When you buy your first bike everything works in harmony like a clockwork. If you use it regularly, such as for bike commuting, after a few weeks of use and maybe a few rainy days you will start to hear some noises coming from your chain, which can become pretty annoying. You may wonder why a brand new bike makes such an awful noise. Suddenly you realize that you haven’t applied any chain lube on your bike yet.

So, how often should you lube your bike chain? 

If you are a regular bike commuter you should lube your bike chain at least every month or every 150-200 miles (240-320 kms). Depending on the conditions you ride your bike in and the type of chain lube you use, this period can vary from a few days to a month. In wet winter conditions with salt on the roads or in muddy weather you will have to care more for your chain than on warm dry spring days riding on tarmac.

Why is lubing my chain important?

Your chain is what transmits the power from your legs to the wheels and it exposed to some serious wear and tear. Since it is located quite low on the bike, it easily picks up mud, grime, dirt, salt and water. It is under constant tension when you’re riding.

A rusty, unloved chain is noisy and can sound like it’s ready to snap at any moment. Chain snapping is fortunately not common and doesn’t happen easily. You really have to neglect and abuse your chain for a long time in order for that to happen.

An unmaintained chain causes unnecessary friction, making you work extra hard to get you to your destination.

Will my chain snap if I don’t lube it?

Your chain is very strong and it doesn’t snap easily, and it’s not caused by lack of lubing. The problem is that if you don’t maintain the chain, it will wear out the teeth on your cassette and chainrings more quickly. Over time it will affect how your bike shifts gears, it will make all kinds of noises and it affects how your bike rides overall. If you neglect your maintaining your chain and you don’t replace it whenever it reaches its end of life it can eventually lead to snapping.

Should I use wet or dry lube?

Wet and dry lubes are specifically designed for wet and dry conditions, as their names imply. Wet lube is more resistant to rain, slush and snow. Its advantage over dry lube is that it’s more resistant, but its main disadvantage is that it attracts more dirt. In dry seasons and climates dry lube can be used. It attracts less dirt than wet lube, but in return it needs to be applied more often, about every 100 miles (160 km) or so.

Can I use dry lube in rain?

You can use dry lube in rain, but expect that you need to lube your chain after every use, as the rain washes it off very easily. Using dry lube on a bike that you don’t maintain on a daily basis, such as a commuter bike, is impractical and is best avoided.

Can I use wet lube in dry weather?

Wet lube can be used in dry weather, but you can expect it to attract a lot of dirt and dust. When you lube your chain again you will have a lot of cleaning to do.

WD40 as chain lube?

The reason why WD40 is a tempting option is its ease of application. WD40 is a degreaser and it can be used to clean off the dirt from your chain, but it is not designed to be used as lube for a low maintenance bike, such as a commuter bike. It is too thin and wears off quickly.

You may have heard even pro cyclists (Simon Richardson on GCN) say that the use WD40 both as degreaser and as chain lube. You need to understand this approach in its broader context. If you wash your bike chain after every single use and apply WD40 you will be fine. The problem is that commuter bikes are meant to be used as workhorses. Unless you’re willing to perform bicycle chain cleaning after every use (or at least fairly regularly) you should stay away from regular WD40.

Keep in mind that WD40 have started making proper degreaser and chain lube products in the same form factor as the original WD40. It’s just as easy to apply as the regular stuff, and it will keep your bike chain happy for much longer.

How to lube the chain properly?

If you’re new to bike chain maintenance you may make the mistake of thinking that the more the better and everything, including the chainrings and cassette need to be lubed.

In reality the amount of lube needed to keep your chain running smoothly is very little and it is only needed for the connection between two links to reduce friction and thus minimize wear. Contrary to what I initially thought you don’t need to apply any lubricant to the cogs. Unnecessary oil or lube only attracts dirt and builds up grime.

This is how chain lube should be used:

Step 1: Apply degreaser to your chain

Step 2: Remove oil and grime from your chain and cogs. You can scrub off the grime with a brush and a clean cloth - warning - this can get quite messy. 

Step 3: Dry your chain with a rag.

Step 4: Apply chain lube on your chain links.

Step 5: Wipe off excess lube from the chain.

Do you need to clean the chain before lubing?

It is always recommended to clean the chain before applying lube.