Knowing how to oil a bike chain is a useful skill and is important to keep the transmission running smoothly. In this blog post we are going to talk you through the following:
- Why do we need to lubricate a bicycle chain?
- What is a chain and how is it made?
- What should I use to oil it?
- How to oil a bike chain
How to oil a bicycle chain FAQs
Why do we need to lubricate a bicycle chain?
- To keep the metal parts moving smoothly, slowing down wear
- To keep the transmission quiet
- To reduce friction
What is a chain and how is it made?
A chain is made up of small parts, the outer plates, inner plates, rollers and links and each part needs to move freely.
When you buy a new chain all the parts are assembled with a lubricant that penetrates the internal components.
Over time this washes out and dirt gets inside. It’s not possible to perfectly clean all the dirt from the inside, but oiling your chain will help.
A modern cycle chain has been designed to have small gaps that allow the oil to flow in and flush out the dirt and leave a residue to keep the chain components running smoothly and causing minimum friction. Less friction means that the chain shouldn’t wear as quickly. Without lubrication, not only can a chain wear quicker, but it could also seize in places and cause it to skip on the sprockets.
You can learn how to fix a broken bike chain, in one of our previous posts.
What should I use to oil it?
It’s best to use a dedicated cycle lubricant, because a cycle chain is unique! It isn’t sealed like a car engine and it isn’t constantly in water like a boat propeller.
Which lubricants are recommended for oiling your chain?
😟 Yup, good old fashioned paraffin wax is one of the ingredients. It has to be hot when it is applied and onto a scrupulously clean chain. When it cools, the wax hardens and then the dirt is repelled. It’s a lot of hassle to apply, the chain has a tendency to rust and it needs to be reapplied quite frequently. Originally it was designed for moisture free riding, such as California, but now some brands make a formula designed for wetter conditions.
🙂 The chain runs more efficiently and the dirt sticks to the wax rather than the chain. Very trouser-friendly.
😟 The “wetness” refers to the viscosity of the oil. Wet lube is quite thick and because of this it attracts dirt.
🙂 It is a dedicated cycle chain oil, good for extreme mountain biking and long distance riding as it stays on the chain and doesn’t wash off in very wet conditions.
😟 A lighter weight oil that doesn’t stay on the chain as long as a higher viscosity lubricant, so needs more frequent application.
🙂 Using a dry lubricant makes cleaning the chain easier than a thicker oil.
All weather lubricant
Best and worst of both worlds.
🙂😟 It stays on longer than a dry lube but attracts more dirt then a dry lube.
😟🙂 It also attracts less dirt than a wet lube, but is less tenacious.
Which lubricants aren’t recommended for oiling your chain?
Grease is too thick for the chain. It attracts dirt which mixes with the grease and grinds away at the metal components.
Great for bearings that are more encased than a chain and so take longer to attract dirt. They need to have something with greater viscosity so it lasts longer.
Although they have a lubricant such as lanolin, they contain solvents so not so good as a chain lubricant.
Great for helping to free up seized and rusted bolts.
Too light to be used as a chain oil and as it’s an aerosol spray it is easy to spray it onto disc pads and rotors and contaminate them.
Really great for cleaning the frame and leaving a nice surface.
Oils used on motor vehicles
Too thick for a bicycle chain and so won’t actually penetrate the components with such low temperatures.
They are designed to work inside sealed engines with high temperatures.
Solidifies in the cold and attracts dirt.
Great for cooking your chips!
How to oil a bike chain
Before you lubricate your chain you need to make sure it is as clean as possible. Once the chain is clean, you are ready to lubricate it with your chosen oil.
- Put the bike in a stand or lean it against a wall. You will need to be able to spin the cranks easily.
The dispenser should be a squeeze bottle because it is best to avoid aerosol or pump sprays as they can disperse the oil onto your rim, disc brakes and rotors causing contamination
- After washing your chain or after a very wet ride, allow it to air dry and then wipe the excess moisture and dirt using a dry rag.
- Find a place to start. The joining link is a good marker. Of course, if the chain is really rusty it will be obvious where you’ve started!
- Shake the lube bottle first in case there are any ingredients that have separated.
- Lubricate the chain on the inside so that when the chain touches the sprockets, the lube will get pushed onto them and get properly dispersed. If you lube the outside of the chain, it will still disperse but not as effectively.
- Put only one drop of oil between the plates and the rollers. If you use too much, as well as being wasteful, any excess will attract dirt which mixes with the oil and acts like a cutting paste.
- Once you have been all the way around, spin the cogs a couple of times to push the oil between the rollers.
- Wipe off the excess with a clean rag.
- Now your bike is good to go.
There is no exact amount one should lubricate the bicycle, but you should try and follow these rules on how to oil a bike chain:
- Don’t use an aerosol. It will put oil all over your bike
- Less is more. As small a drop as possible. You can always add a bit more.