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How to Lube a Bicycle Chain

This article explains how to properly lube a bicycle chain to make it perform better and last longer.


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    Lubricate your bicycle in the garage or outdoors. The floor is likely to get a little dirty, so thoroughly cover the floor with newspaper. Don't do this on carpet or other floors that should be protected, unless you've lined the floor with plastic.
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    Turn the bike upside down. Place it in the middle of the newspaper-covered area.
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    Familiarize yourself with the parts that touch the chain:
    • front chain wheels
    • possibly a front derailleur (the part that changes gears in front)
    • rear cogs
    • possibly a rear derailleur with two more cogs.
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    Scrape off any mud and dirt from the cogs on the rear derailleur. This works best if you hold the blade of the screwdriver sideways against the outer portions of the cog and gently turn the cranks. Try to avoid allowing the scraped-off dried mud and dirt to land on the chain.
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    Prepare the rag. Dampen it. Provided that you are working in a well-ventilated area, you might like to add a degreasing cleaner, such as lighter fuel or a citrus degreaser. (See "Tips", however.)
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    Take the rag in your palm and wrap it around the chain. Hold on tightly. Turn the cranks a couple of times while holding the rag around the chain firmly. This works best if you hold the upper portion of the chain, the one that's closest to the saddle (seat). You will notice that the chain becomes much cleaner.
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    Lubricate the chain.
    • Mark one link with a magic marker, sticker or a piece of tape, so that you know where you started.
    • Starting with the marked link, apply one drop of chain lube to each link. It's best to apply a little drop to each gap where two links overlap. Don't use too much or it will be wasted because you'll wipe off the excess lube anyway!
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    Allow the lube to settle. When you've lubed all the links, turn the cranks again for half a minute or so to make sure that the lube settles properly into the inside of the link.
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    Remove any excess lube on the outside of the chain using the rag.
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    Clean up.


  • It's a good idea to re-lube the chain using the instructions above after every few rides and directly after a ride in the rain. General use and water push out the lubrication, resulting in poor shifting performance and accelerated wear.
  • After applying the lubricant to the chain, you may want to gradually shift through all of the gears so that they are all well-oiled before the ride too
  • Get a thin oil, such as bicycle chain lube. Avoid the thick, greasy type of lubricants. The thinner oil will wash off earlier, but it'll get much further inside the link. A good bike store will recommend you a brand it uses. You might pay a lot for a seemingly little amount, but you'll use only a small amount each time, so a bottle of lube lasts a long time.
  • Most lubes now are considered "self-cleaning", especially the thin oils and wax based products. If using a lube like this, skip the lighter fluid and just use extra lube on the chain; turn the cranks while dripping lube on the chain until saturated but not dripping. After working the lube in, hold the rag on the chain while rotating the cranks. This will clean your chain while removing the excess lube.


  • Also avoid solvents that are partial cleaners and are not meant to be permanent. WD-40 is a prime example - it is not a lubricant. It is designed for cleaning/degreasing and will leave your chain free of all lubricants after a few hours of use. NEVER use it as a lubricant.
  • Look for spilled chain lube on the rims or brake discs. Thoroughly wipe off any spilled lube with lighter fuel after taking care of the chain.
  • Avoid using common "3-in-1" oil sold at hardware and convenience stores. This oil picks up sand and grime and doesn't last that long.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver (about 5mm or 1/4" wide)
  • A rag
  • Bicycle chain lube
  • Lots of old newspaper
  • Magic marker
  • Lighter fuel or citrus degreaser - optional

Article Info

Categories: Bicycle Brake and Chain Maintenance