Yannick Granieri works on the spokes of his MTB wheel in his bike shed.
© Stephane Candé/Red Bull Content Pool
Bike

How healthy are your MTB's vital fluids?

Ensure your bike is running as smoothly as possible by following this comprehensive guide to the fluids that keep all the components clean and moving freely.
Written by Ric McLaughlin
5 min readPublished on
The bicycle is a humble machine. It doesn't ask for much by the way of maintenance when compared to the freedom and adventure it can provide. Over the centuries it's transformed travel and, in the case of the mountain bike, it allows us to ride down hills really fast with our mates.
Although mountain bikes are predominantly made from various ratios of metal, carbon fibre, and rubber, there are several fluids which exist between its components that help everything to get along. They eradicate squeaks, alleviate rattles and promote efficiency.
Here's all you need to know about your bike's vital fluids.

Chain lube

Mechanics bench in the Gstaad-Scott UCI Downhill World Cup team bus in Leogang, Austria
The tools of the trade
For many riders, chain lube is just that stuff that you smother on a chain when it starts to go a bit rusty. However, regularly cleaning and lubing your chain will make an astounding difference to your pedalling efficency and enjoyment. It will also make your drivetrain last longer.
A wide range of lube types are available. Here's a break down:
Dry: This refers to the intended weather conditions for use. This lube is extremely thin, and penetrates down into the chains pins and rollers really well. It's easily washed off however, so isn't suitable for damp riding days.
Wet: More viscous than a dry lube, as a result this clings to the chain a bit better, meaning that it doesn't need to be applied as often and is suitable for wet days out. Wet lube can act like glue and stick all kinds of filth to your chain, though, which increases wear on the drivetrain.
Wax/ Ceramic: This clings a bit better than a dry lube, but still offers the deep-penetration protection of a wet lube. Wax or ceramic lubes are expensive option, but popular.
The important thing with chain lube is to actually thoroughly clean and dry your chain before applying it in order to give it the best chance of sticking to your chain. You should also allow a couple of minutes for chain lube to penetrate deep into the chain before wiping it off. In the case of some ceramic lubes, you won't even have to wipe it clean.

Grease

Trek Factory Racing team mechanic Joe Krejbich cleans Rachel Atherton's Trek MTB at a World Cup race.
Clean and then clean some more!
There are various different varieties of grease that can help to keep your bike rolling smoothly and quietly. The very best in the business costs less than a pair of inner tubes, and will easily last you a couple of years if you're looking after your bike properly.
The best multi-purpose greases contain some kind of hydrophobic element, which means that it'll stay put even after coming into contact with water.
Grease is essential where there are ball bearings, to ensure that everything spins smoothly. Constant use and cleaning can strip this away over time, so a thorough bike strip down, clean and re-application of grease is recommended at least once a year.
There are a load of different component-specific greases appearing on the market, but one stout tub of general do-it-all bicycle grease is what we'd recommend for any good toolbox.

Cleaner

Complete bicycle cleaning kit from Muc-Off.
Muc-Off Ultimate Bicycle Kit
Bike cleaner is one of those things that everyone goes through a phase of thinking that they don't need, only to use some again at a friend's house after a particularly mud-heavy ride. Spraying your bike with a cleaner, leaving it for a couple of minutes, and then returning to it to blast off the slop makes the wet weather riding altogether more bearable, especially during the long winter months.
Obviously, don't coat your brake rotors and pads in bike cleaning spray, as this can result in contamination that severely hampers your bike's ability to slow down effectively. It's also worth noting that regular use of a cleaner will necessitate a bit more care with the grease gun and chain lube, because while bike cleaner is stripping away mud and slop, it can also remove more helpful fluids.
It's also worth spending the money on the best cleaner that you can afford, and keep an eye out for the more environmentally friendly options that negate the use of CFC's, solvents and acids.

Fork oil

Mountain bike on stand with front and back wheels off
Fork installed
Fork oil should, as the name suggests, exist inside your suspension fork, or rear shock. A bottle of this vital fluid is a must for any serious toolbox. Just as with chain lube and the grease helping your headset to spin smoothly, repeated trail blasting and cleaning can dry out the seals on your suspension units, as the internal lubricant that helps them to slide up and down smoothly is stripped away.
Every so often, depending on where you ride, it's a good idea to lube your seals by wiping a generous smear of fork oil around the bottom of the stanchions and cycling them through their travel several times before wiping away the excess. The same can be done with an air shock and dropper seat post.
For the more mechanically adept, stripping the fork or shock apart and lubing (or even replacing) the seals will deliver a marked jump in performance. If you ride regularly, then it can be easy not to notice a gradual drop in suspension efficiency. In the meantime, invest in some fork fluid.

Polish

Finn Iles's Specialized S-Works Demor MTB tended to by a mechanic at the Lourdes World Cup in 2017
Finn Iles's Specialized S-Works Demo
Is it needlessly showy to polish your bike? On the face of it, maybe, but then who isn't proud of their machine? There are practical reasons to keeping things gleaming however. Using silicone sprays will not only bring out that new-bike sparkle, but also create a film which will noticeably shed dirt faster.