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Indoor training seasons starts and I'm again about to set up my direct-drive trainer this weekend. Before doing so and after experimenting with different methods of lubrication over the years, I'm wondering:

What kind of lube should I use for my indoor trainer?

I tend to use light-running oils or dry lubes because the drivetrain stays cleaner. At least in my experience, even on a chain/cassette that have been cleaned thoroughly, some grit/excess oil occurs over time using "just" oil, something like a dry lube (or even wax) isn't prone to this effect so much.

On the other hand, riding indoors pretty much eliminates dirt sticking to the drivetrain for obvious reasons, and that's the main reason why many people refrain from using thick/cheap oil for outdoor riding. It does the job but pulls too much dirt and grit to the chain and all the moving parts. On the other hand, tradtional oils stick to the drivetrain better and typically last longer.

I'm aware of drivetrain efficiency differences between those products, yet marginal, but I would argue that a few watts don't matter for most of us on an indoor trainer during winter.

Second aspect: Does riding indoors extend periods between required (re)lubrication, can I just go for way longer than I would outdoors because there is practically no dirt buildup?

My feeling is that at least for dry lubes, the drivetrain gets noisier after riding around ~150 km (or even less), so I would re-apply lube even if the chain is reasonably clean. Dry lubes/wax sometimes seems to peel/chip off, is this the same for plain mineral oils? I haven't seen any dripping oil on my floor/bike, so do lubricants go anywhere at all if there are no external factors like water and dirt?

In case of doubt, I would still go by ear and shifting feel, but I'd be interested in other's experiences.

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    What's under your bike? Can it cope with the odd drop of lubricant like a garage floor or must it be properly clean, like light-coloured indoor carpet ?
    – Criggie
    Nov 3, 2023 at 9:36
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    @Criggie It is a full-size indoor training mat with some (sweat-resistant) coating, so it wouldn't let a drop of oil through. That is not my biggest concern, it is ease of use and durability. I went with "performance" lubrication in the last years but I feel that just some random bike-specific oil might do a better job overall because I know dry lube just doesn't last that long, even on a trainer....
    – DoNuT
    Nov 3, 2023 at 10:16
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    @Criggie the amount of sweat one can produce on a trainer is impressive (unlike real biking, it's not evacuated by the moving air). Also, if the drivetrain is not perfectly clean, you'll also have a bit of grit coming from the chain/sprockets. So protecting the floor is a requirement if it's not easily washable. On hard grounds, training mats also have the advantage of limiting vibration transfer, so it's quieter for the neighbours.
    – Renaud
    Nov 3, 2023 at 10:52
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    Since I have a dedicated (singlespeed) trainer bike, this question has me wondering if waxing the chain is the best approach (I currently use dry lube)
    – Paul H
    Nov 3, 2023 at 18:24
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    Flaking of drip wax is usually a sign of (a) residual grease on drive train, (b) low chain temperature at application, (c) too wax. Thoroughly degrease the chain and rinse with alcohol, apply at room temperature, and use single drops at each roller. When going right capillarity pulls the lube into the gaps at rollers.
    – gschenk
    Nov 3, 2023 at 20:16

4 Answers 4

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The purpose of greasy and sticky lubes is to resist being washed out by water. (Hopefully this will never be a concern in your home.) The disadvantages to comfort and convenience are obvious.

If your aim is to reduce chain wear thoroughly removing grit is more important than the choice of lubricant. As long as it is a bike chain lube. Light machine oil or such will not do as it will be displaced by high pressure at contact surfaces.

With dry lube products be extra careful to ensure they do not contain PTFE (or other PFAS). They are already very problematic in regular outside use, you really don't want to contaminate your indoor spaces with that.

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  • I only have bike products but stacked up everything from cheap thick home depot oil over light-running "performance" oils to dry lubes, wasn't really sure what to throw on the bike this season. My current bet is the dry lube because it'll make the least mess, is easy to apply and even tough it'll require quite some re-lubing, that's all the maintenance I have to do - with oil, I'd have to clean/degrease the chain once in a while. Perhaps, I'll try wax next year, doesn't seem to be too complicated to apply....
    – DoNuT
    Nov 3, 2023 at 20:40
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The bike I put on my trainer is the trekking one, that I happen to use sometimes for utility purposes (and remove from the trainer then). So I continue with the lubricant that is on the bike. In this case it's dry lube (drip wax on the other bikes - I'll pass this one to drip wax when changing the chain).

I thought about wet lube, but discarded the idea: the bike is in the basement, that is of course less dusty than a dry gravel track, but the cleaning process that follows the conversion from wet to dry is more tedious than wiping the chain with a cloth and adding a bit of dry lube when it's necessary (note: a factor on my aversion to wet lube is that dolomite is used on bike paths and in parks here, so wet lube collects this dust quite fast).

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    Yeah, that's one of the big advantages, despite the chain running dry more often. Not much to no grit to wipe off, add (dry) lube again and repeat. My bike will be stationary for all winter, so that sounds like I should just put a cloth and the dry lube next to the bike.
    – DoNuT
    Nov 3, 2023 at 10:56
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    @DoNuT that being said, if your bike stays indoor and you want to try wax, it's a good moment to clean the the drive train. Drip wax once the drivetrain is clean doesn't require much more work and it's much more clean (for a bike that stays indoor you probably won't need to clean your skin if you touch the chain) - the only "drawback" is that you need for the wax to dry before riding, so you can't do it straight before a ride.
    – Renaud
    Nov 3, 2023 at 19:44
  • Maybe I'll try wax when I've used up the other products I have in stock. I'm currently using some famous brand's dry lube. Works well for me in terms of "clean drivetrain", the only downside is that it really needs constant lubrication because it doesn't last that long, like a single big day out before getting noisy. At least, cleaning is a lot easier because you often get away with just using a cloth instead of a deep clean of cassette and chain with brushes and loads of degreaser.
    – DoNuT
    Nov 3, 2023 at 20:32
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Here is the case for wax as an optimal lube if you are OK with the added difficulty of using it. It's not just about drivetrain losses. Wax has also been shown to produce lower wear than wet lubes. Consider the data from Zero Friction Cycling. Focus on test block 1. This test block has the chain prepped (strip factory grease completely, then add the test lube), then run for a simulated 1k kilometers with no added contamination. Kerin does re-lubricate the chain during each block, but I forget the interval. Each cell describes the percent of the total wear allowance (0.5 percent elongation) that the chain goes through in the block.

Most of the melt waxes he tested produced zero wear in this block. The best wet lube matches this, with a few other wet lubes close behind. Drip waxes tend to be in between standard wet lubes and molten waxes. However, most of the wet lubes in the test have significant wear. Nix Frix Shun's lube, which was very well-regarded when launched, got 12.6% wear.

That said, a clear downside of wax is the difficulty of the logistics, particularly the chain prep. You could buy a pre-waxed chain, e.g. from Molten Speed Wax or Silca. You could use drip wax on that. Alternatively, you could just leave the factory grease on, and re-lube the chain with a high-quality wet lube. I believe Kerin did test this combination, and it produced quite good wear results, but it's been removed from the current chart.

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Whatever is cheapest. when you're training, it doesn't matter how much Resistance you have. it will just mean you get a little bit of extra speed when you go outside. as such, there really isn't a good reason to do anything fancy at all as long as the chain isn't falling off.

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  • I tend to disagree with this. Chain lubricants, even if horribly expensive, are still cheap because you only use so little of them. If there's let's say 1 cheap lubricant which drips to the floor and ruins the floor, and 1 expensive lubricant which stays on the chain, surely you want to use the expensive lubricant, right?
    – juhist
    Nov 4, 2023 at 12:44
  • sure. I'm just pretty sure that one of the cheap lubricants won't ruin the floor Nov 4, 2023 at 12:46
  • I don't really care about watts but about the cleaning and maintenance work I have to put in. For me, it was the clash of interests mentioned in the question: I have to care less about lubrication with a random oil but it makes more of a mess on the drivetrain, so I'll have to take the bike out of the trainer for proper cleaning every once in a while. On the other hand, that's not a problem with dry lubes but they don't last as long, so, putting in 100 km/week on the trainer, I'll probably have to lube a lot more. Hence, asking for some constructive input...
    – DoNuT
    Nov 4, 2023 at 12:49

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