Monday, September 25, 2023

A Slippery Subject Part 2

 Friction Fiction?

Link to Part 1 HERE. Zio Lorenzo was doing the equivalent of "channel surfing" the other day on that popular internet site for people to upload video of all kinds. More and more these seemed aimed at somehow making money. Zio's made a couple of these himself, but the idea was to be helpful, sharing some information he thought not well represented online. He was not paid, just made 'em on request from a friend.

Being a long-time bicycle mechanic he was drawn to some chain-care videos that make some...well....questionable claims about wax. If you've been a bike rider for any length of time there's a good chance you've been accosted by one of these cult members. Zio certainly has!

Back-in-the-day the cult was smaller and perhaps the claims less questionable since they centered around how clean things would stay while maybe your chain would last longer as a result. But you still had to clean all the (perfectly good, though maybe aimed more at keeping the chain from rusting in the package than helping you go fast?) lube off the thing somehow, then boil it in the wax. 

Back then it was often just wax used to seal jars sold at the grocery store. Zio dismissed the attempts to get him to join the cult, figuring there was nothing much wrong with oil unless you were one of those clean-freaks. A well-lubricated chain is already said to be something like 98% efficient vs gears or belts, so what's the big deal?

A couple of things happened over recent years that seemed to revive and expand the waxing cult: Quick-links made it easier to remove and reinstall your chain and the era of "watts", as in measured power output or power "savings" via reduced friction, aero drag, etc, began. These developments made specialized waxes with special additives to the basic paraffin claimed to reduce friction and extend chain life popular and PROFITABLE - a 500 gram bag of this stuff can cost $50!

But you can't just buy a $50 bag o' snake-wax and dump it on your chain! First you have to clean the chain, best done (they say) via an ultrasonic cleaner and some sort of solvent, despite the fact that every chain maker's instructions Zio's read say NEVER remove your chain for cleaning. Once it's clean you'll need to boil it in the snake-wax, hoping you don't burn down your shop or garage in the process. Don't laugh, Zio knows of more than one wax-cult member who did just that!

All this for what? To avoid that "fred mark" on your calf if you bang it into the chainring? With the arrival of power-meters and talk of watt-saving, the supposed efficiency improvements now take center-stage, followed by wild claims of improved chain life and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars saved on cogs and chainrings!

Zio dismisses all the watt-saving hoopla as mostly marketing-maven bullspeak as finishing his daily bike ride one minute sooner is meaningless, but what about the longer chain and component life? Isn't that worth something?

A brand-new KMC 12-speed bike chain can be had for around $30 while 10 or 11-speed versions cost less. Zio's math says spending a lot of money and time to extend the life of a $30-40 chain is a losing proposition. If you keep a nearly-new chain on the the bike, the cogs and chainrings last almost forever based on results from the rental fleet Zio maintained for almost 2 decades.

But some of these snake-wax salesmen get pretty riled-up when you point this out as Zio assumes they're making fat stax selling $50 bags o' wax? One of these self-appointed wizards from the "World's leading independent test facility for chain lubricants" (his claim) has responded with some pretty nasty emails on the subject when asked about certain products he either hasn't tested*** or at least doesn't provide data for. The angry responses make Zio think he's hiding something, but who knows?

This is what Zio uses to lube chains these daze (and one of the products he wanted to see tested) If you want to support your local bike shop or spend extra on tiny bottles of bike-specific (though in a lot of cases the only thing bike-specific is the packaging) lube, it's your money. Apply it using this method**

Next, buy one of these things
There are many brands and Zio thinks any of 'em will do just fine. Measure your chain when new and periodically check it for wear. When it measures half-worn-out, simply replace it with a new one. Your cogs and chainrings will last a long, long time and you'll save a lot of time and money the wax-cult wastes. When it's time to clean the chain and drivetrain, a teaspoon of a solvent like diesel fuel* does the trick, something covered in the bike-washing video you can link-to above.

But no ultrasonic cleaners, no wax-boilers, no risk of fire and no $50 bags of wax pellets to extend the life of a $30/40 chain! While you're saving money think about cheaper substitutes for other bike-specific (and always more expensive) products. If you enjoy helping your local bike shop by purchasing their bike-specific products, that's OK...but if you want to save some money think of this:

Or this****:

From the grocery or auto supply store. Most of the time what's in these is the same stuff as the bike-specific waxing/polishing products, but the high-volume, low markup saves you money. Zio has taken care of fleets of bicycles for decades using cheap and easy to find products like these. Same goes for disc-brake care, many say you must use specific products or rubbing alcohol, but alcohol (not ammonia!) based window cleaners work just fine for cleaning your brake rotors after a bike wash.

As they say, IT'S YOUR MONEY!

*We'll admit an environmental argument to be made against using something as nasty as diesel fuel for this purpose. But consider a) You're not cleaning all the perfectly good grease off the new chain to apply the wax. If you do, where does that grease/oil + the solvent (made from?) end up? b) The diesel acts as both cleaner and lube so you use less chain lube overall. Don't forget you also use no electricity to power the ultra-sonic cleaner or wax-cooker. Wax-cultists say to clean your waxed chain you just boil it in water. Where does that contaminated water end up?

**1.  With your chain in the big ring and the smallest cog apply 8 to 10 drops of lube at random and run the chain backwards to distribute the lube. A very good method is the 12:12:12 method.  follow the instructions for chain position than add 12 random drops, rotate the chain 12 times than wipe it with a clean cotton cloth for 12 seconds.The cogs will do the job of distributing the lube.  Once all the lube has been distributed to the chain wipe any excess OFF the cog/chainring AND chain.

*** The guy mentioned finally DID mention testing Finish Line Wet lube in February 2024. No surprise that it wasn't highly rated but it was interesting he claimed nobody responded to inquiries he'd made to the maker. Zio contacted the maker who said they'd never heard anything from the guy, despite his claims to the contrary. Zio wonders if Mobil 1 would test any better but maybe the test protocol might be devised to make wax lubes look better since that's what the guy sells? Either way, he's content to skip the wax-cult's obsessive practices, save the money and "pay" any penalty in watts lost on his rides.

**** There's a guy out there asking $100 a liter for a spray wax product for bicycles! Might be some great stuff but how can it be worth 5 X the price of stuff you can buy at the auto parts store? What could it possible do (or not do) to your bike to justify that price?

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