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Tackling the tricky issue or wet versus dry chain lubes, the pros and cons of each discussed

It’s well-known that you should oil your chain to get the best performance out of your bike, to keep the drivetrain running smoothly and quietly and to prolong the life of the chain, cassette and chainrings. But with a bewildering choice of lubes in any decent bike shop, which should you buy?

Read more: How to clean and lube your bike's chain

We’re going to tackle one common question we get asked an awful lot: wet or dry lube? Knowing the difference between these two common types of lubes can help you in making the right decision when you’re shopping for chain lube.

Boardman CXR 9.4 - chain stay detail.jpg

Boardman CXR 9.4 - chain stay detail.jpg

And if you’re wondering why you can’t use WD40 or GT85, they’re water displacement products and should only really be used after cleaning your bike and before correct lubrication. As with any products, you should follow the instructions because generally it’s recommended to start with a clean chain before applying lube, rather than just layering it up. 

Do I really need to lube my chain?

Aerodynamic, or wind drag, is the biggest obstacle to going fast. Friction in the drivetrain also contributes to overall drag but a modern drivetrain is in the region of 90-98% efficient, depending on the condition of the chain and several other factors.

In a study of the efficiency of bicycle chain drives by James Spicer in 2000, it’s suggested that chain lubrication has a negligible effect on efficiency under laboratory conditions, and that friction can account for only a few percent of the overall losses in drivetrain efficiency.

That said, we’d still advise ensuring your chain is correctly lubed because while it might not help you go any faster, it'll certainly prevent the chain from going rusty and squeaking, and there's nothing more annoying than a squeaky chain. Okay, maybe a creaking press-fit bottom bracket...

The ceramic option

There is a third way. Ceramic lube has gained a lot of popularity as one of the most recent advances in chain lube technology. It’s available in wet or dry versions and contains nanoparticles that form a protective barrier on the chain and often comes with big claims of reduced friction and increased efficiency. It can also provide good longevity, reducing lube reapplications, ideal if you want minimal servicing needs. The downside is that ceramic lubes are often quite a lot more expensive than regular wet and dry lubes.

So what’s the difference?

Okay, so the dry lube comes out of the bottle wet, commonly a fast-flowing liquid but once it dries it leaves a wax film on the chain. It’s this wax that provides the necessary lubrication, the liquid is simply the carrier for the wax.

A wet lube is, as its name suggests, is a wet lube and is typically a thick consistency that flows slowly and sticks to everything it is applied to (and sometimes parts that the bottle isn’t aimed at). It remains as a liquid on the chain, unlike dry lube which dries out leaving behind a waxy residue.

Which to choose?

Which lube you choose comes down to the riding conditions. A dry lube doesn’t attract dirt and for that reason it’s a better lube for dry conditions, but the downside is that it often does not last as long as the more durable wet lube. So if you’re doing short rides in sunny weather on dry roads, a dry lube is a good pick. It has the benefit of keeping your drivetrain nice and clean too, you just have to remember to reapply it more frequently.

Cervelo S3 Disc - chain stays.jpg

Cervelo S3 Disc - chain stays.jpg

If you prefer to keep your bike in pristine condition and are happy regularly cleaning and servicing your bike, a dry lube might be the right choice. Because it doesn’t attract grit and dirt like a wet lube, you can simply add a new application of dry lube to keep the drivetrain running sweetly.

Where wet lubes have the trump card is in sub-optimal conditions. The wet lube is more durable and sticks to the chain better when riding in the rain, and it’s a good year-round option for UK cyclists. Because it’s more durable it needs less frequent applications and is good for very long rides.

The downside is that it can be messy and leave your chain thick with gloop if you put too much on, and because it’s wet it can attract road dirt and grit. You’re going to need to wash your bike more regularly. Wet lubes suit cyclists that don’t want to have to inspect and lube the chain on a regular basis, as you can go many miles between applications.

The road.cc recommendation

So if you’re a regular commuter or a long distance cyclist, then a wet lube is going to be our tip for you. It will not only last longer but also handle any weather conditions.

If you’re a racer or a rider of a super high-end bike in the sunshine then it's dry lube all the way. There’s no mess and your chain stays looking clean, just remember to reapply more often.

Conventional wisdom points to a wet lube for wet winter cycling, and a dry lube for summer cycling when it’s dry and conditions are good. It’s a good rule of thumb to follow and you won’t go wrong if you choose this approach.

The lube choices

Now you know what type of lube you need for your riding, here are some of the best lubes as tested by the road.cc tech team - each of these products scores four or more stars so you know they're worth the money.

B'Twin 300 Chain/Derailleur Bike Oil — £2.49

BTwin 300 Chain:Derailleur Bike Oil

BTwin 300 Chain:Derailleur Bike Oil

B'Twin 300 Lubricant is a cheaper option than many lubes out there. It's easily applied and will keep your chain and derailleur running smoothly. For the price of £2.49 there isn't really a bad thing to say about this lubricant. You probably won't go through it twice as fast as anything twice the price, even with weekly applications (more so during wet/winter weather), making it an excellent choice.

Read our review of B'Twin 300 Chain/Derailleur Bike Oil 

Pedro's Syn Lube — £8.99

Pedros Syn Lube.jpg

Pedros Syn Lube.jpg

Pedro's is a long-running lube specialist and the Syn Lube is ideal for British road cyclists and commuters because we found it easily lasted 130 miles of winter riding in a mixture of wet and dry conditions over clean and absolutely filthy roads, keeping rust at bay without a buildup of congealed sludge on the derailleur pulleys or sprockets.

Read our review of Pedro's Syn Lube

Rock n Roll Absolute Dry Chain Lubricant — £6.95

Rock n Roll Absolute Dry Chain Lubricant.jpg

Rock n Roll Absolute Dry Chain Lubricant.jpg

Rock n Roll Absolute Dry Chain Lube is a super-clean-running formula designed primarily for the drier months, but several very soggy weeks suggest it's one of the most tenacious. Unlike most dry/wax types, this doesn't scab off and evict contaminant as you ride, but is designed not to collect grot in the first instance. Friction is extremely low, and transmissions feel crisp and silent. Staying prowess is surprisingly good by the standards of the genre.

Read our review of Rock n Roll Absolute Dry Chain Lubricant

Fenwick's Stealth Road Bike Chain Lube — £9.99

Fenwicks Stealth Road Bike Chain Lube.jpg

Fenwicks Stealth Road Bike Chain Lube.jpg

Fenwick's Stealth Road Bike lube is a phenomenally clean-running, long-lasting synthetic lubricant and probably my favourite of all the many space age preps I've tested to date. At £9.99 it's highly recommended, and gives comparably sophisticated chain lubes a seriously good run for our hard earned, although methodical preparation/curing times won't suit everyone.

Read our review of Fenwick's Stealth Road Bike Chain Lube

Wickens & Soderstrom No.5 Drivetrain Lubricant — £14

Wickens and Soderstrom lube.jpg

Wickens and Soderstrom lube.jpg

Wickens & Soderstrom No.5 Drivetrain Lubricant is a thinnish lube that does a great job of keeping things quiet whilst being non-gunky and easy to clean off. That's about as good as chain lube gets. At £14 per 125ml bottle it should do you about 3,000 miles if you don't slosh it on. Yes, that's a 'premium' price – Muc-Off's C3 is £12 for 120ml, Juice Lubes' Viking Juice is £10 for 126ml – but for the quietness, cleanliness and ease of clean-up, it's the bottle I reach for.

Read our review of Wickens & Soderstrom No.5

>>Read more: all road.cc chain lube reviews

Do you go wet or dry?

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

54 comments

Avatar
hawkinspeter [905 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I go for the homebrew paraffin wax and micronised graphite option. More faffing, but very cheap and very clean.

Avatar
pockstone [130 posts] 1 month ago
15 likes

I'd love to find the time to micronise my own graphite but I'm way too busy keeping an eye on the nuclear fusion generator in the cellar! Any tips?

Avatar
CXR94Di2 [1723 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I have some unused chainsaw oil. I remember it becomes quite tacky once on the chain. So will try it out this winter

Avatar
StraelGuy [1007 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

I go for the homebrew paraffin wax and micronised graphite option. More faffing, but very cheap and very clean.

 

Me too, been doing it for ~700 miles now and can't remember when I last got a dirty black greasy mark on my legs or fingers.

Avatar
hawkinspeter [905 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
pockstone wrote:

I'd love to find the time to micronise my own graphite but I'm way too busy keeping an eye on the nuclear fusion generator in the cellar! Any tips?

Ebay - you can get more than you'll ever need for about a tenner. Amazon have one listing for it as well.

Avatar
drosco [349 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Agree on the wax. Nothing runs cleaner or smoother.

Avatar
pockstone [130 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

 

Ebay - you can get more than you'll ever need for about a tenner. Amazon have one listing for it as well.

[/quote

Thanks Hawkinspeter, I did google it! I'll look up a recipe. I resent paying a small fortune for the packaging around a penny's worth of oil! Now back to that reactor...

Avatar
Housecathst [600 posts] 1 month ago
4 likes

Whenever I even look at my bottle of wet lude it rains. 

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ktache [609 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

I have been waiting for some nice weather to swap to the dry lube.  Don't know if it will happen this year.

Avatar
dottigirl [766 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

I would definitely not recommend Muc-Off Dry Lube:

- It never seems to dry, so everything sticks to it.

- It struggles to last fifty miles. I've been carrying an extra bottle for a mid-ride top-up. 

- A spot of rain and it washes off.

The latter does mean that it's easy enough to clean my chain though.

I've also tried their aerosol spray lube. It never dried. My chain was so sticky, it stuck to my hand. It stuck to everything. Everything stuck to it. I didn't even bother putting the chain on my bike - I stripped it before using it again. Less than useless. 

Their wet lube is OK though.

 

Many people my club recommend Squirt wax lube. It needs a very thorough degreasing before use though. I found I struggled to get it past the fifty-mile mark too - it would just peel off. I've read reviews since about heating the chain to let it get into the cracks - I never did that. Only time I've had a chain rust and break during a ride. Not entirely sure if it was equipment fault or user error...

Avatar
alansmurphy [746 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes

Late night lube chat...

Avatar
Trickytree1984 [31 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Dry lube on summer bike. Wet lube on winter bike. Simples

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Dantenspeed [13 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I found that the amount of crap that sticks to wet lube outweighs any of its benefits for sticking around so I use Morgan's Blue Dry for mtb/cyclocross year round. If it's good enough for cyclocross it's good enough for commuting. Pretty sure the chain lasted longer and  certainly preferable to the awful paste forming from winter road grit you get with wet lube. 

Avatar
brooksby [2507 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

I don't have a summer bike or a winter bike, or a hack bike or anything else; I just have a bike and I call it "my bike"  yes  (I use a wet lube, natch: Green Oil, or Halfords Pure wet lube sometimes)

Avatar
Yorkshire wallet [1347 posts] 1 month ago
3 likes
dottigirl wrote:

I would definitely not recommend Muc-Off Dry Lube:

- It never seems to dry, so everything sticks to it.

- It struggles to last fifty miles. I've been carrying an extra bottle for a mid-ride top-up. 

- A spot of rain and it washes off.

 

Yep, it's garbage. Put it on and literally 2 days later the chain is squeaking.

I put new chain on around April time and it's only just starting to make squeaky noises. Whatever they come packed in seems the best!

 

Avatar
Grahamd [597 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
alansmurphy wrote:

Late night lube chat...

Most certainly one for the forum and not for the pub.

Avatar
kevvjj [249 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
dottigirl wrote:

I would definitely not recommend Muc-Off Dry Lube:

- It never seems to dry, so everything sticks to it.

- It struggles to last fifty miles. I've been carrying an extra bottle for a mid-ride top-up. 

- A spot of rain and it washes off.

I have used Muc-Off Dry Lube (still do). I have no problem with it drying. I do agree that it doesn't last for very long and the slightest bit of rain/wet road washes it off. I have used their ceramic lube too - used sparingly and a good wiping of the chain after application, it runs reasonably dry and lasts for quite a few rides.

Avatar
PaulBox [669 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
kevvjj wrote:
dottigirl wrote:

I would definitely not recommend Muc-Off Dry Lube:

- It never seems to dry, so everything sticks to it.

- It struggles to last fifty miles. I've been carrying an extra bottle for a mid-ride top-up. 

- A spot of rain and it washes off.

I have used Muc-Off Dry Lube (still do). I have no problem with it drying. I do agree that it doesn't last for very long and the slightest bit of rain/wet road washes it off. I have used their ceramic lube too - used sparingly and a good wiping of the chain after application, it runs reasonably dry and lasts for quite a few rides.

I've recently been using muc-off's dry ceramic lube and found it to be really good.

However, with a newly cleaned and lube chain for Ride London, we arrived in Knightsbridge after heavy overnight rain and although it had stopped before we cycled across to the start, the spray from the road completely washed the lube off my chain. Before half way around the course I had to stop at one of the Evans workstations to be topped up.

Avatar
RobD [498 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I use pedros (not the synthetic one) and it works pretty well, lasts for plenty long enough for me without getting too filthy.  I used to use a few differnt wet lubes but some of them caked up with gunk after just a couple of rides that I'd need to use the morgan blue degreaser (which I'm sure must be on a banned chemicals list it's so potent) on it and start again.  the Pedros lubes come off with just a little bit of car pre cleaner shmpoo diluted in a spray bottle.

Might give the parafin wax a try at some point.

Avatar
check12 [124 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

Rock 'n' Roll Gold or absolute dry

pick your poison, both are great. 

Avatar
LastBoyScout [265 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Finish Line are what's on my shelf in the garage.

Avatar
Duncann [1080 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes
LastBoyScout wrote:

Finish Line are what's on my shelf in the garage.

And would be on mine if I had a garage. At least the wet lube for carefree commuting year-round. Chain as black as Trump's soul but runs well for a long time.

Avatar
PeterCee [7 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

My experience is that Muc Off C3 Dry Ceramic is an excellent lube when out in the dusty dry conditions of the Fuerteventura. Dry as a bone & very quiet,

Back at home in the typical british summer and winter - Muc-Off Team Sky Hydrodynamic Chain Lube is a brilliant long lasting and super quiet lube - but hideously expensive....

Avatar
ibr17xvii [208 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
dottigirl wrote:

I would definitely not recommend Muc-Off Dry Lube:

- It never seems to dry, so everything sticks to it.

- It struggles to last fifty miles. I've been carrying an extra bottle for a mid-ride top-up. 

- A spot of rain and it washes off.

The latter does mean that it's easy enough to clean my chain though.

I've also tried their aerosol spray lube. It never dried. My chain was so sticky, it stuck to my hand. It stuck to everything. Everything stuck to it. I didn't even bother putting the chain on my bike - I stripped it before using it again. Less than useless. 

Their wet lube is OK though.

 

Many people my club recommend Squirt wax lube. It needs a very thorough degreasing before use though. I found I struggled to get it past the fifty-mile mark too - it would just peel off. I've read reviews since about heating the chain to let it get into the cracks - I never did that. Only time I've had a chain rust and break during a ride. Not entirely sure if it was equipment fault or user error...

I've been using the Muc Off green ceramic stuff & not had a problem with it.

Avatar
ibr17xvii [208 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
LastBoyScout wrote:

Finish Line are what's on my shelf in the garage.

I used that for a while & didn't think it was up to much TBH.

Avatar
kevvjj [249 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

 

[/quote]

I've recently been using muc-off's dry ceramic lube and found it to be really good.

However, with a newly cleaned and lube chain for Ride London, we arrived in Knightsbridge after heavy overnight rain and although it had stopped before we cycled across to the start, the spray from the road completely washed the lube off my chain. Before half way around the course I had to stop at one of the Evans workstations to be topped up.

[/quote]

 

That is exactly what happened to me! Couldn't bear the noise anymore so pulled over at one of the drink stations near Pyrford. 

Avatar
Altimis [53 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
ibr17xvii wrote:
dottigirl wrote:

I would definitely not recommend Muc-Off Dry Lube:

- It never seems to dry, so everything sticks to it.

- It struggles to last fifty miles. I've been carrying an extra bottle for a mid-ride top-up. 

- A spot of rain and it washes off.

The latter does mean that it's easy enough to clean my chain though.

I've also tried their aerosol spray lube. It never dried. My chain was so sticky, it stuck to my hand. It stuck to everything. Everything stuck to it. I didn't even bother putting the chain on my bike - I stripped it before using it again. Less than useless. 

Their wet lube is OK though.

 

Many people my club recommend Squirt wax lube. It needs a very thorough degreasing before use though. I found I struggled to get it past the fifty-mile mark too - it would just peel off. I've read reviews since about heating the chain to let it get into the cracks - I never did that. Only time I've had a chain rust and break during a ride. Not entirely sure if it was equipment fault or user error...

I've been using the Muc Off green ceramic stuff & not had a problem with it.

 

Muc-Off was okay

I use Ceramic C3 something (green label) for dry ride, its work great

But beware of getting wet though, its peel off quick when got splashed by water

Other than that, its just perfect for my use, its dry and smooth

Avatar
Pub bike [236 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Finish line wet lube after cleaning with Fenwicks FS-1, every 100 miles or so.  One tiny little dot where the plates meet above the pin on each side every link, then leave overnight ideally.

I tried Muc-Off cleaner and it just made things sticky and didn't remove the dirt, so I can't imagine their lubes are up to much.  Whilst I'm on the subject of degreasers, I also tried Finish Line citrus degreaser, which stinks, dries up any skin it comes into contact with and isn't as good as FS-1 at removing grease.  I know...why am I still using their lube then?

Avatar
cdamian [156 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
ktache wrote:

I have been waiting for some nice weather to swap to the dry lube.  Don't know if it will happen this year.

I used wet lube for the first time when I visited London for the Ride 100.

And then it didn't even rain!

Avatar
PaulBox [669 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
kevvjj wrote:

 

I've recently been using muc-off's dry ceramic lube and found it to be really good.

However, with a newly cleaned and lube chain for Ride London, we arrived in Knightsbridge after heavy overnight rain and although it had stopped before we cycled across to the start, the spray from the road completely washed the lube off my chain. Before half way around the course I had to stop at one of the Evans workstations to be topped up.

[/quote]

 

That is exactly what happened to me! Couldn't bear the noise anymore so pulled over at one of the drink stations near Pyrford. 

[/quote]

Yep, I stoped at the one at the top of Leith. The noise getting up there was bloody embarrasing...

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