Bike Chains 4 – Lubricant prices, testing, innovation

Table of Contents

Prices

Motor Oil & Gear Oil

Motor oil, the lubricating oil distilled and sold for use (4 stroke) internal combustion engines, was sold in quart containers for decades. For decades the containers were cardboard cylinders with metal end caps. Automotive service centers, once known as garages, issued workers spouts that could both puncture an end and pour oil into the filler tube of automobile engine. Motor oil is now sold in plastic bottles by the quart or gallon. Motor oil was not and is not sold in 4 ounce (or 2 ounce) squeeze bottles. Most motor oil is formulated with “detergent” additives to chemically affect the productions of combustion left in the cylinders of internal combustion engines.

A quart (946 ml.) of high quality Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil costs about $15 (Canadian) at Canadian Tire and other retail outlets in British Columbia in February 2022. Half a cup, valued at about 50 cents per ounce, would be worth $2. Canadian Tire sells other automotive motor oils in 5 liter (one gallon) sizes. It sells its Canadian Tire house brand MotoMaster (distilled by Shell) non detergent engine oil in a 1 quart size for about $6. It sells MotoMaster motorcycle 4 stroke engine oil at $11 per quart. Conversions:

US sizeUS conversionMetric conversion
liters/milliliters
1 gallon4 quarts3.79 l./3735 ml.
1 quart4 cups/32 oz..946 l./946 ml.
1 cup8 oz.236.6 ml.
1/2 cup4 oz.118.3 ml
1/4 cup2 oz.59.1 ml
1 fluid ounce2 tablespoons29.6 ml.

I have not checked the availability and price of the gear oils which some cyclists and mechanics regard as suitable for lubricating bike chains.

A few motor oils have been tested for efficiency (power lost to friction; see below), and have done reasonably well. Some say that modern motor oil additives have changed the lubrication properties of motor oil. There are additive-free oils; some bike lube manufacturers use high quality motor oil as a base stock for bike lube. For instance Silca Velo uses a synthetic motor oil, apparently without “detergent”.

Dirt sticks to motor oil, and oil sticks to clothing and skin when the rider contacts the chain or the chain flings lube. Motor oil can only be removed from a chain with detergents or mineral spirits. Cleaning an oily chain can involve removing the chain from the bike frame. Other/related disadvantages:

  • having to buy a whole quart, and store it for months or years,
  • disposing of waste material in an environmentally sound and legal way.

Drip Lubes

Lubricant manufacturers and bike shops began to sell bicycle chain lubrication fluids, many labeled “wet” or “dry”, in small bottles in the 1970s and 80s. The online magazine Road Bike Rider made a list of manufacturers or brands in 2019, updated in 2021. It includes:

  • the chemical brand Dupont,
  • the automotive lubricant brand Dumonde Tech,
  • the solvent and household lubricant brand WD-40 (which owns the venerable brand and IP of 3-in-One), and
  • several brands of bike chain lube sold in bicycle shops and online including:
    • Ceramic Speed,
    • Finish Line,
    • MSpeedwax (Molten Speed Wax),
    • Muc-Off,
    • Park Tool,
    • Pro-Gold,
    • Pedros,
    • Rock and Roll,
    • Squirt, and
    • Tri-Flow.

The list omits some manufacturers, mainly those new to lubricant market since 2019, inclusing Silca Velo, Tru-Tension, Rex.

None of the independent bike shops in Victoria post lube prices online (as of early 2022). The chain stores with web sites include:

  • Trek store;
  • Mountain Equipment Coop (Canadian retail chains selling “outdoor” products);
  • Canadian Tire (Canadian retail chain selling “outdoor” products);
  • Walmart (retail chain selling “outdoor” products) has a confusing and overheated online market.

Prices ($ Canadian except $US in US stores noted) for a 118 or 120 ml. (4 oz.) bottle:

Trek StoreMECCdn. Tire
ProGold Prolink14.95
ProGold Extreme18.95
Muc-Off
Wet or Dry
14.95
Muc-Off C3 Ceramic
Wet or Dry
23.95
Squirt Long Lasting Dry19.95
Squirt Low Temperature23.95
Bontrager
(Trek store house brand)
11.99
9.50 (US)
Park Tool CL-113.99
White Lightning Clean Ride
Dry
8.99 (US)
White Lightning Wet Ride8.99 (US)
White Lightning Epic Ride9.99 (US)
Finish Line
Wet or Dry
9.99 (US)
WD-40 Bike Chain Lubricant
Wet or Dry
12.99 (US)9.99

Several independent shops in Victoria stock Finish Line. Few of the lubes listed above are high reputation. The prices for higher reputation lubricants on Amazon, Walmart and other online markets are higher.

Silca Velo’s oil based wet lubes: Synergetic and Synerg-e (e-bike lube) are available from Silca by mail order. The price of Synergetic, as of April 2022, is $33.95 ($US) for a 59 ml. (2 oz.) drip bottle. Shipping is free on orders over $99 ($US). Synergetic is available in some bike shops in Victoria – I have not checked prices.

Drip lube prices are not based on the cost of base stocks. The cost of making, filling and handling dozens of bottles for each quart of product may be a factor. Prices are set by manufacturers and vendors based on supply and demand, and the perceived marginal utiility of the product. Cycling lube is often a small product line for chemical processing enterprises or conglomerate enterprises, although a profitable revenue stream. The lube brands do not provide information on ingredients or product use on their web sites.

Paraffin

Paraffin prices (and some science and history) are discussed in Bike Chains 7 in this series.

Drip lube

Manufacturing & additives

The cycling lubricant field is influenced by the engineering and manufacturing practices of the automotive lubricant industry; lubes are made with base fuids, carrier fluids and additives. Manufacturers acquire fluids distilled from petroleum – solvents or oils (respectively, mineral spirits or mineral oils), mix them with additives, package the product in small plastic drip/squeeze bottles or aerosol or spray vessels, sell to bike shops and department stores, and market. The bottles do not have:

  • detailed ingredient lists,
  • use instructions, or
  • warnings about the product’s durability.

Dry-drip lubes made of volatile carrier fluids are popular. A selling point of dry-drip lubes is avoiding entanglment of clothing in or contact with the dirty, oily chain, and avoiding the fling or spray of oil droplets from the chain without using devices (e.g. pant clips) to restrain clothing, metal or plastic chain covers or chain guards.

Pedro’s Ice Wax, marketed as an “advanced natural dry lube” is a drip lubricant. Pedro’s describes its history as a lubricant maker:

In 1989, roommates Bruce Fina and Andrew Herrick founded the Pedro’s brand around a revolutionary chain lube called Syn Lube developed by Bruce’s tribologist brother. Friends of Bruce and Andrew were living and racing mountain bikes in the Pacific Northwest and couldn’t find a lube that would last an entire race in the muddy conditions. The other Teflon-based chain lubes couldn’t handle the mud. Formulated with extreme pressure additives, corrosion inhibitors, and tackifiers to provide incredible wear protection, lubrication, and staying power in extreme wet and muddy conditions, Syn Lube quickly became the lube of choice. Once mountain bikers tried Syn Lube and experienced its performance, word spread, demand skyrocketed, and the Pedro’s brand was officially off to the races!

About Pedro’s (North America)

There were and are other dry-drip wax lubes – the Johns Hopkins paper of 1999 used a drip lube with wax. The wax ingredient in dry-drip lubes is probably paraffin or another petroleum distillate. The formulas are not declared on the bottle or package. The original formulation of Pedro’s Ice Wax, as tested by Friction Facts in 2013 (below) was relatively inefficient. Pedro’s introduced Ice Wax 2.0 and “Slack Lube” later. There are several other dry-drip wax lubes.

Teflon – Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – has been an enduring favourite additive in dry-drip lubes. PTFE is a fluorocarbon. Rock ‘n Roll and some other dry-drip lubes with Teflon did well in Friction Facts efficiency tests (below). Finish Line USA markets itself as a firm specializing in cycling, and markets its Finish Line dry lube for coating chain parts with Teflon. Teflon is a Dupont brand and trademark, and the common name for PTFE. Finish Line USA is the manufacturer of the Dupont brand of bike lube. Finish Line USA states in its marketing that it was founded by an engineer who had worked for Mobil, the automotive lubricant distiller/manufacturer. Some lubricant manufacturers disparage competitors for using fluoracarbons, which are greenhouse gases.

Other additives used and promoted by manufacturers:

  • “ceramic”additives;
  • carbon tubes or particles or nano additives.

The article Bicycle Chain Lubricants Explained at the BikeGremlin site canvasses most of the additives in use in products in 2021.

Drip Lubes that Clean?

Bicycle lube manufacturers often claim that drip lubes clean while lubricating. These claims are never supported by evidence or test results. Few manufacturers even venture to explain how a lubricant can contain or coexist with detergents and solvents. Riders can hear an unlubed chain, a dry chain, or a corroded chain and may notice dirt sticking to a chain or caking on the chainwheels, cassette cogs or derailleur pulleys. Riders may apply large amount of lube to “flush” out dirt. Lube can work on a chain that has dried out after being wetted with water. The chain flings off water and dries, and can then be lubed. Fresh lube may help to dissolve surface corrosion on a lightly oxidized chain. Generally, flushing out dirt contamination “in” the chain with lube is a theory.

Quality

Lube manufacturers cclaim that their products are superior. Some ignore efficiency reports. A few make explicit efficiency claims based on proprietary/confidential test reports. Such behaviour by established brands tends to conceal or discredit claims that innovators have created superior lubricants.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, as was said by working people about bars that offer a free lunch to patrons who buy alcohol (as remembered by the Speculative Fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, and cyclists who read mid-20th century SF). Consumers know, as matter of principle, we can not rely on and should not trust marketing claims. The law in most of the industrialized world – and particularly in the UK and USA makes it hard for consumers to hold manufacturers liable for misleading claims of quality. The leading legal principle is caveat emptor (buyer beware). Courts traditionally brush marketing claims off as puffery. While consumers think they can detect bullshit, most are overconfident about their capability. Consumers rely on indicators of quality – e.g. brand, packaging, price? Often consumers buy because they need something, and will accept whatever they can find.

Choices

Many or most modern chains are not durable. Most lubricants do not help to make chains last longer. The main options for a user or rider, after purchasing a bike with a non-durable chain involve recurring costs:

  1. Monitor chain wear and
    • replace the chain every few thousand Km., or
    • buy and use a better chain to replace the chain supplied by the manufacturer;
  2. Keep the chain clean and lubricated; and
  3. Use better lubricant.

Bicycle chain lubricants are chemically engineered petroleum products. Cleaning a chain involves other chemically engineered products, often solvents. While lubricant manufacturers make greenwahing noises, all lubricants and solvents are chemically engineered petroleum products.

The main lubricant choices:

  1. immersive paraffin waxes
    • Pellets
      • Molten Speed Wax,
      • Silca Secret Chain Blend, and
    • paraffin that some consumers have access to (blocks, candles etc.);
  2. drip (wet and and dry-drip) lubes,
    • Ineffective
      • expensive products from vendors that market widely and aggressively e.g. Muc-Off;
      • inexpensive* products by brands including White Lightning, Finish Line, WD-40, Muc-Off, etc. ;
    • fairly expensive innovative products e.g. Silca Synergetic;
  3. chain coating fluid waxes, wax-compatible drip waxes,
    • Ceramic Speed UFO;
    • Silca Super Secret Chain Coating;
    • Tru-Tension Tungsten All-Weather (wax emulsion);
    • Smoove;
    • Squirt;
    • Rex Black Diamond;
    • other innovators;

*Relatively inexpensive. Ineffective lubes are already overpriced.

Hot immersive waxing involves deep cleaning a chain to remove factory grease, and regular wax immersions. Deep cleaning is discussed in Bike Chains 5. The repeated immersions involve a minor amount of over a period of a few hours (the chain has to have time to dry). The proprietary chain waxes are sold as bags of pellets. The proprietary paraffin pellet waxes are available from the manufacturers and from some bicycle supply companies:

  • MSpeedwax in Shoreview (St. Paul) Minnesota ships its Molten Speed Wax (“MSW”). MSpeedwax also is the American distributor of YBN chains and master links. MSW has been available from online retailers in the USA, although online retailers had product shortages in 2022;
  • Silca Velo in Indianapolis, Indiana in the USA, ships its Secret Chain Blend and other lubricants.

Zero Friction Cycling, in Adelaide Australia sells Molten Speed Wax, Silca Secret Chain Blend and other lubricants. ZFC encourages consumers outside Australia to order lubricants from the manufacturers or local vendors where feasible to avoid the shipping costs for orders that involve shipping product from Australia. ZFC sells chain, including YBN chains and some other merchandise.

Dry-drip and wet lubes are easy to apply. The chain has to be cleaned often, and the chain wears in spite of cleaning.

Chain coating fluids are applied by dripping. Some (Silca Super Secret Chain Coating and Ceramic Speed UFO Drip), perhaps all, require deep cleaning the chain to remove factory grease. The grease occupies the spaces that should be lubricated, and affects the operation of the lubricant. These fluids have to be refreshed, and the chains have to be cleaned.

Efficiency testing

Friction Facts Tests & Results

Measuring chain efficiency became feasible with electronic sensors late in the 20th century. Jason Smith, an engineer, founded Friction Facts (“FF”), which tested for lubricant efficiency by measuring power loss. Friction Facts used test machines to measure friction losses in a chain moving under load by the methods of Professor Spicer’s team (at Johns Hopkins University, discussed in the earlier post Bike Chains 3) with a lower range of error.

Friction Facts had a consumer reports business model – it tried to to sell its reports. Jason Smith disposed of the FF business in 2016, and became an employee of or consultant to the Danish firm Ceramic Speed, which manufactures and sells bicycle bearings, bicycle drive train products, the UFO brand of bicycle lubricants and several automotive products. Several FF tests were reported in VeloNews by Caley Fretz in March 2013 and February 2014. VeloNews covered technical cycling issues seriously at the time. In 2018 it was folded into the Outside magazine brand which treats sports as a consumer lifestyle choice. (Caley Fretz later became editor in chief at CyclingTips). When Jason Smith moved to Ceramic Speed, Ceramic Speed published the VeloNews articles with additional results for Ceramic Speed’s new wax emulsion drip lube, UFO Drip (original; v1); see also the Ceramic Speed paper with the VeloNew articles in pdf. The VeloNews articles have pictures of the test machines and many details.

An overview of FF testing:

  • the chains were new, cleaned with warm mineral spirits in an ultrasonic cleaner for 5 minutes, and dried,
  • lubed by dripping lubes,
  • tested on a machine that
    • puts out 250 watts at the chain wheel for a test interval of 5 minutes,
    • measures the power at the chain wheel
    • measures the power at the cog on the drive hub;
  • The loss of power, due to friction in the chain parts, is reported as watts.

[For more, at the Ceramic Speed site, follow the link “Why Ceramic Speed” to Test Data Reports/Chain Lube Efficiency Reports. I disregarded the Friction Facts domain which now contains puff reviews of cycling products. It may have been acquired by a cybersquatter promoting/marketing products]. The FF chain testing protocol is addressed a post published by Ceramic Speed called Chain Efficiency Testing. Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling (“ZFC”, below) summarized the Friction Facts methods:

Full Tension Test … has a chain ring, a cog, a weight pulling back cog to tension chain equivalent to 250w “load”. There is a drive motor and a braking motor. A $6k usd torque sensor is mounted on shaft driving chain ring and braking the cog.

This test method is extremely precise if you have the right equipment (ie the quality of the motors, the power supplies, the torque sensors – the calibration protocol that has all components up to temp and stable, and all tests are conducted at same ambient temp and humidity).

… the measure is taken between two extremely precise torque sensors mounted on the shaft driving the chain ring and the cog. The difference between what goes in and what comes out – that’s your loss from the chain. If you are using the same calibrated control chain, then you have the loss figure for your lubricant efficiency.

… Friction Facts found that many lubricants exhibited a sudden and very high jump in loss if kept running for long periods on an FTT machine as both the top and bottom span of chain are under tension (due to tension being by way of a weight pulling cog to introduce tension).

As such for longer test runs (ie to see how lubricant performs over hundreds of kms. Possibly with contamination introduced etc at certain points) the chain – after a short (few mins) efficiency test on FTT machine would be moved to Full Load Test Machine (basically just set up as a bicycle drivetrain to allow slackening time through bottom span of drive train for lubricant to re align and reset).  Long run intervals done on Full load test, then moved back to FTT for periodic outright efficiency measure.

ZFC “Latest News” No. 27

The best lubricants in the FF/VeloNews articles are those that show the lowest “watts expended”. A lube that tests as losing 4.5 of 250 watts is 98% efficient. According to some reports, some chains with some lubes lose may lose as little as 3 watts – i.e. are 99% efficient. These reports are anomalous, or reflect some improvements since 2014. FF tested, among others:

TypeSubstance/Brand
Watts
lost
VeloNews
2013
immersive waxParaffin (ordinary retail)
petroleum synthetic wax.
≅ 4.8
VeloNews
2013
motor Oil3-in-One≅ 6.3
VeloNews
2013
“household” lubricant3-in-One General Purpose≅ 6.6
VeloNews
2013
bicycle chain dry lube
with Teflon
Rock ‘n Roll Gold ≅5
VeloNews
2013
bicycle chain dry lube
with Teflon
Finish Line Teflon dry≅ 5.8
VeloNews
2013
bicycle chain dry lubePedro’s Ice Lube≥6
VeloNews
2013
bicycle chain wet lubeProGold ProLink≅ 7.2
VeloNews
2014
immersive waxMolten Speed Wax≅ 4.6
VeloNews
2014
wax liquidSquirt
slack wax
paraffin byproduct
≅ 4.7
VeloNews
2014
Cooking (olive) oilDel Papa extra virgin≅ 5.1
VeloNews
2014
bicycle chain wet lubeNFS Nix Frix Shun
? in 2022 NFS Ultimate
(not Silca NFS)
≅ 5.5
VeloNews
2014
motor oilMobil 1 (5W-20 weight)≅ 5.6
VeloNews
2014
lubricant additivezinc dialkyl dithio-
phosphate (“ZDDP”)
≧ 6.4
VeloNews
2014
personal lubricant Vaseline Petoleum Jelly≅ 6.4
VeloNews
2014
bicycle chain dry lubeWD-40≅ 6.4
VeloNews
2014
bicycle chain wet lubeProGold Extreme≧ 6.9
VeloNews
2014
bicycle chain dry lubeWhite Lightning Epic Ride≧ 7.9

VeloNews reported that FF:

  • compared lubricants on viscosity by letting some lube run along an inclined metal surface;
  • commented on “longevity” which meant how quickly lubricant wore off or dried up. FF said that some lubricants wore off fast. The methodology of measurement is not clear.

FF did not test “factory grease”. FF did not test chains for durability. Efficiency testing did not generate information on which lubricants extended the durability of chains.

Other manufacturers have interpolated their products into copies of the FF/VeloNews bar graphs.

The FF tests, available at the following sources, appear to be the only accessible efficiency tests.

A few proprietary test results have been shared with the media. E.g. – Ceramic Speed released some of its test results to CyclingTips as above and in 2019:

Ceramic Speed was willing to share some of its recent and typically-secret data about which chains perform best with the UFO V2 race treatment process. The process for applying the secret-formula wax-based submersion lubricant (after a multi-stage cleaning process) is the same across all chain models, and so it provides a clear and precise indication of the most efficient chains.

CyclingTips, 2019, Finding the Best Bicycle Chain

Paraffin

This lubricant is discussed in Bike Chains 7 in this series.

Zero Friction Cycling

Zero Friction Cycling (“ZFC”), a firm in Adelaide, Australia, founded by Adam Kerin, started a testing service in 2017/18, reviewed by Cycling Tips in March 2018. Before he set up ZFC, Adam Kerin was a police officer, and an racer interested in road riding, cyclo-cross, mountain bikes and off-road riding. Adam Kerin was and is an advocate of paraffin lubrication.

Adam Kerin ran a local and online retail business during the Covid-19 pandemic. ZFC has added 2 more test machines and continued testing. It is still active as of late March 2022. ZFC tested chains and lubricants for “longevity” (the effects of wear on chains) under controlled conditions using an industrial electric motor attached to a stationary bike trainer. ZFC does not test efficiency. At one time, as noted in some of its reports on products, it commissioned efficiency tests by a service. ZFC produced data on lubricants in spreadsheets, reports and comparative charts.

The reports are discursive, and show the evolution of some of Adam Kerin’s thinking, and of his arguments for the economic advantages of lubricants and methods. Adam Kerin has been interviewed on several podcasts. He has compared chain lube product marketing – with regard to the common wet and dry lubes, to the marketing of “snake oil” in 19th century patent medicines, but has not claimed the marketing is illegal or fraudulent. American law banned false medical claims about drugs in 1906. There is no effective consumer protection law against vague claims about motor industrially manufactured lubricants. In 2021, ZFC launched its YouTube channel. By mid-April 2022, ZFC had published an introduction and 17 numbered episodes. Episodes 3 and 4 had two parts each.

ZFC projects the cost of replacing chains into “cost to run” calculations for some chains and a couple dozen lubricants. ZFC identified:

  • lubricants that perform well in reducing chain wear, and
  • some durable chains.

ZFC maintains that friction causes wear and inefficiency.

Episode 11 of the Zero Friction Cycling (“ZFC”) YouTube series complains that some lube manufacturers market lubes with claims mainly based in efficiency testing done by those manufacturers or private labs. In some instances manufacturers imply that their product performs better, or that competing products performed poorly in the manufacturers’ tests. ZFC YouTube Episode 12 criticizes most cycling journalists for reporting on lubes based on short observations of whether a bike chain appears to run quietly and shift smoothly. ZFC:

ZFC has identified the manufacturer of the Muc-Off products – which have not fared well in ZFC tests – as using its own efficiency tests to disparage competitors. ZFC’s post or page Muc-Off Files Part 1 (notes of its discussions with Muc-Off in March 2022) and ZFC YouTube channel Episode 16 explain Adam Kerin’s doubts about Muc-Off’s efficiency claims.

Adam Kerin

  • wondered if Fiction Facts had removed factory grease from its test chains. The chains had been cleaned with mineral spirits in an ultrasonic cleaner for 5 minutes. Mineral spirits can remove factory grease, but removing factory grease takes repeated treatments;
  • suggested, as of early 2022, that it was ready to acquire a test machine and attempt efficiency tests.

Durability/Wear Testing

ZFC Lubricant Testing

ZFC has published about 20 narrative reports about lubricant results as of March 2022. ZFC’s work on the effect of lubricants on longevity (wear) was featured in CyclingTips articles:

ZFC regards paraffin wax, applied immersively, to be the best lubricant for protecting bike chains from wear. ZFC also regards some liquids, mainly waxes, to be effective.

The ZFC measurement methods are explained in the CyclingTips article How to Check for Chain Wear and the ZFC Test Brief statement. Adam Kerin starts with a new, clean (factory grease removed with solvents), lubed chain and adds lube at intervals. The chains are all the same. I have not found the name of the reference test chains. He runs the chains in fixed intervals adding up to 5 x 1000 km test blocks, unless the chain fails before reaching the last blocks. The failure point is .5 mm elongation wear over an 8 link span, which is close to the standard .5% chain replacement recommended by chain and drive train component manufacturers and bike shops. The test machines and the way dirt and water are applied to chain are demonstrated in Episode 9 of the ZFC YouTube series. ZFC measures chain elongation with a digital caliper chain checker device that measures to .01 mm. It appears to be the KMC device

Using an industrially motorised Tacx neo smart trainer to control interval load and distance, plus specific intervals that include either no added contamination, dry contamination, and wet contamination – lubricants can be properly assessed over thousands of km’s of controlled testing. Not only can we determine a lubricant’s overall performance – but we can get a break down as tohow a lubricant handles different types of conditions, as well as how it stacks up vs the manufacturers claims.

Flat vs Hill Simulations – The chains will be run on a calibrated smart trainer (Tacx Flux) at alternating intervals to simulate flat riding and hill km’s. If just run on flat all the time the km’s clockup too quickly. Most riders ride up hills to some degree so having intervals where the chain is still subjected to 250w load but km’s clocking up slowly delivers an overall average speed for the test ofaround 29kmh (depending on what block test finishes). It also allows me to rotate through mor ecogs on cassette and between small and big chain rings for longer wear rates on test components. Flat sim intervals will be on cogs 4, 5 and 6 on large chain ring and be 400km long, Hill sim will be on cogs 1,2 and 3 on small chain ring and be 200 km long. The interval lengths are halved during contamination blocks to 200/100 km.

The five ZFC blocks:

1.Lube onlylubricant penetation of spaces where metal bears on metal, and how long the lubricant is effective
2Dirt performance after chain has been contaminated
3Post-dirtdoes lube abate dirt contamination effects
4Watereffect of water on chain already contaminated by dirt
5Post-wetdoes lube abate contamination effects

ZFC adds lube at fixed intervals, and measures chain elongation after each test block. Lube intervals:

Re lube intervals will be every 400 km on Flat simulation intervals, and 200 km on hill simulation intervals UNLESS this rate of re-lubrication would be detrimental according to manufacturer instructions with regards to if re lubing too frequently risks gathering too high a level ofcontamination. If an adjustment to re lube intervals vs base levels is made this will be noted accordingly in test.

During contamination blocks, the rate of re lubrication is doubled – every 200 km of flat simulation and 100 km hill simulation – as it would be normal behaviour that riders re lubricate more often if riding in harsh conditions, as well as giving lubricants more of chance to “clean as they lube” etc. Again this will be adjusted if manufacturer instructions are clear that this rate would be detrimental and noted accordingly.

The re-lube procedure for immersion (melted) waxes during testing is not clearly stated. At least, I did not find it in the material

In Episode 2 of the Zero Friction Cycling YouTube series (published June 2021) Adam Kerin categorized lubricants:

  1. Traditional dry-drip lubes. These use “carrier” fluids which dissipate or evaporate leaving some kind of material on the chain. Most of these lubes test poorly in wear testing;
  2. Oily “wet” lubes. All of them lose effectiveness because they trap dirt. All of them work for a while under wet conditions but lose effectiveness as they wash out in wet conditions. A few modern products are effective for a long time under adverse conditions;
  3. Immersion (hot) waxes. These are applied when wax is heated to liquid and penetrates the load bearing spaces where it accumulates; the wax cools to the waxy semi-solid state. The wax fills the space, which protects against contamination. The wax is the lubricant. These lubricants work for hundreds of hours but need to be redone or refreshed. Applying these takes some tools (including a slow cooker or Instant Pot), knowledge and time.

ZFC found immersive waxes – paraffin with additives – to be the best lubricants in protecting against chain wear. Video Episode 4, Wax Part 1 provides a narrative explanation. Adam Kerin suggests that plain paraffin, in blocks or in the form of manufactured products (melting down candles) is inferior due the low manufacturing standards. He recommended the modern immersively applied paraffin wax pellet products – MSW and Silca Secret Chain Blend.

Adam Kerin recorded good results with some modern fluid products which he describes as wax emulsions or chain coatings. In the video Mr. Kerin differentiates between “traditional” dry-drip wax lubes and modern products such as Squirt & Smoove. ZFC tests showed Squirt & Smoove work well, for a time. He had reservations about Squirt and Smoove – they may not penetrate depending on conditions, and can make it hard to clean or reset a contaminated chain. ZFC has tested the wax based fluids Silca Super Secret Chain Coating and Ceramic Speed UFO (new formula)(March 2021).

In an interview with Dave Rome and James Huang of CyclingTips in the CyclingTips NerdAlert podcast released March 16, 2022 “Finding the best chain lube for your needs” Adam Kerin discussed his experience with modern liquid wax products including products by Ceramic Speed UFO, Silca and Rex Black Diamond, and updated his assessment of drip lubes. He suggest that traditional dry-drip lubes had large amounts of carrier and too little lubricant material to coat the chain parts properly, while modern wax-compatible chain coating products coat the chain better. Some of the modern drip liquid waxes dry into a solid wax or paste. This update has not been published as a text article on the ZFC sites and resources.

ZFC largely dismissed the “traditional” dry-drip lubes, including the wax drips, and has many concerns about oily wet lubes. The ZFC material does not discuss cleaning and reapplication of the modern wax-compatible drip fluids.

ZFC tested chains treated with Shimano “factory grease” by testing Shimano chains without removing the factory grease (see lubricant spreadsheet). ZFC favours removing factory grease before the chain has been contaminated with dirt and water before putting any lubricant on a chain. ZFC says it is worth cleaning a new chain with solvents to remove factory grease. His method involves removing the chain (assuming it has a master link) and rinsing it by immersing it in “mineral terps” (mineral spirits) to dissolve the grease, and agitating (shaking). (In Canada, mineral spirits are sold as such, but also available in a more refined and less odourous formulation sold under the Varsol brand). Adam Kerin also does a further rinse in methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) to remove the residue of the mineral spirits. The rationale and method are discussed in Episode 6 “Chain Preparation FAQ” of the ZFC YouTube series from 2 minutes 15 seconds to 10 minutes.

Some of the ZFC test results are below. I downloaded the spreadsheets. The speadsheets are complicated. I have pulled out some numbers in the table below.

  • “$ ctr” are ZFC calculations of cost to run a lube, $ per 10,000 Km. Those calculations makes assumptions about replacing chains and groupsets. ZFC refers to Shimano 11 speed road chains and components – Ultegra and Dura-Ace, as well as GRX. There are $ ctr sheets for different conditions. The $ ctr numbers are as of December 2021, for “road racing mixed conditions”. I think the currency in the material from the ZFC site is $ Australian and the prices are in Australia;
  • The wear in the columns referring to test blocks is the % of the replacement standard of .5 mm. across 8 links. Wear in Blocks 2 and 5 is cumulative;
  • Chain life is a calculation assuming the correct use and periodic reuse of the lubricant;
  • “Immersive” lubricants are wax delivered as pellets – the pellets are melted and the chain is immersed in hot melted was .

My table:

Type$ ctr
Ultegra
$ ctr
Dura-Ace
Product (links to ZFC reports)Bl. 1Bl. 2
dirty
Bl. 5
post-wet
Chain life
Km.
immersive101.60240.90Molten Speed Wax, 2nd formulation0%1.1%11.9%25,000
immersive142.90275.90Silca Super Secret Chain Blend0.3%2.0%19.0%25,000
immersivensnsMolten Speed Wax, December 20170%12.0%20.0%25,000
drip/fluid wax290.92810.92Silca Super Secret Drip2.9%7.5%73.4%6,811
drip/fluid wax237.73626.43Ceramic Speed UFO, 2nd formulation2.3%5.7%55.6%8.992
wet378.151278.85Nix Frix Shun12.6%40.0%155%4,500
drip/fluid waxTru-Tension Tungsten All Weather14%
wet, with tribofilm284.97925.46Silca Synergetic0%18.3%91.7%5,452
drip/fluid wax369.451236.75Squirt19.139.0%Failed at Bl. 43,670
dry-drip, with PTFE471.901477.10Rock ‘n Roll ProGold8.9%37.9%Failed at Bl. 43,460
factory greasensnsShimano chains10.9%31.7%Failed at Bl. 32,000
dry-drip, ? with PTFE735.402162.00White Lightning Epic Ride22.9%55.5%Failed at Bl. 32,249
dry-drip1122.703754.00Muc-Off Nano Lube37.7%145.5Failed at Bl. 21,375
Muc-Off Ludicrous AF

ZFC Chain strength & durability testing, and observations

ZFC uses a load cell device by LoadCell Supplies to test chains for tensile strength. As of February 2022 ZFC has published results on 16 chains. The results and procedure:

ZFC has done a tensile testing video on its YouTube channel, Episode 19 Chain Tensile Testing.

ZFC has measured chain wear on new chains to test the chains for durability. As of February 2022, 31 chains had been tested. These tests are similiar to the lubricant tests. ZFC runs the test machine(s) on chains lubricated with White Lightning Epic Ride which is low viscosity dry-drip lube. The tests are explained:

ZFC graphed the results in bar graphs showing the Km before the wear reaches the accepted replacement point of .5%. The actual total wear, over the length of the chain will vary. An ANSI 40 pitch chain has links 1/2 inch (12.7 mm.) long. A chain will normally be more that 100 links long. A road chain may have 108 links or several more; a gravel or mountain bike chain could be longer. It depends on the length of the chain stays and the diameters of the largest chain rings and cogs. A chain of 108 links is 1371.6 mm long. The replacement elongation of .5% of that chain is a fraction more than 6.8 mm. Most drop-in chain checkers measure a span of 8 to 14 links. ZFC measures a span of 8 (half) links, with a precise KMC micrometer chain checker, at two points along the chain. ZFC defines or calculates the .5% replacement point based on wear on an 8 link span as .5 mm. ZFC reports elongation in a graph “km’s to 0.5% wear – Digital Chain Wear Checker (0.5mm across 8 links)”. The Km to .5% wear graph identified a few chains that last 3,000 Km. with the test lube. The average of the 11 speed chains was just over 2,000 Km. The KMC X11 SL (the semi-premium Super Light model) was above average at about 2,500 Km. [My factory chain had been an X11, but not the Super Light model]. The KMC X11 E-bike chain reached the replacement point at about 1,700 Km. [My new chain in spring 2021 was a SRAM 1170, which tested at about 2,700 Km to .5%. My experience, experimenting with cleaning and lubes has been better. I have not used White Lightning; I used a Dupont household lubricant for only a few rides before staggering into other products].

In the test brief ZFC discusses chain material, surface hardening and surface coating. On the chain tesing page ZFC says:

Budget chains … will be made of lower grade steel,  and will  likely have no surface hardening or low friction treatments or coatings applied (or limited parts receive treatment – i.e inner plates are treated but not pins or rollers.) Premium chains you can expect will be made of higher grade of steel, manufactured to tighter tolerances, and may have numerous treatments such as chromium carbide hardened pins and/or rollers, nickel plating or titanium nitride plating on inner/ outer plates, and again a variety of low friction coatings applied to some or all working parts of the chain.

It is expected that premium chains will be lower friction due to a number of factors (design, manufacturing, low friction coatings), and if have had surface hardening treatments, should be longer lasting.

Adam Kerin makes observations of chains during ZFC’s businesses of preparing chains, and testing – e.g. whether lube is expelled from the chain, and the sounds the chain makes as the test blocks proceed. Some observations are based on measurements. He consults with engineers in the cycling lubricant and the chain manufacturing businesses and mechanics and riders. He employs a model or idea of what happens in a moving chain. He says chain wear is not linear and does not proceed at a uniform pace – a chain has tipping points. He is concerned with whether a lubricant penetrates the spaces where lubricant is need, how well it is distributed, and with when and how contamination becomes distributed. The observations are in the narrarative reports and web material, or in occasional cumulative “key learnings” papers (May 2019 paper; and updated v. 2.3a paper). His 2022 summary starts with these points:

  1. Do not use wet lubricants if you ride offroad.
  2. Remove factory grease before installing or using a chain.
  3. Immersive waxing is the lowest wear option
  4. If you ride in wet weather, you must reset contamination in chain.
  5. We now have some amazingly long lasting lubricants.
  6. Do not underestimate the drivetrain cost to run difference between lubricants.

[Update: Adam Kerin recorded a YouTube Video Episode 18 Key Learnings from Lubricant Testing published on the ZFC channel May 8, 2022. It is nearly an hour long. He also consolidated his “key learnings” updates in update 2.3a, including notes on e-bike requirements.]

VeloNews – Lennard Zinn visits Connex/Wipperman

Lennard Zinn published an article “We went to Germany to test the most popular bicycle chains” in VeloNews in January 2020 about a visit to the Wippermann/Connex chain factory in Hagen, Germany, a chain breakage test and the company’s continuous chain-durability tests. The tests ran chains until was elongated 13.6 mm, which is 1% of the average chain length (calculated as 108 links on a road bike with 50/34 chainrings and an 11-29 cassette, at 12.7mm per link = 1371.6 mm. Removing the master link, 107 links x 12.7 = 1358.9 mm).

Product Innovation

Innovation

Scrutiny and competition inspired innovation in engineering, manufacturing and marketing lubricants 2017-2022:

  • Ceramic Speed launched its UFO fluid chain lubricant product.
  • Silca Velo released new wax pellet, chain coasting and wet lubricants in 2020 and 2021.
  • Ceramic Speed released an improved version of UFO Drip in 2021.
  • In 2021-22, Molten Speed Wax began to market and sell a new formula.
  • Rex released the Black Diamond chain lubricant fluid and race powder.

Silca Velo

Silca is a retail business in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA led by the engineer and consultant Josh Poertner. Mr. Poertner was an engineer with Zipp and has been a consultant to modern road racing pro teams. He set up Limited Liability Company which acquired the Italian Silca brand in 2013. Silca was known for pumps, tools and components. Silca has improved the pumps and tools. It fabricates titanium parts – shoe cleats, bottle cages, a computer mounts – and sells cycling clothes. Silca sponsors or operates the Marginal Gains Podcast, and operates the Silca Velo YouTube channel. Jason Smith and Adam Kerin have been guests on the Marginal Gains Podcast. Marginal Gains has done several episodes on chain lubrication (and The Pipeline Problem in June 2021 on the supply chain/logistics backlogs in cycling parts and supplies). As a guest or host of a technical or industry podcast, Josh Poertner is an honest expert, well informed, engaged and focussed on issues. He is appears in videos about Silca products. Josh Poertner presents as nerdy, keen, sincere and helpful, and is generally persuasive.

Silca emphasizes that some of its products faciliate “marginal” gains in performance. Silca sells expensive stuff – e.g. the “Mensola” computer mount produced in a 3D printer with titanium powder. It markets this mount as stronger than aluminum mounts machined with modern CNC machine tools. Aluminum, in some grades and thicknesses, is prone to fracture. Titanium and titanium alloy plates and tubes are lighter than steel and less prone to fracture than steel or aluminum. The 3D printer gives Silca the capability to fabricate with metal powder. Many of Silca’s titanium product are small peripherals – this may be efficient in terms of production cost, and the use of metal. The titanium computer mounts have been mocked in cycling podcasts as penis shaped, and criticized as expensive luxury items.

Josh Poertner lacks the sneakiness of the characters played by the late Robert Preston in The Music Man and The Last Starfighter, or Ray Stohler, the used car dealer dad “… refund ??” (played by Paul Dooley) in the 1979 movie Breaking Away. 1 He presents sincerely. In broadcast audio and video he agrees that the lubricant category is full of snake oil claims. Silca Velo’s immersive wax pellet product, Silca Secret Chain Blend, is a top lubricant in ZFC tests. Its chain coating drip fluid wax Silca Super Secret Chain Coating, and its Synergetic wet lube (oil) are superior. Its prices are higher than the prices of competing lubes but less expensive than several lubes sold as professional grade (racing) lubes.

In videos and podcasts, Josh Poertner says that Silca had been making paraffin wax pellets for a professional cycling team(s) for a few years, and that Silca put the product into production for retail sale as Silca Secret Chain Blend, announced or released in June 2020. Silca followed up with advice videos and promotional videos. Silca did not claim advantages over other immersive waxes – it does not mention them. The first mover in modern immersive wax pellet production may have been Molten Speed Wax. MSW and Silca Secret Blend paraffin wax dry pellet products have to be melted. Each has some additives. Immersive wax was seen as a difficult way of lubricating chains when Silca brought its Secret Chain Blend to market. It is a market selling to the relatively small number of riders who see benefits from the work involved.

Silca Super Secret Chain chain coating fluid lube was announced in April 2020. Silca says it is the same as Secret Chain Blend, with water and alcohol to make the product a low viscosity fluid; the fluid it is supposed to dry out and remain in place as a lubricant wax. The marketing is that this is as good as hot wax, and easier to apply. The situation is more complicated. The label on the containers advises the product should be use on an “ultra clean” chain, new or used. This means, after reviewing Silca’s videos and podcasts, a chain with factory grease and residues of old lubricant and dirt removed – deep cleaned with solvents with the chain off the bike. The reviewer at Road.cc noted this, and some problems with the application of this lube in a review posted in October 2020. It is runny. Most of it falls off the chain at the moment of application. I found this to be true.

Silca Velo suggests Super Secret Chain Coating be left for 24 hours after application to let the lube penetrate and dry into a wax chain coating. Silca’s product release information about Super Secret Chain Coating did not discuss the conditions limiting the use of this product – although more information was published by Silca. Josh Poertner answered questions comparing Silca Secret Chain Blend, Super Secret Chain coating and Synergetic in March 2021 in the Marginal Gains channel video “Choosing the Best Chain Lube“. He said that Super Secret Chain coating had to be left for 12 to 24 hours after application, before use. Mr. Poertner said that a user planning a long ride in dirty or wet conditions would choose, among the Silca products, the wet lube Synergetic. (Further discussion of using Super Secret Chain Coating as a wax-compatible drip lube to refresh or top up immersion wax on a chain in Bike Chains 7 in this series).

Silca announced Synergetic wet lube in November 2020. Synergetic superceded Silca NFS, which had been on the market as the Silca’s wet drip in 2018. (Silca NFS had been endorsed by Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling in his discussions with Dave Rome of CyclingTips for the March 2018 Seeking the Holy Grail article). Mr. Poertner said that Silca Velo had been unable to obain some ingredients and decided to drop Silca NFS and offer a new product.

Silca’s wet lube Synergistic was discussed in the a 22 minute Silca Velo YouTube video November 17, 2020 Announcing Synergistic Web Lube. The video shows the use of an abrasion testing machine with Synergistic and with Silca’s previous web lube, NFS. Silca has done other videos with the device to claim the superiority of Synergetic to Pro-Gold drip lubes and the superiority of Silca’s e-bike wet lube. The development of the product was discussed in the Silca Marginal Gains podcast Lubes & Chains & Marginal Gains, November 30, 2020. The dominant theory has been that there must be enough oil on/in the chain to form a durable liquid barrier film on the surfaces where metal bears on metal and can cause wear. The video shows the wear that occurs where the oil does does not adequately coat the metal. For bicycle chain and other roller chains, this is generally believed to be due to the failure of the lubricant to penetrate or the displacement or dissipation of the lubricant.

In the podcast, Mr. Poertner referred to the racing car motor oils, Polyalphaolefin (“PAO”) and other “synthetic” base stocks, high quality type 5 (100% PAO) – the original Mobil 1 synthetic lubricating oil, the invention of hydro-cracked synthetic oil’ litigation between Mobil and Castrol and changes in the motor oil industry. He mentions Silca’s testing and comparison of Mobil 1 with Silca’s NFS wet lube product and the new Synergetic wet lube. The podcast discusses the additives that Silca uses. Wear testing establishes that Silca wet lubes with zinc dialkyldithiophosphates and tungsten disulfide are better than other wet bike chain lubes. Mr. Poertner said that Synergetic is formulated with a high quality synthetic motor oil as a base oil. Silca contends this product coats the chain parts with lubricating tribofilm(s). The application of this product requires a film of oil to supply more additives to maintain the tribofilm, and as lubricant.

The dripper bottles have pharmiceutical dripper tips made to dispense small drops on rollers, with little waste. This is useful in aiming the drops at the edge of the rollers, and in limiting the flow to a few drops. Synergetic is “retro” in using a motor oil base, and advertisinf that this lube is made of a premium synthetic motor oil and additives.

In November 2021 Silca released the e-bike lube Synerg-E which is like Synergetic with an additional “tackifier” additive and/or calcium sulfate to enhance adhesion to the chain.

Silca uses marketing gimics:

  1. Silca, like Ceramic Speed, has used a bar graph that looks like the Friction Facts or VeloNews friction efficiency graphs, with its products interpolated;
  2. The Marginal Gains episode on the Silca Secret Chain Blend immersive wax pellets show an Instant Pot, the Silca sous vide bag package, and a non-contact infrared thermometer. These props will interest millenials with spare cash and a yen for conspicuous consumption.

Silca’s material about Synergetic puffs the ease of use by minimizing the time and effort of cleaning chains lubed with the product. Josh Poertner, in promoting Silca Synergetic wet lube, in the 22 minute Silca Velo channel (YouTube) video November 17, 2020 Announcing Synergetic Web Lube used a blue machine. The videos shows the use of a machine with Silca products and with some other drip lubes:

The machine is used for product demonstrations to criticise popular cheap lubricants (moderate in the inflated price world of chain lubricants) – the White Lightning products are less expensive, the Finish Line products are mid price. Based on FF and ZFC, the products were low reputation:

  • ProGold
    • FF had showed around 7 watts
    • ZFC does not show any testing of ProGold products;
  • White Lightning
    • Clean Ride – FF had showed around 6 watts, and
    • Epic Ride – FF had showed 9 watts; it had failed ZFC testing.

In the Silca Velo videos, Josh Poertner calls the machine a Timken machine, an ASTM machine and an ASTM G77 machine. The machine is, less confusingly, an abrasion testing machine. The manufacturer is not named. The machine is probably identifiable from images, The machine is used in the videos block and ring testing that may follow the ASTM G77 standard in part. The pin is a metal sample, not a pin from a chain. Some lubricant is applied to part of the ring and the sample before the machine is turned on. The revolving ring flings lubricant. The lubricant that adheres to the metal ring and the sample seems to form a film on the ring in a few seconds. The ring abrades the pin. The length of the wear mark is measured. The videos shows the wear that occurs where or when lubricant film does does not adequately coat. The amount of lubricant applied or “flung” is not measured; no time is allowed for distributing or settling the lubricant. The ring and pin arrangement is different than the interior spaces of bike chains. A surface area of the machine ring is much larger than the surface area of bike chain pin or the interior surface of roller. The discussion of lubricant being flung is pointless. Of course a ring powered by an electic motor will fling any liquid on the surface.

Silca demonstrated that wear marks left by the machine on pins lubricated by Synergetic were small compared to the wear marks made by other products,. In the ProGold/Synergetic video, Mr. Poertner says that he surprized by how small the wear marks left on pin after the ProGold sessions are, implying he expected larger marks. In the White Lightning/Synergetic video, Mr. Poertner showed how rapidly and badly the sample wore when the ring and the sample pin were wetted with the White Lightning products.

A failure of a lubricant to form a film on on the moving or load-bearing surfaces in a roller chain is generally believed to be due to the failure of the lubricant to penetrate into the chain between the moving metal surfaces, or the displacement or dissipation of the lubricant. Some products – e.g. Silca Velo’s Synergetic- use an automotive motor oil base oil and additives that coat the chain parts with metal lubricating tribofilm(s). Silca Velo says that it uses a high-quality synthetic motor oil with suspended additives. Mr. Poertner said that the lubricating ingredients in White Lightning and Finish Line products were diluted in a carrier fluid and did not lubricate effectively, which is are fair points, supported by testing and observation.

In the White Lightning video Mr. Poertner said the White Lighting products and some Finish Line products contained small amount of PFAS “forever chemical” additives. The environmental accusation apparently is that the products contain Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and persistant organic pollutants. White Lightning markets Clean Ride as a wax lube, and Epic Ride as made of “non-petroleum based synthetic oils”. White Lightning does not use the trademarked term Teflon or claim to contain PFTE. White Lightning does not list ingredients and did not respond to ZFC questions. Mr. Poertner may have information that others do not, but he did not explain himself.

All lubricants are chemically engineered products, and lubricants are almost always made with the products of petroleum distillation. Perhaps “natural” means something in marketing foods. It is an odd claim in selling the products of chemical engineering.

Prepared chains

Shops including MSpeedwax and ZFC sell and ship new chains, with factory grease removed, prewaxed with a branded immersion wax, ready for use. The chains will have to regularly reset by users by successive immersions. These chains have had the factory grease removed and melted paraffin applied. A buyer can test the riding a waxed chain, and purchase a new chain. If the rider is not happy with paraffin, the paraffin washes out and the user can dry the chain and use it with the user’s lube of choice.

Some vendors, e.g. Silca Velo, offer to provide a chain that has been prepared and polished. A shop can polish or treat the metal on the inside of a chain that has been rivetted together by suspending diamond fragments in a lubricant to create a paste or slurry – which has to be removed by throrough cleaning. The benefit of micro-polishing is a true marginal gain.

  1. There is a story about the bike in the movie and a replica made for display in 2016.[]

2 thoughts on “Bike Chains 4 – Lubricant prices, testing, innovation”

  1. Pingback: Bike Chains 1 – Chain Wear & Research – Luctor et Emergo

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