By John Marsh, Editor & Publisher
This QT is based on a recent experiment I decided to do on my last new chain. I am a years-long user of Chain-L chain lube (click for the RBR review). It is a honey-thick lube (in fact, it looks like dark honey) that you apply to a new chain, let it soak into the pins, wipe off the excess and install the chain. It’s a bitof a messy, time-consuming process (I let it soak in overnight), but the results are unbeatable — you really don’t need to re-lube again for the life of the chain. A slight touch-up after a rain ride, maybe; but that’s it.
Now, about that experiment.
My application process for years has been to lay out some old newspaper, lay the chain down on the paper and – link by link – apply a big drop of Chain-L directly onto each spot where plate meets pin.
I trusted that the lube would soak into each pin effectively enough that I didn’t need to turn the chain over and do the same on the other side. Following this process has served me well for years, but I’ve always thought it was a shame that so much of that lube ended up on the newspaper after trickling down through the chain.
Then it struck me while unpacking my last new chain: “snaked up” like chains are packaged (in a plastic bag smaller than a typical sandwich bag), what if I could find a way to use basically the same amount of lube and soak the chain completely before installing it?
The ‘Soak’ Test
Doing so would ensure that the lube got into every nook and cranny possible, and it would surely be an improvement in the efficacy of my long-time method.
So, I pulled out a quart-sized freezer bag from my kitchen (they’re thicker and more heavy duty than a basic sandwich bag), carefully pulled the chain out of the packaging it came in, and inserted the chain into the freezer bag.
Then, I added enough lube to basically cover the entire chain (again, this was about the same amount of lube I had been using all along anyway), folded the bag over to ensure the smallest possible space, placed a book on top to hold it all in place – and let it sit for a day or so. Then I flipped it over, top to bottom, and let it soak another day.
When I was ready to install the chain, wearing rubber gloves I pulled it out of the bag, wiping it down with a microfiber cloth before installation. All the excess lube stayed in the bag, and the process was actually much less messy and easier than the old way.
That was in August.
Other than to wipe off the chain after the first couple of post-install rides (which is always required) and occasionally run it through a dry rag just to clean it up a bit, I haven’t touched the chain since. No more lube has been required, even after wet rides.
The real test will be to see the extent of the wear I get from this chain: that is, whether it lasts longer than normal. I fully expect that it will, but only time, and miles, will tell.
In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the quiet, smooth ride of a well-lubed chain.
If you have an idea for a QT, fire away. We’re always looking for good info we can share with fellow roadies. We would love to hear from you with any suggestions you have. Contact us by clicking Quick Tips Ideas.
—John Marsh & The RBR Team
John Fries says
How many miles are you getting out of your chains using the single application of lubricant?
Don Macrae says
I use Chain-L, cleaning and applying a drop per roller every 1,000 kms, or sooner if I ride in the rain. After 8,000 kms it’s 0.5% ‘stretched’ and I replace it. Find the no-lube story a bit hard to believe.
Dave Minden says
I used Chain L for years, but found with my current drivetrain set up – Shimano Ultegra 2×11, 11/32 I was getting substantial chain noise. Moved to a lighter lube and got much quieter.
Richard Henley says
I also would be interested in how many miles you are using your chains, with a single lubricant application. Thanks for your article, John.
Russ Starke says
Do you clean the new chain gunk off before applying Chain L?
That stuff does last a super long time, it’s pretty amazing. But I’ve switched to wax in the crock pot for the tiny performance gains. After reading this I might switch some bikes back….
Lilly Lube is the best lube I’ve used. It lasts long and keeps the chain quiet and relatively clean. Chain-L may last long but it is a dirty lube that acts like a dirt magnet. It’s probably no more than heavy weight gear lube.
Richard Henley says
About how much Chain-L lubricant do you put in the bag with the chain, in oz & bottle volume.
I’ve found that Chain L works best with older wider 5,6,7 speed chains, it doesn’t seem to work as well with my 10 speed chains that are much thinner then the old chains and it makes those thin chains noisier and the bike feels a tad sluggish then it does with Rock & Roll.
Soaking the chain in lube does seem like a good idea, I just wonder if that wouldn’t work for any lube quite frankly.
[quote=Russ Starke]Do you clean the new chain gunk off before applying Chain L?
[/quote] NO, you use the factory applied lube till it’s time to relube then you clean the chain really well and use the Chain L soaking instructions given.
Kerry Irons says
I have to echo the comment of others: I have a really hard time believing you can “lifetime lube” a chain. If you never experienced rain and rode exclusively indoors, it might be possible. When you are out in the real world, contamination cannot just be wiped off because it penetrates every space in the chain. Many of us get several thousand miles out of our chains – one lube application will not do it.
[quote=Mike]Lilly Lube is the best lube I’ve used. It lasts long and keeps the chain quiet and relatively clean. Chain-L may last long but it is a dirty lube that acts like a dirt magnet. It’s probably no more than heavy weight gear lube. [/quote]
Chain L is a wet type of lube so yes it will get dirtier than a dry lube but it will protect better in rain and last longer then a dry lube. Even though a person may be soaking the chain in Chain L you still have to do a surface cleaning of the chain to get the mucky stuff off an then reapply using the drip method, so not sure how much work this is actually eliminating but the soaking does at least allow the lube to go deeper into the chain. However after reading the article and thinking about how chains are constructed there are two types, bushing and bushingless, the older style that was used for 5, 6, and 7 speed bikes used bushing chains, the bushing required lube to penetrated into the bushing to properly lubricate the inside of the bushing; modern thinner chains are bushingless so there is no way for lube to go inside of anything because there is no inside! So soaking the chain in oil may be a complete waste of time for modern chains, but rather more beneficial to the older designed bushing style chains.
David Stihler says
I would have placed the bag into a pot of boiling water to insure the oil soakes in.
John Marsh says
There’s no need to clean off the factory stuff. Just coat the chain with Chain-L right out of the package (as per Chain-L instructions).
John Marsh says
Don, you’re getting some great mileage! The no-lube refers to substantially less mileage than that. Yes, touch-ups are required after rain rides, and if you happen to notice a bit of noise. You’re probably on a decent schedule.
John Marsh says
As I mentioned, I’m still waiting on this test to come to fruition.
John Marsh says
I’m not the type to try to get “several thousand” miles on a chain, so my “lifetime” is probably far less than yours. (I also think climate and riding conditions have a lot to do with chain life.) I’m more interested in a smooth, noiseless drivetrain and probably change chains more often than many riders. I tend to buy 2 or 3 at a time, on sale, and think nothing of putting on a new one at a time when some riders would scoff at me for leaving so much “good” chain left. (But I always measure with a chain gauge before chucking the old chain. I just don’t let it go to extremes.)
I’m probably overzealous about changing often because when I first started riding (before learning about chain wear), I rode for something like 2 years on one chain — destroying the rest of my drivetrain in the process. Ever since I’ve tilted in the other direction.
To each his own, I suppose.
Kevin Moran says
I’m similar to John Marsh. Have been using Chain-L for several years. My method could be considered extreme but I am a stickler for a clean drive train. I use an ultrasonic cleaner (filled with mineral spirits) on the chain to clean it (11sp) rinse it with water and then blow it dry with my compressor. Then I take a syringe filled with the Chain-L and hit all the links. The whole process takes about 20 minutes, then it sits flat over night. I don’t use much lube and a container will last a couple of years (on two road bikes). I get about 2500-3000 miles on a chain (measuring with a chain gauge before tossing). My average yearly mileage is 8,000+ with 450,000′ of climbing. I re-lube about every 1000 miles and when I do the cassette gets a dip in the cleaner and I blast the chain rings with a degreaser. Ifyou respect your machine and maintain it, it will rarely fail you.
Haven’t you guys heard of Boeshield T-9? I have been riding 30+ years. Tried millions of lubes. This is the best I have ever used. No it is not a ‘lifetime’ lube. I clean my chain a few times a year (or a few times during life of chain, sometimes I go through 2 chains a year if I ride enough). I lube once every two weeks or so. Before lubing I wipe the chain very well with a rag to get the crud off chain as well as jockey wheels. Lube chain, let it sit 2 hours, wipe off excess, I am good to go for a few weeks. Great stuff!
Doug Kirk says
Lubes are like saddles; we seem to have personal preferences and it’s hard to convince others that ours is the right one. E.g., I still use Pro Link and have stopped taking the chain off the bike. I fill a chain cleaner tool with Pro Link and run it through like I was cleaning it-well I am and the lube soaks in each link because the link is submersed in the lube.
Kevin Moran says
This article is a little old but very informative on various lubes. It’s from Velonews a few years ago.
John Marsh says
You’re absolutely right! It seems that, perhaps more than most products, chain lube is one that, when you find what works for you, you tend to stick to it like glue!
I used Chain-L lube after reading the review in RBR a few years ago and applied as John suggests, but didn’t find it to be better or last longer than other lubes. I ride between 500 and 800 miles per month and don’t ride in nasty weather since I live in southern California. I quit using the lube since it didn’t have any advantage as far as longevity and is quite messy.
I like chain-l
I only lube the train when it starts squeaking. Chain-L lgoes furthest b4 squeaking starts for me. I tried Boeshield but only 200 miles before squeaking. I think Chain-L works best for me in Maryland climate. I put it on adter the factory chain lube wears out. I just wipe chain and derailer cogs off and apply. Giving each section of the chain 10 minutes to absorb. Tgen I wipe it til it stops fanning at the rear derailer and I am good for a looooong. time before I have to reapply. I ride roads and everything stays pretty clean.
John Klever says
I use KMC chains. I swipe the chain five times on top and side with a rag dampened in WD40 before I install the chain, lube it with Prolink chain lube twice after installing, then lube it once for each 250 miles I ride. After each ride I wipe the road grime off the chain. Doing this, I get about 2,500 to 4,000 miles per chain depending on the rain. When the miles drop below 2,000 on these chains, it’s time to replace the cassette.
Richard Henley says
John Marsh may be on to something important in replacing his chains frequently. A Campagnolo representative once told me that Campagnolo recommended their Record 10 chains be used a maximum of 1500 miles. At the time, I was skeptical. Experience suggests the Campagnolo representative was correct. Drive trains seem to last longest when chains are replaced in the 1,000 to 1,500 mile range, irrespective of lubricant and lubricant schedule. Gears and cogs still wear, and wear out, but experience suggests that wear rate is reduced and longevity is measurably increased when chains are replaced in the 1,000 to 1,500 mile range. A sensible overall strategy may be to purchase quality chains as inexpensively as possible (i.e., on sale), in quantity, and replace them as noted above.
Will Haltiwanger says
Last August you published a test showing that SMOOVE lasted much longer than Chain-L or other conventional lobes. Yet there is no mention of it here. Am I the only person who is using it?