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Lubricating a Bike Chain

I feel kind of bad that I’ve had my bike for over two months now and I haven’t lubed the chain yet. To be fair, I did take it back to Cambridge Bicycle for a free tune up just a month ago. But I’ve read that you should lube the chain at least once a month, and it’s recommended that you do it every time it rains. Lubricating the chain cleans off the grit that could damage the chain and gears, reduces the chain’s drag, and stops that irritating clicking that develops over time.

It seems like it should be really simple, but I’d never done it before, so I did some research. Here’s what I found to do.

  • Clean your chain. I don’t go off-road, so I just did this with a damp rag, but I’ve read of people using a toothbrush, soapy water, or a degreaser. Question for bike people: Should I clean my chain more thoroughly? How do you clean yours?
  • Put a drop of lube on each link of the chain. Hold a rag under the chain so the lube doesn’t drip in the tire. This could make your brakes slip.
  • Spin the chain around a few times. And spin it through each gear. I forgot to switch gears the first time I did this and while second sounded great later, third still clicked. It’s a good reminder.
  • Wipe the chain off with the rag. If you leave excess lube on the chain, it picks up dirt faster.

That’s it. It wasn’t even all that messy—the rag under the chain keeps the lube from dripping everywhere. I used Pedro’s Chainj, because the guy from Cambridge Bicycle recommended it. I know now not to use WD-40 (no thanks to my nephew!), but there seems to be a lot of debate about wax vs. vegetable-based vs. synthetic. What do you other bikers use?


Comment from lucas
Time June 30, 2010 at 9:54 pm

hey, not entirely my fault. I started out with a second hand bike with a rusted chain, I completely missed the prevention stage of chain care.

Comment from Elisabeth
Time June 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I feel I’ve been comment-baited by another bicycle post.

You weren’t kidding when you said you were going for the perfectionist chain lube! Broadway Bicycle School taught me to use the lube to clean the chain. I usually just drip it on and wipe it off thoroughly a few times. All done.

One tip I got from PT to avoid wasting and spilling lube—drip the drops over the gear or gear cluster. It’s a lot easier to keep from missing the chain.

The easiest way to judge when your chain needs lube is by sound and feel. Don’t worry about the month thing, it totally depends on how much riding you do in what conditions.

Stainless steel chains are kind of awesome because they rust less easily—maybe for Lucas’s birthday?

Comment from Danielle
Time July 1, 2010 at 10:44 am

Um. I have never done this. My bike has been in the shop maybe twice a year, where I guess they do it. They also tell me not to worry too much about the effects of rain, at least not on my ’60s bike.

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