Wet or dry: which chain lube should you use?
Any friction or resistance within the chain can have an impact on how efficiently your power is used. In order to limit friction between the chain and the rest of the drivetrain, a lubricant needs to be applied.
Studies have shown that the type of lube itself makes little difference on the efficiency of a clean chain.
The real value of lubrication is to fill the gaps that would otherwise be filled by dirt and grime — things that do increase friction and decrease efficiency.
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So if the type of lube is unimportant for efficiency why is there so much choice? Alex Trimnell, Muc-Off’s CEO, has this advice: “Keeping your drivetrain clean and well-lubed is important for a smooth riding experience, but you need to make sure that you use the right lube for the conditions.”
But a quick glance in your local bike shop will reveal a huge range of lubes to choose from. Wet, dry, wax, ceramic are just a few of the different types on offer. So which lube should you choose?
Despite the seemingly endless differences, chain lube can be broken down into just two simple categories — ‘wet’ and ‘dry’.
Simon Nash of Green Oil, maker of environmentally friendly lubes explains: “Wet lube was the original lubricant of choice. Early brands used something like car engine oil. Its consistency trumped basic spray lubricants that were primarily designed to displace water.
“It worked and was durable. But many cyclists on the road racing scene took to waxing chains in a frying pan. Secret formulas mixed in the kitchen often led to chains being dipped in bespoke waxy lubricants overnight.
“Companies soon realised that instead of heating up wax to melt onto a chain, wax could be melted (or rather dissolved) in a solvent. When this is applied the solvent evaporates, leaving just the wax, or ‘dry’ lubricant.”
Going back to Trimnell’s advice, choosing the best lube solution comes down to the conditions you ride in.
Wet lubes are used in all weather conditions but really come to the fore when riding in autumn and winter as they are water resistant so won’t get washed off riding through puddles or in a rainstorm.
Most wet lubes will provide efficient lubrication for over 100 miles of riding with one application. If you ride in the winter months a wet lube will resist salt corrosion. Wet lubes are also really good at reducing drivetrain noise.
The downside is that the sticky nature of wet oil can attract dirt that, if left to build up, can work as a grinding paste to rapidly wear out components. It also oxidises and if left to build up ends up as thick black gunk. Using wet lube properly requires regular degreasing and cleaning of your drivetrain.
In dry, spring and summer conditions you want to use a lighter lubricant, normally a wax-based ‘dry’ lube. Dry lubes are much cleaner to use and attract less dirt build-up even with repeated application. This makes them much better in dry or dusty conditions, especially off-road or on gravel tracks.
However, even a light rain shower will wash dry lube off the chain and it is less durable; an 80-mile ride in dry conditions can see lubrication drastically reduced.
As Nash also points out: “Value is an issue — in a bottle of wet lube, 100 per cent of the formula will lubricate. In a dry lube, some of the formula is solvent, which is there just to aid application.”
Whichever lube you prefer to use, for the best results Trimnell suggests that you leave the lube on the chain overnight before riding for maximum benefit.
Now you know which to use, here’s how to use it
Regular, correct application of lube is an important process to ensure the smooth and efficient running of your bike.
The type of lube you choose to use comes down to several factors involving where and when you ride. If you are fastidious about cleaning your bike regularly, and often ride in inclement conditions, then wet lube is the right choice for you.
However, for the habitually lazy or fair-weather cyclist, a dry lube is always going to be the preferred option.
What the experts think
My view: Andy Verrall former service course manager, One Pro Cycling
A wet lube from our supplier, Juice Lubes, is my default choice year round. I prefer to have a lube on the drivetrain to cover all weather.
The most important thing for me is daily cleaning of the drivetrain with degreaser, thoroughly drying it to remove all moisture before reapplying more lube.
This way the drivetrain is far more efficient and you gain extra life out of the whole system, along with no loss of power from the rider.
My view: Simon Nash, Green Oil founder
Every bike cupboard should have both a wet and dry lube. Dry lubes are for the driest conditions and cleanest chains.
Wet lubes can be used all year, offer better value and have the greatest longevity. Whether wet or dry, it’s often a question of how much time and effort you want to put in.
Either way, make sure you use a lubricant — your chain will thank you for it!