Chain Lube – Wet or Dry?

While recovering from my knee problem, I have been cycling vicariously by reading others’ ride reports. But I had to do something biking-related, so I got out today and did a little bike maintenance.

The day was overcast and misty, so I kept the bike in the garage. It needed a good wipedown from the dirty conditions it had been subjected to recently, so I put it on its stand, pulled off the wheels, and went at it.

Then, I figured I’d lube the chains on both my and my wife’s bikes.

As I was wiping the grime off my chain, I recalled a question that had been sent by email a while ago. It asked, “What kind of chain lube should I use? Wet or dry? Is one better than the other?

That’s a question I’d never given any thought.

I use the lube I use because about a year ago, my wife was at the bike shop, and asked about it. The mechanic recommended a brand called Tri-Flow. It’s a light viscosity wet lube.

A wet lube goes on wet and stays wet. It’s recommended that it be applied link by link (mine comes with a little plastic straw that makes it easy to do). Then, let it soak in for a few minutes, and wipe off the excess.

If you’re going to ride in wet conditions — spring in most places — wet lube is good at keeping water from getting into the chain and causing rust. It’s disadvantage is that if the riding is dry, it can attract dirt. It’s always wise to wipe off the outside of the chain before a dry weather ride to minimize the buildup of grit and grime on the chain.

Dry lubes also go on wet. But as the name implies, they penetrate the chain, then dry out. That makes dry lube a good choice for riding in dry conditions — even if the road goes through some dusty areas. The dry lube will not attract dirt, and will not quickly gunk up. That could mean a longer-lasting chain, because the grit in the dirt won’t be grinding against the links.┬áBut dry lubes don’t last long in wet conditions.

And don’t forget wax lubes. These also go on wet, but dries to a hard waxy substance. Dirt won’t stick to the wax, and even if it does, the wax naturally flakes off, taking the dirt with it. You don’t have to clean your chain if you use a wax lube.┬áBut you do have to apply the lube frequently, maybe as frequently as every 50 miles. and they’re not good in wet conditions.

So I guess what lube you use depends on your local riding conditions. I’ve had good luck with the wet lube year-round. I apply it every two weeks or so, whether the weather is wet or dry. I’ve got a smooth-shifting chain. What more could I want?


  1. says

    I also use a wet lube – T9. However, I was talking to some folks at the bike shop last fall about a mountain bike race in northern Michigan in November. I’m planning to do it this year. The bike shop guy gave me a sample bottle of a different lube to try for that ride – I think it was a waxy one. I’ll have to test it out!

  2. says

    Most recently I’ve used Pedro’s Road Rage and Ice Wax. The Ice Wax didn’t seem to last as long, and the Road Rage gets gummy after a bit and ends up having the opposite effect of a lubricant. I think the best solution is to keep your chain clean and lubed on an ongoing basis, like every other ride – which, of course, I don’t do..

  3. noglider says

    I’ve been meaning Chain-L. It sounds good. Basically, I don’t trust dry lubes or wax. If your chain isn’t terribly dirty, you can use excess lubricant as a solvent to clean it, with repeated cycles of lubing and wiping.

    • says

      You should clean your chain before applying lube, especially wet. Wet lube needs to penetrate into the links, and if there is dirt on the chain, that dirt can be carried with the lube into the links.

  4. says

    I’ve been using Epic Ride. It lasts long enough and doesn’t attract dirt. But at $9.95 a bottle it hurts to use it. They must be making a fortune on it. It’s so runny it’s hard not to waste too much of it, and that bottle is small! But is works well, so I’ll be sticking with it.

  5. Craig says

    Road Bike.

    I lubricate using a mixture of heavy wet oil (*1), teflon powder, finish line teflon dry lube, and 91% rubbing alcohol.
    (*1) Pedro’s or more recently chain L.

    Heavy wet oil alone will do the lubrication, but the total mix makes the chain stay cleaner.

    I wash the chain thoroughly first after removing it from the bike (smart links) – wash three times in a closed jar: used filtered kerosene / new kerosense / 91% rubbing alc. The last is to get the kerosene off the chain because kerosene is really unhealthy to handle.

    Then I soak/shake the chain in the above oil mixture, then hang it up to dry for 30 minutes, then put it on the bike to dry further, while occasionally spinning the chain to encourage penetration into the links.

    This way I can ride a 600k brevet even with a little California rain (i.e. very light rain) and endure no squeaks or difficult shifting.

  6. Craig says

    I forgot to say – low cost / high performance was the largest factor in evolving this method. Using LBS “chain cleaner” and “Finish Line Teflon Dry Lube” on their own would work sufficiently well – but expensive to do once a week.

    Needless to say, the used kerosene gets stored for yearly disposal at a hazardous waste center – it should never be dumped in the sewers.

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