Cyclists are diligent about lubricating the chain during the outdoor season but often neglect it when riding indoors. But even when riding on a trainer, the chain needs some love.
The chain needs to be lubricated less frequently when riding on a trainer. It’s recommended to lubricate the chain every 400-600 miles (650-1000 km) or every 20-30 hours of training. If the chain becomes noisy while riding, lubricate it more often.
Chain maintenance is simple when riding indoors, but it should not be neglected. However, you should pay attention to the choice of the lube, as using the wrong one can result in messy and greasy trainer surroundings.
Looking for the best chain lube that will keep your trainer clean? I suggest a wax-based lube.
How often do I need to lube the chain when riding indoors?
Indoor cycling is much more bike-friendly than outdoor cycling. Weather does not affect the bike at all, and temperature changes are minimal.
Maintenance need is, therefore, much lower. That’s especially true for chain lubrication, which must be done often outside but almost not at all when riding indoors.
Almost no chain lubrication is needed when riding on a trainer.
When searching for an answer about the frequency of bike chain lubrication on a trainer, you will come across many different answers. Lube manufacturers will recommend more frequent lubrication as they want to sell you more lube, others will argue that lubricating the chain on a trainer is almost unnecessary.
They are both wrong.
The chain needs to be lubricated, there is no doubt about it. The frequency depends on the quality of the lubricant you use, but a general rule of thumb is to lubricate the chain every 400 to 600 miles (650-1000 km). On average, this means about 20-30 hours of training.
My own experience also confirms the recommendation.
I lubricate the chain when it gets loud during pedaling. I have lubricated it twice this indoor season. Once at the beginning of the season and once recently. Between the two lubrications, I have ridden 450 miles (725 km), which took 22 hours.
For inexperienced riders, I suggest lubricating the chain based on the distance covered, while more experienced riders can lubricate the chain based on the sound the chain makes. If it is too loud, give it a few drops of lube.
Do you need to clean the chain before lubrication?
A clean chain is a quiet chain.
Regardless of which lubricant you use, it is recommended to clean the chain before lubrication. That being said, some lubricants can be applied to a chain that is not entirely clean.
For indoor cycling, it is recommended to use a dry lube, wax or wax-based lube. All these lubricants are slightly more forgiving when applied to a “dirty” chain than a wet lube, which must first be removed with a degreaser. Dry lubes can be cleaned off the chain with a wet cloth.
Clean the chain with a wet cloth or a degreaser, depending on the lube you use.
It is recommended to clean the chain with a wet cloth before applying the lubricant. You can check by hand if the chain is still greasy. Keep cleaning until you no longer feel the grease. Then dry the chain with a dry cloth and lubricate it with the lube of your choice.
If you use a wet lube, the process is messier. I suggest you clean the chain in a place that can get dirty (outside, garage…). First, degrease the chain with a degreaser and rinse it. Then dry it and apply the lubricant of your choice.
How do you lube the chain?
Lubing the chain is a simple process that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
First, clean and dry the chain thoroughly, as described in the subsection above. Then apply one drop of lube to each chain link and slowly rotate the chain.
Once you have lubed each chain link, turn the pedals slowly, so the chain makes a few rounds. Wipe off any excess lube with a dry cloth, but be careful not to wipe off the lube on the links.
It is better to apply less lubricant than too much.
If you apply wet lube or wax, a few drops or bits of wax will fall off during the first few spins of the chain. It is, therefore, essential to protect the chain surroundings, especially the trainer and bike frame.
Should you choose wax or lube?
There has been a debate in cycling for some time now about whether it is better to use regular lube or wax. It is one of those debates that we will never get to the bottom of and will always divide the cycling world.
Both products have pros and cons, but using one or the other will not affect your enjoyment of the bike.
Waxing a chain takes a lot of time and effort. The chain must first be cleaned, then waxed and allowed to dry. It’s a time-consuming process that many won’t bother to do.
Dry wax presents the biggest disadvantage of this method of chain lubrication. During the ride, especially in the first few minutes after waxing, small pieces of wax fall off the chain and dirty the surrounding area.
Waxing also has its advantages. A waxed chain stays cleaner for longer, better protects the chain and cassette from wear and tear, and the wax ensures less power loss.
I think that wax is the worst choice for indoor cycling. Chain cleanliness is not an issue indoors, while the power gain is so small that it means nothing to the average amateur rider. But the main deal breaker for me is the wax particles left after each ride.
The lube is a proven method for effective chain lubrication. Quick chain cleaning and even quicker lubricant application are, in my opinion, the main advantages of conventional lubricants.
If you choose a lube, you will have to clean the chain a bit more regularly, but on a trainer, that means once a month or even less. Some of the power produced will also be lost during the ride, but for us mere mortals, this is a negligible value.
I suggest that you use a dry lube on your trainer. This can be quickly cleaned off the chain, is easy to apply, and is very clean, making it suitable for inside use.
There is also a third option on the market – wax-based lube. This is a lube that combines the best of both worlds.
The lube functions like wax on the chain but is applied as a lube. Unlike wax, it is much more fluid but still has the properties of wax. The modified structure makes it less effective than a normal wax but still better than a normal lubricant.
A wax-based lubricant is an excellent choice for all riders who want all the benefits of wax but do not want to deal with the time-consuming and complicated application of waxing.
3 best lubes for indoor cycling
By now, we have established that the bike chain needs to be lubricated less regularly on the trainer than outside, but still often enough to prevent any major wear and tear.
We’ve also learned how to clean and lube the chain, and the benefits of lubricating the chain with wax or lube.
Now it’s time to learn about the three best lubricants that you can use to lubricate the bike chain on the trainer.
SILCA Super Secret Bike Chain Lube
A proven high-quality wax-based lube regularly used by professional cycling teams. The lube takes some time to dry after application, but then provides an extremely smooth and, above all, quiet ride.
Silca Super Secret Bike Chain Lube also protects the chain well against dust particles and other dirt, keeping the chain cleaner for longer and requiring a new application later.
Rock N Roll Gold
For many years, Rock N Roll Gold has been one of the most popular lubes on the market for a reason. The “classic lubricant”, which you get at a fairly reasonable price, does everything that is expected of it. It allows the chain to rotate smoothly, runs quietly and protects the chain from dirt.
Cleaning lubricant off the chain is easy, just wiping with a wet cloth is enough. As it is a dry lubricant, it is also very clean and leaves no grease stains on the floor.
Muc-Off Dry Lube
One of the world’s most renowned cycling brands offers an exceptional quality lubricant. The slightly thicker texture of the lube allows easier and more precise application to the chain, without greasing its surroundings.
I have been using Muc-Off Dry Lube for the last few years and have been extremely satisfied with it. It does its job very well, and I am particularly impressed by the ease of application, as every drop lands exactly where I want it.