Tuesday, September 2, 2008

There Ain't No Good Chain Gang (But What is the Best Chain Lube?)

The can says:

Tri-Flow Superior Lubricant
  • Penetrates and Protects
  • Formulated with P.T.F.E.

So, is this stuff any good?

I've just finished out my first full and complete month of bicycle commuting, logging 374 miles ridden, 261 being commuter miles in August. I've logged about 590 miles total this summer on the new bike.

While I think this is fantastic, my bike has some issues. The chain, in particular, has been telling me that it needs some attention. Chattering and squeaking are the words my chain has been giving me over the past week or so.

I called up my local bike shop (Re-Cycle Bike Shop) and asked if they sold chain lube. They do not. I asked for a recommendation and was told that they use Liquid Wrench Silicone Spray and that I could get it at Ace Hardware. Unfortunately, my local Ace didn't have that particular spray, so I got the Tri-Flow instead.

I lubed up my chain, wiped it down, and took the bike for a ride up and down my street and my chain is now silent.

I googled Tri-Flow and found that they do sell a bike chain product, but I wouldn't be surprised if the bike chain product is the same as the hardware store product.

Do any of you readers have any experience with Tri-Flow, or any other easily available hardware store products? Aside from WD-40, are there any other products that should be avoided?


brady said...

That stuff may be fine but I wouldn't know. I use Dumonde Tech Light oil simply because High Gear recommended it.

Also, what are you doing to clean the chain before lubing? When I first started out, I bought a chain cleaner tool to scrub it down with a citrus based solvent. Since then, I've installed a Wipperman Connex chain link allowing quick removal of the chain to soak and scrub it down by hand.

It's worth considering either option.

munsoned said...

Sheesh Brady, it's as if I told you the things that I do with my bike, then you entered it into your Blackberry and followed it to a T!

Hey Redd, I've been dinking with bikes for quite a while and was a shop mechanic for a summer at the Trek Store. Just giving you my credentials here, so you won't have to worry about crazy random advice. Just like Brady, I use Dumonde, but the original thicker version. I have been very pleased with it. What I look for in a lube for the road bike is longevity, quietness, and...uh...lubrication. Other lubes I've tried are: Finish Line Cross Country (good wet lube, but washed away too easily in the rain), Pro-Gold Pro-link (it made the chain pro-like sparkly, but was dry and noisy within a couple rides), and a couple other random lubes that didn't do the trick. The Dumonde is rather wet and does collect grime, but if you wipe it down often, or just avoid the chain, it's a great lube.

Also, as Brady said, it's very wise to clean your chain. His method with the removable link is the same as mine. I take the chain off, drop it in a 32 oz. bottle of slightly diluted Simple Green (available at hardware stores and most grocers), and then shake vigorously. If the chain is particularly grimy, I'll let it sit in the bottle overnight. I have a spare chain to use while the other is in the cleaning process. If the simple green isn't murky with grime/lube fish the chain out with a hanger and re-use for the next chain cleaning. If there's no green left, just black, then dump the whole thing out, chain and all. Rinse the chain off real good, then hang to dry. After it is dry, re-install on the bike and rotate backwards until the quick link is along the bottom run. Most bikeshop lubes are drip kind, not spray. Spray is considered messy and if it gets on your wheel, braking gets a little hindered. So if you get a drip kind of lube, start at the quick-link (Wipperman or Sram) and drip one drop on each roller. You'll have to rotate the crank backwards a few times in this process until you get back to the quick-link. Keep cranking the, uh, crank backwards to work that lube into the chain. And Finally take your significant other's favorite shirt and wipe off the excess lube. Either that, or if you want to sleep in the same house as the person, use an old t-shirt.

Like I said before, you'll need to wipe away the extra lube that attracts grime about every other ride. Then after a few weeks of heavy use, or whenever your chain starts to make noise again, repeat the cleaning/lubing process.

brady said...

Dude. I took notes on my blackberry when you helped me with Old Yeller, but not copious ones. Thanks, Munson. Now I have a better set to follow. I missed a few pointers - like shaking the Gatorade bottle and letting the chain hang dry. Also, I've always wondered when to throw the Green stuff out, but I figured when it was turning grey to black it was about time.

One more thing: Dumonde oil will make your garage / basement / shop smell like the Stratcom museum for an hour or so after application.

munsoned said...

You are correct, Brady, on the smelly dwelling occurrence. But that's pretty much the same with any solvent or lube. Every time I dump out my Simple Green, my woman makes a big deal of it even though her nail painting habit could strip paint off the walls.

Redd, Most things in cycling are an issue of personal taste. I have lots of spare parts and tools from years of figuring out what I like. It's all part of the journey. If the lube you bought at the hardware store works for you, then keep on keepin on. No reason to buy a fancy bike-shop specific lube just because it says it's specifically for bike chains. However, if the spray stuff creates problems, give the Dumonde stuff a try. Cycling is not very frugal friendly, as I'm sure you've come to find. Again, it's all part of the journey.

Scott Redd said...

Thanks Brady, Muson for the chain lube tips.

My takeaways are:

* learn to clean chain, either on bike or off. If off, invest in a quick release chain link, and maybe even a second chain

* lube regularly; 600 miles is too infrequent

* don't mix up the green Gatorade with the Simple Green, especially once it's been used. The results could either be a sticky chain, or a trip to the emergency room

* take T-shirt off before wiping down the freshly lubed chain

As an update, lubricating my chain the other day made a big difference in my ride yesterday. I was ninja quiet, and the ride even seemed easier and faster.

I may try applying some lube to my brakes, too. I bet that will make my ride even faster. :)