The importance of lubricating your road bike

Aside from keeping your bike clean, lubricating the moving parts is the second most important maintenance task you can perform. Do it regularly and it only takes a few minutes and can help you go faster, help your bike perform better, reduce mechanicals and make the entire cycling experience more enjoyable.

That makes bike lubrication a no-brainer.

Road bikes are sensitive creatures. Too sensitive sometimes. They need proper looking after to get the best out of them and will punish you if you don’t, just like a woman. One quick and easy way to do that is to make friends with lube.

Lubrication does two things. First, it protects metal from corrosion. Those of us who live by the sea will know what an enemy water, especially salt water is to metal. A layer of lube protects from that. Second, lube lowers friction, meaning the moving parts in question will move faster and with less resistance. That helps you ride faster and the parts move more smoothly.

What kind of lubrication?

Bicycle lubricants come in a huge range of types but there are only three types you need to know about, wet, dry and grease. Wet lube is pretty much what it says. It’s a wetter type of lubricant most suitable for wet conditions as it’s stickier and repels water. Dry lube is better for use in the dry as it is slicker, lighter and quickly washed away. Grease is mainly for sealed parts such as hubs or bottom brackets.

WD-40 is not a lubricant. While good at what it does, dissipating water, a lubricant it is not.

There are dozens of brands on the market but I tend to use Finish Line. They come in small bottles with a nozzle and in wet and dry varieties. At around £3.50 a go, they offer great value for money. I also have a can of GT-85 spray lube for harder to reach places and my Speedplay cleats.

Where to lube

If it moves lube it, may be a sweeping generalisation but it’s a useful one. For core parts such as steering and drivetrain, a grease every time you change a component or service the bike should suffice. It is also useful to add a thin layer of copper grease to your seatpost to stop it seizing.

Other moving parts require either wet or dry lube depending on the conditions. Generally, you will want to lube the chain and derailleurs regularly and your brake callipers (non disc) every now and again. Just lube the spring on the callipers where the two arms meet, being careful not to get any on the brake blocks or wheel rim.

When you service your bike, it pays to lube the cables and shifters (unless you’re using electronic shifters) to help shifting and braking. This isn’t mandatory but every little helps.

Lubing the chain

If your chain is new, there’s no need to add any lube as manufacturers apply a very effective layer themselves. Once this wears off, you can begin lubing your chain. Always lube a clean chain. Don’t apply lube to an already greasy or dirty chain. All you will do is protect the dirt and grit already on the metal.

Apply a light covering of lube to each chain link and then wipe away the excess with a rag. Less is more with a chain and ideally you only want to lube the inner part where two links meet. In reality, this is difficult unless you have an hour to spare on the chain alone.

Lubing the derailleurs

Clean, then lube the spring and the pivot of the front derailleur to help protect it and keep it moving smoothly. Again, less is more. If you’re unsure of where to put the lube, manually pull the cable to see which bits move. You should see two pivots either side of the frame mounting with a spring between them. Lube the spring and the two pivots.

On the rear derailleur, clean any dirt and gunk from the jockey wheels and add a small amount of oil where you see the cogs move around the central bearing. Then, same as the front lightly clean and lube the pivot and spring.

How often do I need to lube?

Like many things to do with road cycling, the frequency at which you add lube depends on how many miles you do and what weather and terrain you expose your bike to. In a typical British summer, you should dry the bike off and lube it after every time it gets rained on.

During the rare dry spells, once a week would suffice for the chain and derailleurs. Brake callipers can cope with being lubed less often, every few weeks. Again, depending on the conditions.

Always remember to wipe off excess lubricant. Road bikes only need a little to perform at their best and it’s a common misconception that more is better. It really isn’t. Lube light and wipe down and you’ll get the best out of your bike. It really is that simple.


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