TWO products, seriously all you need is two different greases and lubricants for your bike. The tough part is knowing what grease to use and where to put it. Let me help!
I’ll tell you the two products I recommend – BUT you’ve got to learn where to apply and how!
Chain Lubricant, I’ve fallen in love with Finish Line products. Get WET if you ride in wet muddy conditions. Get DRY if you ride “normal” dusty dirty conditions with occasional mud. Link to Finish Line (more reviews and prices)
All Purpose Grease, Park Tool makes some stuff called PolyLube 1000. Gearings, threads, headsets, cranks and more. A tube of PPL-1 should be in every bike repair tool box. Link to PolyLube 1000 (check out the prices and reviews)
Where to Grease Your Bike
To start, try to clean your bike after most rides. I get it, I skip this, but getting most of the dirt off will extend your bike life considerably.
Now what to lubricate:
Chain – Apply some Finish Line to your chain, do this after every ride. Every Ride! Get done with a ride, clean your bike, lube your chain.
Rear Jockey Wheels – need a little love. Scrap off the grime and apply a couple drops to each one.
What to grease:
Threadless Headset Bearings – Some folks will never clean and grease this, but after a couple years you should. These bearing take a lot of abuse, pounding from rough terrain and turning can start to grind.
Suspension and Frame Pivots – For half a year I searched for a clunk on my bike. The grease from a pivot had hardened. A simple fix, remove a bolt, wipe clean and apply grease.
Front and Rear Derailleur Pivots – Derailleurs have 3 to 5 pivot points, spread a small dab of grease and work into pivot with a brush.
Bottom Brackets – This is another spot most folks never think about. BBs wear out. They aren’t sealed well and weeds get into the joint and strip out the grease that protect it. It’s a bad habit but spray the hose in this area as well. Every couple years it’s a good habit to remove and grease.
Pedals – Inside pedals are bearings that need to be greased. Most pedals have an end cap with a locknut. Disassemble, clean and grease.
Axles – Wheel bearings must be periodically cleaned and greased. To clean use kerosene or diesel fuel and scrub thoroughly. Once cleaned you’ve got to dry completely. Next liberally work the grease into the bearing. Thru axles don’t require grease, but I wipe clean and grease them.
Cables – The forgotten item for most. Shifter cables operate by sliding within the housing. Back and forth, over and over. If you’ve never cleaned and greased your cables you need too. Your shifting will improve dramatically. Watch this video
DIY MTB Tip: Avoid grease and lubricates on pedal threads, and seat posts. Instead keep them clean and apply anti-seize compound occasionally. Auto parts stores sell little 1 oz. tubes for a couple bucks.
Root Causing Grease Problems
|Grease Failure Cause||Evidence that Grease Failed|
|Moisture: bike exposed to elements or ridden in wet weather.||White milky color in grease, reddish brown discoloration from rust.|
|Age: greases harden with age or lacking grease through lack of maintenance.||Dry bearings, hardened or rough movement of wheels and pedals|
|Dirt and Mud: Likely caused by dirt penetrating into bearings from poor cleaning||Moving parts will feel rough when functioning, you may hear grinding noise|
|Insufficient Grease: Metal rubbing directly on metal||Shiny flakes or metal residue at joint|
The Difference Between Bike Greases and Lubricants
Grease is used in those spots that need waterproofing and aren’t seen often. A perfect example would be wheel bearings or suspension pivots. Greasing these items well seals from the elements and provides the slip and slide to keep things running smoothly
Greases are typically thicker and contain petroleum or Teflon. nd keep them out of the water.
Are low viscosity meaning they will flow more freely. This free-flowing action is what allows it to spread on your chain. Because lubes are low viscosity, you don’t need to apply to your rear cassette because the chain will spread as you shift through the gears.
Lubes don’t work well sealing out water though. Lubes won’t collect as much dirt and dust as compared to grease.
How to Apply Bike Grease
Slaver on until you need to wipe off. Example when greasing cables, pull the cable out from the housing and liberally apply. Re-insert the cable and work back and forth until grease squeezes out of both ends of the housing. Then wipe off the excess.
The same for wheel bearings, apply to the race and bearings, then add more. The grease should squeeze through the bearing as you push it in place.
Because it spreads so easily lubricating a chain is as simple putting a drop on each link. With a clean chain back pedal to cycle the chain and drip the lube onto the link slowly. Once you’ve made a complete loop of the chain squeeze a rag around the chain and remove any excess.
If you’ve applied a dry lube let the chain dry before getting it wet. Getting the chain wet with water will wash away dry lubes.
Drip a little onto the pulley gears and you should be ready to ride.
Can You Interchange Greases and Lubricates on a Bike?
I wouldn’t recommend swapping out grease for lubricates and vice versa. In a pinch you can use chain lube on cables, but in most applications it’s best to spend the $15 and get the right product.
As an example
If you put heavier (more viscous) grease on your chain, it’s going to collect dirt and grime like crazy. That dirt is like sand paper just tearing up your chain and cassette. Wearing out a chain and cassette is a $50 bill.
DIY MTB TIP: Don’t use regular WD40 on your bike as a grease or lubricate. WD40 has detergents and solvents that will strip the lubricity from the joints. Think of it as a cleaner not a lubricant.
Bike Grease Special Considerations
The petroleum in most greases will degrade carbon fiber. If you have a carbon fiber frame on components shop for carbon fiber safe materials.
Ceramic bike bearings, require a high-performance grease such as Park Tool HPG-1.
Anti-Seize Compounds, are used on joints and connections to stop corrosion for tightening a bolt. I swap out pedals a half dozen times a year and using this compound has been a life (and knuckle saver).
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Use Lithium Grease on Bikes?
Only sparingly on plastic parts. Think about the pivot points on cheap plastic brake handles. Lithium is hard to clean, collects dirt and hardens with time.
What Can I Use to Degrease a Chain?
Degreasing and cleaning a chain is important. I degrease every 20 rides or so. I recommend two products: Diesel Fuel, it will quickly clean a chain and is reusable. Simply Green, the citrus cut grease pretty good and it’s safer for the environment.
How Often Should I Lubricate the Chain?
I try to lube my chain before every ride. Your chain and rear cassette take a lot of abuse. The full stain of your weight is applied to that little chain, dirt and mud is ground into the bushing and along the cassette. You’ll extend the life of both items and save yourself about $50 usd by regularly lubing.
Looking for Some More Ways to Help Your Bike Last
David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.