The Story of Wax
900 MILES on the Giant Defy and 1890 miles on my Volare, that’s how far the single SRAM 1150 chain has managed so far. It is not the first chain I have waxed, I used to use Squirt. However, the advice around Squirt is – do not use if its wet, raining or snowing or the wind is blowing form the east. Talk to Squirt themselves and they say to use it all year round, just apply more in winter and make sure it is warm.
I digress, after using Squirt for half a winter and suffering squeaky chain syndrome, I moved back to my trusty Finish Line wet lube, I have nearly 3 litres of the stuff, and put up with the black chain, the constant degreasing and dirty cassette/chain rings. The problem I found was simple and twofold; firstly, I ain’t no 6 stone supermodel, I’m 3x that, secondly, I live in the Peak District and there are no small hills. The combination of big hills and hauling my fat ass up them at low pedal revolutions had the effect of putting a lot of pressure through the drivetrain. I was averaging 500 miles a chain on the Road bike and significantly less on the MTB – There must be a better way!?
Then, in a frenzy of YouTube videos I stumbled upon the ozman video of chain wax. Of course, waxing isn’t a new thing, Putoline has been around just about for ever, but it was, I believed, designed for motorbike chains. Deciding to go ahead with an experiment I scoured the car-boot sales and scored a £2 slow cooker. 12 candles later and I had my first go at waxing a chain. I had naturally followed the ozman procedure for degreasing the chain – Paraffin, degreaser, alcohol, - then dropped the chain in, agitated, removed, cooled and fitted it to the bike. It was OK, but the wax flaked off quite quickly, leaving an exposed, at least externally, chain – back to the drawing board.
The first goal, in my mind, was to get the wax to the right consistency, too hard and as already noted, it flakes off, it needed to be more malleable. So, to my twelve candles I added 200ml of paraffin, see the scientific method I’m using? Me neither. However, to my surprise, it worked! The wax exhibited just enough malleability to not flake off in large chunks but to fall off as a fine powder providing exterior protection for at least a couple of dry rides and one or two wet uns.
However, the wax/paraffin blend is good for protection but, while wax is relatively slippery, it isn’t the best of lubricants. I searched for lubricating additives with some gusto. Most people were using PTFE (Teflon) so that was my first instinct, it’s good, but I still wasn’t convinced. The Teflon provided excellent stick/non-stick characteristics. It binds to metals and repels just about everything else, hence you find it on frying pans. I ran with it.
But… I’m no chemist, yet I’m still not fully convinced. Teflon, as far as I read, is excellent protection against shearing forces but forces inside the chain are mostly rotational. I looked at what the manufacturers were using and came up with a short list – graphene and graphite.
Neither fired my imagination, there seemed no benefit over PTFE. The other lubricant I looked at was Molybdenum (Moly) as this is what I used to use on airgun pistons. It was only when reading up on a company’s “super secret chain wax” that I discovered what their not-so-secret secret was. Tungsten Disulphide was invented by NASA to internally lubricate the linkages on the shuttle’s flaps and, as NASA shoot their loads into space, I decided it was worth a look.
I have since invested in a temperature controlled slow cooker and refined the blend of wax – pure paraffin wax, twice refined paraffin, liquid PTFE and ultra-fine tungsten disulphide powder- this isn’t a “cheap” wax mix. Visually, this leaves a dark grey wax residue on the exterior of the chain, but as long as the residue can be seen it is protecting.
It is this wax mix that has got my chain to almost 3000 miles without reaching 0.5% stretch. It has been fully hot re-waxed twice, once at around 1200 miles and again at 2k or so. In between, the drivetrain has been subjected to hosing and, for persistent mud, brushing and topping up with my own home-made squirt substitute. In a couple of hundred miles, I’ll change the chain, I’m already stoked with the results though, as I’ve used it all over winter, sweated all over it on Zwift and it’s lasted almost 6x longer than my old, oiled chains.
At a time when getting bike parts is like pulling hens teeth its good to know there is a solution.
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