Chain lubrication is another one of those personal choices that a lot of people tend to have varying opinions on. Some riders have been using the same chain lube for a decade, while others are constantly on the search for something better. What everyone can agree on is that chain lubrication is a very necessary part of your overall mountain bike maintenance.
In this article, I’ve put together the top three chain lubes for mountain bikes based on the riding conditions. Depending on what your riding conditions are will help determine what type of lubes you should be looking at. I’ll also be including an article at a later date on general mountain bike chain maintenance that will show you how to clean your chain, apply chain lube correctly, when to reapply, and check for wear.
What types of chain lube are there?
How do riding conditions affect chain lube selection?
If you are riding in wet and muddy conditions you want to look for a “wet” type of chain lube. Wet chain lubes repel water and mud more effectively because they are often oil based. If you’re riding in dry and dusty conditions a “dry” wax type lube is more effective. Wax based lubes don’t attract dirt and grime and are often put on the chain after a ride on a wiped down chain to allow them to soak into the chain. When using wax lubes you do need to allow a bit more time for them to dry so they can penetrate the chain, which also is why they don’t attract as much dirt.
Warning – DO NOT USE WD40 AS A CHAIN LUBE!
Some people do not realize that WD40 is not a great product to be used as a chain lube. WD40 itself is a mild lubricant solvent that does not leave much lubrication after it dries. It works great on rusty parts, but please don’t put it on your chain.
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Best Mountain Bike Chain Lubes For Wet Conditions
#1 – Chain-L
What the manufacturer says about Chain-L No.5:
“In a word, it’s oil. More specifically, Chain-L is a blend of extreme pressure (EP) lubricants in a high film-strength mineral oil base, formulated to provide the maximum possible lubrication to the tiny bearings that make up a chain. Chain-L also contains rust inhibitors and other additives to improve its longevity and wet-weather performance.” – Chain-L
What I have to say about Chain-L:
Chain-L is the best wet oil type chain lube that I know of. Chain-L is thicker than most lubes which can seem odd at first but they have done a lot of research to determine the best viscosity. For a wet lube it doesn’t build up that much dirt and grime (still more than a wax type lube though). I believe this is in part due to how you apply the chain lube. The lube itself can smell a bit funky. Some riders think it smells worse than others. If it is colder out it is slower to soak in. I have noticed that with Chain-L I can go longer in between lubings than other wet lubes. It also makes the drivetrain very quiet and smooth once applied.
Where to buy?
#2 – Rock “N” Roll Extreme
What the manufacturer says about Rock N Roll Extreme:
“The formulation goes deep down into the chain and traps any dirt. Then, with the energy of the chain freewheeling backwards, the dirt and grit floats to the surface so you can wipe it all off, leaving a new and clean application of lube inside the chain, where it’s needed. The lube down inside the chain creates a protective membrane to seal out dirt and moisture from the moving parts of the chain. As well as holding in place the best lube on the planet, for longer chain life, super smooth shifting and pedaling.”
What I have to say about Rock “N” Roll Extreme:
Rock “N” Roll Extreme is another one of my favorite wet weather chain lubes. Rock “N” Roll has several chain lubes and the Extreme blue is the thickest lube they offer. What makes Rock “N” Rolls lubes special is that they help clean out your chain on application by pushing all the tiny dirt and grit out of the chain bearings. Rock “N” Roll is designed to be applied liberally to the chain and then wiped down. It can seem a bit wasteful but it helps get the lube into the chain very well. I think it lasts a good amount of time after application but not as good as Chain-L.
Where to buy:
#3 – DIY Homebrew Lube
Synthetic Motor Oil and Odorless Mineral Spirits or Biodegradable Chainsaw Bar Oil and Odorless Mineral Spirits
What I have to say about DIY Homebrew chain lubes:
DIY homebrew chain lubes are a staple chain lube of many riders. They are cheap to make and actually work surprising well. Most riders have their own mix ratio but anything from about 2:1 to 4:1 parts of Mineral Spirits to motor oil or chainsaw bar oil is the norm. I prefer chainsaw bar oil because it’s more “eco” but synthetic oil works fine too. You won’t find these oils do anything special beyond a traditional oil type chain lube. They don’t last as long as a good chain lube like the ones mentioned above but they are cheap and easy to apply before each ride.
Where to buy:
Best Mountain Bike Chain Lubes For Dry Conditions
#1 – Squirt Dry Lube
What the manufacturer has to say about Squirt Dry Lube:
“Squirt is a wax based, long lasting dry lube for the use on bicycle chains. This liquid lubricant has unique properties that make it ideal for use in any cycling condition. It had been developed to give better lubrication, last longer and keep the chain cleaner over extreme distances for both MTB and road cycling. No degreasing is required. Squirt is an emulsion that is blended under special controlled conditions from a number of waxes. This process gives it a unique smooth texture that makes it very easy to apply. No separation will take place under normal storage conditions and no clogging of the nozzle will occur. Due to Squirt’s composition, build-up due to dirt does not occur and no grinding paste will form. Continuous application can be done without having to clean the chain. Excess wax that gets expelled by the chain does not attract dirt, hardens slightly and falls off during riding. Cleaning with a dry brush is adequate. This lubricant also sticks to the chain longer and extends lubrication intervals.”
What I have to say about Squirt Dry Lube:
Squirt is a wax type lube that doesn’t attract much if any grime to the chain, even in dusty conditions. You don’t have to fully degrease your chain when you apply it, which is nice if you’re want to switch to from a wet to a dry lube. For me this was nice when riding conditions change from spring to summer. Just wipe down the chain with a rag to get all the excess old lube and dirt off and apply Squirt. When riding in really dusty locations you’ll notice that you will need to reapply the lube after each ride (as you will with the ones below too). I always just lube up the chain before I put the bike in my rack or the garage after riding. The wax seeps into the chain nicely and is dry when I go to ride next, which keeps the grime buildup considerably less. I find that the lube works best after a few applications. Once a bit of a wax build up occurs you don’t need to lube as often.
Where to buy:
#2 – Boeshield T-9 Chain Lube
What the manufacturer has to say about Boeshield T-9 chain lube:
“The formulation, based on a unique combination of solvents and waxes, is designed to penetrate metal pores and dissolve minor corrosion, then leave a resilient waxy coating that lasts for many months. We began by successfully introducing Boeshield T-9® to the tough saltwater marine market for lubricating and protecting all metals. For bicycle chains, T-9® has proven to be a tough, long lasting waterproof lubricant. Our sales keep growing every year despite many competitors.”
What I have to say about Boeshield T-9 chain lube:
Boeshield T-9 is a really great product made by Boeing. I’d have to say that it is the most waterproof of the wax based dry lubes. Better than Dumonde Tech below. It does keep the chain quiet in dry conditions and doesn’t attract hardly any dirt. If I didn’t like Squirt so much I’d probably give Dumonde and Boeshield more time on my bike. Make sure you get the little squirt type bottle not spray on Boeshield. It works much better at keeping the mess down during lubing.
Where to buy:
#3 – Dumonde Tech Bicycle Chain Lube
What the manufacturer has to say about Dumonde Tech Bicycle chain lube:
“We recommend the Original Bicycle Chain Lube for mountain bike, cyclo-cross and more extreme conditions. You can confidently use Dumonde Tech’s Bicycle Chain Lube on all cables, pivots points, seals. Safe on plastic, rubber, all seal materials. The product is designed to not harm your components. Eco-friendly and environmentally sensitive, our products are engineered to perform with minimal “carbon footprint” by not washing off in water, to use sparingly, lasts longer between applications, your drive train lasts longer. Very good performer in the extreme cold conditions.”
What I have to say about Dumonde Tech Bicycle chain lube:
Dumonde Tech is a bit of duality in terms of it being a wet or dry lube. It is a polymer lube that I feel is in between a dry wax type lube and a wet oil based one. It does not wash off easily like a wet oil. For this reason you can run this in wet conditions if needed; not so much with Squirt. Like a good wax type lube after multiple uses the polymer builds up a coating on your chain. I’ve noticed that this lube lasts a good bit longer between lubings than all other dry wax type lubes.