This past Valentine’s day got me thinking about lubricant. Oh you. Not that kind! I was pedaling my bike and thinking about how lovely a quite, oiled chain is. Such a simple pleasure and so easy; it takes less than five minutes to oil your chain and the rewards last for a hundred miles.
That being said, one of the most frequent questions my students ask is, “What’s your favorite chain oil?”
How to oil a chain
First, let’s talk about how you’re oiling your chain. You should be using a light amount, only putting oil on the chain (never the gears) and cleaning the excess off soon after you’ve applied it. The goal is to get oil inside the chain where metal meets metal. Anything left on the outside of the chain will attract dirt – so thoroughly wipe it away.
About chain lubricants
Armed with this knowledge, it’s best to choose oil that has a small amount of solvent in it. This allows you to lift away old, dirty oil that has accumulated on the chain.
Many chain lubricants are simply oil without solvent (which makes your chain a dirt magnet) or are wax based (which is impossible to clean dirt away from or, worse, don’t work at all). Some oils are so thick they bog down your chain and gears forcing you to deep clean with special degreasers each time you oil your chain. If you’re using one of these now, trash the partially used container, suck it up and pop the ten bucks to invest in a better oil that will make your chain sing.
What follows is Gracie’s Wrench’s recommended favorite lubricants, helpfully listed in order of preference.
#1: ATB (Absolutely The Best) Lube
Available in select stores nationwide
The retirement project of former Exxon oil engineer Keith Lewis, ATB Lube is simply the best performing all-round chain lubricant I’ve come across.. It is a perfect balance of lubrication and solvent, thin enough to go on lightly but thick enough to hold during a rainstorm, and it stays on for at least 100 miles if good weather. This stuff is the real deal.
Lewis goes so far as to change the formula slightly for the climate he’s selling to, so if you buy a bottle in Bend, OR, it will be slightly tweaked for the drier climate than a bottle you buy in Portland. ATB can be found at shops throughout Oregon, but not everyone carries it so call around first.
(Side note to gun owners: This oil also has the distinction of being the oil most frequently purchased by military families to send to their loved-ones in middle-eastern conflict zones as it works beautifully to clean and lubricate firearms in desert conditions. Bonus?).
#2: TriFlo Lubricant
Widely available nationwide
TriFlo is the tried and true standby of many a bike shop as their all-round, go-to lubricant. The TriFlo website claims that it also does a great job loosening rusty bolts, which is true. However, it’s ability to work as a solvent makes it a little thinner than you’d typically want for your chain and have to reapply more often.
Shake well. Most people ignore this itsy-bitsy 2-point font instruction on the back of the bottle. TriFlo separates like vinegar and oil inside the bottle. Its thinner consistency and having to shake the bottle every few seconds while oiling your chain is why it loses out to ATB Lube. On the plus side, you can find it at most any bike shop across the country and the price is right – a bottle will last you for quite a long time.
#3: Tie between DuMond Tech and WD-40 Bike Chain Oil
Available in select stores nationwide.
Both of these oils have about the same consistency and work about as well as TriFlo, without the shaking. They’re in third place since they are not quite as easy to find in every bike shop and for reasons listed below.
Dumond Tech was born locally in Kirkland, Washington. It’s marketed as a “dry” lube which means its a little on the thin side. Because of this you’ll have to reapply more often, but that consistency also means it penetrates well, a major plus.
Dumond Tech is slightly more eco-friendly than other options listed here, so if that’s important to you, this is great choice. However, because you’ll have to apply it more often, the increased volume you’ll go through might negate the environmental friendliness of this oil.
A few years ago WD-40 released their first line of bike products, called WD-40 Bike. They knocked most of the other products I’ve used to clean and maintain my bike out of the picture, but their oil, while a solid choice for lubrication, had two major flaws.
Like Dumond Tech it is a little on the thin side so you have to reapply more frequently.
Two (and the more egregious flaw) is that it smells deeply of musky, manly cologne. The first time I smelled it after my boyfriend oiled his chain in the basement, I thought he’d been partying down there with a guy sporting thick gold chains around his plunging neckline revealing a forest of chest hair. While the scent is annoying, it’s not really an actual issue until it’s used on my mountain bike. Which I ride in the wilderness in the summer. Where there are bears. Who are attracted to strong, perfumed scents. Uhhh… no thank you.
Choose for your climate
With any of the above products, if they offer a choice between a “dry” lube and a “wet” lube, I go for the wet version. These are formulated for the humidity in the air, so for Portland it’s a no-brainer to go with the slightly thicker wet lube. If you live in a drier climate, consider the dry versions instead.
How do you love your lube?
Share your tips and advice in the comments below.