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Bicycle Lubricants



GREASE

Not all greases are suitable for bicycle use. Bicycle bearings operate in a relatively low-temperature range, so grease designed for automotive use often does not become effective at bicycle operating temperatures. Instead, use one of the many bicycle-specific greases. There are also suspension-specific greases, supplied by suspension manufacturers and others. Grease manufacturers often make important-sounding claims about the superior lubricating properties of their products, but for the average cyclist it would be much more useful to know which grease lasts longest or resists wash-out from water exposure best. Unfortunately, only experience provides this information.

Grease failure could come at any time. Factory original greases are often of the lowest quality and also are applied in very limited or erratic quantities. Frames are often inadequately cleaned at the factory, so bottom-bracket and headset grease is often contaminated with abrasives even before the bike has been ridden. For these reasons it is difficult to project the normal time or miles between bearing overhauls. As a soft rule of thumb, 2,000-3,000 miles or two to three years of generally fair-weather riding should make a bike ready for an overhaul. The best method to determine whether grease is overdue for replacement is inspection. See table below for causes and evidence of grease failure.

Cause of grease failure Evidence of grease failure
Age: This is one of the most likely reasons for grease to fail, particularly on bikes that see little use. Lack of grease, grease absent from ball path, grease caked like half-dry mud.
Internal contamination: This other highly likely cause of grease failure is caused by particles worn from the bearing surfaces. Light-colored greases turned dark, translucent greases turned darker and opaque.
Moisture contamination: This cause is only likely when the bike is ridden extensively in wet conditions. Reddish rust color in grease, rust on bearing parts, water droplets in grease or bearing area. Colored greases turn a lighter shade.
Dirt contamination: This cause of grease failure is most likely if contaminated grease that has oozed out of the bearing is wiped off the wrong way. Gritty feeling like sand in the grease, not the same as the rough feeling from a tight bearing.

ABOVE: This table shows the effects of grease failure.

The container and applicator of grease is as important as the quality. Open tubs invite contamination; application from open tubs is messy. Grease is best used in squeeze tubes or grease guns.

Park Tool Grease
Above: High-quality grease in a squeeze tube.

Whether greasing a thread, insertion, or bearing, an ample quantity of grease will reduce likelihood of drying and moisture contamination. Wipe excesses away when assembly is complete.

Grease should be treated like any other unnatural substance that can penetrate the skin. Minimize exposure or avoid it entirely by wearing disposable Nitrile gloves. Clean hands when exposure is over.

Pedro Grease
Above: Another high-quality, all-purpose squeeze-tube grease.

OILS

Oil is used on threads, derailleur pivots, brake pivots, lever pivots, the chain, inside freewheels, and inside internally geared multi-speed hubs.

Not all oils are equally suitable for bicycle use. The oil needs to be resistant to accumulating grit, durable to exposure to the elements, and light enough to penetrate into tight areas. These characteristics outweigh the significance of any more technical considerations, such as the type of oil base or whether Teflon is part of the formula.

Many of the popular bicycle-lubricant brands are available in multiple formulas, which are specified for use in wet or dry conditions.

Teflon-based oil
Above: A modern, 100% synthetic and Teflon-based oil which may be used in dry or wet conditions.

Popular oils that are specifically unsuitable for most bicycle applications include:

  • WD40
  • Sewing machine or gun oil
  • 3-in-1 oil
  • Motor oil

Method of application is very important with oils. Aerosols are environmentally unfriendly and usually lead to excessive application. The only exception to the problem of excessive application is with spray lubricants that are designed to "dry" in a matter of minutes after application, but these may be the worst offenders environmentally. In general, oils used in external applications should be used sparingly to avoid dripping and dirt accumulation, and excesses should always be wiped off immediately. Overall, the best form of application is from drip applicators. These are economical to use as well, because waste is limited.

In addition to their value as lubrication, oils are also used to facilitate disassembling frozen threaded components. Special penetrating oils perform this function best. Some bicycle oils that are very light weight are somewhat effective for penetration.

Manufacturers of internally geared hubs recommend special oils that are generally unsuitable for use elsewhere on the bike. Sturmey Archer Cycle Oil is one of these, but a suitable replacement would be 10-weight motor oil.

Oil should be treated like any other unnatural substance that can penetrate the skin. Minimize exposure or avoid it entirely by wearing disposable Nitrile gloves. Clean hands when exposure is over.

 

We have two Lubricant Shops that feature every major, modern lubricant in the bicycle industry:

Lubricant Shop 1

Lubricant Shop 2



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