THE NEXT GENERATION OF ‘WAX-BASED’ CHAIN LUBES ARE NOW AVAILABLE … and WOW, do they work much better!
CHAIN LUBE SUMMARY
The next generation chain lubes are significantly better than the current petroleum-based chain lubes. The lubes are slightly more expensive but the chains last much longer so the cost of operation is less.
Back in the day of 10-speed chains, consistent quality was lacking. After installing a brand new chain 10-speed chain, I would take a % wear reading using a Park Tool CC-2. The quality issue was that some chains would measure 25% while others would measure almost 75% worn. None measured were less than 25%. Again, those are right out of the box measurements.
Due to this large discrepancy, tracking accurate chain mileage was next too impossible. What I did get was chain mileage in the neighborhood of 1,800 – 2,500 miles (2,900 – 4,250 km) for a 10-speed chain.
For the past 4+ years, I have been testing chains and lubes. Mainly 11-speed chains and name brand chain oils. For these conventional/oil-based lubes, I followed 5 rules for all tests;
- I used a new Ultegra CN-6800 chain.
- I used only one lube for each new chain, i.e., I used the same lube for the entire life of a chain.
- I applied lube every 200 miles (322 km) and recorded chain wear at each of these intervals.
- I cleaned the chain just prior to applying new lube using Clorox wipes.
- Rode the chain as hard as I could. Consistent high wattage through the chain via hills, FTP tests, etc.
HOW DID I KNOW THE CHAIN WAS WORN OUT?
What is chain wear? For those that want more information on the term “chain stretch”, please see http://sheldonbrown.com/chain-wear.html
. Basically, the side plates don’t actually
stretch, but in reality, the pins get a groove worn in them which ultimately makes the chain longer. The first thing I did was to decide the process I would use to check for chain wear. Since I already had the Park Tool CC-2, I wanted to validate that the tool was giving me accurate readings. I took pin-to-pin measurements of the CC-2 and record these using a metric dial caliper. I called Park Tool and told them the measurements I had taken and they verified that the tool was reporting correct values at each of its intervals (25, 50, 75, 100). I did this because I have seen more than one bike shop purposely bend their pins so that every customers chain shows 100% worn out, an easy way to sell more chains. For testing, I wanted consistency and accuracy at the given intervals.
My plan was to use the dial caliper AND the CC-2 at these reporting intervals but I ran into a problem with the first new chain. Unlike 10-speed chains, 11-speed chains are built to much tighter tolerances. So tight that the CC-2’s pins would not drop into the chain until I had put at least 250 miles (402 km) into the chain.
For each new 11-speed chain that I installed, I would clean it thoroughly then over-lubed it followed by a light wipe-down. I also recorded its initial dimensions. From then on, I would ride for 200 miles (322 km), then clean the chain with Clorox wipes, take wear measurements then re-lube.
Using the oil-based lubes, the results were pretty consistent. I would always get around 3,200-3,400 miles (5,150-5,470 km) out of each chain, regardless of lube used. I even did an experiment and used Mobil 1 for a full test and got 3,200 miles (5,150 km). I am guessing that the variability in mileage was due to slightly different metallurgical properties between chains.
One thing I did notice with every oil-based lube is that the chains were exceptionally dirty after 200 miles (322 km). Dirty as in BLACK! Although the Clorox wipes would clean each chain like new, my concern was that the black color was actually micro-particles of metal coming off the chain.
HOW DID I MEASURE/DETERMINE THE CASSETTE WAS WORN OUT?
As for determining whether the cassettes’ sprockets were worn out, I used the Rohloff HG-Check sprocket wear indicator for HG cassettes.
Again, for each new chain, I would use a new CS-6800 11-28T. Once these tests were complete, I was sent several of the new wax-based chain lubes to use.
WHY DIDN’T YOU USE (100%) WAX/PARAFFIN?
Several years ago, Velo News worked with a lab testing chain lubes. Who won? The labs own specially prepped chain using 100% paraffin, of course. Who would have guessed …. Most
cyclists who read the test report in Velo News took this as the new gold standard, but, the only problem was that no real world usage was considered. In my opinion, there were quite a few things wrong with that test. Several real-world scenarios were not considered. For example, their test rig (1) didn’t take into consideration the high variability in power that a rider outputs, (2) didn’t take chain-angle deflection into consideration – see the Park Tool diagram to the right. In my experience, as soon as you start deflecting the chain, this action ‘pinches’ the chain and squeezes the lube out. Paraffin will flake off and fall to the ground. An oil-based lube will flow back into the links when the chain angle is relaxed.
Decades ago, I too was on the paraffin band-wagon. This was back in the days of 6-speeds and 7-speeds, when chains were cheap and they all had some kind of quick disconnect link.
Once a week, I would pull the chain off the bike and place it and a ‘brick’ of paraffin into an old metal baking dish. I would the whole thing into an oven and set on LOW. Once the paraffin turned into a liquid, I removed everything from the oven. Next, before the paraffin started solidifying I would use a small wooden stick to swirl the chain around for several minutes. I would do this until no more air bubbles came off the chain. Only then did I know that the paraffin had flowed into all of the internal areas of the chain.
The problem occurred once I started pedaling. Almost immediately, the paraffin started flaking off the chain and by the end of a 2-hour ride, the chain felt and sounded ‘dry,’ which it was. I stopped using this method after I started consistently wearing out chains that had only 800 miles (1,300 km) on them. From then on I used only oil-based lubes.
NEW WAX-BASED FORMULAS
In prepping a new chain, it is important that “the new chain must be completely clean and free of any and all oil
”. In fact, one of the manufacturers even included a degreaser in
their packaging. To ensure consistency, I used an old plastic tub filled with Simple Green, just enough to cover the chain. I let each chain soak for several hours, then swirl each chain around for 10 minutes to ensure that all of the remaining lube was dissolved from the chain.
Next, I placed a hose in the tub to make sure that all of the Simple Green was washed out of the chain. Lastly, I would hand dry the chain then used a heat gun to make sure no water remained. Leaving any water on or in the chain leads to rust. After installing the chain, I would apply a heavy application of lube, let sit overnight, then re-apply the next morning. During the initial application, I ran the chain between my finger and thumb to force the lube as deep into the rollers, bushings and pins as possible. After that, I re-applied lube every 200 miles (322 km).
All of the lubes tested utilize a number of waxes and other ingredients. All of these lubes were very easy to apply and the lubes stayed in suspension, i.e., no separating of ingredients like you see with other chain oils that use PTFE/Teflon. The main difference was that some wax-based lubes were thicker than others and the drawback was that the nozzle would tend to clog with the thicker lubes. Not really an issue if you keep a paperclip nearby.
One lesson learned – DO NOT OVER-LUBE wax-based lubes. All of these lubes have a very sticky texture which keeps the lube and its anti-wear ingredients on the chain. The drawback is that if you over-apply the lube, it can run into the internals of the rear derailleur causing the rear derailleur to run sluggish. I made the mistake of over-lubing which caused the PLATE AXLE ASSEMBLY of the read derailleur to get all gummed up which prevented the pulley set to rotate. This caused the rear derailleur to shift very poorly and forced me to take the whole rear derailleur apart to clean up this gunk.
Morale of the story, it’s NOT OK to over-lube with wax-based lubes.
The wax-based lubes tested (and testing) are;
(fyi – clicking on the pictures below, you will be taken to Amazon where you can purchase at the lowest cost direct from the manufacturer.)
SQUIRT – is a long-lasting wax-based ‘dry’ chain lubricant for cycling. Squirt was developed to lubricate over longer distances than conventional oil-based lubes as well as to keep the chain clean. Squirt can be used for both off-road and on-road cycling. Containing no harmful solvents, Squirt is 100% biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Since it is a fairly thin lube, it easily gets into the internal parts of the chain… where all of the chain wear occurs.
Click Picture to Order from Manufacturer on Amazon
OBSERVATIONS – Squirt lube has about the same viscosity as a 40 weight motor oil. It flows easily and does not clog. Its medium viscosity ensures that it flows into all internal areas of the chain. I never cleaned the chain through the entire test, yet the chain had very little dirt on it even after 4,700 miles (7,565 km).
When a fresh coat of Squirt was applied, the chain ran very quiet and ran very smooth, but, as I got close to 180 miles (290 km), the chain started making noise, like it was running dry. At the 200-mile (322 km) lube interval, another fresh coat and the chain was running smooth. So with this lube, you will have to reapply every 200 miles (322 km).
GO – from the same company that makes Squirt. GO is specially formulated as a motorcycle chain lube with a very, very thick viscosity. GO can also be used on bicycle chains but in my opinion is a little too thick. This lube is the only lube I use on my Sport Bike since it does NOT fling, a very important trait for sport bike lubes. I stopped using oil-based chain lubes after 1 try. I washed my bike … spotless. Lubed the chain with a high-quality motorcycle chain-lube and went for a ride. When I got back, oil was thrown all over the rear of the bike, the swing arm, frame, rear wheel, rear tire, rear of the engine/transmission and all over me! This was about the same time I found out about SQUIRT, and that the same company had another lube specifically designed for motorcycles.
OBSERVATIONS – GO has the viscosity of a 150 weight gear oil. Maybe even higher. For best results, I recommend applying right after a ride when the chain is still warm, otherwise, it is so thick that it will just sit on top of a cold chain. Using this lube on my sport bike, I am getting 10,000+ miles (16,100 km) out of a ‘520’ race chain and rear sprocket which is pretty good for a Honda CBR1000RR. Conventional lubes yield ½ of that mileage. Again, reapply every 200 miles when the chain is warm. Shake the bottle vigorously and have a paperclip nearby to unclog the hole at the end of the applicator.
SMOOVE – is an ultra-long lasting lubricant formulated and works in all conditions on all types of bicycles.
Click Picture to Order through Amazon
Unlike other lubes, I did not have to reapply every 200 miles (322 km). SMOOVE lasts 650 – 900 miles (1,050 – 1,450 km)! I got these numbers from the manufacturer, but, also experienced this mileage myself!
Just take a new and fully-degreased chain and apply SMOOVE. Turning the pedals backwards ensures that the lube gets worked into the chains internals. Squeeze the chain between your thumb and index finger which forces the lube further into the chain than by just dripping the lube on top of the chain. After about 700 miles (1,127 km), I will apply SMOOVE to both the inside and outside of the chain the night before a ride. But, if in a rush, I give SMOOVE at least an hour to dry. After applying SMOOVE, there’s no need to wipe it or clean it.
But, applying too much SMOOVE or applying too often will cause residue to (a) accumulate around the derailleur pulley wheels and cassette which you will need to clean up with a paper towel or shop rag, and (b) gum up the derailleur internals (see above).
SMOOVE works well in all weather conditions and is extremely durable. Like SQUIRT, SMOOVE remains clean on the chain and is 100% biodegradable and solvent free.
OBSERVATIONS – SMOOVE has slightly less viscosity than GO, but much more than Squirt. I would guess around 120. SMOOVE is a very thick and very sticky formulation. Sticky in that it adheres to all metal areas of the chain but interestingly, does not attract dirt nor sand. In fact, I only needed to re-lube about every 700 miles (1,127 km)!
With SMOOVE, I reached the magic number of one chain per cassette. When the chain was worn out, so was the cassette. But, as with using GO, keep a paperclip handy to unclog the tip.
WEND – WEND Wax‐On is the first ever “rub‐on”, wax based chain lubricant. WEND WAXWORKS has a fairly diverse line of products including wax for skis & snowboards. The bicycle line includes two products, Wax-On and Wax-Off. As the names imply, WAX-On is the chain lube and Wax-Off is the chain cleaner/degreaser.
Click Picture to Order from Manufacturer on Amazon
Wax-On is essentially a solid. Think of Wax-On as having the same consistency as a solid stick of deodorant. Thicker than a paste, but thinner than a block of paraffin. Wax‐On keeps your chain clean.
Wax-On uses paraffin as its foundation but also includes friction reducers and proven lubricants such as Zinc and Teflon. Since Wax-On is not a liquid, there is no need to let it dry before use. Apply it and go! Wax-On is very easy to use, stays clean and lubes the chain well.
There is also a special BWR formula for those that take their bikes off-road. This formula contains added friction reducers.
OBSERVATIONS – I have just started using Wax-On and the chain only has 350 miles (563 km). I have had to reapply once and am about ready to reapply again. Like Squirt, I need to reapply Wax-On every 200 miles (322 km). Since it is a solid, it is impossible to get it deep inside the internals of the chain. After applying Wax-On, I squeeze the chain between my first finger & thumb which seems to help get this lube partially into the internals. Wax-On does stay clean but, there are two drawbacks to a solid lube;
- Cannot get it into the internals
- When applying, Wax-On tends to clump-up and these clumps fall onto the floor. These clumps of wax are both from the chain as well as from the applicator.
WEND UPDATE: More miles on the bike with WEND and as I thought, since it is not a liquid, it does not flow into the internals of the chain. I tried rubbing a lot on and squeezing the chain between my fingers but that didn’t work either. As soon as I turned the pedals, the floor was full of WEND wax shavings. In my opinion, chain lubes MUST be a liquid, or, be in a liquid form when applying. With that said, if you were to purchase a ‘block’ of WEND melt it in a pan then drop the chain in, I think it would perform well. But, since you can’t, it’s not the ideal solution.
SO HOW DID I KNOW WHEN THE (WAX-LUBE) CHAIN WAS WORN OUT?
With SQUIRT, SMOOVE and now WAX-ON, I followed the same process as described above in measuring the chain every 200 miles. Here is what I found interesting.
- Regarding all lubes except for SMOOVE, the chains wore out by ‘stretching’ past the 100% mark as indicated by numerous chain wear indicator tools.
- With Smoove, it wasn’t until 7,400 miles (11,900 km) that the chain was completely worn out (as was the cassette), yet, each of the chain wear tools indicated that the chain was approximately 65% worn (i.e., ‘stretched’). At 7,000 miles (11,265 km), the chain started skipping on half of the cassette’s sprockets and I was starting to have a lot of trouble shifting. At 7,400 miles (11,900 km) I was convinced the chain was done, finished. A detailed evaluation determined that the bottom outside section of the plates were worn to the point of being severely undercut and beveled – see diagram below. Even though the chain was not ‘stretched’ beyond 65% indicated wear, the chain was definitely worn out due to the severe undercutting and beveling of the plates.
All oil-based lubes lasted between 3,200-3,400 miles (5,150 – 5,470 km).
The new wax-based lube Squirt adds about 50% more life to the chain, while SMOOVE adds a phenomenal 124% more life to the chain … that’s about 2.25 X more chain life than top-tier oil-based chain lubes. Testing is still in process for Wend but initial chain wear looks much like the results that a conventional petroleum-based lube produced. Below are several summary charts and findings.
Looking at the GREEN column above, SMOOVE had the lowest total 15,000-mile (24,140km) cost of all chain lubes tested.
SMOOVE is the hands-down winner of this test!