How to Lubricate a Bicycle Chain

Your bicycle chain has more moving parts than any other part of your bike. It is important that it be clean and well lubricated. A dirty chain or poorly lubed chain can be stiff and make your shifting skip. Lubricating your chain is probably the easiest piece of maintenance, but one that is often ignored.

What tools are needed?
  • No tools are needed.
What preparations are needed?
  • None, if your chain is clean or new. If it's dirty or old, then clean it (see How to Clean a Bicycle Chain or take your bike to your local bike shop) or replace it (take your bike to your local bike shop or wait for our how-to). (Replacing your chain is an intermediate level task and will be added to this website only when the simpler things have been finished.)
What supplies are needed?
  • Chain lubricant. TowpathGuy uses two kinds:
    • White Lightning Chain Lube -- This is wax type lube. It's great for the slightly dusty and dry conditions of the towpath. This is what TowpathGuy uses regularly. (An 8 oz bottle will last a year or two.) A similar product is Pedro's Ice Wax
    • Tri-Flow Superior Bicycle Chain Lube -- TowpathGuy uses this if it's very cold. When Spring comes, he then cleans his chain and returns to using White Lightning.
  • You can get these or similar products at your local bike shop. The links above will send you to where you can get product information or order these items. TowpathGuy's Amazon Store also has these items.
  • Lean your bike against a wall so that you can turn the crank backwards and the chain faces you. Then as you turn the crank (using a pedal) dribble the chain lube on the edge part of the links. Be sure to get both edges. The center of the chain does not need to be lubed. 2-3 rotations on each chain edge is enough and then give the crank a few extra turns to let the lube work its way into the gaps between the moving parts.
  • This will take about 2 minutes!
  • Note with the wax type lube you don't need to worry about using too much lube. The extra flakes off and carries dirt and dust with it.
How often?
  • If you use the wax lube, your chain should be lubricated every 20-25 miles. If you ride daily, this might mean that you lube every 2-3 days. If you ride rarely, lube every time you ride. If you go on a long ride on the weekend, you might want to take a small bottle of lube with you and lube your chain on the trail. TowpathGuy cleans his chain once a year and replaces the chain every other year.
  • If you use the non-wax lube, your chain will not need to be lubricated as often, but it will need to be cleaned more often. The non-wax lubes hold the dust and dirt. Lube every 100-200 miles or 1-2 months. Clean every other lube -- See How to Clean a Bicycle Chain. Watch for dirt build-up and adjust this schedule to fit with your riding conditions.