Workshop Skills: Basics – Chain Lubing

Words by Chris Southwood | Images by Flowtographer

A well-kept drivetrain is at the heart of the reliable, smooth performance of every bike. Keeping your chain clean and lubed is rule number one – but how do you lube the right way?

The first rule of chain lubing: Never lube a dirty or gluggy chain.

Adding lube to a gritty or dirty chain is like putting sun screen on when you’re covered in sand. It makes for an abrasive mess that feels nasty. In the case of your chain, it’ll actually accelerate wear too, as the glut of lube will become a magnet for sand and dirt.

If you’re looking at your bike now and the chain looks like it’s been dipped in the oil sump of a tractor, STOP. You want to clean your chain before we go any further. This is best done with a bike specific degreaser; you can get it spray-on or liquid versions. Follow the instructions and make sure you give the whole drivetrain a thorough rinsing (or better yet, a wash using a brush and some bike cleaner) once you’re done. Dry the chain off with an absorbent rag (or mum’s best towels).

If your chain is relatively clean, you still want to give it an additional clean up before you lube it. Grab a clean rag and hold it around the chain – it’s easiest if you do this below the chain stay, between the cranks and rear derailleur cage. Back pedal with one hand while holding the rag firmly around the chain with the other. (This will be way easier if you shift into a gear that gives you a nice, straight chain line first). Do this for a few complete rotations then move to a new section of the rag. You’re aiming to get as much of the old lube off the chain as possible.

Repeat, until the chain stops leaving big dirty marks on the rag.


Clean well before you being the lube process.

Lube it up:

Now you’ve got things pretty clean, it’s time to lube. The first mistake that people make when it comes to lubing their chain is that they don’t just lube their chain. Your derailleurs and cassette do not need lube!

In fact, the only part of your drivetrain that requires any lubing at all, are the actual rollers of your chain. When you lube your chain, you’re aiming to get the lubrication in between the rollers and the chain pins that they spin on – that is it! As such, a proper lube job requires less lube than you’d think.

The easiest position to lube your chain is, again, between the chain rings and the rear derailleur cage. Make sure your bike is in a gear that gives you a nice straight chain line (otherwise the chain may come off when you begin back pedalling). Place the nozzle of your chain lube bottle against the rollers of the chain and apply a light drizzle of lube while back pedalling with your other hand.

Do this for 10 seconds or long enough to make sure that the entire chain has passed under the lube bottle a couple of times. Don’t turn the cranks frantically or you risk having lube spray off everywhere and getting all over your brake rotors. To be ultra clean, we recommend using one of Finish Line’s No-Drip lube applicators; they’re a very simple solution and you can use whatever chain lube you like in the bottle.


This No-Drip from Finish Line is a particular favourite of ours.

After you’ve finished applying the lube, keep back pedalling for a few more rotations to make sure the lube has penetrated into the chain rollers.

Don’t be excessive:

You’re not quite done yet! Before you roll out, you want to remove any excess lube that will attract dirt. Grab that old faithful rag again. Grip the chain lightly with the rag and once more, back pedal the chain through the rag for a few rotations. The aim is simply to remove any lube that is sitting on the surface of the chain.

And you’re done! We recommend a quick clean and lube before every ride – it only takes 30 seconds at most, and your bike will love you in ways you never knew possible.


Always wipe of excess when done.