The Truth about WD-40 and Bike Chains

Whether you’re cleaning your chain, it’s grinding and sticking, or you’re lubricating it ready for a long day of riding, there are a lot of mixed opinions and approaches to caring for your bike chain and ensuring that it’s performing at its best.

While it isn’t the most complex or flashy component of your bike, the chain is arguably one of the most important parts of the whole setup, as it’s what allows you to actually pedal and get from A to B while riding.

It’s also one of the components that takes a lot of punishment from the elements and from the strain you’re continually putting on it when you ride, meaning it really pays to look after it properly to extend its lifespan and maintain its performance.

However many people either neglect or forget about their bike chain, or have very interesting and conflicting ideas about how to care for it properly.

This can lead to a bike chain becoming worn down, reducing its smoothness, making the chain stick, jump, and even rust and stiffen over time, which is terrible for the chain and the other parts of the drivetrain, as well as for your enjoyment while riding.

One of the biggest misunderstandings in biking is WD-40 and how to use it, particularly with regards to the drivetrain and chain!

Many people think of WD-40 as a lubricant, however, a lot of this is driven by confusion about WD-40 and what it’s actually designed for.

In this guide, we’re going to look at what WD-40 really is, what it’s used for and if you can use it with your bike chain and other components, or whether it should actually be avoided at all costs.

We’re also going to look at some alternative lubricants and things to avoid when using these products to ensure you can maintain your chain and drivetrain well without endangering other components.

But first, let’s establish what WD-40 actually is…

What is WD-40?

There are many myths, legends, and misconceptions about WD-40, but its name actually indicates what it was designed to do.

It means Water Displacement, 40th Formula, and was designed as a lubricant, rust preventative, penetrant, and moisture displacer that was originally made for military purposes and then used for household applications.

Many people use WD-40 as a lubricant, and it does work well as a light lubricant, however, many people say that WD-40 shouldn’t be used as a lubricant as it actually cleans lubricants.

The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle.

Can You Use WD-40 on your Bike Chain and Components?

WD-40 can be used as a light lubricant for bike chains and drive train components, however, it isn’t the best choice and there are several other purpose-designed lubricants for bike chains and components that will offer much better staying power and lubrication than WD-40.

In fact, WD-40 is best used to help clean your chain and components of oils and lubricants and to help protect these components from rust after use in wet conditions.

So, yes, WD-40 can be used as a light lubricant, but there are many superior options you should consider, particularly if you ride in tough wet conditions. 

What is the Best Use for WD-40?

The best use for WD-40 is to help clean and prepare your bike for other better lubricants.

The ideal use would be to clean your bike chain and drivetrain with WD-40 after a ride, spraying liberally on the rear cassette, chain, and front rings to help remove water and dirty lubricants which can attract much and grime and lead to wear and tear on your components.

WD-40 helps remove all this when used correctly and can make the cleaning process for these components much easier and more thorough. 

From here, once your chain is properly cleaned, you can reapply either some more WD-40 for light lubrication if you tend to ride in dry conditions or use a heavier duty bike chain lubricant or oil that is designed to be much more effective for bike components than WD-40.

While WD-40 isn’t damaging to your bike chain or components, it may not offer enough lubrication when compared to other options which are why you should consider whether or not to use WD-40 depending on your climate and the type of cycling you do.

Are There Other/Better Lubricants Available?

Thankfully, if you’re unsure about using WD-40 for lubrication, or want to use a dedicated bike lube instead of a general-purpose product like WD-40, you can find an array of alternatives that perform very well.

Some examples of bike lubricants are;

  • GT85 bike lube
  • Muc-Off dry lube
  • Tru-Tension BananaSlip Tungsten Wet Lube
  • Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Wet Bike Lube
  • Tru-Tension Tungsten All Weather Lube
  •  Muc-Off Wet Lube
  • Finish Line Bike Lubricant
  • Rock N Roll Gold Chain Lubricant
  • Tri-Flow Lubricant
  • RocRide Epix All-Purpose Bike Chain Lube

There is a wide array of other lubes too, from general all-purpose lubricants to dry lubes, wet lubes and even advanced ceramic lubes.

The wide selection means that there is something to suit everyone, regardless of your bike, the climate you ride in, or other factors such as the number of gears on your bike.

Choosing any of these products and using them well on your chain will improve the smoothness of gear changes and crucially help resist the rise of rust and stiffness in your chain which can make riding incredibly difficult and unpleasant.

Should I Use WD-40 Or Other Lubricants On My Brakes?

This is a huge no-no. Lubricants should be kept away from the brakes and brake calipers at all costs, whether you use hydraulic brakes, V-brakes or mechanical brakes, as lubricants can get into the calipers and brakes themselves, penetrating deep into the materials here and making the brakes totally ineffective and dangerous!

Brakes that have been impregnated with lubricant won’t slow you down as they rely on friction to work, and lubricants reduce or eliminate friction! 

When applying lubricant to your bike, always be extremely careful to avoid spraying or allowing lubricant to run into the brakes as this can be a potentially lethal mistake that you may not realize until it’s too late.

If you do make a mistake and your brakes get exposed to lube, make absolutely sure to clean the brakes and the calipers well with specialized brake cleaner to make sure that they are able to stop you when you need to. Noone wants to find out their brakes aren’t working, especially when you’re already rolling down a hill!

Final Thoughts

To conclude, WD-40 is a fine choice for a light lube and cleaner for your bike’s drive drain and chain.

However it isn’t the best lube out there, and while it’s got a great reputation it is probably better used as a lubricant cleaner and treatment for your chain, rather than a reliable lube for most riders who would benefit more from a dedicated chain lube designed to facilitate a smoother action in the bike chain.

Andrew Daniels