Can You Use Any Oil For a Bike Chain? | PedalChef

Keeping your bike chain lubricated is an important part of ensuring it functions well and keeps your bike rides smooth. But can you use any oil for bike chain maintenance?

At first glance, all lubricants will look the same, but some can be more damaging than others! If you don’t use the right kind of oil, you may end up causing your bike more harm than good.

Most kinds of oils are adequate substitutes for your bike chain, such as chainsaw oil, silicone spray, etc., but others, like engine oil or WD40, can actually end up ruining the chain more than making it smoother.

The best option is to stick to your bike chain lubricant, but sometimes you may find yourself in a pinch and not know what kind of oil to use. Can you head into your house and bring out oil from your kitchen, or should you only stick to certain kinds of oils?

We have put together all the information you need on the topic. We’ve messed with our bike chains and done all the reading so you wouldn’t have to.



What Kind of Bike Lubricant Works Best?

The ideal lubricant for your bike would provide a film of the oil over the chain that keeps the cogs and chains from coming into direct contact. If these metals were to touch each other without that film, they would create friction, and over time this can ruin both the cogs and the chain. The single lubricant layer will keep these surfaces from coming into direct contact and keep your bike safe.

Lubrication also keeps the chain from rusting and extends the life of your chain as well. Naturally, this means that you can use your bike without needing a replacement for longer. Lubricated chains also help with performance and keep from wear and tear.

Ideally, you want an oil that is thick enough to keep the metals from coming in contact with each other while still being thin enough to lubricate the smaller parts of the chain properly. If the oil is too thick or has a very high viscosity, it will resist a change in shape and create drag. This results in you moving slower, and your chain becomes more prone to getting worn out at a much faster rate than it would have otherwise.

Most bike lubricants are composed mainly of a base oil with additives. These additives reduce friction, provide antioxidant properties and keep the chain from wearing out.

However, these additives mainly provide extra facilities that don’t have much to do with lubrication. Bike lubricants comprise almost 80 to 98% base oil, so if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have bike lubricant on hand, you can opt for another kind of oil as a temporary substitute.

But which oils are suitable for your bike, and which aren’t?

Can You Use These Oils For Your Bike Chain?

Chainsaw Oil

This oil is made sticky, specifically because chainsaw chains spin at such high speeds - much higher than bicycle chains. That is why chainsaw oil is much stickier than the type of oil you need for your bike chain. It is made the way it is because chainsaws spin very fast, which creates a lot of heat. Chainsaw oils are sticky to stay on the blade instead of splattering everywhere and reduce the temperature of the blade as you use it.

For bike chains, this means that the oil will stick to your chain, and while this is good for lubricating, it also means that your chain will get dirty very fast due to the dirt that will also get stuck to the oil.

That said, chainsaw oil will not damage your bike chain in any way, so it is safe to use as a temporary substitute. It is best for rainy weather conditions where you need an oil that will stay on the chain instead of getting washed off. However, unless you are constantly riding your bike in places where water can frequently get on the chain, chainsaw oil is a bit too sticky for your bike and should not be used long-term.

Motor Oil

Motor oil will usually have a larger composition of additives than your usual bike lube, and the additives it includes are also significantly different than those found in bike lube. This is because motor oils are designed for closed systems, so they are vulnerable to oxidation. They contain additives meant for such systems, thus providing little to no value to your bike.

You can use it on your bike if you don’t have any other option, but it is not ideal. This kind of oil is too thick to reach through the inner components and will not lubricate your chain properly. However, if you want to make a thinner version, it could work better, but the additives in this oil are not the best for bikes, and even thinner versions are better off avoided.

Gear Oil

This is a thicker oil usually made for automobiles, and like motor oil, it has additives that do nothing for your bike. It is also highly viscous, which makes it bad for your chain, on top of attracting a lot of dirt.

While you can use gear oil without damage, it will result in suboptimal functionality and make your chain look dirty. If you have absolutely no other options, though, it is a viable option.

Vegetable Oil

For some, the first thing that springs to mind when you run out of bike lube may be to just head over to the kitchen and grab the bottle of vegetable oil.

Vegetable oils like canola, olive, corn oils, etc. actually have very similar effects on reducing friction as your regular bike lubricants, but while they will help reduce the amount of effort you need to put into riding your bike, they will also bring with them a lot of dirt and make your bike chain look horrendous.

Vegetable oils also have very low stability when it comes to oxidation compared to petroleum or synthetic oils designed to protect against this. This means that the oil’s protection won’t last long. In fact, if your bike comes in contact with water, this oil may well turn into sludge and provide little to no protection against corrosion.

Therefore, vegetable oils are actually a bad option, though they can be used in an emergency.

Silicone Spray

Silicone sprays are actually very good replacements for bike lubricants. In fact, they work just as well.They are also very easy to apply. The downside is that they don’t last very long, so you may have to reapply them after every ride consistently.


Many people make the mistaken assumption that WD40 is a lubricant, but this is completely untrue. WD40 is a solvent, and you can use it to clean your chain if it gets dirty or rusty, but you must apply an actual lubricant afterward.

Your bike chain needs adequate protection against wear and tear and to maintain a good performance. Depending on your riding conditions, you should pick a lubricant that works for you. But remember, none of these alternatives can match up to actual bike-specific lubricant. So, while these oils are okay to use if you have nothing else, your top priority should be to use bike lube.


Danny Lawson

Danny Lawson

Mountain biking is more than just a hobby for me - it's a way of life. I love the challenge and excitement that comes with it, and I'm always pushing myself to go faster and ride harder. Some people might think that mountain biking is dangerous, but I see it as the only way to live.

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