The holy grail of bicycle chain lubrication is a lube that lubricates well, in the wet as well as the dry, lasts a long time, doesn't get dirty, and protects the chain and sprockets against corrosion. Sadly, it doesn't exist, but some come close.
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Overview - The holy grail of bicycle chain lubrication is a lube that lubricates well, in the wet as well as the dry, lasts a long time, doesn't get dirty, and protects the chain and sprockets against corrosion. Sadly, it doesn't exist, but some come close.
Oil Based Lubes. These are the original (and still most common) type of lube. On a bicycle, you want a very light oil, so it doensn't offer resistance to the free movement of the chain, and so it doesn't hang on too tenaciously to every passing dirt particle. A chain liberally coated in oil will tend to get very dirty, but since it covers all the metal it provides pretty good corrosion resistance (not such a big issue inland as it is here by the coast).
Wax Based Lubes. These have become popular in the past decade as once applied, they dry out and don't attract dirt. However, they seem to need regular reapplication in order to provide sufficient lubrication, and they do tend to build up over time, so a good scrape out of the sprockets and brush off of the chain with a stiff brush should happen from time to time.
Nothing Based Lube. I've not used the plural here as I have only a single lube in mind that fits the "nothing" based description. Pro Link is a non oil based, non wax based, non teflon or graphite based lube - it's a metal surface treatment. It is surprisingly effective as a lube, doesn't build up over time and lasts a long time. However, we've found it to offer little protection against corrosion, despite it's claims. Maybe it offers corrosion resistance when applied more often and more liberally than we've done to date (I only reapply lube when the chain starts "asking" for it - when the dry sound starts to happen).
So Which Lube For Me? For the average Joe, not riding seriously or regularly, we recommend an oil based lube. For a roadie after the best lubrication possible, we'd probably recommend Tri Flow (an excellent oil based lube with teflon and who knows what else). For dirt junkies, especially dry dirt junkies, we recommend Pro Link. But we don't recommend Pro Link for people who will leave their bike unattended for a month at a time, or will travel in wet weather with it on top of the car.