When it comes to lubricating your chain, there’s a regular dilemma cyclists face for their bicycle: wet vs dry lube.
Lubrication is essential for the health and longevity of your drivetrain, and with your chain, you want to get it right. Deciding between dry lube vs wet lube for your chain isn’t obvious for the uninitiated.
Fear not! At BikeTips we hate to hear a chain go creaky, and we’ve got you covered.
With our comprehensive guide to wet vs dry bike lubes, we’ll have you read up to speed in no time. In this article, we’ll be covering:
- What Is Bike Lube?
- What Is Wet Lube?
- How To Apply Wet Lube
- What Is Dry Lube?
- How To Apply Dry Lube
- Bicycle Wet Vs Dry Lube? What Is Right For Me?
Let’s dive into the bicycle wet vs dry lube debate!
What Is Bike Lube?
Bike lube keeps your bike parts moving smoothly and healthily.
The term “bike lube” usually refers to chain lubricants, which are most commonly sold as “wet” or “dry” lubes.
- Alternatives to traditional chain lubricants include ceramic lubes and chain waxing, which we cover here.
Lubricating your bicycle is essential, and especially important if you regularly cycle in dusty or muddy conditions.
When lubricating your bike, the chain is the most important part, which requires the most frequent attention.
Your chain must be regularly cleaned and lubricated with chain lube to work properly.
Without proper lubrication, your chain will run less efficiently, which will impede shifting, create noise, and accelerate wear and tear on your bike.
Studies indicate that proper lubrication reduces friction-based drive chain inefficiencies caused by friction by about half!
And this data tracks when you compare the efficiency of different bike lubes in watts.
Bike chains require special chain lubricants – do not use any other lubricants on your chain.
Chain lubricant comes in a few forms, which we’ll cover next.
What Is Wet Lube?
Wet lube is a liquid, oil-based lubricant.
Wet lube goes onto your chain as a liquid, and doesn’t dry.
Wet lube is water resistant, so won’t be washed away by rain or light splashing.
Wet lube will also last longer than dry lube, so you don’t need to reapply as often, which is good as things can get a bit messy when you reapply.
It can also be applied whilst out on the road; so it doesn’t require any prep time to get your chain properly lubricated on the go.
The downside is dirt and debris… Wet lube isn’t great when things get messy.
It is often said that wet lube “attracts” dirt, but this isn’t entirely true – what this means is that wet lube catches and holds significantly more debris than dry lube.
The reality is that dirt and debris will be suspended in wet lube on impact, so anything that lands on your chain will be caught and held.
Debris suspended in the wet lube on your bike chain will carry all around your drivetrain, which is bad news as it can in.
How To Apply Wet Lube
The first step before applying wet lubricant is to clean your bike chain. This will decontaminate your drive chain of old lubricant and debris before the new lube goes on.
Next is the simple job of applying a small amount of lube to each chain link.
One drop of wet lube per chain link is about right – don’t over-lubricate!
The best way to do this is to slowly pedal the bike whilst gently squeezing the wet lube out of the bottle, each drop landing on a chain link.
After you’ve made your way fully around the chain, continue pedaling for a few more rotations, so the lube is carried throughout the drive chain’s various rollers and pins.
Finally, gently run the lubricated chain through a cloth to catch and soak up excess wet lube and you’re good to go!
A microfibre cloth is best for this, as wet lube will catch and trap fibers from cheaper cloths into your drive chain.
A fairly easy process, right? Quick to do and easy to top up on the road.
Properly lubricating a bike chain should use 4 or 5 ml of wet lube, so you should get 25 to 30 uses out of a standard 4oz bottle.
- Check out our full guide to Lubricating Your Bike Chain here.
What Is Dry Lube?
Dry lube is applied as a liquid and then dries into a finish.
Dry lube is a newer technology, which is unique from wet lube in a few ways. Because it isn’t slick and wet, dry lube doesn’t catch as much debris so is perfect for dirty, dusty, and muddy rides.
So whilst it’s better for your bike parts, this comes at a cost.
Because dry lube has to dry, it requires at least a few hours of prep time. This means planning in advance, and you won’t be able to reapply once out on your bike.
And dry lube needs to stay dry – it isn’t waterproof. Rain or even light splashing from beneath the bike will wash away dry lube, and you’ll need to reapply.
And even in dry conditions, dry lube won’t last quite as long, so you’ll need to put aside more time to reapply dry lube and allow it to dry.
So if it’s raining, or even has rained recently, dry lube isn’t going to work as well.
How To Apply Dry Lube
Applying dry lube is much the same as applying wet lube.
The only difference is the drying time – but don’t let that put you off!
As with wet lube, first, clean your chain. All debris and previous lube, wet or dry, needs to be cleaned off before applying new dry lube.
Before application, dry lube comes as a liquid in a bottle, like wet lube.
So next, slowly squeeze the dry lube out of the bottle at a rate of one drop per link, either above the rear cassette, or underneath the chain set.
Again, when you’ve finished allow the chain to fully rotate a few times before gently soaking up any excess with a microfibre cloth.
Now you need to allow the dry lube to dry into a waxy finish. This takes 2-4 hours, and you really shouldn’t skimp on drying time.
Once your chain has been cleaned, dry lube has been applied, and given time to fully dry, you’re ready to take your bike out.
As with wet lube, you should be able to fully lubricate your drive chain with 4 or 5 ml of dry lube, and you can expect a standard 4oz bottle to last you around 25 uses.
Bicycle Wet Vs Dry Lube: What Is Right For Me?
The answer here is mostly about conditions.
Put simply: wet lube is waterproof and collects dirt, whereas dry lube isn’t waterproof but is more dirt resistant.
So wet lube is better for rides in the rain, and dry lube is better for dry, dirty conditions.
If there’s water on the roads or trails, or there’s a chance you’ll get caught out in the rain during your ride, go with wet lube.
Whereas, if you’re biking through dry and dusty areas, you should go with dry to stop your chain from collecting all the dirt kicked up by your tires and carrying it into the cassette.
In simple terms: wet lube when it’s wet, dry lube when it’s dry – easy!
To make a decision about what’s right for you we’d recommend first taking stock of the general weather patterns of the areas you like to bike.
Second, consider your own cycling habits: do you want to be able to reapply lube on the go? Do you have time in your routine for more regular applications of dry lube, plus drying time?
Consider these questions, and choose the lube which fits your relationship with cycling.
Part of the fun of the sport is tweaking and optimizing your setup, including tires, helmets, and everything in between. And it’s not just about choosing just what gear you use, but how you ride and maintain it.
As always, a little trial and error is strongly recommended. So find what works for you, lubricate your chain generously, and get it moving!