Bike chains (especially the extra-long version our bikes require) have more moving parts than the rest of the bike put together. And not just moving — but grinding together, while being exposed to moisture and all sorts of dirt and grime.
Clearly, lubrication is of the highest importance. But, chain lube has an almost impossible job description: It must be thick enough to resist heat and moisture, thin enough to penetrate into the inner workings of all those moving parts, sticky enough to hold position on exposed smooth metal, but not so tacky that it collects dirt, becoming a grinding paste.
There are several companies whose products have reached this holy grail of chemical engineering, but their elixirs are astronomically expensive (for the off road bike tourist who must clean-lube their chain every other day) and far from available in rural Latin America.
Fortunately there is a solution that is cheap, readily available, well within your ability even if you failed high school chemistry, and most importantly, it works really well.
Only two ingredients are necessary:
Oil (of the heavy sticky variety), and solvent.
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Our favorites are motor oil, and white gas.
(Though gear oil, chainsaw bar oil, paint thinner, mineral spirits and regular gasoline are all reasonable substitutes)
The mixing ratio varies from 1×1 to 3×1 (solvent to oil) depending on your materials and conditions (in wet weather your oil wants to be thicker, etc.).
Simply mix, and use…
The magic is that the solvent helps the thick (lubricating) oil penetrate into all the little cracks where it is needed, and then evaporates, leaving your oil stuck right where it needs to be, but lasts long enough that when you wipe your chain after oiling (always wipe off excess oil) the thinned oil comes right off. Leaving your chain well lubed, and clean/unlikely to attract dirt.
Your chain is happy, so it lasts longer, and so does your trip.