Cleaning and lubing your chain is the single most important service you can perform to maximize the life and performance of your drivetrain, as the chain is the most critical link in your bike’s power transfer system.


After every long or hard ride

After every long or hard ride, you should perform a quick clean of your chain and drivetrain then reapply lubricant.

You are watching: How often should you lube your bike chain

This even applies if your mountain bike does not get dirty.


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After each ride (or two):

Wipe down your chain with a lint-free rag

Floss the cogs and jockey wheel

Apply lube

Turn pedals to allow the lubricant to work into the pivots

Repeat light chain wipe down with a fresh rag to remove excess lubricant (wet lube requires more thorough wiping)

If your mountain bike gets dirty


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If your chain has been exposed to water, mud, dirt,or isnoticeably dirtythen you should perform amore in-depth cleaning with soap and water.


Any time you clean your bike you MUST re-lubricate your chain,as the lubricant will have washed off during the washing.

Since your mountain bike’s drivetrain is completely exposed to the elements, it picks up lots of dirt, especially when riding in wet conditions. If you biked through any water or rode in inclement weather, your drivetrain picked-up an excessive amount of trail debris and grime, and should be thoroughly cleaned and re-lubed before your next ride.


In laboratory settings, mountain bike transmissions (drivetrain) are about 98% efficient. However, in the real world they are less than 94% efficient.

Once the drivetrain is dirty and not optimally lubricated the efficiency drops well below 80%.

In addition to losing pedal power and performance, dirty chains wear out faster and grind down the cogs on your cassette and chainring.


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At least every 100 miles 

The recommendation to lube your mountain bike chain “at least every 100 miles” is a generic suggestion found in many bicycle owner’s manuals.


If you use your bike for leisurely rides in dry, clean conditions, such as a paved bike path, you could rely on this arbitrary marker.

However, mountain biking in the real world, where you ride on dirt trails, gravel roads, and splash through river crossings makes this “every 100 miles” recommendation quite inadequate.

Can I “over-lube” a chain?


“Lubrication is required only at the rivet, not all over the outer plates ” — "Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair"

Yes, you can apply too much lubricant to your chain, as many rider’s do.

If too much lubricant is on the chain, dirt and grime will stick to the chain, creating a gritty paste that will grind down your entire drivetrain.

Chain lubricant reduces friction and protects your chain and components against water and corrosion when applied properly.

How to apply lube without “over-lubing” the chain:


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Always start with a clean drivetrain. At the very minimum, wipe down your chain with a lint-free rag

Find master link (or take note of first lubed link)

Apply one drop of chain lube per pin (roller)

Turn the crank in reverse and keep applying one drop per pin (roller). Finish lubing the link just before the master link

Slowly run the chain up and down the rear cogs. This will help get the lube into the pins and rollers

Lightly wide down the chain with a clean, lint-free cloth. Wet lube requires a bit more wiping down compared to a dry lubricant


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“Apply lubricant to each link pin as you slowly pedal backwards. Wipe off any excess lubricant.” From the standard Trek Bicycle Owner’s Manual


Only Lube The Rivets

You will want to avoid spray bottles(unless dry lube) or just pouring the lube onto the chain while spinning the crank aimlessly.

Lubrication is ONLY required at the rivets, not all over the outer plates.

If you lube the entire chain you will have an excess amount of lubricant, which acts like a sponge and will collect all sorts of dust, grime, and crud……everything you are trying to avoid.


“The external surfaces of the chain doesn’t require lube, only the rollers and pins require lubricant. When you lube each rivet, the lube will naturally flow to the rollers as well. ”

Do I need to degrease my drivetrain?

If you clean and lube your chain regularly, you will not need to use a degreaser.


However, there are several scenarios where using a degreaser is necessary:

If the chain is brand new

When switching from wet to dry lube (or vice versa)

If you have been ‘over-lubing’or applying lube without cleaning before application for an extended period

Yearly de-greasing of the drivetrain during a complete bike tune-up/overhaul

When switching brands of lube

If you neglected to clean your bike for months and your drivetrain is caked in filth


Final Thought


“Sometimes it seems that every mechanic has a different idea of what is the best way to clean and lubricate a chain. But all would agree, I think, that the key words are “lightly” and “frequently”” — Todd Downs

The majority of bicycle owner’s manuals and bike repair books recommend to clean and lube your mountain bike chain after every hard ride or after exposure to dirty and wet conditions.

Unless your biking in perfect conditions, don’t care about future repair bills or aren’t interested in maximizing performance…frequent cleaning and re-lubing of your MTB chain is consider “best practice.”


Jesse is Director of Pedal Chile and lives in La Patagonia. Jesse has a Master of Science in Health and Human Performance. Hobbies: Mountain biking, researching, reading, tasting craft beers, cleaning and lubing my MTBs.


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Sources

Barnett, John.Barnett’s Manual : Analysis and Procedures for Bicycle Mechanics. Volume 2, Wheels, Tires, and Drivetrain. Boulder, Colo., Velo Press, 2003.

C Calvin Jones.Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair : A Do-It-Yourself Bicycle Repair Guide from Park Tool. Saint Paul, Mn, Park Tool Co, 2019.

Downs, Todd.The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair for Road & Mountain Bikes. Emmaus, Pa., Rodale, 2010.

Zinn, Lennard, and Todd Telander.

See more: How Do You Say Brother In Chinese (哥哥), Chinese Translation Of “Brother”

Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance : The World’s Best-Selling Guide to Mountain Bike Repair. Boulder, Colorado, Velopress, 2018.


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