Criggie Nov 5 '16 at 11:28
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    Downside of "just trying it out" is that chain wear is so hard to measure, you need to run through a complete chain over ~5000 km travelled before you can start to draw conclusions about how well or poorly the lubricant might work. Simply oiling (atffing?) the chain isn't going to show a lot, and it will always get quieter if the chain is already in need of lubricant. – Criggie Nov 5 '16 at 11:31
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    Pretty much any oil-like petroleum product will work. Even lard will work. But some things work better than others. Chain lube is made to trade off lubricating properties, dirt rejection, and water repellent properties. If you're really poor I can see using something else, but you use so little chain lube it's false economy to not use the real thing if you're not really short of money. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 5 '16 at 11:51
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    sheldonbrown.com/chains.html – Batman Nov 5 '16 at 12:39
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    Note that you use much, much less of the bicycle chain lube than you do of motor lubes. A 50ml bottle will last most cyclists 6 months to a year (most of the cyclists who lube their chains, that is. It would last most bicycle owners a lifetime) – Móż Nov 6 '16 at 9:04
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In my experience, the objective of a good chain lub for a bike is to maximize lubrication time while minimizing dirt attraction.

That happens for three reasons:

  • The chain is totally exposed in a performance bike. You have dirt coming from the ground, the wheels, the air...
  • You legs are surprisingly close to the chain, and may rub it quite easily.
  • The situation where your chain snaps from the crankset and you may have to reinsert it manually in the crank teeth is not quite rare.

That is why there are a great variety of chain lubs. You can go from minimum dirt attraction (wax) to the maximum (wet).

I would say that if you are perfectly happy with a wet lub, a switch to an ATF one would not pose a big problem. What you do not want to you use are solvents, most notably WD-40, they do not act as a lube long enough.

Do not use thicker oils, as standard engine oil: they will render your chain a mess in not so long and they won't penetrate deep enough in the links.

On the other hand, if you want to minimize dirt attraction, something I prefer personally, I would use a bike chain specific dry lube or wax.

As a bottom line, you know that a 120mL bottle lasts like forever? You have to apply only one drop per link, meaning only 0.05mL per link.

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You can use almost anything you like as chain lube on a bike as anything is better than a dry squeaky chain. However for chain longevity, lasting lubrication and lack of oil flinging.. Specific stuff is in most cases better. When I used to motorcycle and motoX I ended up using a chain lube called PJ1 Blue Label, it was awesome stuff especially as when used on my immaculate road bikes the lube wouldn't fly off and coat my rear wheel in grease. It goes on from the straw like bubbling thin oil and is quite tacky, then it thickens up. I always wiped off the excess whilst it was still thin. It was soo good I transferred its use over to my pedal bikes too and it worked like a charm.

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    Noted - that a proper chain lube works well as a chain lube. – Criggie Nov 12 '16 at 4:59
  • “when used on my immaculate road bikes the lube wouldn't fly off and coat my rear wheel in grease.” isn’t this only an issue if you don’t wipe off the excess lube? – Michael Sep 19 at 10:32
  • “isn’t this only an issue if you don’t wipe off the excess lube?" To be honest, no. Even with the best chain lubes you'll still get a little bit flying off. Especially flat out at the Isle of Man TT 😁 – Orb 2 days ago
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This may not be a popular answer, but I recommend 80-90 weight gear oil. It takes more time, but you will get 10x the number of rides as the "proper" chain lube.
To lube the chain with gear oil:

  1. Remove the chain from the bike
  2. Thoroughly clean the chain with a de-greaser, wash with water and immediately dry with compressed air. Be sure to blast air in each roller to push the water and left over de-greaser out.
  3. In a left over card board box, stack the chain on itself with about 10 links per row. This should make a rectangular shaped chain stack, similar to how a new chain arrives in the box. Lean this stack on the side of the box. The box side will hold the chain shape during the rest of the process.
  4. Drip gear oil on the top of the stack. It should start traveling to the bottom of the stack like a "plinko" game. You may have to do several coats before it gets to the bottom of the stack. The box will soak up excess oil.
  5. Leave it overnight.
  6. Wipe the chain with a clean towel until no more lube comes off.
  7. Put it back on the bike and ride.

Because you have thoroughly wiped the chain, the gear oil that is left is inside the rollers, where you want it.
In addition, it will not attract dirt because it is trapped inside the roller.
Because gear oil is thick, and gets thicker the longer it's outside, it will not fling off easily.
It will last far more rides and washes than normal bike chain lube. The other benefit is that you do this off the bike, so the excess lube does not get on your chainring(s) or cassette cogs.

The biggest downside is the time it takes to do this. Personally, I don't mind the extra time if it means I don't have to worry about lubing the chain all the time.

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