Bike chain lube may not be the most glamourous part of riding a bike, but you need to keep your ride running smoothly. Without chain lube, your bike chain will wear out more quickly, squeak embarrassingly, and may even cause damage to your entire drive chain. There are many quality bike lubricants available, but what about bike chain lube alternatives?
In this article, we’ll take a look at bike chain lube alternatives. We’ll discuss alternatives such as chainsaw oil, silicone spray, 3 in 1 oil, olive oil, engine oil, grease, Vaseline, and sewing machine oil. But first, we’ll look at what makes bike chain lube unique and if it is okay to use something different.
Should You Use Bike Chain Lube Alternatives (In General)?
You might be looking for a cheaper alternative to bike chain lubes or searching for something you can use in a pinch. Neither is wrong, but nothing is better for a bicycle chain than bike chain lube.
Is Bike Chain Lube Unique?
Bike chain lube is unique because it is formulated to meet the specific needs of a bicycle chain. A bike chain lube needs to repel dirt and grime from the road or trail while being thin enough to penetrate the pins and rollers of the chain to keep it running smoothly.
Is it Okay to Use Different Lubricant for Your Bike Chain?
It is okay to use different lubricants in a pinch. Almost any type of lubricant will be better than none at all, especially if you are out on the road and find your bike chain squeaking and squealing. Not only is it bad for your bike to ride a chain that needs lube, but it also wastes your power and energy because a well-oiled chain will be much more efficient.
However, it’s best to use actual bike chain lube for regular bike maintenance, because other lubricants are designed for other purposes. Bike chain lube is specifically designed for bike chains, so it definitely works the best.
With that said, let’s now jump into our list of possible bike chain lubricant alternatives, and discuss them in more detail.
1. Can You Use WD40 on a Bike Chain?
You can use the original WD40 to clean your bike chain, but you shouldn’t use it in place of bike lube. WD40 is technically a degreaser, so it will strip your bike chain of all lubricant. If you want to use WD40, use it to clean your chain, rinse and dry it thoroughly, and then apply a different bike chain lube.
The makers of WD40 have also created a line of products designed for use on bike chains. Their Specialist line of products includes chain degreaser as well as bike chain lubes, which can be used on your bike chain without issue.
You can find some of their products here, which include both wet and dry lubes. Choose a dry lube for dry conditions and a wet lube for riding in wetter conditions. If you aren’t sure, you can always use their multi-purpose bike lube.
2. Can You Use Chainsaw Oil on a Bike Chain?
In a pinch, you can use chainsaw oil on a bike chain. However, chain, also known as bar oil, works a little bit differently than bike lube. It is a little bit thicker and stickier than your typical bike chain lube. Chainsaw oil will be okay if you will be riding in wet and soggy conditions because the water won’t wash away the lubricant. However, this type of lube won’t penetrate the tiny interworkings of a bike chain as quickly as bike lube, and it will pick up more dirt and grime than bike lube.
Over time, chainsaw oil will oxidize much more quickly than bike chain lube. On a chainsaw, this isn’t important because the lube is thrown off more quickly as the action of a chainsaw is much faster than a bike chain. But the chainsaw is continuously re-oiled by the motor, while a bike chain is only ‘oiled’ when you do it yourself.
The thickness of chainsaw oil may also make it difficult to remove from your chain. It will be more challenging to clean, especially when it picks up extra dirt from the road.
So chainsaw oil is thicker and intended for a much faster-moving chain, and a bike lube is thinner and intended for a slower, less frequently oiled chain. If you have nothing else, you could use the chainsaw oil. But as soon as possible, you should clean the chain and apply fresh bicycle lubricant.
3. Can You Use Silicone Spray on a Bike Chain?
You can use silicone spray on your bike chain, but only short term. Silicone has many benefits because it can maintain its greasiness even at high temperatures, it doesn’t react to most substances, it does not rust, and it has low friction. So, in theory, silicone spray sounds like a great choice. And since silicone can be used to lubricate all kinds of things, why isn’t it the best for a bike chain?
Silicone spray is great because the aerosol nature of the spray means it can get into all kinds of tiny nooks and crannies, which is great for getting into the little parts of a bike chain. The drawback to silicone spray is that it washes off easily. So although the silicone spray would get the job done without damaging your bike, the product simply won’t last, especially in wet conditions.
If you are home without bike lube, you could certainly put some silicone spray on your chain. Just know that it won’t have much staying power, and you’ll want to clean it off and put some bike-specific chain lubricant on as soon as you can.
4. Can You Use 3 in 1 Oil on a Bike Chain?
3 in 1 oil is probably one of the best alternatives to bike chain lube. According to pedalchile.com, 3 in 1 oil was created in 1894 specifically for bicycles. And when lab-tested, it out-performed about 40% of other bike chain lubricants.
3 in 1 oil is a mineral-based oil, which means it comes from petroleum. It was created to balance performance and protection. In other words, this type of oil, when used as a chain lube, will both protect your drive train from wear and tear and reduce the friction that wastes your energy.
This type of oil will work reasonably well for your bike at a reasonable price point. However, bicycle technology has changed significantly since this lube was formulated, and many newer oils will work even better. With that said, you can safely use this oil as a bike chain lube.
5. Can You Use Olive Oil (Cooking Oil) on a Bike Chain?
Although you can use olive oil on your bike chain, it should only be a temporary or emergency fix. Olive oil just doesn’t have what it takes to be an excellent alternative to regular bike chain lube.
On the one hand, olive oil will protect your chain against rust. Its viscosity is pretty thin, which means it will penetrate all the tiny crevices in your bike chain. It’s nice and smooth, so it will make your chain run smoothly. And since it’s edible, it’s also environmentally friendly. Those are great benefits to using olive oil.
Olive oil will also be easy to remove from your chain. Soap and water will remove most traces of olive oil, and a gentle degreaser can be used if needed.
Unfortunately, olive oil just doesn’t have the staying power that a bike chain lube needs to have. It simply breaks down too quickly to be very effective. In wet conditions, it will wash away easily. In cold conditions, it will solidify and not be as effective.
That being said, if you’re out on the road and your chain is squeaking mercilessly, a little dab of olive oil leftover from your lunch salad will get you home without damaging your drive train. But after that, you should clean and lube with actual bike chain lubricant just as soon as you can.
6. Can You Use Engine Oil on a Bike Chain?
Engine oil can work as a lubricant for your bike chain, but it isn’t always the best choice. If you show up at your bike event and realize you forgot to oil your chain, you could pull the dipstick from your car and use it to drizzle a little motor oil onto your chain. Like most bike chain alternatives, it can work in a pinch.
However, engine oil is meant to be used at higher temperatures and higher speeds than you would typically find with a bicycle chain. So at typical riding temperatures, the engine oil will be thicker and stickier than bike chain lube.
The engine oil will take more time to penetrate the inner-most parts of the bike chain. Since it is thicker and stickier, it will also pick up more dust and dirt than bike chain lube would typically pick up. If you used it for a long time, it would be much dirtier and cause wear and tear on your chain.
Removing engine oil from your bike chain is a little bit difficult, as well, since it resists more gentle degreasers. You’ll need to use something stronger to get the engine oil off of your bike chain.
If you are using engine oil as a short-term fix, your bike should be fine. However, I wouldn’t recommend it, and given a choice between bike lube and engine oil, always choose traditional bike lube because it is safer and more effective.
7. Can You Use Grease on a Bike Chain?
Grease is not a good choice for lubricating your bike chain. Grease is intended to maintain its viscosity at high temperatures. It is just too thick to be able to penetrate the pins and rollers of your chain.
The other problem with grease is that it is very sticky. Grease will quickly pick up dirt and grime from the road or trail, creating a thick paste where bike lube should be. The paste will accelerate the wear and tear on your bike chain. A worn-down chain can damage your cogs and cassettes and even cause something to break, causing a dangerous situation for you and potential damage to your bike.
Grease will also be tough to remove from your bike chain. The grease and dirt it picks up will create a thick, muddy paste resistant to many degreasers. You’ll have to use some pretty intense stuff to get the dirty grease off your bike chain.
So, if you can avoid using grease on your bike chain, you probably should do so.
8. Can You Use Vaseline on a Bike Chain?
Like many alternative lubricants, Vaseline can be used in an ‘emergency’ but isn’t a great choice for your bike.
Vaseline is a petroleum-based product. And while Vaseline is great for a variety of uses, it isn’t great for your bicycle chain. It is simply too thick and gooey to penetrate the pins and rollers of your bike chain. Vaseline is also very sticky, like grease, and will pick up too much dirt and grime from the road and trails.
Instead of lubricating the chain, you’ll be gumming it up with dirt and goo.
Of course, if you are far from home and your bike chain is driving you nuts with noise, you could apply a little Vaseline or even Vaseline-based lip balm to get you home. But your chain will probably end up extra dirty, so you’ll need to clean and lubricate it before your next ride.
You’re simply better off sticking to the real deal, as in an actual bike chain lube.
9. Can You Use Sewing Machine Oil on a Bike Chain?
Sewing machine oil can be used on a bike chain. It isn’t always the best choice, although you can definitely use it in a pinch.
Sewing machine oil is meant to be used on sewing machines (obviously). Sewing machines have tiny but fast-moving parts, so their viscosity is relatively thin, and the oil needs to be reapplied roughly every eight hours of sewing.
Sewing machines are also used in a somewhat controlled environment with moderate temperatures and not much dirt. So sewing machine oil isn’t intended to guard against the dirt and the extremes that a bike would come in contact with on the road.
Other alternatives would probably work a bit better in a pinch, but if you’re stranded in a sewing machine shop because your bike chain won’t stop grinding and squeaking, you could apply a little sewing machine oil to rescue your ride.
Ideally, you’ll never be stuck without the proper bicycle chain lubricant. But, life happens to the best of us, and sometimes you may have to use an alternative. Many alternative lubricants will work in a pinch, but only as a temporary measure and not regularly.
If you find yourself having to use an alternative bike chain lube, don’t worry too much about it. But for the protection of your drivetrain and your own safety, clean the chain and apply an actual bicycle chain lubricant as soon as you can.