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The Best Chain Lubes for Long Gravel and Mountain Bike Races

Updated: Mar 14

An honest review of some of my favorite lubes (so far)





Like most things in my cycling life, I am always on the hunt for the best… whether we are talking about sealant, tires, or in this case, chain lube. But like most things, picking ‘the best’ is often a compromise. Do you want something that is good for the environment and easy to use, or something that lasts for 10+ hours in dry and dusty conditions? Unfortunately, in my experience, it will be a game of picking and choosing what is most important to you as I have yet to find the one lube to rule them all.


Over the years I have tried lots of different lubes and I am always on the lookout for something that last a long time in dry and dusty conditions, as that is what we typically experience in the arid Colorado environment. But, over recent years, consideration for the environment and efficiency have come into play as well. Below are some of my experiences with my top choices, as well as a quick summary of each.



Wax

Wax is the hot thing (no pun intended) at the moment. After this article came out in Cycling Tips in 2018 naming it as the most efficient ‘lube’, and championed by Jason Smith (formerly of Friction Facts, which was purchased by Ceramic Speed) and Adam Kerin from Zero Friction Cycling (hear my podcast with him here). Wax is indeed very clean and very efficient, but for most people the initial set up will be more than they want to endure as it requires multiple baths in harsh chemicals to strip the factory grease and get it squeaky clean. Add to that that it involves removing the chain, and ideally having two chains in rotation, and it can quickly get to be too much for most cyclists. In my experience, actually waxing the chain is a pretty easy and straightforward affair, and something I would do on a Sunday afternoon while doing other chores. But over time I would have 4 chains laying around, 2 mtb and 2 gravel, and having to label them to remember what came from what. I also found that the chain seemed to get noisier quicker than other lubes. Not the dry, metal on metal sound that suggested it needed more lube, but more of a clickety-clack articulation sound. The other thing I did not care for was having to carry a second chain to races so that I could pre-ride on one chain and then put on the “race chain”. 1) it was an added step and 2) it created the opportunity for something to go wrong like not securely fastening the quick link. Finally, I wash my bikes pretty frequently and like to re-lube after each wash. With wax, and other wax-based lubes, I found myself in a constant conundrum. Do I take my chances and head out for a 5+ hour ride hoping it holds up, or do I re-wax every Friday evening?


Pros

-Long lasting

-Super Clean

-Great for the environment

-Very efficient

Cons

-Significant initial prep

-Seems to get noisy quicker

-Having to have multiple chains



Dumonde Tech Lite

I have been using Dumonde Tech Lite (the yellow one) for 15+ years and it is the one I keep coming back to over and over again. Anecdotally it seems to be very efficient in that when you first put it on your chain it becomes noticeably easier to spin the crank backwards. It doesn’t take a lot of prep, I usually go with dish soap and water, and it seems to last forever. I have done MTB stage races, 7 hour MTB rides in moon dust. It doesn’t collect grime and keeps the drive chain clean. I used the original version (green bottle) at Unbound in 2022 only re-lubing once at around mile 140… not because I needed to, just because I was already stopped. Keep in mind this was after riding through a mud pit, and tossing it in the creek to wash it off… still ran smooth and quiet. If I were to pick some downsides to this lube they would be 1) probably not the best for the environment, which is a consideration when you’re riding through creeks and 2) according to Josh’s test, Dumonde Tech Lite was one of the most inefficient lubes tested. But again, anecdotally… it seems very “fast”. Though I will say, since moving to wax based lubes like Smoove and Allied Grax, I have not needed to replace my chain in quite some time despite riding a lot more and in harsh conditions, so that might speak to poor results in the efficiency test.


Pros

-Long lasting

-Easy to use

-Clean

Cons

-Bad for the environment?

-Efficiency? Poor based on Jason Smith's test. Refer to the linked article above.



Smoove Build Up


Smoove

I happened upon Smoove because of the article referenced above. It was named as the most efficient, just behind wax. Initial prep is semi involved, and you need to plan ahead as it needs to set up overnight. It seems to run really quiet and lasts forever, but it does build up on the drive chain and can be a bit of a pain to get off as it is sticky. Add to this that Adam has reported initial penetration issues, meaning it does not get all the way into the chain, in order to do it “right” is a more involved process than wax that most people probably won’t have the patience to follow. Additionally, when I have used it in races I have noticed that my chain seems to slip and jump in wet conditions. Not sure if this is a coincidence, or if something happens to the wax when it gets wet/cold.


Pros

-Long Lasting

-Good for the environment

-Efficient

Cons

-More involved prep

-build up on pulleys, chain ring, cassette

-Does not seem to do well in rain/wet conditions


Allied Grax Build Up


Allied Grax

This is one I have just started testing and so far I have liked it a lot. Adam reports the same initial penetration issues as Smoove and recommends the similar prep, but I have not taken the plunge. Initially it seemed quite a bit thinner/less viscous than Smoove which I thought might alleviate the issue, but over the last couple of weeks it seems to have been getting thicker… perhaps due to the press on cap vs a screw top? It does not build up nearly as bad as Smoove and it handles rain like a champ. But, like the other long lasting lubes I do find myself in the same boat wondering when do I perform a deep clean and relube and when do I let it ride?


Pros

-Long Lasting

-Good for environment

-Efficient

Cons

-More involved prep

-minor build up on chainring, pulleys, cassette


Rock and Roll Gold/Extreme

Rock and Roll is super easy to use as it contains a solvent that will clean your chain, then as it evaporates the lube is left behind. Because of this you go through it pretty quickly. And, with recent information about PFAs and the fact that they seem to get into everything and NEVER die, this is one I decided to stop using. Add to that, it just does not last as long as any of the others and would require one or two top ups over the course of a 10 hour dry, dusty ride.


Pros

-Easy to use

-Efficient

Cons

-Terrible for the environment

-Does not last as long as the others

-~70% of the bottle is solvent/carrier



​Ease of Use

Durability

Environmentally Friendly

Clean Running

Efficiency

Overall

Wax

⭐️

​⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Smoove

⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐

⭐️⭐️⭐️

​⭐️⭐️

Dumonde Tech Lite

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️

Rock And Roll

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Allied Grax

⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️

⭐️⭐️⭐️





Based on my experiences laid out above, my lube(s) of choice are Dumonde Tech Lite and Allied Grax. Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all the lubes I have tried, but these are the ones I have come back to over and over again over the years as the most reliable for the conditions I am riding in. If you’ve had other experiences, or like something that is not on the list, I would love to hear it. Leave it in the comments below.


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