Do New Bike Chains Need To Be Oiled? (or Cleaned?)

Bike maintenance can feel overwhelming when you’re new to cycling. There’s a lot of information to take in, and it seems like there’s a full manual for each part including your bike chain.

So, do new bike chains need to be oiled?

You usually only need to wipe down a new chain, the grease it’s packed in will work as a lubricant. You may want to switch to a dry lubricant immediately if you’re in a particularly wet or dusty climate, but in most places, it will work fine for the first 200 miles or so.

But the heart of the matter is more complex, and something that you should learn about. There’s a lot of controversy about the right way to go about these things in the cycling world.

But, let’s take a further look and we’ll answer the following questions for you:

When to First Oil a New Bike Chain


You can oil a new chain right when you get it, but just wiping it down will often leave you with 150-200 miles of riding before you need to lubricate the chain again. If you are going to switch to different lubrication for your environment it may be best to clean and lubricate the chain upon installation.

Most people will be fine just wiping the excess grease off the chain. If it gives you any trouble then use light oil in addition to the clean rag, it’ll let you scoop off the excess easily. You can then install the chain without any further additions.

If you’re going to use a wax or other dry lubricant exclusively, you can go a step further before adding it. Depending on who you ask, you may or may not want to completely degrease the chain. It really depends on who you ask, but degreasing the chain entirely means that you have to be spot on when applying your chosen lubricant.

Most people recommend just using a mild detergent like Dawn dish soap, as harsher degreasers can strip all of the oil from the bearings and other components.

If you choose to fully degrease the chain, it takes an actual bath of lubricant to work back into the rollers on the chain. In other words, it’s not a task to undertake lightly.

If you’re not sure what you’re doing, just wipe down the chain with soapy water to remove excess grease before putting it on the bike. There’s a time and place for everything, but fully degreasing and re-lubricating a chain isn’t something that a new cyclist should undertake.

Our best advice?

Find something that works and stick with it. The subject of chain maintenance gets controversial fast. For a new cyclist the conflicting advice can be overwhelming and the path of least resistance is simply to use the factory-included lubrication for as long as it lasts instead of trying to completely rework the chain’s lubrication.

How Long Does Factory Chain Lube Last?

You can expect to get a few hundred miles out of the factory lubrication applied to the chain as long as you’re not riding in dusty or wet conditions. The latter two will shorten its lifespan quite a bit.

For the most part, you’ll get a full “cycle” out of the grease that the chain came packed in as long as you wipe off the excess. The distance varies, but most people find that the initial lubrication lasts about 200 miles. After that, you can switch to wax or oil to keep your chain lubricated depending on your tastes.

Some reputable folks, like Sheldon Brown, claim that the included lubricant is superior to anything you can get afterward.

Should You Clean a New Bike Chain?

Cleaning your bike chain is standard practice, and helps avoid problems with the thick grease that chains are packed in from the factory. Even those who adamantly swear by using the factory lubricant on a chain will advise you to wipe it down first.

The basic idea is simple: extra grease brings in more grit since it’s sticky. Grit causes wear on the chain, so keeping it out of there is ideal. 

While the grease makes decent lubricant, it also attracts a lot of dust. The dust and grit that wears down parts of the chain are actually what cause a chain to “stretch.” It’s not that the chain is physically stretching, instead wear on the inside of the links is causing things to not fit properly anymore.

It’s a much better idea to simply wipe down the chain with a rag when you unpack it, keeping the excess grease the chain was packed in from sticking around and making a mess of things.

Simple cleaning is your best bet to start off. The excess grease the chain was packed in isn’t going to do you any favors, especially if there’s dust or water around.

How to Tell if a Bike Chain Needs Lube

Most cyclists lubricate their chain every 200 miles or so, but there are some signs that you’re in need of maintenance. The main symptoms of a dirty chain are squeaking noises, choppier shifting than normal. The chain will also look dirty when you inspect it.

For the most part, you’re best off keeping track of the miles on your chain and making sure to give it a visual inspection each time you go for a ride. It doesn’t take any time and oiling a chain is one of the easier bits of maintenance.

So, you’re looking for the following:

  • Chain Appearance- Rust, a bunch of collected dirt, or any other visible debris on the chain is a good sign that you need to examine things further. Off-road riding often leaves mud on the chain, but it shouldn’t affect the lifespan of your lube much if you clean it off after every ride.
  • Trouble Shifting- A chain without adequate lubrication is going to have trouble shifting. If you know that everything else is in order then you should take a closer look at the chain.
  • Squeaking Noises- The dreaded “squeaky noise” is often caused by a chain that needs a little bit of TLC.

Regular chain maintenance is remarkably easy, but you still need to remember to perform it. If you’re not tracking the miles you’re putting on your bike, then just make sure that looking at the chain is part of your normal inspection routine.

How to Properly Oil a Bike Chain

Oiling a bike chain is usually a simple affair, provided you don’t have any extraordinary circumstances going on. You’ll probably want to clean the chain as well, depending on how it looks during a visual inspection.

If you remember nothing else, remember that you should be oiling the inside of the chain. If you oil the exterior then you may help dust, dirt, and other grit work it’s way into the chain and cause more problems.

I’d recommend getting some gloves and clothes you don’t care about much, especially the first couple of times. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, but in the meantime, it’s a dirty task.

Watch this if you want to learn how to get your chain in shape through cleaning and lubricating.


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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