There are masses of bike lubes on the market so choosing the right one for your riding can be really confusing. Luckily the Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews test teams have used the vast majority in a wide range of conditions from daily grind commuting and MTB testing in northern England through Scottish 24-hour races to the road and epic marathon racing in South Africa. So what are the lubes we recommend, why do we rate them, and what do you need to look for to find the right one for you?
There is more to buying lube than just wet and dry, check out our guide below for help choosing the best chain lube for your bike, or scroll on down to see our pick of the best.
Fenwicks is very secretive about what’s in the metallic green sludge that used to be called ‘Stealth Road’ but now comes labelled as ‘Professional’. Set up is a little more faffy than some as it requires at least four hours of curing, and you need to make sure the bottle temperature is over 8-degrees before using it, so don’t forget that if you’re in an unheated shed or workshop. The screw nozzle makes minimal application easy though which is what Fenwicks recommends if you’re using it on the road in drier conditions.
You don’t need much to silence a chain and keep it turning and shifting sweetly in even the vilest deep-winter MTB conditions either and it’ll normally do well over a week of daily grind during dirty testing before it starts to feel or sound dry.
If you ask properly rapid riders what their lube of choice is, the likelihood a lot of them will say Squirt and if you’re careful with setup, it’s easy to see why.
Starting with a properly clean drivetrain is absolutely crucial to let the wax work on uncontaminated surfaces. While it’s relatively pricey don’t be mean with the amount you put on, properly douse the chain to make sure the wax gets everywhere. Definitely add the second coat they advise after the initial application has cured or you’ll be way off its potential lifespan.
It’s not the longest-lived treatment but where it scores massively is absolutely minimal friction, consistently topping out in independent lab tests and giving a genuine ‘brand new bike’ feel, particularly on the road. It runs really clean, collecting minimal gunk elsewhere in the drivetrain in environments as diverse as its native South African dust or Scottish granite grinding paste. The lack of dirt build-up means longer intervals between cleaning and topping up and lab tests we’ve seen confirm it’s one of the best lubes for prolonging drivetrain lifespans.
Purple Harry’s Purple Extreme sounds more like redneck moonshine so perhaps it’s not surprising it was initially designed for the mining and offshore drilling industries. The ultra-high film strength means it lasts brilliantly in the most extreme situations such as older Bosch motor e-bikes with tiny drive sprockets or any high torque/high friction riding situation. We even know some MTB photographers and testers who routinely ignore free samples of other lube and instead buy their own Purple Extreme to keep their transmissions alive on the longest, grimmest days. It’s totally unfazed by heat, or saltwater, resisting corrosion really well on cheaper chains and steel chainrings. There’s no curing routine and it runs relatively clean and quiet, though it can’t compete with the fastest-feeling lubes. When it does get dirty you’ll need a very powerful cleaner to shift it.
Fenwicks has been working hard for over 20 years to reduce the environmental impact of its products before the wheels on the eco bandwagon even started squeaking. Its wet-weather recipe is designed to create minimum issues downstream of any rivers you cross while riding. It’s just viscous enough to allow sparing application to each roller through the twist nozzle and from there, a quick chain rotation will propagate it into all the relevant friction surfaces. If you wipe off the excess it runs relatively clean and quiet even in drier conditions (a lighter lube is also available) but where it comes into its own is staying quiet and efficient on back-to-back winter MTB rides or even 24-hour race situations. Because it lasts so well, what looks like average cost-per-ml value translates into impressive cost-effectiveness over time.
Muc-Off spent years developing its Hydrodynamic lube with Team Sky and British Cycling and according to its lab tests, the waxy lube drops chain drag dramatically. In other tests we’ve seen, results haven't been quite as glowing but our own experience puts it firmly into the ‘brand new chain’ feel category even on tired transmissions.
It stays clean and noise/grit-free for longer than the fastest lab waxes and it’s one of the few we’d recommend for off-road use whether that’s gravel, cyclo-cross, or MTB. Application is easy via the pipette-style bottle and you even get a UV torch to check that the blue-dyed fluid has penetrated all the link junctions without using excessive amounts. Make sure you shake the bottle properly before applying, wipe off the excess and let it cure for four hours or more before riding. That way the tiny 50ml bottle should last a decent time, although it’s definitely an expensive product for luxury mechanics, not last-minute lubers.
Finish Line’s Cross Country lube has been around forever and the sticky blood-red mix is still a great way to keep squeak and rust at bay in the worst conditions. It’s dirtier and draggier than more modern mixes though. Formed from a secret blend of synthetic oils, polymers and anti-wear additives, it’s the stickiest recipe here, but still fluid enough to flow onto a chain easily.
Capillary coverage is rapid and consistent with a quick spin of the chain which suits less careful mechanics. Once applied it takes a serious amount of wear and weather to shift it and it’s overkill on the road unless conditions are particularly grim. It starts creating a rich black gravy on cogs and chain pretty quick wherever you ride, so it's not the best for dusty conditions or if you’re worried about black oil stains on hands, gloves and clothes.
While shifting can be a little sluggish and there’s palpable grind through the pedals if it gets really messy, corrosion proofing is excellent and you’ll have to go a long way to get through to the squeak. Add a good price per ml and it’s a decent workhorse lube for the worst conditions.
If any European country is likely to produce an impressively weatherproof lube then it’s the spring classics and cyclo-cross heartland of Belgium. Morgan Blue also has a very impressive list of top pro teams issuing its kit as well as a lot of very vocal evangelists for its products in online forums. After dripping the tea-coloured oil out of its unassuming bottle, it didn’t take us long to understand the fuss either. There’s no specific application process: you just apply the mid-weight mix onto your chain and you’re good to go.
Additives in the oil give it a noticeably quick feel in terms of pedalling and shifting straight away. Despite the fact it’s impressively rain/flood/frost-proof, it stays clean better than most so that performance lasts well beyond most mixes in its price bracket. In fact, it’s a match for almost anything in all but the most extreme conditions (which is where the slightly more expensive ‘Rolls Pro’ mix comes in) and if you want an even faster feeling mix the company does a summer ‘race oil’ too.
The top lube in the Rock ’n’ Roll range is a unique mixture that needs a little set up TLC but rewards with super-fast, super-shiny performance and minimal wear in dry, clean conditions. As the lube actually includes a powerful (and flammable) solvent base, initial lubing is designed to flush out all the grit and grime lurking in the links. That means you need to be generous with the dosage you flood onto the cassette end of the chain, rather than dropping onto each link. Then after spinning the chain a few times wipe the chain, chainrings and cassette as comprehensively as you can to get rid of the muck on the surface.
Ideally, you should then leave the chain for a few hours for the protective, lubricating membrane to fully cure. This will leave you with a very shiny and very fast-feeling transmission and lab tests we’ve seen back up the minimal drag, minimal wear feel. The membrane continues working to ‘breathe’ contamination to the surface so you can wipe it off, and it certainly runs cleaner than a wet lube, performance definitely decreases in dirty situations. That’s where the waxier ‘Extreme’ comes in but again longevity isn’t brilliant as the wax tends to flake off faster than most.
Smoove isn’t quite as fast in feel as its South African competitor Squirt, but it’s easier to apply and lasts longer in real-world conditions. You still need a thoroughly cleaned transmission for best results but you only need one relatively sparing application to coat the inner chain and rollers.
Don’t wipe afterwards though, just be ready to scrape the excess wax off jockey wheels once you start riding. It’s ready to go within an hour, although an overnight cure is optimum. The tackier coating means it doesn’t feel as super slick as the fastest waxes, and you can see a light grey film on the chain as it collects a bit of dirt over time. The tackiness means it stays in place far better than most waxes though and the contamination is significantly less than a wet oil so our test transmission stayed smooth and quiet even in winter off-road or salty commuting conditions. Extended run-time between reapplication and reduced wear make the initially steep price a wise investment if you’re a high-mileage or horrible conditions rider.
Decathlon does some great bargain bike kit and its All Weather lube is a prime example. Just drip the midnight liquid onto your chain and the ‘non-stick’ Teflon-enriched mix will find its way into the various bearing surfaces. Wiping the excess off will also coat the outside plates for corrosion resistance on cheaper non-stainless chains and then you’re good to go.
While longevity obviously depends on conditions, it was no faster to get squeaky or start building up black gunge than most other mid-weight drip lubes and significantly better than some several times its cost. The ‘non-stick’ mix works well on- and off-road too, it doesn’t fling off at speed and it still shrugs water off after several stream crossings, making it a great choice for riders on a budget or ready in your kit bag or van if you forget your fancy lube or need to lend it out.
How to choose the best chain lube for your bike
Our recommendations range in price from 3p per ml (B’Twin All-Weather Teflon) to 12 times that much (Muc Off Hydrodynamic) and you could even go more expensive with a fully prepped and dipped chain.
Apart from some real bargains - like the Decathlon - expect to pay 6-8p per ml for a decent wet lube that’ll perform well in all conditions. If you’re riding in really grim or extended conditions then paying 10-12p for really outstanding wet lubes will pay you back in extended lifespan of your chain, cassette and chainrings as well as less frequent lube application. Wax lubes tend to cost a similar amount too, but longevity payback depends on the brand and your riding conditions.
2. Preparation and application
All lubes work better on a properly cleaned chain with no embedded grit, grime or old lube, so get yourself some chain cleaner at the same time as the lube. It makes sense to match brands too as some are specifically designed to work together.
From here, some lubes just need dripping onto the chain rollers and you’re good to go. Others need more meticulous setup, with ‘curing’ times varying from a few minutes before use to several hours/overnight to get best results. Make sure you read and follow the instructions as the performance difference can be dramatic depending on prep. Don’t buy a fussy (read: requires meticulous application) lube if you’re normally rushing to get a rusting/squeaky bike ready while all your mates are ready.
3. Road vs MTB
Road bike transmissions generally have a much easier time as, even in a filthy winter, there’s less muck getting onto your chain. Peak torque loads tend to be lower and shifting smoother too. Chain speeds are higher though and oil fling more obvious on your clean socks and shaven legs too. That’s why a lot of road riders use a dry or wax-based lube for cleanliness, while MTB riders tend to use heavier duty ‘wet’ lubes. That might not always be the right choice though, particularly in dusty conditions, so no surprise that two of the best waxy lubes here - Squirt and Smoove - are from sunny South Africa.
4. Wet or dry?
Most brands produce a ‘wet’ lube and a ‘dry’ lube. Wet lubes stays moist and sticky to resist washing off in bad weather, but tends to attract more dirt and build up a manky mess on chainring teeth, jockey wheels etc. Dry lubes attract less dirt and keep things looking cleaner prompting many riders to switch to them in summer. The actual proportion of lubricant in dry mixes can be extremely low (around 10%) though with the carrier fluid just evaporating off and leaving the chain to go squeaky and increase friction very rapidly. Many WorldTour team mechanics will opt for wet lube all year round due to the frequent maintenance and daily cleaning the bikes are given.
That means applying a wet lube and just wiping excess off makes the most sense or go for a wax instead in really dry/dusty situations or where cleanliness is paramount.
5. Drip or wax?
Conventional oily ‘drip’ lubes are normally the easiest to apply as the fluid mix delivers the lubricating elements where they’re needed. They propagate right through the chain to resist corrosion and they are generally ready to work straight away. Wax lubes go on wet for penetration and then solidify to basically create an ultra-thin ‘bearing surface’ that resists dirt build-up too so they’re great if you want to keep hands and clothes clean. This ‘curing’ process can take several hours though and while some chains can be done in situ others are best pulled off and totally immersed before refitting and use. While they’re the cleanest lube solution, the wax coating can start to crack and fall off very quickly too so they need to be ‘topped up’ regularly. Add an already higher price and most waxes are best suited to a specific event or ‘Sunday best’ use rather than day in day out grind.