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Monday, April 13, 2009

Bicycle Grease, Oils, Cleansers and Polishes

Some greases and oils aren't meant for bicycles. Indeed, they can even damage your bicycle. Proper maintenance, cleaning and polishing your bicycle are trickier than you'd think.


Bicycle grease is used for the bottom bracket and the head set (see Bicycle Parts Terminology).

Bicycle grease is meant to be used in low temperatures. With few moving parts bicycles don't have a lot of heat friction, and thus automotive grease (which is meant to be used on hot engines/etc) is not suitable for bicycles. Its too thick and can jam up or damage your bicycle.

If you have suspensions or shocks on your bicycle, there is also a specific kind of grease for use on those.

For cyclists its best to pick a grease that is made for bicycles, because it will last longer and won't damage it.

New bicycles aren't greased very well usually, so don't expect it to be perfect from the start. Especially cheap bicycles. Its up to the new owner to add grease and perform regular maintenance every 2 or 3 years.

Don't use open tubs of grease. Squeeze tubes or grease guns are best so contaminants don't get in the grease.

Use an ample amount. Remember to wipe away excess grease after you are done.

Avoid using your bare hands (grease is harmful to your health) and clean your hands immediately after. DO NOT PRETEND TO BE ALL MANLY AND USE YOUR GREASE-COVERED-HANDS TO EAT A FOOT-LONG SUB.

Think of grease as a dirty prostitute. Wear protection and keep it away from your orifices. Grease can be absorbed through the skin... its best to avoid contact with your skin and clean up immediately afterwards.


Oils are essential for threads, derailleurs, brakes, levers, the bicycle chain, the freewheel and internal gear hubs... but like grease, not all oils are suitable for bicycles.

Bicycle oil is resistant to dirt, the elements and is light enough in viscosity to penetrate between the moving bicycle parts.

Do not use... WD40, 3-in-1 oil, motor oil, sewing machine oil or gun oil.

Avoid using aerosol cans (they spray too much on) unless they are designed to 'dry' within minutes. Drip applicators are best.

Its best to drip small amounts of bicycle oil, sparingly to avoid dripping, and wipe away excess amounts. A little amount does a lot.

Internal gear hubs often have specific oils they require. I recommend sticking to the oil recommended by the manufacturer or researching/finding the closest facsimile.

Like grease, avoid extended contact with oil. Oil can be absorbed through the skin and causes a variety of health problems.


When cleaning your bicycle try ammonia and water or a household cleaner like Fantastik or Windex. Avoid ones that leave soap on the surface unless you're prepared to rinse it off.

Mineral spirits is best for cleaning ball bearings and anything that is greased or oily. There is also gasoline, kerosene or citrus-based solvents you can use. Remember to use rubber gloves, eye protection and work in a ventilated area with some of these chemicals.

Acetone or cleaning alcohol may be needed for more heavy duty jobs. Beware of open flames.

If you're concerned about the environment, avoid washing away the excess chemicals into the storm sewer. That water goes into lakes and rivers, the oils float on the surface and children swim in them... if its not safe for your skin, its definitely not safe for children to swim in.

Dispose of dirty rags/etc in a firesafe bucket.


Waxes and polishes can give your bicycle a nice look, improving its sale value and just plain looks nice. Apply wax to clean surfaces only, rub lightly, wait to dry and then wipe off with a Kleanex or soft cloth.

Check the label on the wax or polish to make sure its safe to use on your bicycle. I recommend testing products you're not sure about on an older (crappier) bicycle before trying it on your favourite.

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Charles Moffat is equal parts bicycle mechanic, cyclist, painter, sculptor, fantasy writer, poet, website designer and pun maker. For more details see



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