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In the local hardware store I found this ultra cheap lithium soap fat. Can I use this for lubrication of my bicycle chain?

  • Car transmission oil is better. Some people advocate that you can go with a dry chain, because sand and dust can get there regardless of oil... although it depends on your climate. A rainy/puddles climate is best with oil. Everyone should have a bottle light-oil for door hinges, shavers, bikes and small mechanics. If you don't have light oil, lithium can still protect from water, but the chain can get black, sticky and messy. – aliential Jan 19 at 4:57
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    @com.prehensible I think what they mean with “dry chain” is that you should use a dry lube (which is designed to creep into the rollers and “dry out” there, leaving little trace on the exposed parts), instead of anything greasy. A truely dry chain would be a very bad idea, unless it's a high-tech thing with ceramic bearings in every joint... which I don't believe is a thing. – leftaroundabout Jan 19 at 15:59
  • @com.prehensible in case you mean a chain that is dry outside, while the rollers are lubed inside. That is a very good idea in most climates. The outside only needs to get protected from corrosion, it does not need lubrication. All good lubes are sticky and attract dirt. If you lube your chain (with proper chain lube, not light oil!) then wipe its surface thoroughly and apply a wax coat you get a well lubed chain that is dry to the touch and does not attract dirt. – gschenk Jan 20 at 16:15
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No, lithium grease or similar grease compounds are in general not suitable for bike chains.

Bike chains need lubrication of inner surfaces between rollers. Chain lubes contain solvents to reduce viscosity enough to creep into these gaps. The solvent dissipates and leaves a high viscosity oil.

The surface does not need extra lubrication. It is best to remove all chain lube from it to prevent dust and grit adhering to the chain. Eventually it would get into the chain rollers and increase wear.

Lithium complex grease is good for mounting parts. For example seat posts or screw threads. It can serve as an allround grease to server the purpose of anti seize compounds and bearing grease. There are a few components, like suspension forks, that must not be lubricated with lithium grease though.

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    Also, I suspect a greased chain would pick up a lot of dirt, and then you’d be riding around with grinding paste. – Weiwen Ng Jan 18 at 20:30
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    Concur - I suspect plain water would make a better lubricant than fat. – Criggie Jan 18 at 21:58
  • Certainly some lube is also needed to reduce friction between chain and sprockets. Running a chain which is completely "dry" on the outer surfaces should ruin any aluminum chain wheel in zero time. You don't want excess fat on the chain, but you do want enough. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 19 at 9:37
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica not really. There isn't any loaded frictional movement in a properly working chain/sprocket contact – the chain just “lifts off” and “touches down” orthogonally, and only when it's fully on the sprocket does it transmit force. This only changes when the chain is worn out and thus doesn't properly fit on the teeth of the sprockets anymore – then you do get slippage and thus wear. Also, every gear change requires at least a little slip, though modern cassettes are designed to minimise that too. – leftaroundabout Jan 19 at 16:06
  • I have used lithium grease and confirm this answer. The grease don't last for more than 50 km and its difficult to remove. – djnavas Jan 21 at 11:26
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When lubricating a chain, we need to get the slippery stuff "into" the chain.

Specifically it needs to get between the rollers and the pins, marked in RED below.

Modified version of image from https://www.gorhambike.com/how-to/chain-replacement-and-repair-pg490.htm

This is the area that takes all of the pressure from the chainring tooth, while rolling as the chain bends and straightens, as it does while entering and exiting the toothed rings (chainring and rear cogs and any pulleys)

To get the lubricant inside that area, it has to be carried in by a carrier fluid, which then has to evaporate or dry off, leaving the lube behind in the right place. The only way in is around the sides of the rollers.

There is also an advantage to having some lubricant in the areas marked in green, where there is a sliding friction but there is no pressure friction.

Notice the outside has absolutely no need of lubrication. Your chain should be clean and dry to the touch. The rear mech does not guide the chain by the outside so no lube needed there. The front mech does push the outside of the chain, but we change the front far less so its not a big deal there to have some dry friction for a short time.


Your grease is just that, a complex hydrocarbon concoction intended to stay inside a bearing where it is put. Grease is not intended to "move" to a new location before settling down. So a grease will not get into the rollers where its needed. However grease will actively stop the right lubes from getting in, so de-grease before re-lubing.

The three "good" lubes for a bike chain are Wet lube, Dry lube, and Hot wax. In summary:

  • Wet lubes are an oil with a capillary action. They "wick" themselves along a narrow crack and will soak into the right place. Should be done on the bike. These are somewhat resistant to rain.
  • Dry lubes are wet lubes that have a solvent content as a carrier. The solvent wicks into the right place, and then dries off after a few minutes. This leaves behind a dry waxxy layer of lubricant. Should be done on the bike. These are less resistant to rain
  • Hot wax literally cooks the chain in liquid paraffin wax. This allows molten wax to wick into all the crevices, and then sets. The chain is then removed from the cooling wax and allowed to set. Excess wax is removed from the outside for later reuse. Must be done off the bike, in a heating appliance.
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    What do you use to stop the unlubricated parts from going rusty? – Andrew Morton Jan 19 at 14:18
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    @AndrewMorton wet lube! — In a dry climate, rust isn't as much of an issue; it would still happen eventually, but as chains wear out anyway, there's not much point worrying about that. – leftaroundabout Jan 19 at 16:11
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    @AndrewMorton Chains have a variety of coatings on the plates and rollers.. Chrome is common, as are electroplated finishes. Cheap steel chains may have a layer of iron phosphate, a layer of black rust that is better than red rust. Even paint can last a while on the outside of the inner plates, though it tends to fall off the outer plates immediately. – Criggie Jan 20 at 2:17
  • Could you cite or otherwise note the source of the included graphic? – ti7 Jan 20 at 20:09
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    @ti7 its in the alt-text. "Modified version of image from gorhambike.com/how-to/chain-replacement-and-repair-pg490.htm" – Criggie Jan 20 at 21:34

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