Bicycle gears and chains need to be properly lubricated in order to work properly. Over time, without lubrication, gears will begin to stick and shifting will become difficult. Chains, due to the friction of turning on the cogs without lubrication, will stretch, and this will cause the chain to wear down the cogs in the derailleur, until they both eventually need to be replaced.
Simple 3-in-One oil will work for chain lubricant, although many bike techies think this is barbaric. The main problem with this kind of oil is that, although it does lubricate the chain, its viscous nature also attracts dirt and grime from the road. Chain lubricants that are specifically made for bicycle chains are not as oily, and thus do the job of lubricating without making the chain as dirty.
Many people use WD-40 on their chains in the belief that it is a lubricant. WD-40 is in fact not a lubricant at all, it is a cleaner designed to remove grease and grime. WD-40 should be used to clean a chain, and then a proper lubricant should be applied. WD-40 may appear to function as a lubricant when it is first applied, but it will very quickly evaporate and wear off, because it was not designed for this purpose.
There are many commercial bicycle chain and gear lubricants that go by different trade names. Most of these are based on some variation of silicone spray. Silicone functions as a lubricant without the drawbacks of oil, meaning that it doesn't attract dust, dirt and grime onto your chain. Also, silicone spray has a very low viscosity, meaning that it will easily penetrate into the insides of your chain links, which is where the lubricant is needed. Contrary to what many people think when they oil their chains, the oil on the outside of the chain really isn't doing anything. The only oil or spray that is actually doing its job is the stuff that gets inside of the chain links.
Bicycle aficionados will again cry barbarism, but it does work. Essentially, any oil- or- silicone-based lubricant will work on your bicycle, it's just a question of what side effects it might have and how long it will last. Vegetable oil will certainly wear off faster than most other products. On the other hand, when it drips onto the road or the ground, you're adding vegetable oil to the ground and not petroleum, which means you aren't polluting the environment. Removing your chain from your bike and soaking it in vegetable oil will do the trick for a while, just don't tell the aficionados.
- Photo Credit bicycle tire image by Derek Abbott from Fotolia.com
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