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The Best Way to Apply Oil to a Bicycle Chain

Bike Chain

When it comes to bicycle maintenance, the chain is the most neglected part. If you asked some cyclists when they last oiled their bicycle chain, they wouldn't be able to tell you. They fail to realize that not oiling the chain makes it develop rust. Rust weakens the chain, which then later snaps. On the other hand, some cyclists use too much oil on their chains. According to Live About, excess lubricant attracts dust and other abrasive particles. These particles cause friction which wears it out, thereby producing a squeak. To avoid inadvertently ruining your chain, here are the steps below to correctly apply oil to a bicycle chain.

1. Choosing the Right Lubricant

Before you pick a lubricant, first consider the environment you cycle in. If you cycle in wet areas, go for a wet lube. On the other hand, if you mostly cycle in arid areas, pick a dry lube. In wet areas, water can splash away your oil if you use the wrong one. Wet lube works well in wet areas because it is thick and sticky. As a result, water that splashes on your chain will be unable to wash off the oil. Meanwhile, dry lube is ideal for dry areas because it is thin and waxy. When dust is in contact with the chain, it soon falls off before it can enter the drivetrain. Since dry lube and wet lube tend to be messy, you can also use wax lube. Also, it makes the chain cleaner compared to the two lubricants. However, wax lube does not stick to the chain for long. According to Bicycling, it needs to be reapplied every 50 to 100 miles. So, this lube is best used if you are cycling short distances. Another common item used as a lubricant is WD-40. It is a multi-purpose spray that displaces moisture, protects parts from erosion, lubricates the chain, and so on. However, the product is primarily a degreaser and should be used as one. According to Hoffy Cycles, the percentage of oil in it is too minimal to lubricate the chain.

2. Cleaning the Bike Chain

First, you have to assess how dirty your chain is. If the chain is extremely dirty, you will need to use a degreaser spray like WD-40, for example. Spray it onto a rag and wipe the chain with it. Degreasers are very effective, so you only need to spray the rag twice. If the chain is not that dirty, you can wipe it with just a dry rag. Remember, the entire chain needs to be cleaned. To do this, you have to backpedal the chain so that it runs through the rag. This means you have to lift your bicycle, so you can ask a friend to help you slant it or lean it against a wall. Once you have supported your bicycle, pull the pedals backward to allow the chain to move around the chainrings. Clean the chain from the top and not the bottom. Keep backpedaling until you are certain that the entire chain is cleaned. As you clean the chain, ensure your fingers are not between the chain and chainrings. You will be amazed at how common finger accidents occur while cleaning the chain. According to Times of India, Ganga Hospital personnel claim that they have witnessed at least 50 cases of finger injuries due to cleaning the chain. Therefore, they have advised cyclists to learn how to clean the chain before cleaning it. Seeing how risky cleaning by hand is, it is safer to clean with a chain scrubber. To use this device, attach it around the chain. It has a section that allows you to pour in the degreaser. There is also a section that has rotating brushes for cleaning the chain. So, you will slide the device around the chain as you backpedal for ten revolutions. Fortunately, all chain scrubbers contain instruction manuals that you can follow.

3. Applying the Lube

Before applying the lube, ensure you shake it. When the lube is stored for so long on shelves, its ingredients separate. As a result, the lube will not be effective for your chain. Shaking, therefore, mixes the ingredients. Next, squeeze the bottle of the lube and backpedal the chain as you apply it. To do this, ensure the mouth of the lube is inside the chain. As you pour the lube, turn the pedals backward to enable the chain move around the chainrings. Ensure you move the chain around the chainrings several times while applying the lube onto each part of the chain. After you feel the chain has enough lube, you can put it aside. Proceed to backpedal the chain. You should do this for ten minutes, so it would help to be patient. Doing this ensures that the oil is distributed evenly throughout the chain. To further distribute the lube, slowly shift your bicycle's gears. By shifting the gears, the lube gets distributed to the chainrings and cassette gears. Next, get a rag to wipe off any excess oil. We already established the problem of using too much lube on the chains. Hold the rag against the chain while backpedaling the chain. While backpedaling, occasionally run the chain around the chainrings through the rag a few times. Observe the oil level on the rag. If you notice little or no oil on the rag, it means you have adequately wiped off excess oil.


It is understandable why cyclists do not lubricate their chains. After all, it is time-consuming since you have to shop around for the appropriate lubricant and lubricate the chain for almost an hour. However, skipping this step is counterproductive in the long run. By not lubricating the chain, it will snap, and you will not be able to cycle. On the other hand, there are cyclists who are extremely cautious to the point they accidentally damage their chain. Even though remembering to oil the chain is admirable, you have to not go overboard with the process. Otherwise, your chain will be ruined, and you will not be any different from a cyclist who doesn't lubricate their chain.

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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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