Bike Chain Lube Alternatives: The Do’s and The Don’ts

Although you can purchase purpose-made bike chain lube, not everyone wants to spend that kind of money. But, when using lube alternatives, it’s essential to choose the right one. 

Some work perfectly on your bike, while others can lead to more wear and tear and damage to your bike. Now, you don’t want that.

So let’s look at some alternatives to chain lube in this guide.

What Type Of Oil You Should Use On A Bike Chain

3-in-1 Oil

One of the top alternatives to a bike chain lube is 3-in-1 oil, created back in 1894 for bikes. The mineral-based oil offers much better performance than the other lubricants. Since it is made of petroleum, it provides the lubrication you need to prevent wear and tear in your bike chain and reduce friction.

Since it was made for bicycles initially, it would work averagely well for your bike. But, keep in mind that it might not work as well as newer chain lubes that have been released since then, as technology has advanced. 

Chainsaw Oil

Another good alternative is chainsaw oil, so if you have some at hand and no chain lube, you can use it to lubricate your bike. It functions differently from regular lube, as it is thicker and stickier.

It is designed for the functions of a chainsaw and not a bike chain, so it won’t penetrate deeply into the components and will pick up more dirt and grime on the road, giving you more cleaning to do.

But, you can use the chainsaw oil if you’re planning to ride in wet conditions because they aren’t easily washed away by water. If you use this chain lube alternative, you should clean your bike as soon as possible and apply fresh lubricant.

Chainsaw Oil as Bike Chain Lube Alternative

Silicone Spray

We also recommend silicone spray for those who need a good chain lube alternative. This spray lubricant comes with different benefits that make it ideal, but it only functions short-term, so you might have to reapply often. 

Silicone spray can retain its greasiness while you ride, prevent rusting, reduce friction, and doesn’t react to many substances so that it won’t pick up a lot of dirt on the road.

On the downside, this heavy spray lubricant washes off easily, so you should only use it when driving in dry conditions. It also has a weak staying power, so you might have to clean it off and reapply often.

Related: How Often Should You Lube Bike Chain?

Olive Oil/Cooking Oil

Many people also consider using olive oil or cooking oil to lubricate their bicycle chain, but this is only a temporary solution. It has a couple of benefits that make it a good alternative, as it quickly penetrates all components, reduces rust, is easily washed off, and makes your bike run smoothly.

But just like silicone spray, it has a weak staying power and will easily wash off during wet conditions. Not only this, but when the weather is cold, it solidifies on your bike chain and makes it worse. But if you can’t get access to bike lube, you can use cooking oil for a little while.

Sewing Machine Oil

Although not the best choice, sewing machine oil can also be a quick fix when you need a bike chain lube alternative. This oil has thin viscosity, quickly penetrating a bike chain. It also offers the same functions of reducing rust and friction.

But, this oil isn’t designed to protect chains from the extreme weather conditions and road dirt a bike can come across while riding. So, it’s best only to use this as a last resort since it does not protect your bike chain.

Why Use Bike Chain Lube Alternatives

The main benefit of a chain lube alternative, like those mentioned above, is accessibility. You can quickly get any of these items in your kitchen or garage and use them on your chain. This is unlike bike lube which you need to order online or purchase from a store.

They are also more affordable than chain lube, although you should know that they are not cost-effective. If you want to ride your bike and you don’t have chain lube, you might be inclined to use these alternatives.

The Cons of Bike Chain Lube Alternatives

But some downsides come with using chain lube alternatives, as we have mentioned above. Since these oils are made for different purposes, it’s not surprising that they aren’t a perfect fit for your bike chain.

For one, they aren’t ideal for all conditions. You might need to use one for soggy weather, while the other will be ideal for dry conditions. It’s important to know which one works for any condition, so it doesn’t end up washing off or causing more friction.

Also, you’ll have to use these alternatives more often than a standard bike chain lube. So, they are not cost-effective and will require regular reapplication.

What Oils Should You Avoid Using on Bike Chains?

WD-40

While you can use the original WD-40 to clean your bike chain, it can’t be used as a lubricant. Instead, it acts as a degreaser, eliminating rust on your chain and other parts. But, you can also get wet and dry lubricants for bikes from the WD-40 company.

Engine Oil

Engine or motor oil also doesn’t make a suitable oil for your bike chain as it is too thick. That means it takes a long time to penetrate the components of your chain. It also picks up more dirt than other oils and is very difficult to wash off, leading to more wear and tear.

Grease

Grease is also unsuitable for your bike chain since it is designed to maintain its thickness at high temperatures. Automotive grease will be too thick to penetrate your chain and sticky, making it difficult to ride your bike. It picks up too much dirt and is very hard to wash off.

Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly

Although petroleum jelly is used for different functions, lubricating your bike chain shouldn’t be one of them. Just like grease, it is too thick to penetrate the pins and rollers, which means your bike will still be squeaky. Instead of lubricating, it will not attract a lot of dirt to your chain.

Using Purpose-made Bike Lube

Purpose-made bike chain lube is mainly designed to be used on your bike chain. It covers all the gears, pins, and rollers adequately, reduces friction, prevents rust, and has lube for every condition. 

Depending on your bike and where you ride often, you can go for wet or dry lube. Although some of the options on our list will do the job, they don’t do it as well as the purpose-made bike lube. 

It will improve and protect your chain and is ideal for all weather conditions. It is easy to apply and clean up for reapplication, and this doesn’t have to be done often.

Why Bike Chain Lube Is Better

There are different reasons why using bike chain lubricant to maintain these components. The main reason you should use it is to prevent wear and tear. It extends the life of your bike chain considerably, and while it’s not expensive to purchase a new one, it can be a hassle to replace your chain all the time.

The chain lube will also protect your bike chain from harsh riding conditions. Dry conditions involve mud and sand that cause excess friction, and wet conditions include snow or rain, leading to rust. 

A dry chain can also lead to shifting, which causes inefficiency while riding your bike. If you’re putting in more effort than usual when riding, it’s because you need to lubricate the chains.

Another reason why you should use bicycle chain lube is to reduce the squeaky noise caused by dry chains. If your chain is too dry, it sounds squeaky as you drive and can be very distracting.

Final Thoughts

As long as you have the proper bike chain lubricant, you can’t be stuck with a dry chain. But sometimes, you don’t have what you need and have to fall on an alternative. 

You can use any alternative on our list but only as a temporary fix. Once you purchase your chain lube, you can wash the alternative off and use the right solution for your bike chain.

Photo of author
Written By Robert Gibbons
From riding to school since the age of 13, attending BMX races and events with his dad to himself conquering 50+ trails across the globe. For Rob, his Giant Stance 29 2 2020 is the friend that makes everything better. He is also a proud member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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