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How to Lubricate Your Mountain Bike to Keep It Running Smoothly

By Jordan Grimes   /  Last updated - January 16, 2023   /  Advice, Blog, Guide, Mountain Bikes

how to clean and lube mountain bike

Learning how to lubricate your mountain bike correctly will help extend the lifespan of your components and keep your bike running smoothly on each ride. 

With so many types of lubes and greases and different areas of the bike to lubricate, it can be confusing to know what to lubricate on a mountain bike, the correct product to use, and how often to use it.

This article will explain how to properly lube a mountain bike and finish with a selection of lubrication products we recommend for different parts of your bike. 

Cleaning Tools and Products

First of all, let’s take a look at the essential tools necessary to thoroughly clean a bike before lubrication:

  • Bike cleaner or mild dish soap
  • Soft sponge
  • Chain cleaner or coarse sponge
  • Toothbrush (if you don’t have a drivetrain brush)
  • 3 clean rags (for separate tasks)
  • Bike brushes – For cleaning specific parts of the bike more effectively than rags and toothbrushes

Tools and Supplies for Lubrication

After you’ve thoroughly cleaned your mountain bike, these are the tools and supplies you should use to lubricate it properly:

  • Chain lube – Chain lube for mountain bikes can be wet or dry. Wet is a rust inhibitor but attracts dirt and mud, and dry lube washes off easily but doesn’t attract mud.
  • Standard spray lube –  For bearings and pivots.
  • WD40 (with PTFE) – For driving out moisture, freeing seized components, and breaking down grease.
  • Suspension lube – For spraying the shocks after cleaning or servicing the fork lowers.
  • Thread lock – Stops specific threads in the drivetrain, stem, handlebar clamp, and wheel nipples from loosening.
  • Carbon compound – For application during assembly in any area with carbon-on-metal or carbon-on-carbon contact.

Before Lubrication: Thoroughly Cleaning Your MTB

Mountain biking can be messy if you ride in wet conditions or areas with lots of mud. Therefore, cleaning and re-lubing your mountain bike, especially after a particularly dirty ride, should be part of your essential bike maintenance.

If you primarily ride in dry, dusty conditions, you can get away with cleaning it less frequently. In either case, here’s our guide for cleaning your mountain bike and preparing it for lubrication. 

Ideally, you want a low-power hose for pre-cleaning and rinsing, but if you don’t have one available, a few buckets of water will do. 

Start by hosing the bike down to remove any caked-on dirt or mud. Then, take care to get the underside of the frame, behind the linkages on a full-suspension bike, and underneath the fork crown. 

Step 1: Frame and Wheels 

The first step is to give your frame and wheels a scrub down to get rid of any dirt, mud, grease, and dust.

cleaning mtb frame and wheels

Thoroughly clean the frame and wheels before proceeding with lubrication. | Image source: REI.com

Using bike cleaner or mild dish soap in warm water, cover the bike with cleaner and let it soak for a few minutes. Once covered, use your clean soft sponge or soft-bristle bike brush to clean the frame and wheels, removing any dirt that remained after the initial hose down. Once all the dirt is removed, rinse the frame and wheels again to remove the cleaner and any loose dirt. 

Step 2: Drivetrain and Chain

The next step is to deep clean your drivetrain and chain. You can use a degreaser, a foaming drivetrain cleaner, or a standard bike cleaner. 

cleaning drivetrain and chain

Clean and degreasse the drivetrain and chain to the best of your abilities using bike-specific cleaning and degreassing products. | Image source: REI.com

Once you apply the cleaner to the whole drivetrain use a toothbrush or drivetrain brush to scrub the chain and finish by running it through the coarse sponge. Alternatively, take your chain cleaning tool, fill it with a degreaser, and run the chain through it.

Next, use the toothbrush or drivetrain brush to scrub your cassette, chainring(s), and jockey wheels. To finish, hose the drivetrain to rinse off the degreaser and any loose dirt, and use an old rag to dry the chain and prepare it for lubrication. 

Extra Step for Deep Cleaning: Remove Wheels and Clean Further

With the wheels removed, you can use your bike cleaner to clean the hard-to-reach areas under the fork, behind the linkages, and the seatstays. 

cleaning full suspension mountain bike

By removing the wheels, you can thoroughly clean hard-to-reach areas, such as the cassette, fork, and chainstays. | Image source: REI.com

Additionally, take this opportunity to deep clean the cassette with the wheel removed. Spray on your chosen cleaner again, and use your drivetrain brush to clean the cassette thoroughly. Rinse the frame and the cassette again to finish.

Now that your mountain bike is sparkling clean, let’s learn how to lubricate it properly.

How to Lubricate Your Mountain Bike

Knowing how to lube a mountain bike and which parts to lube will allow you to keep your bike in top condition for longer, slowing component degradation. 

Step 1: Lube the Chain

Learning how to lube a mountain bike chain is vital, as it needs to be done regularly, especially after cleaning the bike or riding in the rain. If you just cleaned your bike, begin by ensuring your chain is dry. 

lubricating mountain bike chain

Lubricate the chain by adding a single drop of lube to each link, letting it penetrate, and then wiping off any excess. | Image source: REI.com

Be careful not to get lube on your disc rotor while lubing the chain. If using spray lubricant, point it down and away from the rotor or apply it to a rag to rub it onto the chain.

Otherwise, take your chain-specific lube (dry or wet) and apply it to the bottom run of the chain, putting a single drop on each link while turning the pedals backward. You can also put a drop on the jockey wheels.

Allow the lube to penetrate into the chain for at least 15 minutes (ideally overnight) and then lightly wipe any excess lube from the surface parts of the chain with a clean dry cloth.

Step 2: Use WD40 with PTFE to Drive Out Moisture

This non-essential step can help keep your bike working smoother for longer by reducing the likelihood of rusting. 

Spray WD40-PTFE or another PTFE spray on linkage, pivots, and other moving parts to eliminate water, protect against corrosion and rust, and reduce friction. 

Use this spray around the top of the brake or gear cable housing to reduce friction and prevent the cables from rusting as well. 

Step 3: Lube the Suspension Shocks

After cleaning your bike, you can use a light coating of suspension lube spray on the rear shock and compress the rear end a few times to spread it. Then, wipe the rear shock to remove any excess lube or dirt coming from behind the seal. 

lubricating mountain bike suspension

Optionally, apply a silicone-based spray that prevents grime and grease buildup on your fork and shock. | Image source: REI.com

To lube the fork stanchions, take a zip tie and insert it between the lowers and the stanchion to open the oil seal. Then, lightly spray the stanchion with suspension lube and allow it to drip into the lower legs, moving the zip tie around the stanchion to spread it evenly. 

To finish, pump the fork to bring up any dirt or dust that was in the seal and wipe it off the stanchion, repeating this process a couple of times. 

Step 4: Apply Grease to Keep Out Moisture

Grease is typically applied to threads during assembly to help keep moisture out of joints and stop them from seizing. Use grease when installing pedal threads, the headset, axles, linkages, and the seatpost. 

carbon gripper paste for mountain bike lubrication

Use the appropriate type of grease when lubricating your mountain bike to make sure it operates properly. | Image source: REI.com

You won’t need to apply grease regularly, but when you do, use it conservatively, applying a thin coating and spreading it with your finger to coat the whole thread before installing the component. 

When you apply grease to a carbon bike, ensure it is a carbon-friendly product. Use this wherever alloy contacts carbon or carbon contacts carbon. 

Step 4: Use Threadlock where Necessary

Some threads require a specific type of adhesive called threadlock to stop the bolts from coming undone due to heavy use. This product is applied at factory assembly but should be reapplied if you remove bolts for maintenance. 

Threadlock has varying strengths, indicating the level of force required to break the seal. Bike threads typically use low or medium-strength threadlock. 

Use threadlock on the handlebar clamp, stem bolts, and any drivetrain bolts you remove. Apply a thin layer to the bolt’s tip and wipe away any excess. Allow a few hours for the lock to set fully. 

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning and Lubricating a Mountain Bike

Avoid making these common mistakes to keep your bike in top working order.

1. Using corrosive cleaning products/lubricants or abrasive cleaning tools

Ensure all the cleaning and lubrication products you use are safe to use with your bike’s material and on the specific component you need to lubricate or clean. Likewise, don’t use abrasive cleaning tools on your frame, rims, or suspension components. 

2. Getting lubricant on your discs or brake pads

lubricating a mountain bike chain with a squeeze bottle

Lube your mountain bike chain with a squeeze bottle to avoid getting your disc brake rotors greasy. | Image source: REI.com

When lubing the chain, it’s best to use a squeeze bottle. If you use a spray, don’t apply it in windy conditions. Instead, spray it directly onto a rag before rubbing the chain. Avoid lubing the upper run of your chain; instead, apply it to the lower run.

3. Using too much lube or the wrong type

Using too much lube by forgetting to wipe it away once you’re done applying it to the links will result in a faster buildup of dirt and mud, increasing the rate of wear. Likewise, your chain will attract more mud or dust by using the wrong type of lube (dry lube in wet conditions or vice versa). 

4. Forgetting to wipe and dry after each ride

Many riders neglect to take a few seconds after each ride to wipe the mud off their chain or dry it after a wet-weather spin. Dry lube washes off in wet weather, so dry the chain and reapply chain lube if you get caught in the rain. 

cleaning a very muddy mountain bike

Make sure to clean your mountain bike after exceptionally wet or muddy rides. | Image source: REI.com

Avoid letting your chain sit with water on it or allowing mud to cake onto it. Using an old rag to dry or wipe away dirt after riding can prevent rust buildup or uneven wear from excess dirt on the chain, extending the lifespan of your drivetrain. 

5. Applying too much assembly grease

Not knowing how to grease a mountain bike is common. Like chain lube, many home mechanics are guilty of overusing grease when installing new components. Avoid using big globs of grease, just apply a thin layer to the thread, spreading it evenly with your finger and wiping off any excess. 

5 of the Best Lubrication and Grease Products

Bontrager Chain Lube 

bontrager best chain lube for mountain bikes

  • Price: $9
  • Use for: Hybrid chain lube for wet or dry conditions

Bontrager’s hybrid chain lube is the perfect choice for riders who live in climates with varying weather conditions and those that don’t want the fuss of buying different lubes. 

This product is easy to apply thanks to the application tip on the bottle. It’s long-lasting, keeps your chain clean and efficient, and has a pleasant berry scent. 

Shop on REI.com

Muc-Off Carbon Gripper 

muc-off carbon gripper carbon fiber assembly compound

  • Price: $15
  • Use for: Assembly compound for carbon fiber bikes 

When assembling carbon fiber components or joining carbon and metal, it’s essential to use a carbon compound product like Muc-Off’s Carbon Gripper to create friction and stop the parts from slipping. 

This product decreases clamping torque which reduces fatigue and internal fractures and extends component life.

Shop on REI.com

Muc-Off Bio Wet Lube

muc-off wet lube

  • Price: $5.99
  • Use for: Chain lube for wet conditions

Wet chain lube is ideal for riding in—you guessed it—wet weather conditions. It repels water, prevents rust, and keeps your drivetrain running smoothly when riding on wet and muddy terrain.

The Muc-Off wet chain lube is biodegradable and extra-durable and uses additives that ensure every part of the chain gets coated on application. You can apply it to your chain, shifters, cables, and derailleurs.

Shop on Mike's Bikes

Silca Super Secret Chain Lube

silca super secret chain lube

  • Price: $25
  • Use for: Chain lube that replicates hot wax 

The Silca Super Secret chain lube is a standard lube that replicates the performance of bathing your chain in hot wax. This product is applied like standard lube, using the precision applicator tip on the bottle. 

It contains Tungsten Di-Sulfide, which delivers unbeatable speed and silence by reducing friction more than the average lube. An excellent choice for competitive riders. 

Shop on Jenson USA

Park Tool HPG-1 High-Performance Grease

park tool high performance grease

  • Price: $13.95
  • Use for: Greasing bearings, pivots, and suspension

Park Tool is a premium manufacturer of cycling tools and products for maintenance and repair. Their HPG-1 high-performance grease has various uses, such as on bearings, pivots, hubs, and suspension components.

It adheres well, is highly water resistant, and lasts longer than the average workshop grease. In addition, it’s safe for use on carbon fiber.

Shop on Jenson USA 

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