Keeping your bike chain properly lubricated and maintained is essential for optimal performance and longevity. Many cyclists reach for WD-40 as their go-to chain lube, but is it really a good option? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at whether you can and should use WD-40 on your bike chain.
What is WD-40?
WD-40 stands for Water Displacement, 40th formula. It was originally developed in 1953 by Norm Larsen as a solvent to prevent corrosion by displacing water. WD-40 is now one of the most popular multi-use products worldwide.
Some of the common uses of WD-40 include:
- Lubricating hinges, gears, and other moving mechanical parts
- Removing grease, grime, and rust
- Preventing moisture damage and corrosion
- Loosening stuck parts and freeing rusty bolts/nuts
- Displacing moisture and driving out dampness
The formulation of WD-40 is a trade secret. However, it is known to contain a blend of various hydrocarbons that provide low surface tension and viscosity. Other ingredients include anti-corrosion additives and solvents.
When sprayed, WD-40 displaces water and moisture due to its low surface tension. The solvents help dissolve grime, grease, and rust. The lubricating ingredients provide some lubrication and protection for metal parts.
Can You Use WD-40 as a Bike Chain Lubricant?
WD-40 is not designed specifically as a bike chain lubricant. However, some cyclists do use it to lube their chains. This is mainly because WD-40 is readily available at home and hardware stores. But is it really effective and safe for your bike chain? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons:
Pros of Using WD-40 on Bike Chains
- Removes dirt and grime: The solvents in WD-40 help dissolve built-up gunk and free stuck links. It can be used to clean dirty chains.
- Displaces moisture: WD-40 is effective at displacing water and preventing rust/corrosion. This helps keep chains from seizing up in wet conditions.
- Provides some lubrication: The ingredients provide some lubricating properties to diminish friction between chain plates/pins. This reduces drivetrain noise and friction.
- Easy availability: WD-40 can be easily purchased at any hardware store or supermarket. Cyclists often have a can lying around the house already.
See also: How to shorten a bike chain?
Cons of Using WD-40 on Bike Chains
- Not formulated as a bike lube: While it contains some lubricating ingredients, WD-40 is not designed specifically to lubricate bike drivetrains. True bike chain lubes perform better.
- Poor longevity: WD-40 dries out and loses effectiveness fairly quickly. It needs frequent reapplication and doesn’t last long on a chain.
- Attracts dirt/grit: The light formula absorbs dust and bits of grime. This can lead to increased wear and abrasion between chain plates.
- Can damage O-rings: WD-40 contains solvents that can degrade the rubber O-rings inside some chains, shortening chain life.
- Dilutes bike-specific lube: Applying WD-40 onto an existing layer of proper bike lube can break it down and reduce effectiveness.
So while WD-40 has some benefits in a pinch, it is far from an ideal or recommended bike chain lubricant. Purpose-made bicycle chain lubes perform much better for smooth shifting and long-term drivetrain durability.
Better Alternatives to WD-40 for Bike Chains
Here are some superior options to use instead of WD-40 on your bike chain:
Bike-Specific Wet Lubes
Wet lubes are designed to stay fluid and not dry out. They contain more oil and fewer solvents compared to WD-40. The oil clings to the chain to keep it running smoothly. Wet lubes also attract less grit than WD-40.
Some top examples are:
- Finish Line Wet Lubricant
- White Lightning Wet Ride
- Rock ‘N Roll Gold Lubricant
- Muc-Off Wet Lube
Wet lubes work best in wet, muddy, or dusty conditions. They need more frequent reapplication than dry lubes.
See also: How to fix loose bicycle chain?
Bike-Specific Dry Lubes
Dry lubes contain more wax and fewer oils. They dry out to leave a waxy coating on the chain rather than a wet film. This attracts less dirt and grit over time.
Some excellent dry lube options include:
- Boeshield T-9
- White Lightning Clean Ride
- Finish Line Dry Teflon Lube
- Muc-Off C3 Dry Ceramic Lube
Dry lubes last longer and require less frequent lubrication. They work best in dry, dusty environments.
All-Conditions Bike Chain Lubes
Some advanced formulations provide both excellent wet and dry performance. They can be used year-round in all riding conditions. Examples include:
- Rock ‘N Roll Extreme Lube
- Pedro’s Syn Lube
- Smoove Universal Lube
These all-weather lubes offer both high durability and clean running. They provide superior lubrication and longevity versus WD-40.
Step-by-Step Guide to Lubricating Your Bike Chain
Lubricating your bike chain is quite simple with the right bike chain lube and method. Follow these steps for clean, smooth, and quiet shifting:
- Bike-specific chain lubricant (wet, dry, or all-conditions)
- Clean rag
- Degreaser (optional)
- Bike chain brush (optional)
Step 1: Clean
Use a rag to wipe off any exterior dirt, grime, and grit from the chain. For a deeper clean, apply a degreaser and let it soak in briefly before wiping it off.
Step 2: Lubricate
Apply chain lube according to the product’s instructions. Slowly rotate the pedals backward to work the lube into the rollers and plates.
Step 3: Wipe Off Excess
After allowing lube to penetrate the links, use a clean rag to wipe off any drips and excess lubricant from the exterior of the chain.
Step 4: Let Dry
For wet lubes, wait a few minutes for the thinner solvents to evaporate. For dry lubes, allow at least 30 minutes for the wax to dry and set up.
See also: How to calculate bicycle chain length?
Step 5: Reapply After Riding
Lubricate your chain after every few rides, or whenever it looks dry or feels gritty. Keeping fresh lube on the chain prevents wear and keeps shifting smooth.
By following this simple lubrication method with a high-quality bike chain lube, you’ll prevent premature drivetrain wear and keep your bike shifting like new. The small time investment pays off with a smoother, quieter ride.
6 Key Benefits of Proper Bike Chain Lubrication
Lubricating your chain with a dedicated bike lube provides many advantages over using WD-40. Here are 6 key benefits:
- Increased longevity – Quality bike lube greatly reduces internal wear and extends the chain’s lifespan. This saves money from less frequent chain replacement.
- Improved efficiency – A properly lubricated chain experiences less friction, wasting less energy. This results in better pedaling efficiency.
- Enhanced shifting performance – Lube minimizes drivetrain resistance for crisp, precise gear shifts. Dry or under-lubricated chains shift poorly.
- Decreased drivetrain noise – Internal lubrication dampens chain noise. A lube-starved chain will be loud and rattling.
- Better corrosion resistance – Bike lubes contain anti-rust additives to protect from moisture damage. This prevents seizing and premature wear.
- Reduced grime buildup – Quality lubes attract less external grime than WD-40. This further lowers friction and wear.
In summary, proper bike chain lubrication is well worth the small time investment and makes the drivetrain much more durable, efficient and reliable.
WD-40 on Bike Chain? FAQs
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about using WD-40 as a bike chain lubricant:
Is it okay to use WD-40 on my bike chain in a pinch?
While not ideal, using WD-40 in small amounts to temporarily lube a dirty chain when no bike lube is available can work in a pinch. However, it should be reapplied with proper chain lubricant as soon as possible for best long-term performance.
How often should I reapply WD-40 to my bike chain?
WD-40 does not last long and needs very frequent reapplication, sometimes even every ride. This makes it inconvenient compared to longer-lasting bike-specific chain lubes designed for extended lubrication.
Can WD-40 damage my bike chain?
Over time, the solvents and thinner formula can degrade greases and internal O-rings, leading to accelerated wear. Improper cleaning methods using WD-40 can also force grime inside the chain rollers, causing damage.
Should I use WD-40 to clean my bike chain?
WD-40 can help dissolve built up surface gunk when cleaning dirty chains. However, it’s critical to apply a bike-specific degreaser afterwards and not let WD-40 residue remain inside. The degreaser will displace any WD-40 left behind after cleaning.
What happens if I put WD-40 on my bike chain already lubricated with proper lube?
Spraying WD-40 onto a chain pre-lubricated with high quality bike lubes can dilute and wash away the original lubricant. This degrades performance. Only apply one type of bike chain lubricant at a time.
Is there any scenario where WD-40 excels as a bike chain lubricant?
WD-40 performs somewhat better in very dusty, sandy, or fine grit conditions where thick wet lubes can collect abrasive particles. However, a bike-specific dry lube is still recommended over WD-40 for maximizing longevity and drivetrain performance.
In conclusion, while WD-40 has some basic lubricating properties, it is far from an optimal bike chain lubricant. Purpose-made bicycle wet, dry or all-conditions chain lubes last longer, protect better, stay cleaner, and enhance drivetrain performance.
Dedicated bike lubricants are specifically engineered to reduce friction and wear within the chain while minimizing dust and grit pickup. WD-40 simply can’t match their performance and protective qualities.
Properly lubricating your chain takes just a few minutes but pays dividends through smoother shifting, reduced noise, increased efficiency, and dramatically extended drivetrain life.
Using quality bike-specific chain lube instead of WD-40 provides superior protection, keeps your drivetrain running smoothly for years, and saves money in the long run. Keep your chain clean, lubed and happy, and it will deliver miles of top performance.