Maintenance: Let's Talk About Lube

In the last Maintenance blog we looked at both the necessity and simplicity of keeping your bike clean. In that article I mentioned how important it is to follow cleaning your bike with lubrication. 

Lubrication is best understood as the means by which you keep the mechanics of your bike moving freely, efficiently and without undue resistance. Put that logic in reverse and a failure to lubricate your bike properly thus represents a very significant risk to your entire cycling experience and your bank balance. Snapped chains, squealing chains, stiff links and unresponsive gears hold no pleasure so let’s look at how you might best prevent such things.  

What you need: 

We're assuming that our readers are predominantly cycling within and around the urban environment or on lengthy commutes primarily on tarmac roads. If that’s not you, feel free to check out another MTB blog which you may find more helpful. British roads are covered in grit and grit consists of salt. It is crucial to remember that every time you cycle you are effectively spraying the exposed areas of your bike in a fine layer of salt. Salt is highly corrosive and an absolute genius at drying your bike out to the max. There is thus a clear and obvious requirement for something which is capable of protecting those parts which need to move freely (chain links, cables and pivotal points) from that which prevents such a possibility (corrosion). Alas the need for dry teflon coated lubricant. 

What’s the difference between wet and dry lubricant?

In a word the thickness. Wet lube serves our MTB friends by creating a protective layer between the moving parts of their precious bikes and the rivers and streams they enjoy pedaling through. To do such a job well requires a significant thickness of lubricant. That thickness is best represented in what we call ‘wet lube’. The big trade off is that wet lube holds fine dirt and is thus unhelpful to those of us who ride in predominantly dry urban conditions. 

Why Teflon?

Because it minimises friction and repels water. That simple.

Chain lubrication

Let’s start with the chain as it’s the area most of us already associate with requiring some lubrication. Your bicycle chain comprises of many individual links each connected to the next via a small pin making a full chain (roughly 116 links). Lubrication of the chain is essential to the smooth running of your bikes most basic function; namely that each link is able to move freely around the sprockets and thus turn the rear wheel with ease. 

Diagnostics: If you experience a sudden and dramatic clunk while pedaling that is because an individual chain link has become too stiff and can not pass through your rear derailleur efficiently. If your chain squeals at you that is because your chain has become too dry and is perilously close to snapping. 

Maintenance Steps: Hold a can of dry lubricant approximately 15cm away from the chain with the straw attached. Spray above the chain in one place while reverse pedaling for ten seconds, thus adding lubricant to the entire chain. 

Go for a short ride taking time to change through all of your gears. 

Pay particular attention to riding in your highest gear. That's the one with the smallest ring on the back wheel. In this gear your chain experiences it's steepest bend and thus it's greatest need for lubrication.


Take a dry paper towel and loosely hold the chain. Reverse pedal allowing the chain to pass through the paper towel thereby removing any excessive lubricant. Remember that too much lubricant can be as problematic as too little.  

Cable lubrication

Whenever your inner cables are exposed they are as vulnerable to the elements as your chain.

Diagnostics: Dry cables wont be able to move freely through the outer cables causing snagging and resistance often experienced through poor and difficult gear shifting. Adding a small amount of lubricant to any exposed cables not only assists the smooth functionality of shifting through your gears but also adds to the overall longevity of your cables (saving you money). 

Maintenance steps: Move the rear derailleur to the easiest gear (largest sprocket) then move your shifter to the hardest gear without pedaling. Done correctly this should create gear slack and in some cases enable you to remove cables from their housing. 

Add a small amount of lube to your thumb and first finger. 

Gently rub this lube onto any exposed inner cables, sliding the outer cables over the inner cable where ever possible. 

Reposition any loose outer cabling. Voila

Pivot points

The points at which your brakes and derailleur pivot are suseptible to corrosion and need to be kept in good shape. 

Diagnostics: They just don't move like they should.

Maintenance steps: Add a small drop of lubricant (strictly speaking you should use a different kind of lube such as Finish Line Extreme Flouro) to the pivot points allowing free movement of the aforementioned part (on your derailleur this could be up to twenty different points). Leave to settle for a few minutes. Once you’ve done this be sure to remove any excess with a clean rag. Move through your full range of gears and give your brakes a repeated pull this will allow the lubricant to move into the inner most parts of the pivot.

Note that you’ll need to do this particular task much less frequently than the other two. We’d recommend roughly every two to three months and only ever after a really good clean. 

And finally a few never, never, nevers

Never use motor oil. Motor oil contains acids which will compromise a chains strength

Never use grease.

Never use WD40. I don’t care if your dad swears by the stuff! It’s a solvent not a lubricant!!

Never allow lube to go anywhere near your brake pads or wheel rims/discs be especially cautious if your riding disc brakes.