Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lubrication: A Common Sense Guide to Keeping Metal Things from Rubbing on Each Other

Lubrication is one of the most terrible sounding words I know.  No innuendo intended; I mean literally, the sound of the word irritates me.  Its shorter relative, lube, is even worse.  The end of that word, lube, is just awful—bordering on nails-on-the-chalkboard grating.  I will endeavor, however, to write an entire post around this affront.  Bringing you the ups and downs, the ins and outs, and even the rounds and rounds of lube. 

As fall approaches, the cyclist, the wild untamable south eastern Pennsylvanian cyclist to be specific, needs to prepare for the elements.  Lube is a big part of this.  Your bike will not survive a wet fall and winter of riding without some serious attention paid to keeping your many drive-train components on good terms. 

Morgan Blue: Maker of fine greases, lubes, and assembly compounds

Bicycles abhor friction.  It quite literally grinds their gears.  It wears their bearings.  It amplifies every little tick or tack, creak or crack in your bike.  Luckily for you, lubrication and grease rebuff friction’s every advance.  That is, provided that they are regularly used on your bike.  Regular lubrication and re-greasing are crucial to keeping your bike quiet.  Bicycles don’t fall under the “set-it-and-forget-it” category.  Like small children, they need regular attention to work correctly.  Also like small children, they can be taken away by the authorities if you don’t take care of them. 

Greases and lubes come in many different types. Choose the right one for your situation...or else.

So what do you need to know about lubrication to keep your two wheeled babies behaving as they should?  Well it really depends on how much you want to embrace your inner DIY home mechanic.  At the very least, every bicycle parent should be well versed in chain and cable lubrication.

First things first.  Proper application technique is crucial to having success when lubing your bike.  Lubing your chain may not seem like a process laden with pitfalls and opportunities for disaster, but it is suprising the problems that over-lubrication delivers. 

While your bike sits on a level surface, spin your pedals backwards and apply lube as the chain rolls over the rear cassette, like so:

Apply until the chain appears wet.  If your chain is squeaking, apply until the noise dissipates.  Don’t over apply.  We are not looking to coat your entire drive-train in this stuff.  A thin layer on the chain is fine.  Give the lube a minute or two to soak down into the rollers of the chain.  Left sitting on the outside of the chain, lube accomplishes nothing.  We want the lube to soak into the chain.  Wipe the chain clean with a dry, lint-free rag after the soak in period.  While pedaling backwards again, run the chain through the rag from the bottom side of the chain, like so:

This is probably the most important step.  Wipe until the outside of the chain appears clean.  Excess lube left on the outside of the chain attracts dirt like a magnet.  Clogging your drive-train with dirt only leads to bad things.  Don’t believe me?  Go to a cross race and check out what dirt can do to a bike. 

Apply small drops of thin chain lube to the pivot points of your derailleurs, brakes, cable ends, and pulley wheels like so:

Use the ProLink Pin Luber to make pivot points and cable lubing a breeze.  

Wipe away any excess lube.  That is just a general rule of life—bicycle life.  Heed it in everything that you do. 

So now that you have the technique down, we need to decide which lube is best for you.  All lube is not created equal, so unfortunately you will actually have to put some thought into what will be best for you.  Think of all lubes existing on a wide spectrum from thin and viscous to thick and goopy.  The general rule is that thin lube (Prolink, for example) is cleaner and easier to use, but needs to be applied more often.  Because it is cleaner, it is best used in dry dusty conditions.  Thick lube (Chain-L, for example) is quieter and lasts longer, but has the potential to attract a lot of dirt.  Because it is thicker, it stands up to bad weather well and does not get washed away quickly. 

Where do you fall on the spectrum?  Most riders fall near the thinner end, and would do well with a lube like ProLink or Morgan Blue Bio Bike Oil.  These thinner lubes should always be used on cables and pivot points, regardless of conditions. 

We love Morgan Blue Bio Oil.  Not only a great lube, but it is also friendly to the environment!

Thicker lubes will last up to 1,000 miles, but unless you pay close attention and wipe any excess often, they will attract dirt.  If you don’t mind the extra care, they often run wonderfully quiet and will protect your stuff through the heaviest weather.  If you’re an all weather rider, look into thicker lubes like Chain-L or Morgan Blue Syn Lube, especially for the fall and winter months. 

Grease has a similar spectrum.  Using the right viscosity of grease can be the difference between perfect and broken.  The grease that you use to rebuild a cup and cone hub may not be the same as the grease that keeps your BB30 bottom bracket silent.  Carry over the same rules we learned from the chain lube.  Thin is fast, but thick will keep the water out.  Use the most water proof stuff you can find to protect your bottom bracket from the most extreme elements. 

Different greases for different pieces. 

For the most part though, maintenance that requires grease requires some kind of mechanical knowledge.  Rebuilding bottom brackets, headsets, hubs, freehubs, cartridge bearings, pulley wheels, and the like can all be left to your LBS if you so choose.  If you do decide to dive into one of these though, choose your lube or grease—depending on the job at hand—wisely. 

So there you have it.  A bare bones rundown of the stuff that makes things move: lube.  Don’t brush it off.  It is important—but also, literally don’t brush it off, unless, of course, you plan on re-applying it. 


  1. WRONG. Do not apply the lube over the cassette. Apply it over the suspended chain, otherwise you get it down into and under the cassette. Also, when you wipe it off, you keep the chain stationary, and more the rag back and forth, then rotate the cranks to a new spot and repeat until you get it all off "clean" <- like you said. Additionally, you don't need to lube a sealed grease-lubed derailer pulley, it will only wash out the grease. And putting oil where your cable goes in and out is just inviting a quick grimey build up.

  2. Fair enough about applying over the cassette. My point with the pulleys and cables was assuming that both are in need of lubrication--not running smoothly or squeaking. Though sealed bearing pulleys are becoming more ubiquitous, there are still plenty of derailleurs that have bushing type pulley wheels, which need lube quite often, especially in harsh conditions. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  3. Those are really good features there. Look like it is of high standard items too. Great.
    white metal bearings

  4. We use lube—oops! Sorry! Hahaha! Anyway, we use it to prevent bike chains from the getting some rust; which causes the friction to go bad. Proper maintenance doesn't only mean a constant lubrication; it's a whole process. Your bike would be an epic fail if you lubed it wet and full of dirt.