If there is one part of your bike that you want to keep happy, it's your drivetrain, in particular, your chain. A clean chain is a happy chain! This is basic maintenance item, so you can absolutely do it yourself and I highly recommend that you do.
How often you perform this is dependent upon how much you ride and in what conditions, but for most folks riding in good weather, cleaning and lubing your chain once ever 2-3 rides should be adequate. If you ride in harsh conditions or for longer distances, every other ride or even every ride is probably best.
What kind of lube? If you like to analyze, this choice can be as complex as you want. There are a lot of choices and many manufacturer claims. To simplify, it really comes down to two types, wet lube and dry lube (the latter being a bit of an oxymoron!). Wet lube is the more traditional, and more universal of the two. It is what you should use for certain in wet riding climates. When in doubt go with this lube, it generally lasts longer, and as long as you apply in the method I describe below, in large part you can avoid it's only real disadvantage, which is that it can build-up and attract dirt. Dry lube is a waxed base lubricant and is intended for dry weather. It tends to be lighter and repels dirt better, but it doesn't take a lot of water to wear it off. It also will generally demand more frequent lubing and can leave your drivetrain a little noisier. Some folks will run wet lube in fall/winter and dry lube in the spring/summer. Changing is fine too, but a good degreasing of the chain when switching is likely best. We'll tackle degreasing in another post.
I'm a fan of ProGold. They even make a cool lube pen which is excellent for getting into precise spots such as pivots, cables, spoke nipples when truing wheels, etc. I use both for both personal and shop use. I highly recommend. I've also had good luck with Finish Line products (love their bike wash) including their wax lube as well as White Lighting clean ride lube.
Okay, so you know what to buy and how often to apply, but how do you do it?! To start, you really want to do this when you return from a ride, not before you go. You want to lube to penetrate...and doing this will make it more likely that you won't skip a ride because of maintenance.
If you forget to do this when you return and you need to lube the chain, it's not the end of the world to do so before you go ride, but give it as much time to sit as you can to have the most impact. If you rode in the rain, in really dusty conditions, or any other harsh climate, I would definitely plan for 10-15 minutes after the ride to get the drivetrain cleaned up and lubed. Remember, the basics...always clean the chain first, then lube, then wipe off excess. It's as simple as that.
Keep it clean, folks!
Rider or is it writer?
My name is Adam Harris. I'm a lifelong cyclist. I love bikes. All types of bikes. I hope I can relay the joy that cycling provides me through glimpses into my thoughts and some of my mini adventures.