Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chain lubricants - A comparison review

I've yet to read the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" but just from the title, I get the sense that I will appreciate the message the author tried to convey. When I settle down to work on my bike for a little bit each week, I find that time to be almost meditative. My mind can go blank and I can just work on my bike. (Then again, considering my last entry, maybe my mind going blank is just a frequent occurrence and has nothing to do with meditation at all.)

Having a clean and smooth-running drivetrain on a bike is a sign of someone who cares about his machine. It's no different from a musician taking care of his instrument or a chef taking care of his knives. It is an acknowledgement that "these are the tools of my trade and I take care of them". And one of the essential elements of bike maintenance is chain lubrication. Now the ideal chain lubricant would be easy to apply and would stay on for hundreds of miles in all types of weather. It would keep your drivetrain quiet, reduce the the wear on your chain while not picking up any dust or dirt. And it would be cheap.

Of course, such a lubricant doesn't exist. That's why you see dozens of different lubricants at your local bike shop or online. In general, lubes fall into the "wet" or "dry" categories and each has its pros and cons. Wet lubes stay on the chain longer but pick up dirt and dust. Dry lubes stay far cleaner but require regular application. So here's a comparison of several of the more popular lubricants that I've had a chance to try. One thing that I do to my chains before applying a new lube is to wash it down (actually, degrease the entire chain) to get a good idea of what the new lube is like.

White Lightning Clean Ride - The first "dry" lube that I tried. It's a wax based lube that goes on wet and then dries in about 20-30 minutes. The idea of a wax-based lube is that it flakes off as dirty and grime get stuck in it... thus the concept of "self-cleaning" (though probably more like dandruffy-shedding). The lube does keep things clean though. When I was using it, I'd end up applying it about every other ride (each ride being no shorter than 30 miles in length). Probably not as good for wet- or poor-weather rides where grime gets into the drivetrain much quicker and thus could shorten the intervals at which it has to be applied. $6 for 4oz.

Dumonde Tech Lite - Supposedly a "high-tech" lube that is a cross between wet and dry lubes. According to Dumonde Tech, it generates a plastic coating on the drivetrain that acts as a super-slick surface. It also has to be applied before the ride to allow it to dry onto the drivetrain. I'm also fairly certain that I got high from the fumes. One really nice thing is that it seems to last quite a bit longer than some of the other lubes, especially since the recommendation is to not reapply the lube unless you hear noise from the drivetrain. The downsides? It gets dirty and seems to put a residue on the chain unless you're meticulous about wiping off the excess. And it's really expensive. The priciest of the lubes here. $16 for 4oz.

Triflow Superior Lube - This was the first lube I tried on my bikes. Really easy to use and comes with a useful little plastic "straw" that allows for precise application. The main problem with it? It gets incredibly dirty. As it... I just did a ride on my road bike and it looks like I was in a cyclocross race. I like taking care of my bike but having to wipe down tremendous amounts of dirt and grime on the chain after every ride isn't exactly fun. One good thing is that you can apply it and ride immediately without having to wait for it to dry. $3.50 for 2oz.

Finish Line Krytech Wax - For some reason, I had the worst luck with this lube. It goes on wet... and then apparently just drips right through the links and disappears. It seemed like it wouldn't last for even short rides of ~25 miles. Part of it might have been that I was using it during a stretch where we had some wet weather. So it might be good in dry weather but in wet, I wouldn't use it again. The other thing is that the lube has very low viscosity so it comes out of the bottle really quickly... making me think that the bottle wouldn't last as long as some others. It did smell oddly good though. $7 for 4oz.

Boeshield T-9 - This is the current lube that I've been using. Apparently it was designed by Boeing to use on their jet engines... and since my legs also spin at the same velocity as a turbojet engine (or not), I figured it'd be worth a try. It's another dry lube that seems to last longer than some of the others. I've ridden ~150miles before requiring re-application. Drivetrain has remained smooth and quiet. Apparently in cold weather it tends to get a little sticky and if you apply too much, it'll build up. But I haven't had much of a problem with it yet. It's not quite as easy to find at local bike stores but easily found on the Internet. $9 for 4oz.

If I were to rank them right now (considering both utility and cost), I'd put them in this order:
     Boeshield T-9
     White Lightning Clean Ride
     Dumonde Tech Lite
     Finish Line Krytech Wax
     Triflow Superior Lube


  1. I haven't tried Boeshield (almost sounds like a contracted pronunciation of bullsh@t shield), but from my experience of using the White Lightening Clean Ride I would recommend it as well. Less dirty than wet lube. Although the guy in the Larry and Jeff was telling me that dry lube gives more resistance than wet lube.

  2. A chain needs a lot of cleaning and lubrication if it is to last a long time. That is why having a decent chain on your bike is no good if you do not look after it.

  3. I don't know why the maintenance of this stuff has to be this difficult,but the break down here makes it looks so doable.

  4. Triflow is intended for for non-drivetrain applications (e.g. cables, derailleur pivot points, etc.). With that in mind, it's great!

  5. Apart from the brand of lubricant, it's also important to consider the terrain and weather condition you're riding in. Wet lubricants are better for wet environments because they're more viscous, thus preventing them from washing away easily. Dry lubricants are more loose and slicker so they don't pick up as much dust. Proper knowledge about biking conditions and materials is necessary to be able to pick the right kind of lubricant and ensure the best ride.