QUESTION: How often should I lube my road bike chain? I don’t usually pay much attention to it and only lube it if it’s noisy or I had to ride in the rain, but a rider friend tells me that’s not often enough. —Angie W.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: Lubing after riding in the rain is a good thing, but some riders say chains on road bikes should be lubed every 150 miles or so, regardless of whether they’ve been rained on or not, and that’s a good standard for even the most obsessive among us. But for the more general riding population, as long as the chain is quiet and functioning properly, that frequency is overkill. Under those conditions, once a month or so is sufficient.
However, if you continue riding after the chain is making noise and/or is visibly rusting, it’s going to wear out sooner than it should, and in the process, it will wear down other parts of the drivetrain, including the rear cassette, and eventually even the chain rings.
Thus, keeping your chain reasonably lubricated extends the life of the other components the chain runs over.
A problem with waiting until the chain is noisy is that as we age, many of us lose some of our hearing ability at the high-pitch end of the scale. I found that out when riding with my son when he was 10. He and I were pedaling across Ohio on a multi-day trip. About mid-day on the first leg, he said, “What’s that noise coming from your bike, Dad?” I hadn’t heard anything, but we stopped, and when I turned the pedals, he said he heard squeaking from the chain. So in a small town hardware store, I purchased some household oil and lubed the chain. When I next spun the chain around, Scott said the sound he’d heard was gone.
If your chain is dirty, it’s a good idea to clean it before applying fresh lube. Depending on how gunky the chain is, cleaning can run all the way from simply wiping it down to spraying it with a degreaser or Dawn liquid dish soap and water and scrubbing it with a stiff-bristle brush. You can even mechanize the cleaning process a bit by using a chain scrubber device, though I usually end up with a greater mess attaching and later removing the scrubber.
It’s also advisable to lube your chain at a time when you’re not going to ride the bike right away, as the immediate operation of the chain before the lube has dried tends to spin some of the lube off. But if it needs lubrication and you’ve forgotten to do it until you’re ready to ride, by all means, go ahead and do it then.
I was riding with a friend recently when he noticed his chain getting noisy. It happened that I had a small container of lube in my bike bag, so we stopped and oiled his chain right at the side of the road. His chain could have used a cleaning, but we didn’t have anything with us to do that, so we just applied the lube, and when we pedaled on afterward, his chain was quiet again — at least to our aging ears.
Here’s some info about methods of lubing your chain.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.