Bicycle chain lubricants – explained - article comments

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To prevent article pages from being miles long, but preserve all the useful questions and answers provided over time, I've decided to copy/paste the website comments to the forum - and "move" further discussions here.

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Bicycle chain lubricants – explained

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If you can't find the answer to your question in this thread, please open a separate thread with your question/problem, in an appropriate forum section (this is the Oils, greases and lubricants section).

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  1. Reason
    22/04/2017 at 08:20
    No one will ever accuse you of being clear or concise. You add so much superfluous information in an attempt to build credibility that anyone who actually understands these things knows you’re full of it. Bicycle chains do not need multi grade SAE (stands for Society of Automotive Engineering and automotive temperatures do not apply on a bicycle) as bicycles chains operate at ambient temperatures and are directly exposed to the environment but you dedicate literally a third of this paper to SAE multi-grade standards. Along with attempting to explain dynamic and kinematic viscosity but then never using those words again in the rest of the paper showing only to serve as gibberish as none of that information is used in your comparison as you don’t have any of that information to compare the different types of lubricants thus only serves as a feeble attempt to build credibility. Much like one can call water hydrogen dihydrogen monoxide to be appear that you’re in the know – much of this paper goes to serve the same purpose.
    The hilarious part of your comparison of the types of lubricants is you don’t even address your own requirements that you set forth in section 5 per each type of lubricant. Rust prevention? Only mentioned in two of the lubricant types. Adhesion? Mentioned in none. Cleanliness of the lubricant? Mentioned in 1 of the 8 sections. Again, you put forth a massive chunk of text and still don’t even address your own “Characteristics that a chain lubricant should poses.” It really goes to show the level of credibility people should put not only on this article but the entirety of the blog when you come out with these definitive papers (backed by a “dr of metallurgical engineering) yet are full of these massive gaping holes.
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      22/04/2017 at 08:41
      I’ll indulge this trolling comment for the sake of the few, relatively valid arguments you’ve made.
      Yes, the post is not concise – the point was to give all the important information about chain lubricants in one place. A concise version is in this post: (EDITED in 2018, for a new, even briefer post)
      Multi grade oil:
      I’ve pointed out the limits and flaws of using multi grade (engine, or gear) oil. Believe it or not, in spite of the flaws, they can be and are used as a chain lubricant. The reader has the info of the pros and cons and can choose for themselves whether to use such oils.
      BTW: SAE abbreviation is explained in the post already.
      SAE grades:
      I’ve dedicated a chapter (easily skipped) to explaining SAE viscosity grades for readers who (want to) use lubes with a given SAE viscosity grade, without an ISO VG. However, I’ve also provided a cross reference for comparing SAE and ISO VG grades, as well as explained the limits of SAE nomination (primarily the temperatures at which the SAE viscosity is measured).
      Kinematic and dynamic viscosity:
      Since viscosity is an important attribute of a “wet” lubricant, I’ve explained it thoroughly, so that viscosity grades can be fully understood. For those finding it needles, they can just skip the chapter. Made easily used go-to links in the table of Contents.
      Comparing various lubricants:
      I’ve listed advantages and disadvantages of each lubricant. Comparing them, in terms of bicycle chain lubrication, would be a hard task, since riding conditions vary a lot – comparison in dry conditions would not rate the the same as a comparison in wet conditions. Add various amounts of dust, mud, rain, riding styles, chain maintenance routines… I’ve concluded it’s pointless.
      Lubricant characteristics:
      I’ve explicitly named the important ones, where it is important, with links. For most part, I’ve just used the name (like “water resistance” for example).
      The reason I took the time to explicitly numerate the important characteristics, although seldom used in this text, is for the future reference and the following posts dealing with chain lubricants.
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    22/01/2020 at 22:47
    Zoom Spout Oil claims to be a high-grade turbine oil. I like to ask you how you feel about Zoom Spout Oil. Is it a turbine oil? Would it be an excellent choice for a bike chain lube?
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    John Ebert
    03/03/2020 at 18:11
    I have a tub of “moly ep grease”. Would this be useful for lubing a bike chain?
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      03/03/2020 at 19:38
      If heated to a melting point, chain submerged, then dripped off any extra, left to cool down, with any extra from the outside wiped off – then it would probably make a decent chain lubricant. I suppose.
      It is important for the lubricant to reach the “inside” of the chain, ie. to get in between the pins and the rollers.
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      23/04/2021 at 03:36
      grease on a bike chain just gets too messy and attracts to much dirt,i have used grease but find its not worth the trouble,it will lube a chain if you have nothing else to use
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    29/09/2020 at 13:59
    Gear oil is not corrosive to aluminium. Gear housings are often made of aluminium. Gear oils, especially those with GL-5 specification, (and many other oils, like diesel) are corrosive to yellow metals at temperatures ~>80°C.
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    03/11/2020 at 09:04
    There is a lot of helpful information in this post. However, for a native English speaker the grammatical and spelling errors in it, while relatively minor, can be quite distracting. You might want to get someone who is totally fluent in the language to tidy it up for you. Here is a random example to show you what I mean:
    Your version: “For instructions how to clean and lubricate the chain, as well as for simple lubricant recommendation, read this post:”
    Suggested corrections: “For instructions on how to clean and lubricate a chain, as well as lubricant recommendations, read this post:”
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      03/11/2020 at 10:51
      I share my knowledge completely free, out of pure enthusiasm.
      Unfortunately, I’m the best (or the least bad) English speaker among my friends and acquaintances. 🙂 While paying someone to check all my writing is not a reasonable option for me.
      Fortunately, your contribution is an example of what I’ve seen over the years – people willing to contribute, and help the improvement. This especially goes for any corrections, or additions.
      Thank you very much for the suggestion. It makes sense – I’ll implement the suggested edit. 🙂
  1. Alwinvrm
    01/04/2021 at 17:07
    Thanx! This article and others about lubrication, cables and cassette compatibility helped me a lot. You created a great resource for people who want to make informed choices that go beyond the usual webpages with superficial information. You tell me what I want to know, while not going too deep into the details to make it a burden to read. Great job!
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    23/04/2021 at 03:16
    we are all looking for the perfect chain lube but i dont think there is one,more important to lube chain often and clean it,i am using mineral based 80w-90 gear oil,it went on the chain nice and did not not drip all over the place,i wiped it all over the chain with a lubes just cost way too much and they dont give you enough information about whats in their products or whether they are tacky or not,some gear oils can effect alloy chainrings but better to send an email to the gear oil maker to check,cheers from australia
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      28/04/2021 at 07:21
      just an update to trying gear oil it got too messy and turned into a grinding paste,will keep trying a few more different lubes,you can only fail if you dont try right.
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      28/04/2021 at 09:35
      In my experience, most oils are too viscous (“thick”) out of the box, so they attract too much sand and dirt.
      I use diesel to “thin them down.”
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      28/04/2021 at 10:48
      am now trying pressol household oil,its mineral based and does not contain acids or anything that will harm a chain,its slightly thicker than the 3 in 1 oil but not by much its made in germany,comes in a small bottle thats easy to apply,using any wet lubes there just is no way to keep dust or dirt off a chain but i still think wet lubes are the easiest to use and last your website Relja and you have just about all you need to know about bicycles on your site,its abit like sheldons old site.
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      28/04/2021 at 11:48
      Thanks. 🙂
      Sheldon has been a great resource and inspiration:
      Sheldon Brown’s legacy
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    23/04/2021 at 03:50
    i have used moly grease,that was too messy and got too much dirt,i tried sewing machine oil and that was too thin and it did not stay in chain very long,i wont even try a chain wax as they wont protect a chain from rusting,a chain lube must protect the whole chain from rust,it also must lube the whole chain inside and out not just the inside pins.
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      28/04/2021 at 09:25
      i have been reading about chain lubes on many sites even been reading about industrial chain lubes and just about all types of chain lubes and chains and they say its most important to use an oil that is thin enough to get down into those chain pins and between the rollers and links,it looks like a general purpose household oil like similar to a 3 in 1 type oil will be fine,they also say a dirty chain will wear fast.
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    23/04/2021 at 05:01
    when it comes to bicycle bearing grease i just use a general purpose ngl 2 grade,thats a perfect thickness to make your wheels roll very nice and smooth,dont use tacky grease that has E.P additives,dont buy any bicycle grease that does not say how thick the grease is or what its made from.the grease i am using is lithium based product.special bike greases are not needed.
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      24/05/2021 at 07:07
      the pressol mineral household oil is working fine on my bike chain after giving it a test run for a few weeks now and in the wet as well,its does not pick up much dirt either,finaly found a decent cheap chain lube.tried this lube on a new shimano chain and it rolls alot better and quieter than the new shimano chain grease,cost only $3 for 100ml bottle
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    23/04/2021 at 20:30
    First of all, I’m sorry for the bad English.
    I use a homemade mixture, candle paraffin, liquid paraffin, xylene, molybdenum disulfide and PFTE.
    divided the parts liquid in 3 – (for 600 grams)
    20 grams of PFTE
    10 grams of molybdenum disulfide
    I melt the candle paraffin, and with the melted paraffin still hot I mix the liquid paraffin, and then the xylene. When the three liquids are mixed, I then add the solids PFTE and molybdenum disulfide.
    I add in a small plastic bottle, I use that of a lubricant previously purchased.
    The pedaling is smooth and noises for approximately 150 kilometers.
    I hope you understand, and that you have contributed.
    23/04/2021 at 20:32
    The pedaling is smooth AND NOISES for approximately 150 kilometers.
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    30/06/2021 at 15:49
    First of all thank you for taking the time and trouble to post such a comprehensive article. It neatly puts in one place much of what I have read about the seemingly endless opinions on chain cleaning and lubrication. Its a subject which almost against your will cyclists find themselves drawn to. My own ‘two pennyworth’ as a 50 odd year cyclist and tandem rider for the past 20 years is this. I’ve used many different products over the years and to be honest I’m minded to think the really expensive products just aren’t worth the money. For several recent years I simply used GT 85 which is super cheap, easy to apply and does not attract too much grit etc. Unfortunately I read an article recently which suggested GT85 was not great and I’m now trying a 50:50 mix of chainsaw oil/white spirit, applied sparingly and the excess wiped off. I think its worth remembering in all of this that chains just aren’t that expensive unless you are a real enthusiast and it might well be worth not worrying over much about maintenance and simply replacing the chain every thousand miles or so. Also there is a line of thinking that the factory chain lubricant on a new chain is probably the best you will ever have on it so should not be cleaned off/replaced too prematurely. In 50 years cycling I have snapped one chain (on the tandem), I now go as far as carrying a spare chain/quicklink/chain splitter just in case.
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    15/08/2022 at 15:42
    Thanks for the comprehensive article. Just a comment and one question:
    When I look at the TDS on 0w20 by Mobil 1, strangely the kinematic viscosity at 40C is 48 cst. Higher than mono grade SAE 10 oil, which has a cst of 32 at the same temp.
    I am trying to find a reliable way to reduce the viscosity of oil for skate bearings. In all my reading, odourless mineral spirits evaporate the fastest, much faster than diesel and this wouldn’t be a good choice for longer term thinning. Some have suggested kerosene. Ideas? I am not looking for a thinner to help penetration then evaporate.
    Thank you
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      Relja Novović
      15/08/2022 at 19:21
      Hi Eric,
      0w20 is more viscous oil than SAE 10 at non-zero (i.e. non-winter-cold) temperatures, including 40c, so I’m not surprised by those values (48 vs 32 cst at 40C temp).
      As for the thinning – kerozene is similar to diesel as far as I know.
      It will not evaporate very quickly.
      Just make sure to confirm it does actually mix with the oil you decide to use (mixing them in a clear, see-through, bottle).
      Though I’m not sure why such a thin oil is needed for skate bearings.
      Getting a wheel to roll for a long time when started by hand, with the skate in the air is one thing.
      But getting it to roll smoothly under load, for a long time, is another.
      For most applications where a lubricant is not re-applied on a very regular basis (weekly or even more often), I use grease, expecting it to provide a better, longer-term lubrication (and, thus, protection from wear as well).
      In other words, if we’re talking about caged cartridge bearings for (small) wheels, I’d consider using a soft grease (NLGI 0 or similar).
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    20/12/2022 at 18:55
    Keep revisiting this excellent article. Personally I’m not a fan of viscous lubricants, especially in winter. In fact i do the opposite of most people and use a very thin oil in winter and a slightly thicker one in summer. My reasoning is that in winter you will attract more dirt and i favour a good wipe wipedown after every ride and reapply. Using ‘white lightening epic’ I am guessing similar to sewing machine oil. The chain stays really clean even off road in winter. In summer less filth means i have less maintenance and use a little thicker to last more rides. But still wipe religiously every ride. I do wash after a filthy ride. But I get good longevity and chains are cheap, my time to valuable. I’m going to try sewing machine oil ISO22 is £6.50 on ebay for 500ml. As I like thin oils I don’t need to add solvent. And any rate solvent only aids application. It will evaporate and you are back to a dirt attracting thick oil.
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    Vapo NZ
    19/03/2023 at 02:51
    I love that disclaimer – “… all of this is normal and to be expected”. 🤣
    Took me straight back to The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
    Thanks for this article. It is quite enlightening. I feel better for having read it.
    Keep up the good work
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