At first glance, seat posts appear to be a “set it and forget it” component in comparison to the moving segments of a bicycle which require frequent cleaning and lubrication.
However, a negligent attitude towards a seat post could lead to unpleasant problems later on.
One of the most frequent questions in regards to seat post maintenance is whether to grease it or not.
The answer is yes. A seat post that isn’t greased could get desperately stuck in the downtube of the bicycle due to corrosion.
A thin layer of grease along the seat post’s segment in contact with the downtube would prevent the metal from oxidizing and subsequently corroding while simultaneously reducing the chances of creaking.
Note: Carbon seat posts do not use grease. They require a special carbon assembly compound for reasons explained later in the article.
What causes the corrosion of a seat post?
Seat post corrosion is the result of a chemical reaction known as reduction-oxidation or redox for short.
A redox reaction combines two simultaneous reactions called oxidation and reduction.
Oxidation is a process during which an element, in this case, the metal, loses an electron.
Reduction is a process during which an element, in this case, oxygen, gains an electron.
The reduction process results in the formation of negative oxygen ions due to the gain of electrons (electrons have a negative electric charge).
Water and heavy moisture catalyze the redox reaction as they act as an electrolyte solution encouraging the transfer of ions between two elements.
When the negative oxygen ions penetrate the metal, they stimulate the formation of a new “oxide” surface.
The most basic example would be the rust found on iron objects that have been exposed to humidity.
Hence why seat posts made of steel tend to rust after exposure to the elements.
The formed rust binds the seat post to the downtube so strongly that sometimes it’s impossible to separate the two without the use of long levers and/or chemicals.
How Does Grease Help Seatposts?
A coat of grease acts as a protective shield preserving the seat post from the environment and thus preventing the possibility of metal oxidation.
Grease is the ideal lubricant for metal seat posts for the following reasons:
Grease is a semi-liquid with a high viscosity. Or in other words, its molecules experience higher friction when moving. That friction results in a slower flow of the substance.
The high viscosity makes grease better than oil for lubricating a seat post because the greater density results in a thicker layer offering more protection against the elements.
Technically, liquid oil has similar properties too, but its low viscosity and greater flow make it unsuitable as a seat post lubricant because the parts are vertical and have a large contact area.
The thinner film that oil produces would become even thinner under the effect of gravity. This lowers the coverage and increases the chances of corrosion.
Grease fixes this problem by providing a more stable and thicker shield defending the seat post from the environment and thus preserving the metal in its pure form.
Seat Posts Are Semi-sealed
Unlike the chain, chainrings, and cogs, the part of the seat post inserting into the seat tube is protected from dust, debris, and other small particles that grease usually attracts.
This “shelter” increases the incentive to use grease for the lubrication of seat posts.
Do Aluminum Seat Posts Need Grease Too?
Unlike steel, aluminum doesn’t rust, but it corrodes nonetheless.
When exposed to the elements, aluminum experiences oxidation which results in the formation of a thin top layer known as aluminum oxide.
The layer shields the underlying aluminum and protects it from further corrosion. If the protective oxide film is damaged, it regenerates quickly in the presence of oxygen. Hence why aluminum is known for its ability to resist deep corrosion better than iron.
The extra layer offers helpful defense, but it also increases the chances of getting your seat post stuck.
Therefore, it’s recommended to coat even aluminum posts with a thin layer of grease.
Aluminum + Steel = Epic Corrosion
One of the worst cases of a stuck seat post happens when the seat post and the frame are made of different materials.
A common scenario is the combination of a new aluminum seat post and an older steel frame.
The source of this problem is called galvanic corrosion.
Galvanic corrosion is a deterioration process that occurs when two dissimilar metals are in contact with one another and in the presence of a conductor like water.
When those conditions are met, a transfer of electrons begins from one of the metals to the other.
In this case, aluminum is the metal giving up electrons even though by itself it’s more corrosion resistant than steel. However, this is a custom scenario known as preferential corrosion.
Once corroded, the aluminum seat post bonds to the seat tube and becomes impossible to remove without the use of special equipment and/or chemicals.
Greasing the seat post greatly reduces the chances of experiencing galvanic corrosion.
It would also be wise to periodically remove the seat post and re-grease it as a form of precaution, especially if the bicycle is used in an area with high humidity and lots of rain.
Carbon Seat Posts Should Not Be Greased
As always, carbon components need different treatment than those made of steel and aluminum.
There are two main reasons NOT to use regular grease on a carbon seat post:
Increased Clamping Force
Grease is slippery. When you put it on a seat post, the clamp will have to be tightened to a greater degree to prevent movement of the seat post.
While steel and aluminum can handle the extra stress just fine, carbon is notorious for it’s low resistance to compression. When tightened too much, the clamp may crush the carbon seat post.
For that reason, carbon seat posts are covered by a layer of special carbon assembly compound.
The carbon assembly compound has two purposes:
A. Increased friction
The carbon paste increases the friction between the seat post and the seat tube and subsequently reduces the need to tighten the clamps hard.
The resulting lower clamping force minimizes the chances of crushing the seat post.
B. Resistance to corrosion
The carbon assembly compound has anti-corrosive properties too.
Regular Grease Could Damage Carbon
Some people disagree with this statement due to the lack of scientific research, but field results have shown that regular grease could harm carbon.
Carbon components exposed to common grease can “bloat” and subsequently lose their integrity.
It’s recommended to use only carbon-specific lubrication when operating with carbon parts. The risk is just not worth it given the price of carbon products.
Aluminum + Carbon = Strong Galvanic Corrosion
Since carbon fiber acts as an electrical conductor, galvanic corrosion is a very real possibility when pairing aluminum and carbon.
For that reason, some carbon frames come with a special aluminum sleeve in the seat tube. The purpose of this practice is to match the material of the seat post and the frame.
When you use aluminum on aluminum, the chances of seat post seizing are lower.
If the carbon frame does not have that sleeve, the best option to prevent corrosion would be to buy a carbon seat post so that the materials of the seat post and the frame match (carbon on carbon).
However, that’s not always possible since many dropper posts on the market are made of aluminum. In that case, one could use specialized carbon-friendly compounds as a way to fight galvanic corrosion.
Note: Unfortunately, many carbon frames have been damaged during attempts to remove a stuck aluminum post.
Regular cleaning and re-lubrication are mandatory to reduce the possibility of similar complications.
What Type of Grease Should I Use For Aluminum and Steel Seat Posts?
The seat post is not a moving part and doesn’t heat up as a result of friction. Nor does it have synthetic components.
Therefore, it doesn’t need high-end grease because it isn’t as pretentious.
If the seat post and the frame are made of aluminum or steel, the general-purpose grease found at most car stores would be sufficient in most cases.
Some argue that lithium grease damages aluminum, but that’s highly questionable because the lithium in the grease is bound in a chemical compound and has lower reactivity.
If you live in a rainy town close to the sea, and you want to be “ultra-safe”, you could consider going with marine grease. It’s a special type of grease (blue color) that offers rust and corrosion protection in both freshwater and saltwater environments.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I grease the rails of the seat post too?
In general, it’s not necessary unless the seat post is producing annoying sounds.
It could be more convenient to use a spray lubricant instead of grease because that way you won’t have to remove the saddle from the seat post.
But if a spray doesn’t work, you will have to disassemble the saddle and seat post, clean them to remove foreign objects, and then lubricate them again.
Tip: Before this procedure take note of the saddle’s settings for easier adjustments later.
Should I grease the seat post clamp too?
If your frame and seat post clamp are made of metal, you could apply a thin layer of grease inside the seat post clamp too.
This is helpful because sometimes the clamp itself is a source of squeaking caused by the seat post’s attempts to open the collar.
If you clean the clamp and grease it lightly, the sound should dissipate.
My seat post is painted. Isn’t that enough to prevent corrosion?
Paint offers some protection and isolates the material, but it will not be sufficient for two reasons:
- Seat posts get scratched easily. You will be hard-pressed to find a scratch-free seat post on a bike that’s been used for a while.
- The insides of the frame are not painted and are therefore subject to corrosion (e.g., rust) unless treated with a special anti-corrosive solution.
How often should I clean and re-grease a seat post?
It depends on where you live and store your bicycle. If you ride in very bad weather, and you have an aluminum post inserting into a steel frame, you will have to check it more frequently. E.g., 2-3 times a month.
If both the seat posts and the frame are made of the same material (e.g., aluminum), a few times a year could be sufficient.
In general, it’s better to check it more often than necessary to avoid problems.
Also, if you have multiple bicycles or plan to stop riding for a while, you could simply remove the seat post from the frame of the unused bike during the downtime. This will reduce the risk of fighting a seized post when you return.
I hate applying grease to my seat post because it keeps slipping?
If the seat post is slipping, you may be using too much grease. You only need a thin layer to protect it from corrosion. But if the amount of applied grease is within reason, you could consider tightening the clamp a little more.
If that doesn’t work, there’s also a chance that you’re riding with a seat post that’s too thin for your frame. Seat post diameters vary a lot and sometimes even a few millimeters can result in annoying slippage.
The seat post clamp may also be a problem. Some bike manufacturers rely on cheap generic ones as a way to lower their expenses. If everything else is in order, you could consider buying a better seat clamp.
Note: Regular bolt type seat collars are often stronger than the quick releases found on most stock bicycles. Sometimes replacing the quick release clamp with a bolt-on one solves the problem.
I hate applying grease to my seat post because I take it with me as a safety measure. The grease on it makes me dirty. Any tips?
I know what you’re talking about. When I first bought my bicycle, I was obsessed with protecting it from thieves to the point where I didn’t even consider locking it outside for the first few months.
Eventually, however, I began commuting on it. I adopted the following protocol to protect it – two locks + removing the saddle.
Thankfully, nobody has stolen my bike yet, but taking off the saddle with me every time quickly got old. The fact that it was dirty from the grease on it made the experience even less enjoyable.
My solution was to simply switch from a quick-release clamp to one with a bolt and leave the seat post on the bike. I wasn’t particularly worried because my seat post and saddle are genetic and cheap to replace.
Therefore, this is one of the options that I present to you – just switch the clamps and leave the seat post on the bike. If you have an expensive post and/or saddle, you can consider buying a separate chain lock for them or one of those anti-theft clamps.
But if you insist on taking it with you, you have the option of simply degreasing it.
If the materials of your seat post and frame coincide, and you’re removing the post almost every day, then the chance of having a stuck seat post is close to zero.
Tip: If it’s raining outside, cover your exposed seat tube to prevent water from getting into the frame.
If the seat post and the frame are made of different materials, the possibility for problems is still pretty low because the frequent removal and the protection of the seat post from the elements at home or the office would more than likely be enough to protect it from corrosion.
Having said that, you will have to grease/lubricate the seat post or remove it permanently during the “off-season”.
Brumbach, M. and Clade, J., 2013. Industrial Maintenance. 2nd ed. Cengage Learning.