As a cyclist, having your bike chain squeak, squeal, and won’t shift smoothly during a long ride can be super annoying. A simple chain lube will solve your problem. But what if you don’t have a chain lube with you?
Luckily, there are several options when it comes to lubing alternative sources that won’t keep us waiting too long and get our bikes going again in no time.
Today I’m going to share with you several excellent bike chain lube alternatives that will have your gears running smoothly. These might not be the best substitutes for high-quality bike chain lube, but the point is that they will work in an emergency and are easy to find anywhere.
Always Pack a Small Bottle of Lube for a Long Ride
Prevention is better than cure, and I, therefore, urge you to always pack a 5- or 10-ml eye dropper bottle filled with bicycle chain lube before undertaking a long bicycle ride. Five milliliters of wet lube should be more than enough to keep your bicycle chain going smoothly for one ride.
The best lube for a bicycle is bicycle chain lube. However, if you run out of it on a ride and do not bring any spare, I have compiled a list of 12 alternative ways to lube a bike chain in an emergency. These alternatives should be easily accessible along your journey, in a pantry at home, or at a store.
Emergency Bike Chain Lube Alternatives
A word of warning, these are bike chain lube alternatives and not replacements. While they will get your bike going again in an emergency, don’t expect them to provide a smooth shift on the same level as professional bicycle chain lubricants. Also, clean up your drivetrain when you get home if you use any of these lube alternatives.
Emergency lube alternatives should be easy to find so even when you’re stranded in a remote area, you will likely find one of these options:
- Cooking Oil or Cooking Spray. Cooking oil or any vegetable oil is the best emergency bike lube alternative because they are easy to find in homes, shops, and restaurants. They have the right consistency for bike chains and should work well as temporary lubrication. Cooking spray is thinner so you will need to apply more and reapply them much more frequently. Be careful not to spray your disc brake rotor.
- WD-40. Because of its versatility, most households, shops, and mechanics may have a can of WD-40. WD-40 is more of a cleaner and not a great lubricant but it does have some lubricating properties.
- Three-in-one oil. Some independent bike lube testers have proven that three-in-one oil outperforms some lubricants in terms of speed, power loss, and longevity. So it definitely works in emergencies.
- Hair Clipper Oil. If you ride past a barbershop, you could ask for some hair clipper oil to use. This is another very light oil that needs frequent reapplication. Still, you might be able to ride at least 50 km in one application depending on how much clipper oil you’re shamelessly using in front of the barber.
- Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly. Petroleum jelly can work as a lubricant but attracts dirt and grime and makes it difficult to clean the bicycle afterward. Because of the thickness, petroleum jelly might slow you down, if you still care about speed.
- Chainsaw Oil. Chainsaw oil is a fully synthetic oil that lasts long and will protect against corrosion. Don’t apply too much or it will attract and trap dirt which will wear your chain fast.
- Motor Oil or Engine Oil. Using motor oil as a temporary solution to a bicycle chain lube emergency is perfectly fine. However, they are thick and acidic and will damage bicycle parts that are more delicate than motor vehicles.
- Butter or Margarine. Both these products are available all over and are helpful for the oils and fat they contain. Unmelted, they won’t reach the inside of chain rollers, but they can still be helpful in an emergency. Be sure to clean your drivetrain when you get home immediately.
- Liquid Dishwashing Soap. This can work to quiet the squeaking sound on your bicycle chain, but don’t use them in wet condition or they might instead remove the lube that was already there and make the sound worse.
- Chapstick or Lip Balm. They contain petroleum products, the same as petroleum jelly, making them decent alternatives in emergencies. You may have to sacrifice the whole pot or stick, but at least the squeaking will subside.
- Bug Spray. Some bug sprays contain oil or petroleum distillates which can help the chain to move more freely, but they evaporate quickly so you won’t get much lube and will need to reapply often. They are not the best option, but at least your chain will be bug-free.
- Candle or Paraffin Wax. For cyclists who use chain wax and not traditional lube, this is the best emergency option if you don’t want to dirty your chain and restart the whole cleaning and waxing process at home. Melting candles or paraffin wax takes more time, so it won’t work if you’re in a race.
Do Not Use Emergency Chain Lube Alternatives On The Long Run
Chain lube alternatives are only to be used in emergency situations. Remember that these alternatives do not work as well as lubes specifically designed for bicycle chains. If you can find a bike shop nearby, it’s always better to get bike chain lube.
Using alternative lubes will lead to the chain’s and sprocket’s early deterioration. Some of these alternatives attract and trap more dirt in the chain roller creating friction that wears away your chain. Some of them might even damage your drivetrain if left for too long. This means unnecessary costly replacements more often.
In addition, these alternative lubes might influence your shifting performance, making it less smooth and crisp. Thicker oils might also make you slower by reducing your drivetrain efficiency.
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