By Jim Langley

Last week we went over don’ts and do’s for bike washing. The final don’t was to not forget to relube after cleaning the bike. I said “be sure to lube the brake and derailleur pivots.”

To this advice a reader named Michael wrote, “What type of lube do you recommend for the brake and derailleur pivots? I ride mostly dry pavement and use Pro Gold ProLink on my chain. Should I use the same stuff or a different type of lube?”

That’s an excellent question. Also, there’s a little more to lubing brakes and derailleurs than just the pivots. So, let’s look at both in a bit more detail.

Types of lube

I told Michael that for brakes and derailleurs, I use Tri-Flow. That’s because years ago at the Interbike trade show, I watched a very convincing demonstration of how well it prevents friction and wear and tear on metal parts.

You could use ProLink if you don’t have Tri-Flow, but Tri-Flow should save you money and work as well. Another popular and proven bicycle lube is Boeshield T-9.

These lubes come in drip and spray versions. With drips you will waste less lube. With sprays the lube makes its way into the spaces between the parts more quickly.

If you have a selection of lubes in your home shop and want to use something on hand, choose a lubricating oil that’s thinner than motor oil. It needs to make its way into the parts, not sit on top. Try a few drops if you’re not sure.

Where are the pivots?

“Pivots” is shorthand for any place on the brakes and derailleurs where two parts are moving against each other (pivoting on each other). You can see this with the bike in a repair stand if you squeeze the brake levers and watch the brake calipers. And on the derailleurs, if you watch them while shifting and pedaling by hand.

As you apply the lube to the pivots, operate the parts so that the oil gets worked down and into them. After letting it sit for a while, wipe off any excess lube or else it will attract dirt.

What else to lube?

Besides the pivots points, be sure to lube the barrel adjusters on the brakes and rear derailleur, plus the brake quick release mechanisms if your bike has them. These are small levers on the side of some brakes that allow widening the brake for easier wheel removal and installation.

If you forget to lube the adjusters and quick releases, they can freeze in place over time. This is more a problem on the front brake, which often gets hit with sweat from above. The salt in the sweat can quickly cause the aluminum adjusters and quick release to corrode in place. When that happens it can be difficult to break them free and get them functioning again.

Also lube the brake and derailleur springs, which can improve performance, too.

The other parts you might be able to lube are the cables. It’s not easy on all road bicycles. But, if your frame has split cable housing stops, you should be able to lube some part of the cables. And if moisture has made its way onto them, lubing them will prevent corrosion and keep them operating the shifting and braking nicely.

To do it requires creating enough slack in the cables to be able to pull the housing back and out of the cable stop. Once you’ve done that, the inner cable will be exposed and you’ll be able to apply lube. Use the Tri-Flow, ProLink or Boeshield – or a thin grease – and reassemble.

Even if you can only access one section of cable and lube it, it can improve performance and will protect the cable.

Should you lube the derailleur pulleys?

It’s good to check the condition of the rear derailleur pulleys when washing a bike. Most are sealed in some way and usually hold up fine for a long time.

Pulleys should turn smoothly and without resistance. To tell, lift the chain off each pulley and turn it by hand. If it’s nice and smooth, it’s fine. If it’s tight or feels rough or dry, it’s time to apply some lube. If it’s frozen or worn out, you may need to replace it (sometimes frozen pulleys can be fixed).

There are different types of pulleys requiring different types of lubes; for example, sealed ones with ceramic bearings or bushings. So the best approach is to determine which type you have and follow the recommended procedure to add lube or replace the pulley if it is shot. Because if you drip or spray lube on sealed pulleys you can thin and wash out the grease.

Since lubing is a little complicated like this, here’s an article by Park Tool on Rear Derailleur Overhauls. But you do NOT want to overhaul the rear derailleur, so skip all the derailleur disassembly instructions and just read the parts about the pulleys for your derailleur brand. Pulleys aren’t difficult to work on and lube, but it needs to be done right or you can create more problems.

Tip: If you find a dry or rough-running pulley and don’t want to try taking the pulleys apart to relube them, it’s fine to apply lube to the pulley as long as you plan to keep checking it and lubing it as needed. Even if you wash out the grease, the lube will work in its place as long as you keep applying it. But be sure to get the lube inside the center of the pulley (its hub), not just on its outside surfaces. Laying the bike on its side to lube the pulleys is a good way to do that.


Jim Langley is RBR's Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He's the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim's full bio.

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