Chain lubricant may not be the sexiest product for spending your hard-earned monies on, but it is an essential ingredient for maintaining your mountain bike properly. Given how much you can spend on a high-end bike these days, parting with $10-20 on some quality lube and learning how to use it properly can go a long way to getting the performance out of your drivetrain that those hard-working engineers at SRAM & Shimano intended.
For the lazy ones out there, it has to be said that ignoring basic maintenance on your bike and simply waiting for something to go wrong before you take it in to see your mechanic, is a sure-fire way to end up with a hefty service bill that could well be avoided.
Last year we received a wee bottle from Squirt Lube that was to serve as a multi-purpose lubricant for all of the test bikes, commuters, roadies and cyclocross bikes passing through the workshop at Enduro HQ. Aside from providing you with our thoughts on the performance of Squirt Lube, we’ve also got some ripper advice on how best to clean, degrease and maintain your drivetrain to get the longest life out of it.
Grease up, and read on!
Err, so a lube’s a lube right?
Well, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Bicycle chain lubricants are for the most part a lot thinner (lower viscosity) than the oils and lubricants you would find in an auto workshop. The demands and environment a bicycle chain is subjected to is completely different to that of moving parts inside a hot engine that’s revving at 5000rpm. If you hate money and want to begin an uncomfortable relationship with your local bike shop mechanic, make sure you use heavy oils and WD-40 all over your bike. However, if you want to save money, keep your bicycle maintained properly and to enter a long and fruitful friendship with your local, read on.
The Missing Link
Obvious or not, the chain is the essential link in your drivetrain. The condition of the chain influences wear on the rest of the drivetrain, and so a worn chain will increase wear on the rear cassette and the front chainrings. A chain that’s covered in greasy dirt and gunk is also much more likely to mis-shift or create chain suck, both of which can lead to a broken chain. You really don’t want to be ‘that guy’ on a 4 hour mountain bike ride with your mates.
Essentially, a chain is made up of inner plates, outer plates, pins that join them together and rollers that allow each link to rotate (see picture below courtesy of SheldonBrown.com). From the factory, a chain is assembled with a grease inside the rollers for smooth and near friction-free movement. However, over time the grease eventually works its way to the outside of the chain, leaving the inside dry and resulting in metal-on-metal contact. This is especially so in wet riding conditions and/or if you clean your bike regularly. You know your chain is dry when you can hear it – a noisy chain is a sure sign it’s like an Arabian desert inside there. Once it’s dry, there’s more friction, and movement is restricted resulting in excessive wear and poor shifting performance.
Chain lubricant is the next best thing to that factory grease in order to keep your chain moving freely. Because chain lube is much thinner than a grease (in order to penetrate the roller internals) it also wears off quicker, so depending on how much you ride you will have to re-apply on a regular basis. Good lubricants will shield the metallic chain from moisture and therefore rust, by building up a slippery protective layer on the surface of the chain that also repels other dirt and contaminants. Not only does proper lubrication ensure smooth and quiet performance, but it also keeps your drivetrain cleaner.
There is a huge number of brands out there offering bicycle-specific chain lubricants, and most of them are pretty good. There are dry lubes (thinner) for riding in dry and dusty conditions, there are wet lubes (thicker) that are better suited to wet riding conditions, and there are some that sit somewhere between those two. A wet lube has a much thicker consistency and sticks to the chain better with a longer wear life, but in dry conditions it will attract more dust and dirt. Likewise, a dry lube wears off the chain more quickly and so requires more regular application, but tends to run a lot cleaner in dusty trail conditions.
– Choose a WET lube for WET conditions, and a DRY lube for DRY conditions.
– Bicycle chain lube is formulated specifically to penetrate into the small rollers of a bicycle chain. DO NOT use automotive products.
– Lubing frequency varies from rider to rider, but if your chain has become noisy, it’s time for some fresh lube.
– For best results, apply chain lubricant the day before your next ride, to ensure maximum penetration.
– Avoid lubing your chain immediately before a ride, otherwise it may simply flick off as you ride, causing mess and potential contamination of your brakes.
– For best results, apply chain lubricant to a clean chain. Simply use a rag to wipe off any excess dirt before applying fresh lube.
– If your chain is particularly dirty however, you may need to remove it for full de-greasing, before re-installing and lubricating.
– A de-greased chain will be very dry inside, and you may need to apply two doses of lubricant.
– Before heading out on a ride, wipe off any excess grease and dirt from the chain.
– Adding too much lubricant merely serves to attract dirt and gunk that will increase friction and wear.
– Chain lube serves to lubricate the internal rollers, and so only belongs on the INSIDE of the chain.
– DO NOT apply lube directly to the cassette, chainrings or jockey wheels – it ONLY belongs on the chain.
– For best results, add a dab of lube to each and every roller on the chain (see below image).
Hailing from South Africa, Bikinventions is a company that produces ‘Squirt’; a purportedly long-lasting dry chain lubricant that is wax based. Their other big selling point is the fact that Squirt is 100% Biodegradable – no harmful contaminants or nasty chemicals inside. At first we didn’t think too much about the green label on the bottle, but during a relay-style race we were participating at lately, we realised just how many times we were blasting through a creek crossing over the duration of the event. Each crossing through that creek was washing lubricant off our chain and depositing it into the water. Multiply that effect by the hundreds of bikes at that event, and you can begin to understand what kind of affect our machines have on the environment.
Aside from it’s environmental claims, Squirt is a straight-up banging chain lube. It runs smoothly and the wax-base means it sheds water effectively and does a commendable job at keeping off dust and contaminants. We found that it’s best to apply Squirt to a clean chain, but once on there any gunk just seems to dry up along with the wax and falls off during use. In this regard, it is almost ‘self-degreasing’ due to its ability to purge solids. Squirt simply recommend to clean the chain with a dry brush – no degreasers necessary. We found this to be the case in our experience, and there was a distinct lack of the black grease that we normally experience on well-used drivetrains.
While the omission of any nasty petrochemicals or Teflon additives means it keeps left-wing pinkos happy, it does mean that Squirt washes off the chain more easily (noticeably in wet conditions), and so it does require application a little more frequently. Given how smooth and cleanly it runs on the chain however, and we’re more than happy with the trade off.
Regardless of the chain lube you use, there are still good habits to get into in order to keep your drivetrain smooth and free of issues. However, we can definitely recommend Squirt Lube to Aussie mountain bikers wanting a clean-running chain lubricant for dry conditions. It only comes in a 120mL bottle and at $20 it isn’t particularly cheap, but then it’s on par with offerings from ProLink and TF2. The fact that it is 100% biodegradable though totally makes it a winner in our books.
Available from your local Squirt Dealer, visit: www.BikeBox.com.au for more info