45

My chain and cogs always look very dirty as the oil attracts dirt. It is a constant problem as you can't fully avoid stains on your trousers and hands. Also, that looks ugly and I believe it wears the chain and the cassette out as the particles stuck on chain act as abrasive.

I used to think that was unavoidable, but then I noticed that on some bikes the chain and cogs are shiny clean. Is that because their owners clean the chain daily (because honestly one day is enough for a chain to turn black after full cleaning) or because they use different lubrication solutions?

I heard about teflon-based lubricants, are they really much better in that sense than traditional oil-based ones? Also, these bikes with shiny chains were always single-speed bikes - does that mean geared system experience more traction and should be traditionally oiled?

1
  • related question about chain lubricant here. And you can find here instructions how you can clean dirty chains. You need to take them off and clean them separately. It is impossible to have "an always clean chain" but an old sock and a proper lube (to take off the dirty and lubricate) will lead you to the right way. -Yes, lube is also a dirt-exctractor! Do not let the dirt kill internals.
    – user652
    Jul 28 '11 at 11:34

17 Answers 17

26

When you clean and then lube your chain ALWAYS take a towel and wipe off the excess lube. Just hold the towel on the chain and spin the crank backwards. And as mentioned above use a strap around you pants leg. A large rubber band works. A timing chip strap worn in triathlons work... those velcro watch bands work... lots of ways here.

Your hands will always get grimy if you have to touch the chain.

4
  • This. I relube and clean the chain on a bike after about a week of use. This keeps the chain shiny and extends its life greatly. My last chain got nearly 3,000mi of use and lasted just shy of a year. Jul 27 '11 at 14:54
  • 4
    This, yes. But not just this. See STW's much more thorough answer on this page. There is far more to this than just that.
    – zenbike
    Jul 28 '11 at 1:54
  • 4
    STW's answer is comprehensive, but using a full chain cleaner and washing it off in rubbing alcohol is IMHO overkill. It's a $30 part, and simply wiping/lubing it is enough to extend its life dramatically. The extra hassle and expense of doing such a dramatic clean so often is quite simply not worth it. Aug 1 '11 at 15:57
  • @Stephen -- The additional cost and effort isn't bad; I've estimated about $1.50 for materials for each full cleaning. I do the chain at the same time I clean the drivetrain and entire bike. For me this is done about once a month, and might take an extra 15-20 minutes total to get the chain fully clean.
    – STW
    Aug 2 '11 at 17:10
52
+50

There's lots of good info here, let me summarize my cleaning routine which combines many of the approaches already mentioned, and keeps the chain in good condition and appearance. This focuses on getting the chain totally clean and dry (no water, degreaser, or lube) before re-oiling it; and then on removing as much excess oil as possible. The end goal is a very clean chain with just enough oil--excess oil will quickly attracts grime.

Cleaning:

  • First the chain gets a wipe-down with a damp rag to remove as much sand and grime as possible. This is just to knock the worst of it off the chain.
  • Second the chain gets two passes with degreaser. I use the Park Tool Chain Gang cleaner which zenbike recommended for this. It gets filled with degreaser, and gets about 30x cranks on the pedals; then a fresh batch of degreaser goes in and it gets another 30x cranks. At this point the chain should be quite clean except for the degreaser.
  • Third the chain gets washed in 91% rubbing alcohol--this is primarily to wash off the degreaser, but it also gets the last of the grime. Sometimes this takes two rounds--the last round of alcohol should remain quite clean.
  • Fourth the chain is left to dry for ~5-10 minutes (just long enough for the alcohol to evaporate off). At this point the chain should be totally clean and dry with no degreaser left anywhere on the drivetrain--move quickly onto re-oiling, as a dry chain is vulnerable to corrosion.

Lubricating:

  • First the new oil goes on, 1x drop per chain roller. After applying I let it sit for a couple minutes without turning the cranks to let the oil seep into the internals.

  • Second I spend a few minutes slowly running the chain through a clean rag to remove most of the excess--maybe a couple-minutes worth.

  • Third I let the bike sit for a few minutes, then wipe the chain again, and repeat a couple times. The oil inside the links will slowly seep out of the next day or so--so this step is just to remove that excess oil as it appears.

  • Finally I give the chain a wipe before and after the first couple rides. Again just to remove the excess oil as it seeps from the internals.

I usually do this routine every 100-250 miles, depending on how fast the chain grimes up. The goal is to have a very light layer of oil over the externals of the chain, and as much oil internally as it will accept. If you notice the chain is staying too dry, but not dirty, then you can re-oil without cleaning and repeat the process of cleaning off the excess.

8
  • 1
    I followed this advice (approximately) and was extremely happy with the results: thanks.
    – Ronald
    Apr 17 '12 at 0:01
  • 1
    @memnoch_proxy: It depends on how much you value riding your bicycle.
    – cherouvim
    Jul 30 '13 at 9:11
  • 4
    A stellar example of OCD. Jul 31 '13 at 1:38
  • 2
    @CareyGregory - If I insisted on doing the whole process three times, then I'd agree :)
    – STW
    Jul 31 '13 at 18:14
  • What kind of terrain you ride? Hard soil? Dusty dirt roads?
    – user5369
    Dec 7 '14 at 10:08
18

Bring the oil to 130F or the temperature specified by the bottle.

Hotter oil means thinner oil.

The hot oil will penetrate your chain and when cooled again, will remain there.

About all that cleaning. It's greatly exaggerated. it's a chain. it's probably cheaper to replace it than to clean. Not saying that you should not clean, but water, soap, a rag, and reapplying oil after dry should be enough!

All you people suggesting that a person that does not own a bike shop to buy chain cleaner gear and expensive products should be ashamed. it's like redirecting them here http://sheldonbrown.com/chainclean.html

Ride. when the chain is full of grime or too noise. clean and oil again.

6
  • 2
    Regarding the exaggeration of cleaning, if you have expensive chain, cassette and chainrings then a dirty chain will wear those down quicker. Taking the time to do things correctly will save you money on the long run.
    – cherouvim
    Jul 30 '13 at 9:51
  • 3
    but on the other hand, cleaning too often will make you waste more time than you would need to work and buy a new expensive set :)
    – gcb
    Jul 30 '13 at 17:27
  • 2
    "Chain cleaner gear and expensive products" is relatively inexpensive. And it's simple and quick to use -- far simpler than replacing a chain, even if the chain is free (which it isn't). Jul 30 '13 at 19:23
  • A small query: Is kerosene/petrol/gasoline a decent alternative to degreaser (just toothbrush dipped in kerosene to remove dirt)? I don't think the bicycle shops around me sell something like a degreaser. Frankly, I haven't even heard of such products.
    – WYSIWYG
    Jul 19 '15 at 12:24
  • i think degreaser that does not advertise as bio degradable is already idiotic. kerosene and gasoline is even worse. if you can't clean with water and soap, just throw it away and buy another. steel is biodegradable :) also, your goal is to get oil INSIDE the rings. and degrade will ALWAYS remove that. and putting it inside again will be much harder.
    – gcb
    Jul 20 '15 at 0:11
9

I don't like exposing myself to degreaser. I tend to soak in Simple Green solution and then promptly oil. Not perfect, good enuf if I happen to be replacing a link or what.

Cyclists train themselves to avoid touching their chain and then glumly smirk when someone points out their calf tattoo. I have many pairs of shorts that look much older than they are because I've picked up my bike too casually. Keeping a chain clean is likely solving a problem with too much effort. Alternatives to regular deep cleaning your chain include:

  • A chaincase. The reason most bicycles lack a chaincase is due to vanity and economics, and most civilian bicycle endeavors would benefit from your bicycle having a chaincase

  • A bashgaurd. This plate goes over your large chainring and keeps your cuff out of the teeth

  • A belt drive bike. Only some bikes can be retrofitted to a belt drive, but if you're in the market for a new bike, a belt drive is quieter, more resilient, easier on the knees, and mighty clean.

I get around to cleaning my own chain(s) on weekends as I have time. If I see a shiny chain, I chuckle. I'm way too busy to polish my links.

8

Usually a clean chain is due to the bike simply not being ridden (much). You can look at the tires and see no wear, no scratches on the bike, etc. These bikes are ridden by CSOs -- cyclist shaped objects.

But you can keep your chain relatively clean several ways. A chain cleaner/washer tool similar to what zenbike shows helps a lot (but don't overuse it). Then use a relatively "dry" chain oil. "Dry" means that the "oil" consists of Teflon and/or wax particles suspended in a solvent. When it is applied the solvent evaporates, leaving the more solid material behind, but not leaving the chain sticky. (The bike shop guy will be able to point you to the chain oils, and many/most will say "wet" or "dry" on the label.)

(NB: For riding in wet weather, though, you should use a "wet" oil, one that is more like a traditional motor oil in composition. It's still best to use a purpose-made bike oil, though.)

But mostly you need to embrace the grime. If you're wearing regular trousers, use a leg strap to hold the chain-side trouser leg tight to the leg. (This also prevents getting the cuff hung up in the chain or on the sprocket.) For your hands, carry a pair of disposable "surgical" gloves, in case you need to muck with the chain.

4
  • 1
    +1 for the CSO terminology. Although you can generally (not always) tell cyclists from CSO by the shape of their body.
    – Kibbee
    Jul 27 '11 at 15:23
  • Yeah, but you can see a $2000 bike standing there and not know if it belongs to a cyclist or a CSO without studying it for wear. Jul 27 '11 at 16:26
  • 1
    I keep a pair of nilprene gloves in my bike bag on all my bikes. This is super smart if you bike with little kids, as if you need to monkey on the chain, you don't want to grease up your toddlers. Aug 3 '11 at 5:52
  • The guy who runs BikeHacks keeps an old sock tied to his seatpost for when he needs to touch the chain.
    – Hugo
    Nov 5 '11 at 23:04
6

There are a number of reasons why a chain will get dirty quickly. One is the type of lube used, and how it is applied. Too much lube is as bad as too little for that reason.

See this answer to see how to Lube your chain properly.

There are tools as well to allow you to clean more efficiently, and more often, like this:

Park Tool Chain Gang Cleaning set

6
  • So it is about regular cleaning, not about one lubricant making much better sense in terms of keeping the chain clean than another?
    – Yuriy
    Jul 27 '11 at 10:54
  • 2
    It is about both. Different lubricants are better suited for different areas of the world better than others, based on weather, and conditions. One thing that makes them better is how the conditions affect how quickly the chain picks up dirt. In addition, it's about how the lube you use is applied, since if you apply it wrong or too liberally, it will pick up dirt faster. The "one day" that it takes yours to get dirty implies to me that lube is applied to heavily.
    – zenbike
    Jul 27 '11 at 11:09
  • Maybe people who like a really clean chain will takes theirs off the bike and wash it by immersing it.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 27 '11 at 14:43
  • @ChrisW, that works as well, of course, but it requires in many cases that you either use a master link, which I prefer not to do because I've personally had too many fail, and if you don't then you must break the chain, which weakens the rivets at each link, unless you use a replacement pin, which in turn limit how many times you can break the chain before you replace it. It also takes more time, so I prefer this way. It is by no means the only way.
    – zenbike
    Jul 27 '11 at 14:48
  • 2
    I'm a bit lazy about cleaning my chain, so I tend to be thorough when I do clean it and immerse the chain in degreaser overnight. (Despite having one of those Park Tool chain cleaners - they're convenient but can make a bit of a mess.) However, for those who want their chain truly and thoroughly clean, there's the ShelBroCo Bicycle Chain Cleaning System. Jul 28 '11 at 3:10
5

I am surprised that I didn't see it already. I use a hot parafin wax bath to both clean and lubricate my chain. It's simple to do, and pretty cheap when all is said and done.

Materials: $9 mini crockpot from Walmart $2 canning wax from Publix (or your local supermarket).

Set up crockpot and turn on high. Add blocks of wax and let melt. This will take a while (30 minutes). In the mean time, remove chain from bike and clean thoroughly with mineral spirits bath. That's the last time you'll have to do that. Let dry in the sun until wax is melted. Take chain an place in crockpot and watch the tiny bubbles escape from the chain. Once they stop, give the chain a good stir. Let it set for 10 minutes or however long it takes for you to prep for the next step.

Get a decent sized piece of cardboard, and with a pair of pliers remove chain carefully from the wax. Set on cardboard and let cool until you can touch it comfortably. Replace chain on bike and bike away. It'll take less than a km for excess wax to be shed. Although not the most waterproof method, it does handle the rain well. Dirt does not collect on the chain.

I find my chains (honestly) get 250+ miles between baths. You know it's time when it gets a little squeaky. There's no need to clean the chain. Simply remove and place back in hot wax bath. The hot wax will penetrate and displace the dirty wax.

It's a great method that does take a little extra time, but it's worth it. Plus, you won't notice that time if you are doing other things around the house.

Proof is in the picture. This is my foul weather commuter. Taken today after a rain storm into work.

Clean chain and cassette thanks to wax

4

It's worth experimenting with different products and methods. There is no 'one size fits all' solution. It depends on your components and the oil you use, how often you clean your bike and what with, the type of contaminants your chain is exposed to when you ride... etc. My method is:

  1. Only if very grimy, I will use a solvent (WD40 or similar) to help break down the dirt and grease. Wait for solvent to evaporate or it will act on the degreaser.
  2. Degrease using chain scrubber and degreaser of choice (I use Fenwicks).
  3. At this point, degrease and clean the chainrings, cassette and derailleurs, otherwise the chain will just pick up fresh grime from those components.
  4. Clean entire chainset with warm soapy water. Dry off thoroughly.
  5. I do not oil the chain straight away. Only a tiny amount of water will remain in the chain which will evaporate over a day or two before any corrosion occurs. (Unless, that is, you store your bike outside in a temperate climate). If you oil the chain immediately the oil will displace any remaining water, flushing out residual grime in the internals and causing a nasty black mess. If you are worried about corrosion just use an aerosol water displacer (WD40/GT85).
  6. One drop of oil per roller. Wipe off links immediately. Wipe off rollers after a few minutes and before you run the chain, otherwise the fresh oil will collect the residual grime from the other components.
  7. You will know when the chain needs cleaning again. It will look disgusting and squeak. It may also start skipping or dropping. This can lead to jamming in the front derailleur, which can easily lead to a accident, especially if you are going fast.

NB: It is virtually impossible to restore a chain to original condition without a LOT of work. It just isn't worth it.

You can't beat the feeling of riding a freshly cleaned, oiled and well tuned bike. I would say the amount of time you spend cleaning should be commensurate with the amount of time riding. I ride 5-6 hours a week on average, and spend an hour every fortnight cleaning and tuning.

3

You can use a wax based lube instead of an oil/teflon based lube. Your chain and cassette will always be clean, however, you will have to apply the wax lube much more often. I do it every second day (40-60km/day). This might seem like a pain, but applying lube is so much easier than cleaning the cassette/chain. Also, there will be no black on your chain ever - you can run it through your hand and nothing will come off! The only thing I do to clean the chain is once a month or so run the chain over an old toothbrush to get rid of built up wax. Good luck!

3

A quick way to clean your cassette is shown here without having to remove your wheel or cassette.

I found that just cleaning the chain leaves a lot of contaminants on the cassette, which makes a freshly lubed chain look dirty very quickly. Just using a grunge brush pushes the dirt around vs. a rag wrapped around a CD will actually remove it. As you can see above you can use the CD to guide the rag in between each cog above much more easily than trying to thread it between the cogs without the support.

Here is quick drive service that should be done 100-200 miles depending on the conditions and lube you use -

In short the steps I use when cleaning components are summarized as:

  1. Shift Into the Big Chain Ring and Small Gear in the back
  2. Degrease - Chain clean tools made by Park or Finish Line make things easier here.
  3. Water Rinse Chain - Chain clean tools made by Park or Finish Line make things easier here.
  4. Wipe Chain With Rag
  5. Clean Drive Components (i.e. Cassette, Chain Ring, and Derailleur)
  6. Clean Cassette (See Above)
  7. Wipe Chain With Rag
  8. Lube Chain - Only 1 small drop of lube per link. Find the masterlink/quicklink on the chain and use that as a reference to make sure you only lube a link 1 time. Less is more here as unnecessary lube just flings off the chain onto your wheel or braking surfaces and attracts more dust. Some people like to wipe their chain after lubing it, but I have had good luck just sparingly applying the lube to begin with so that after the next step there is not much need to wipe any excess. However, again each person may have their own opinion or preference on the matter.
  9. Shift through all gears and chainrings to spread the lube around.

You can spend more time cleaning components, by removing the wheel, but usually what is shown above is sufficient to keep things clean for most people.

You could try a dry lube, but in my opinion if you ride in an area that potentially has rain it is better for your drive train to have an all weather lube. I literally have run dry lube after people have told me all the benefits of not attracting dust only to run through 1 puddle and hear my chain squeak for the rest of the ride.

In my experience, WD-40 bike specific wet lube (Not regular WD-40!!!) works well as does Finish Line Ceramic Wet Lube. Both are relatively inexpensive and a bottle should last a few thousand miles. However, I am sure each person will have their own personal preferences when it comes to chain lube just like motor oil.

Hope that helps.

2
  • "gear floss" works well too cleaning between cogs - its basically fluffy rope used to "floss" the cogs.
    – Criggie
    Dec 9 '20 at 6:01
  • 1
    @Criggie - Yes I was going to buy some gear floss and then found it pretty easy to use a shop rag of which I have plenty laying around and a CD (or any other firm object that can fit in between the cogs) to clean in between gears. Consequently, I never ended up purchasing the bike floss. I am sure they are a good option for people too, but for me felt unnecessary. Dec 9 '20 at 14:17
2

This is a placeholder answer to be improved.

Ultrasonic cleaners can be used to blow the grime off a chain and cassette. I personally have not done this, but have been searching for an affordable cleaner for a while.

You need to make sure the tank is wide enough for your cassette - a lot of the smaller ones are only large enough for jewellery or eye glasses, and won't fit a cassette. Probably a 1 Litre capacity is the minimum (TBC) but more is better. You need to immerse the whole part in the liquid, any bit poking out will form a hard-to-remove mark at the waterline.

A heated unit can help, or you can simply fill it with warm water from a kettle. A degreaser agent in the water helps too. Check the degreaser notes for how to safely dispose of the dirty fluid afterward - it will be contaminated with oil etc.

Note these things make all sorts of weird noises, and if you have pets they will not like the operating noises.

Another possibly relevant video is GCN's

but that seemed to gloss over a lot of useful points. YMMV.

1
  • This answer will be updated once I buy a cleaner and do it myself.
    – Criggie
    Dec 9 '20 at 6:14
1

I use Rem-Oil for my chain. I wipe it clean by spinning the crank many times with a towel in hand and wrapped around the chain. I do this until there is very little black goo coming off. I then again spin the crank and spray Rem-Oil down into the links and let it sit for maybe like 10 mins or so at least. I then come back to it and spin the crank with another towel until it the towel again is not longer leaving black goo marks. This works very well for me and i ride maybe 200 miles a week and do it at least once a week. Rem-Oil is cheap so this has been good for me. I used Rem-Oil while in Iraq and my rifle was typically always cleaner than everyone elses due to the fact that dust never stuck to it unlike issued CLP. For this reason i trust it on my bike chain and it works!

1

I am going to focus specifically on the part of the question dealing with Teflon.

Teflon can be used as a friction modifier in, as far as I remember, either a wet or a dry lube. Thus, a “traditional oil-based lube” can also have teflon. I can’t remember which brands of wet lube have Teflon, but I recall there are a couple. A friction modifier is going to reduce the friction between the metal surfaces in the chain. I’m not a chemist, but I think there are a bunch of other friction modifiers for oil-based lubes. I have no idea if Teflon is more or less effective than other common friction modifiers.

Oil attracts and will retain dirt. Thus, the second you ride outdoors with an oil-based lube, it will get dirty. It doesn’t matter what friction modifiers it contains. If you want to keep a chain with wet lube clean, you are going to have to clean it very frequently. I think I remember hearing that professional road cycling teams clean their chains (most likely with an on-bike cleaner as mentioned in another answer) after every race, and they outright replace their chains very frequently, e.g. after a few stages. That’s how they have their bikes looking so clean.

I am skeptical of most dry lubes, as a number of them have very little lubricant and are mostly carrier fluid, e.g. one of the White Lightning formulations. I am a proponent of drip wax lubes (which, I guess, are a type of dry lube) if you can be bothered to thoroughly clean your chain beforehand. In my experience with one of these lubes, they should run a lot cleaner than traditional wet lubes. I have also switched to hot melt wax myself.

Admittedly, this process is not for everyone. Basically, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, wipe your chain with a clean rag every ride, do a more thorough cleaning regularly. Naturally, don’t let me stop you from switching to wax-based lubes if you want to.

1

Likely not the method you are looking for but when I saw the question my instant answer was 'fully enclosed chain guard'.

I have had many years where I never even saw my chain and even less had it getting dirty every time I used the bike.

The downside is that you can not use cogs (plural) as the chain guard casing would get too big. But internal hub gear do work with the fully enclosed chain guards.

1
  • Yes - I have since switched to another bicycle with hub gears and it's easier to maintain.
    – Yuriy
    Dec 10 '20 at 20:23
1

My chain and cogs always look very dirty as the oil attracts dirt.

Mine too.

It is a constant problem as you can't fully avoid stains on your trousers and hands.

Here I have to disagree. You only get chain lubricant stains on your hand if you touch the chain. The only time I had to touch my chain (apart from when I replace it with a new chain at home while having access to hand degreaser) was when I rode a 1x bike with narrow-wide chainring and clutched rear derailleur but wasn't aware of the need to turn the clutch mechanism on (the bike was shipped from the factory with the clutch mechanism off). The chain obviously dropped from the chainring and there being no front derailleur, I had to re-raise it on top of the chainring with my hands. Now I ride with the clutch on, being aware of the mechanism. So I don't expect I'll ever encounter a dropped chain again.

If you have a derailleur bike, learn how to remove and install the rear wheel without touching the chain. Then you can repair punctures without getting chain lubricant on your hands.

The way I protect my trousers from chain oil is the following:

When riding long distances, I use sports trousers that aren't wide at the bottom. Thus, they don't touch the chain. If I choose to ride on non-bicycling trousers (which I do for trips so short that changing trousers would be ridiculous), I put the bottom of the trouser legs on my socks.

Furthermore, I have a bike that has a chainguard. It allows me to ride without putting the bottom of the trouser legs on my socks. Unfortunately, not all my bikes have a chainguard.

So some combination of cycling specific trousers, putting the bottom of the trouser leg on your socks, and installing a chainguard will protect your trousers from chain oil.

Also, that looks ugly and I believe it wears the chain and the cassette out as the particles stuck on chain act as abrasive.

I didn't buy my bicycle to look at. I bought my bicycle to ride. So it's not a consideration whether it looks ugly.

However, I agree that excessively dirty chain will wear away the chain in no time. So you have to have some strategy to somewhat mitigate the amount of abrasive wear particles on the chain.

My strategy is as follows:

  • I never ever put oil on a chain if the chain doesn't squeak. A non-squeaking chain has oil and it doesn't need more of it. If you always oil a non-squeaking oily chain so that the chain will never encounter the squeaking stage, the chain will all the time collect more and more abrasive dirt that will wear away the chain in no time.
  • I only oil a chain that has been squeaking. The squeak means there is no oil. Thus, there being no oil, the abrasive wear particles don't stay on the innards of the chain that are constantly moving. You can take a look at the rollers of a squeaking chain. They are shiny clean. Only the side plates of a squeaking chain are dirty.
  • Before lubricating the chain, I wipe away the excess dirt from the side plates with a dirty rag.
  • I use thixotropic motorcycle chain lubricant in a spray can. It being thixotropic means that it penetrates the chain easily after shaken, but when left to settle, it becomes thick again, staying inside the chain and not dripping out. When starting to ride, it becomes thin and when parking the bike, it becomes thick.
  • After lubricating the chain, I wipe excess lubricant from the outside of the chain with a clean rag (not the same dirty rag you used previously). This can not be done perfectly, but do it good enough and the dirt collection will be minimized. There is no need for chain lubricant on the outside of the chain. Only the inside of the chain needs lubricant.

I used to think that was unavoidable, but then I noticed that on some bikes the chain and cogs are shiny clean.

Those are the bikes that have a chain not having enough oil. While it may sound good to not be dirty, if they don't have oil either, they will wear out in no time. There is a good middle ground between no oil and no abrasive dirt, and lots of oil and lots of abrasive dirt.

Is that because their owners clean the chain daily (because honestly one day is enough for a chain to turn black after full cleaning) or because they use different lubrication solutions?

Most likely the cause is that either the chain is cleaned daily or its lubrication has been neglected. Neither of these is a good option. Cleaning the chain daily requires lots of time, time that you are far better of spending riding instead of maintaining your bike.

I heard about teflon-based lubricants, are they really much better in that sense than traditional oil-based ones?

Teflon is not a liquid lubricant, so not a good solution. Not being liquid, it doesn't replenish. Thus, you need to re-apply it constantly if you want it to have any effect. Compare this to thixotropic motorcycle chain oil that in good conditions can easily last 1000 km or more on the chain without needing re-applications.

Also, these bikes with shiny chains were always single-speed bikes - does that mean geared system experience more traction and should be traditionally oiled?

I suspect those cheap single speed bikes have been neglected. Being single speed, their owners have not noticed the bad effects of chain wear. Their sprockets have probably worn so much that they can't take a new chain anymore without changing the sprockets too. Most cyclists that put any effort and money into their hobby use gears. A single speed bike is invariable cheap and its owner probably doesn't maintain the bike. As I said, a chain that lacks oil is shiny clean.

4
  • 1
    Any oiled chain be way too dirty after 500 km and should be cleaned and relubed. Does not matter if the oil is thixotropix or Newtonian. Teflon based lubricants are very good dry lubes, but they may be unfriendly to the environment (PFOA is bad and becoming forbidden).
    – Vladimir F
    Feb 28 at 11:07
  • 1
    So what Vladimir F is essentially saying, I should clean and relubricate my chain more often than I re-pump my tires, as in good weather I ride 280 km per week and re-pump my tires once every two weeks. I don't think I'm going to adopt that cleaning and relubricating schedule. Besides, my chains last 3000 km and cost what I earn during one hour of my work minus taxes. If I have to clean and relubricate my chain six times in their lifetime, and cleaning and relubrication takes more than 10 minutes, even if this would miraculously make chains last infinitely long, it wouldn't be worth my time.
    – juhist
    Feb 28 at 11:44
  • This question is about how to keep it clean. Not how long you can get away not cleaning it. And not about the chain lifetime. And I do not see any connection with pumping your tyres. If they don't leak, you can pump them in long intervals. Longer intervals then relubing. Yes, why not? If I am riding off-road, I often clean the whole bike, with the chain, after every ride while I do not re-pump it. There is no connection. There is no point showing-off with your salary here, it does not make the chain cleaner for your hands or your trousers.
    – Vladimir F
    Feb 28 at 11:49
  • The question is an meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem XY problem question. The problem is chains wearing away and making trousers and hands dirty. The attempted solution is keeping chains clean. My answer is not about the attempted solution -- my answer is showing the attempted solution is nonnecessary and the problem of chains wearing away and making trousers and hands dirty can be mitigated (not oiling a dirty chain) or entirely avoided (maiking trousers and hands dirty).
    – juhist
    Feb 28 at 11:52
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Wiping chain doesn't remove dirt. Most of he dirt is inside the chain. So take the chain out and soak it in the degreaser or kerosine for 5 min and brush thoroughly .then boil chain in the water for ten minutes. Add some washing powder in it. Then put the chain in sunlight .when it is dry ,u can put in back to the cycle or bike. This method will clear the dirt completely.

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    Hello, and welcome to bicycles.stackexchange. This question is almost 10 years old and has already 17 other answers, most of which include your main point. There are plenty of newer and unanswered questions, perhaps you'd like to have a look at them.
    – ojs
    Feb 28 at 17:48
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We have many other questions about lubing and cleaning. It is not constructive to repeat what I, or others, wrote elsewhere. If you want clean chain, clean it regularly. Use dry lubes in dry conditions as they attract less dust that may be flying around in dry conditions.

Teflon-based lubricants work very well, but there is a drawback for those that care about the environment. The perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), that is used to make teflon (PTFE) is a known harmful substance and is now banned in many places. However, the ban is very recent and many products available in the stores will still contain it. The replacements that are less harmful are actually still harmful. For that reason, fluorine-based ski waxes were banned by FIS completely for future years (although the products will be still available for consumers).

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