Dry Lube Vs Wet Lube For MTB Chains: Is The Debate Worth It?

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Dry lube vs. wet lube for MTB chains is a debate that has existed for ages.

And hence I find it to be an interesting topic to delve into.

But before we start, I hope you all know the essential functions of a chain lubricant in general.

For the uninitiated, let me explain– chain lube plays a crucial role in reducing drivetrain wear.

Moreover, chain lubricants also improves pedaling efficiency by reducing the amount of power required to pedal your mountain bike.

Everything About Dry Lube For Mountain Bike Chains

How To Apply MTB Chain Lube
Applying Dry Chain Lube To MTB

Dry lube is wet when applied, and when dried for a few hours, it dries and sticks on the bike chain.

All thanks to the special additives in the dry lube, a protective layer is formed, which repels dust and grime.

Paraffin wax or Teflon are the base materials used in most dry lubricants which is used on the mountain bikes.

When combined with solvents, they are able to flow to the nooks and corners of the bike chain, such as the rollers and pins.

The pioneering dry lube formula of the 1940s had graphite in them, and some dry lube still encompasses the chemical.

Dry lubes require frequent application when riding in wet conditions, as they get easily removed by water.

Merits of Dry Lube:

Below mentioned are some merits about using dry lube on your mountain bike chain.

  • Dry lube is your best friend if you ride your mountain bike only in dry conditions.
  • Since dry lube is non-sticky, it does not attract dirt and grime.
  • Due to the lower viscosity of dry lube, dust and other foreign particles do not hold onto the chain.

Demerits of Dry Lube:

Below mentioned are some demerits of using dry lube on your mountain bike chain.

  • The application of dry lube to your bike chain is a time-consuming process.
  • The chain needs to be cleaned spotless for the application of dry lube.
  • Re-application is required if the dry-lubed chain comes in contact with water for even once.
  • Once the dry lube flakes off, lube from other parts of the chain does not flow to the flaked part to compensate for the lost lube.
  • Dry lube is typically more expensive when compared to wet lube.

Conditions To Use Dry Lube On Mountain Bike Chains

Chain Wax Vs Chain Lube For MTB Featured Image
Conditions To Apply Dry Lube To MTB Chain

Dry lube forms a thin waxy layer on the MTB chain and works best when you are riding your bike in dry trail conditions.

Typically, it is a summer-time lubricant used when you expect absolutely no wetness on the biking trails.

Dry lube is not recommended to be used in wet conditions, as the lubricant could quickly go away when it comes in contact with water.

Ideally, dry lubes are very durable if you ride your mountain bike only in dry conditions.

But if you happen to ride on a stretch of wet trail, you will have to degrease and re-apply the lubricant as soon as you are back home in order to avoid premature rusting.

Everything About Wet Lube For Mountain Bike Chains

Excess Mountain Bike Chain Lubrication
Applying Wet Chain Lube For MTB

Wet lubes are intended to be used in wet trail conditions, where using dry lube is not a sensible choice.

Wet lube has a thick and sticky consistency, made to stand the water splashes as you zoom away through stretches of wet trails while mountain biking.

Merits of Wet Chain Lube:

Below mentioned are some merits about using the wet lube on your mountain bike chain.

  • Wet lubes are great for wet, humid, and muddy trail conditions while mountain biking.
  • When applied to your MTB chain, wet lube stays on much longer.
  • It is not required to apply wet lube frequently, since it doesn’t get washed away quickly when the bike is ridden in wet conditions.
  • Need not worry about cleaning the chain after riding.
  • Need not wait to dry, and hence can be applied instantly, even in the middle of the trail.

Demerits of Wet Chain Lube:

Below mentioned are some demerits about using wet lube on your mountain bike chain.

  • There is a high chance for dirt and grime to stick onto the chain when wet lube is used.

Conditions To Use Wet Lube On Mountain Bike Chains

How often to oil mountain bike chain Featured Image
Conditions To Apply Wet Lube To MTB Chain

It is great to use wet lube in wet trail conditions and is hence considered a winter-time lubricant for mountain bikes.

If you are an advanced bike rider, ride long distances and are not sure about the trail conditions, wet lube is a good choice on your bike chain.

Re-application of wet lube is not required after splashing your mountain bike through water or mud.

Dry Lube Vs Wet Lube for MTB Chains: The Real Difference?

Other than the intended use and application of the chain lube, the real difference between dry lube vs wet lube for MTB is in the way it reacts to dirt and grime.

Wet lubes typically do not attract dirt when riding in wet conditions, but it holds on to the dirt that happens to be in contact with the MTB chain.

The grit particles are usually suspended by the lube.

Dry lube does not attract or hold the dirt on MTB chain.

Whatever grit or dirt that comes in contact falls off, often with the lube wax flakes.

Even though the chain lube gets lost with each falling, it protects the drivetrain from any foreign particles.

Dry Lube Vs Wet Lube For MTB Chains: Which Is Better?

The straightforward answer would be that each of these lubes are intended for different riding conditions.

Hence, the answer is entirely relative to when and where the mountain bike is ridden.

Dry chain lube can be used only in dry conditions, whereas wet chain lube can be used in all weather.

But does that make wet lube superior to dry lube? No, there’s a catch.

Dry lube does not hold on to dirt and grime, which makes it more drivetrain-friendly.

Since the drivetrain is a very important part, and something that promotes its optimal functionality and durability is praise-worthy, dry lube can be considered a notch better than wet lube.

Universal Lubricant: The Good News!

Suppose you ride predominantly in dry conditions, sometimes in wet conditions too. In that case, you can get almost the best of both worlds with lubricants that are available as universal lubes.

Universal chain lube is made with a combination of wet lube and dry lube materials.

Universal lube is intended to prevent forming gunk while not being easily washed away in the rain or by water.

Typically made with a wet lube base, dry lube additives, and ester oil, the universal lube sticks to the MTB chain easily.

MTB Chain Wear And The Importance Of Using The Right Lubricants

The critical components of a chain link are the inner and outer plates with two pins. These pins are found inside the roller.

When these components rub against one another, causing friction, the bike chain will begin to wear.

This leads to the bike chain from looking longer than its usual size. This is known as chain stretch.

Here the chain does not actually stretch, but when the rollers and pins wear, the links stay loose, increasing the length of the chain.

A worn bike chain can damage the sprockets, leading to the need for either replacing or buying a new MTB chain.

Similarly, riding your mountain bike with a dirty chain can also fuel the wearing process.

Once the drivetrain parts start wearing due to chain stretch, or prolonged use of dirty chains, then replacing just the chain would be sufficient.

In order to prevent the drivetrain parts from wearing, timely cleaning and oiling are recommended, and lubrication is an important part.

Ultimately, the durability of your bike’s drivetrain depends a lot on the lube that you apply on the chains before each mountain bike ride.

11 Common FAQs About Dry Lube Vs Wet Lube For MTB Chains

Below are some frequently asked questions related to dry lube vs wet lube for MTB chains.

1. Does dry lube attract dirt on bike chain?

Dry lube typically does not attract dirt.

The wax and solvent combination used to make dry lube repels any dust or grit that comes in contact with the bike chain.

This is one of the reasons why dry lube is excellent in dry conditions.

Especially when you are riding in a desert or a dusty trail, dry lube makes sure that your MTB chain is clean and does not cause any trouble to the drivetrain.

2. Can you mix wet lube and dry lube?

It is not recommended to mix wet lube and dry lube, as they are meant for different purposes and possess differing properties.

However, there is no harm in buying a universal lube from the store, which gives you the best of both worlds.

3. Does dry lube wash off?

Dry lube washes off quickly when it comes in contact with splashing rain or water.

Dry lube is considered a summer-time lube due to this reason. This is the only disadvantage that should stop you from using dry lube during winter or rainy conditions.

Once the dry lube gets washed off, the chain becomes prone to rusting. To prevent this, you must re-lube as soon as you get back home after a ride.

Always remember to clean your MTB chain well prior to re-lubing.

4. How long does Wet lube last on the bike chain?

Typically, wet chain lube will last for more than 100 miles.

It is perfectly fine to ride without re-lubing if your chain lube has not collected any gunk.

The chances of collecting dirt and grime are less when you are riding in a rainy environment.

But suppose you happen to ride in dry conditions and have collected foreign particles onto your MTB chain. In that case, it is better to clean and re-lube even before the 100 miles mark.

5. Why is my bike creaking when I pedal?

The annoying creaking noise that you hear when pedaling your mountain bike could mean that the MTB’s chain is deprived of sufficient lubricant, and it’s time to show her some love.

If you are hearing this noise during summer, treat it with some excellent dry lube and if it happens to be winter, go for a perfect wet lube.

6. Can I use cooking oil for my bike chain?

I wouldn’t recommend cooking oil for your mountain bike chain, as it could be too thick for your chain to perform well. These oils could also lead to corrosion in the long run.

7. Can I use baby oil on my bike chain?

Baby oil should also be avoided on your bike chain.

Using oils other than the lubes that are intended for the use on bike chains could accelerate corrosion, decreasing the durability of the chain.

8. Is silicone spray suitable for bike chains?

It is OK to use silicone spray if you are not a frequent rider.

However, silicone spray could get washed off easily, exposing the chain to foreign elements.

If you are a regular rider, there is nothing better than bike chain-specific lubes.

Look for no other alternatives unless you have no other option but to go with something that you have handy.

9. Should you clean the bike chain before applying dry lube?

Thorough cleaning and degreasing are required before applying chain lube.

When you use dry lube on a chain that is not adequately cleaned, it could create damage to the drivetrain.

10. Is it important to clean the MTB chain before applying wet lube?

It is important to clean your chain prior to applying wet lube to ensure that all the grit and dust accumulated on the chain are removed.

In addition, the cleaning process is crucial to prevent the chain from wearing down, which could lead to chain slippage and even drivetrain damage.

11. Does applying chain lube increase drivetrain durability?

Applying chain lube increases the durability of mountain bike chains, which in turn enhances the durability of the drivetrain.

A worn-out MTB chain is detrimental to its drivetrain, and by slowing down its wearing, you are contributing to the durability of the drivetrain as well.

Final Words

Dry lube and wet lube have their intended purposes, diminishing the need for a dry lube vs. wet lube for the MTB chains debate to exist.

However, if we really need a winner, dry lube would score slightly higher than wet lube due to the fact that it does not hold on to dirt and hence is safe for the drivetrain.

P.S. If you found this content to be helpful, do consider reviewing our similar in-depth resources on how to oil the MTB chain rightly and prevent chain slippage.

We also have a guide on how to keep your MTB chain rust free, do check it out as well.

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Rohan runs Biking KnowHow along with his team. Rohan has been a mountain biker since 2005. His mission is to simplify mountain biking for everyone. All Biking KnowHow content piece is thoroughly fact-checked. Our content is backed up with leading research and inputs from expert cyclists.