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Technical FAQ: Long-term chain lube notes and SRAM compatibility

  • By Lennard Zinn
  • Published Dec. 17, 2013
  • Updated Dec. 17, 2013 at 9:52 AM EDT
Lennard Zinn washes his bikes by hand and keeps his cogsets out of the dishwasher. Photo: BrakeThrough Media | VeloNews.com

We continue to receive mail on our VeloLab chain lubricant test from earlier in 2013. This test has proven to be our most popular to date and we are in the process of completing round 2 with our partners at Friction Facts. Today we’ll take a look at two long-term notes on lubricant, as well as a reader’s e-mail on his SRAM Red compatibility.

Cleaning Gear Floss and switching lubes

Dear Lennard,
I bought the Finish Line Gear Floss you recommended in a column some time ago. It works great, but I found it difficult to clean well, especially when used to clean the cogs (I use ProLink – see second question). I used some Goop and dishwashing detergent, but it took a lot of elbow grease to get somewhat clean, but not totally. What do you use to clean them?

Last April we had a short email correspondence on the chain efficiency tests and, based on the poor rating of ProLink, you said you were switching to Rock and Roll. Did you, and if so, are you happy with it compared to ProLink?
—Stanley

Dear Stanley,
I wash my bikes with a hose and a brush, sometimes with warm water and dish soap, get grease off with bike wash from Progold, Pedro’s, Finish Line, or WD-40, and, if need be, I clean the cogs further with Gear Floss. When I interchange cogsets, I clean the cogs individually with a rag. I don’t put my cogs in the dishwasher like some people have suggested, for obvious reasons of domestic bliss with a wife not blaming greasy bike parts in the dishwasher for poor cleaning of the dishes.

As for chain lubrication, I never switched lubes, because the friction of my chain became irrelevant to me. I developed heart problems (supraventricular tachycardia) starting in late July with an overnight in the hospital. My symptoms ramped up along with my cyclocross training and racing. I half-heartedly (literally) raced a few cyclocross races this season until the symptoms became so disruptive and so frequent that I quit racing entirely after the Boulder Cup race on Oct. 13. I have cardiac ablation surgery scheduled for mid-January, right after cyclocross nationals here.

There is nothing like worry about your heart to get you to value durability over speed! The concerns I normally have with making my bike as fast as I can have gone out the window, and I never bothered to buy any Rock and Roll lube. Other than when I get it in a bulk container and forget to agitate it before decanting it into smaller squirt bottles, I have always been pretty happy with chain durability when using ProLink, and that’s what I have continued to use. While they are not mutually exclusive, it is not necessarily true that the lube that gives you the lowest chain friction is also the one that makes it last the longest.
―Lennard

Tips for paraffin waxing

Dear Lennard,
I have been using good, old-fashioned paraffin as my chain lube for all of 2013 and have some observations to share with your readers.

My methodology is similar to the one described in Friction Facts’ test on water’s impact on efficiency, except, instead of ultrasonic cleaners, I use Ball jars full of lacquer thinner and mineral spirits, in sequence, to clean a new chain. Once a new chain is clean, I simply plop it in my crockpot full of paraffin, turn it on, and let it cook for 30-60 minutes. I no longer bother with the pre-heating of chains in the oven, as I cannot discern any advantage. For re-waxing, I do not re-clean the chain, but just throw it back in the crockpot, usually two or three chains at a time.

In general, I’ve found paraffin as chain lube preferable in almost all circumstances due to long life, silence, and exceptional cleanness. Besides short wet weather life, the one other instance that I found paraffin lacking is very long-distance mountain biking. In training for and racing the Leadville Trail 100, I found that paraffin wouldn’t last the distance. Mountain biking seems to halve the time a chain will go between re-waxing. My guess is that the bouncy nature of the mountain biking literally shakes the wax off.

Another observation is that the amount of life I get between re-waxing is temperature dependent. In the peak of summer heat, I’ll get 200-300 miles on a road chain, but when it’s legwarmers time, I’m getting 300-500 miles per waxing.

Additional note: I’ve used both PTFE (Teflon) and Mos2 (molybdenum disulfide) in the soup, but an aerospace material engineer friend of mine is reasonably dubious these compounds are of measurable benefit, due to various technical explanations beyond the scope of my garage science. He thinks these are unlikely to decrease friction to any relevant measurable degree. It has to do with non-homogenous mixing, clumping, and surface non-bonding (don’t quote me on decidedly nonscientific terms).
—Ted

Ted,
I went straight to Jason Smith at Friction Facts for your question.
—Lennard

From Friction Facts:

Interesting observation about temperature-dependent longevity. This could be due to the fact that wax is a little softer at higher temperatures.

Your friend’s comments are also interesting, and generally correct. Teflon (and moly) can clump and can be difficult to disperse due to the high surface tension of the particles. Using a small particle can minimize these effects, and agitation with enough sheer stress will easily disperse the particles.

For example, the Friction Facts UltraFast formula uses a 3-micron Teflon particle. The Teflon is dispersed in the liquid wax using a hand blender (a basic milk frother works, too). The action of the high-speed blades cuts the particles into the liquid. Now, if larger particles are used, for example 10-12 microns, the particles will still disperse, but they will quickly settle to the bottom of the liquid. Smaller 3-micron particles will remain suspended and not settle out while dipping a chain. Similar effects occur with the moly particles.

PTFE powder is readily available online; however, the package sizes are usually larger than needed for mixing a batch of chain-dipping wax.

However, I discovered the piano industry typically uses 3-micron PTFE to lubricate the piano knuckles on grand pianos, and many online piano shops sell very small jars of pure 3-micron PTFE for $10-$15. What a nice convenience!

Here are a few links for example:
Howard Piano Industries
Vanda King
Spurlock Tools
Labelle 134

Regarding efficiency gains, I just tested Molten Speed Wax for the upcoming Round 2 of the Velo Lube Test. Molten Speed Wax is paraffin with both Teflon and Moly additives. When compared to straight off-the-shelf food-grade paraffin (must be >99.5 percent pure to be labeled “Food Grade”), the MSW paraffin blend with the Teflon and Moly decreases friction by 0.12 watts. The gain from the additives is small, yet measurable.
—Jason Smith
Founder, Friction Facts

SRAM Red 10- and 11-speed are working together

Dear Lennard,
I thoroughly enjoy reading you columns on Velonews. Maybe you find this interesting: I have recently upgraded my SRAM Red to Hydraulic and 22 gears, and I find it noteworthy that despite SRAM saying that the 10x is wholly incompatible, my old 10x front and real derailleurs (Wifli) work just fine with the 22 shifters, chain and cassette.
—Phil

Dear Phil,
Nice. Unfortunately, your brakes are in the process of a recall. You might be glad you still have the 10-speed Red parts!
―Lennard

FILED UNDER: Bikes and Tech / Technical FAQ TAGS: / /

Lennard Zinn

Lennard Zinn

Our longtime technical writer joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a framebuilder, a former U.S. National Team rider, and author of many bicycle books, including Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn's Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ.

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