Bike Chains 8 – Learnings for Make Benefit

Table of Contents

An endless post

These are lessons from playing with lubricants and bike chains. I have posted what I have written to date. This post will become an endlessly updated post.


At one time, the problem of what was good enough could be answered with a slogan such as “close enough for government work” or “The Best is the enemy of the good“. The term satifisficing, invented by the economist Herbert Simon, defines a condition believed to be good enough, even if it is not entirely optimal (the best). It is used by project managers, economists, psychologists and even by philosophers.

Henry Ford is reported to have said in 1909 of the Ford Model T: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” The Ford Model T, produced from 1908 to 1927 cheap, mass-produced, powered by an internal combusion engine, was the most popular automobile in the world. At first the cheap mass produced automobile was a marvel. Later, automobiles had to be faster, safer, more efficient, more aerodynamic, prettier, and produce less harmful emissions, and became very expensive. Bicycles have become more complex and expensive too.

Bike manufacturers make bikes that are better for some surfaces and conditions, and encourage consumers to buy and use multiple bikes. Whether a bike or a component is the best available for a rider may be unknowable until a rider rides it a lot, and has encountered road conditions and weather. There are imperfect aspects to owning and maintaining a bicycle. The manufacturer’s team made decisions about design features and components. They aimed to make a bike that can be sold profitably to many cyclists. The manufacturer of my Cannondale Topstone gravel bike used a mediocre, KMC chain to make an affordable bike. SRAM PC chains are more expensive, but mediocre too.

Chain Size

Shifting problems can also be caused by the shifters, the derailleurs, the chain, sloppy execution by me, or bad karma. Shifting problems are often blamed on incorrect alignment of the rear derailler pulleys with the cassette cogs.

I looked at my bike at rest and on a repair stand many times, but not at the position of the rear derailleur pulleys when the chain was on the large chain ring and largest rear cog, or the smallest chain ring and the smallest cog. I avoided pedalling in those combinations. Generally if I was going to climb, I would be on the small chain ring. A few times, I would get into the smaller rear cogs on the small chain ring which lead to a rattle or rumble sound. I could not see what was happening as my legs were pumping, I was looking where I was going, and the bike was at speed. I thought the chain, nearing its outer position on the cassette, with the front derailleur in the inboard (small chain ring) position was starting to rub the outer plate of the front derailleur.

The main way of sizing a chain in Sheldon Brown’s Bicycle Technical Info page in the section Chain Length in the article on derailleur adjustment ensures the chain is long enough to run in the largest combination of the diameters of the chain wheel and cassette cogs. That method and the complementary check of chain tension at the other extreme are shown in the Park Tool article Chain Length Sizing and video How to Size a Chain and in the Global Cycling Network’s Dan Lloyd video How to Calculate the Correct Chain Length.

In February 2022 after I had broken the derailleur hanger, and had taken the bike to a mechanic for replacement of the rear derailleur cable. The mechanic had made the adjustments to the cable barrel to match the cogs, and the derailleur positions to the shifter indexing. The bike had a new rear derailleur cable, properly installed and adjusted. I looked at the rear derailleur pulleys in both exteme positions.The derailleur pulleys had some room to go further when the chain was on the large chain ring and largest rear cog, and there was slack in the bottom span of the chain when the chain was on the smallest chain ring and the smallest cog.

The chain was a full link (25.4 mm.) too long. I had sized the new SRAM chain in 2021 against the KMC chain on the bike, which had been new when I bought the bike. The KMC chain was not replaced when I had replaced the original Shimano cassette with a SRAM cassette in the winter of 2019-20.

I sized my new chains in 2022 against the resized SRAM chain – one full link less. I operated the YBN chains with fresh paraffin lubrication. Other problems with the derailleur and cable had been addressed by a mechanic as I said above. The chains shifted without skipping the shift or jumping a cog when I tap a shifter lever.

Lubricant directions

Deep cleaning with solvents (see Bike Chains 5) was a niche practice for users who melt paraffin and immersively wax their chains.

I tried to run my new ’21 SRAM chain with a few drip lubes in 2021:

  • factory grease for a couple of rides. This confirmed to my satifisfaction that factory grease is not a lubricant.
  • Dupont Multi-Use with Teflon. The chain ran better but was noisy. This was enough to satisfy me that this household lubricant should not be used as chain lube.
  • Silca Velo’s Super Secret Chain Coating fluid wax product. It was very runny. Most ran off the chain in spite of my applying it the way Silca Velo’s Ask the Expert Video showed. The video made the point that the fluid should be dripped on the chain with the chain cross-chained (large-large combination) and left to penetrate and dry. Silca Velo also recommended or required deep cleaning a new chain with a direction to use the product on an “Ultra Clean” chain. I did not understand that Silca meant “remove factory grease with solvent” when I started to use Silca Super Secret Chain Coating in 2021.

MSpeedwax, Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling and Dave Rome of CyclingTips recommend deep cleaning to remove factory grease from any chain before applying any lubricant. After using the ’21 SRAM chain a for a few thousand Km. in the summer and fall, early in the wet Cascadian winter, I finally deep cleaned the chain, and applied Silca Velo’s wet lube Synergetic. The solvent showed opaque clouds of detergant, wax, water and dissolved grease.

The chain ran silently on the wet lube, but it gathered dirt. Eventually, the chain passed the replacement point, according to the gauge I used. The chain wore in about 5,000 Km. of riding which was better than I expected after the fiasco with Super Secret Chain coating and factory lube.

I bought a waxed YBN SLA chain from Molten Speed Wax in February 2022.. I ordered some bags of MSW wax pellets. In February 2022 MSW was taking orders for shipment of wax at the end of April. The chain arrived in March, and I tried it. After I passed about 300 Km., I topped up the wax on the chain with Silca Super Secret Chain Coating. I did this about 8 AM on a day I rode at noon. It left the chain making some noise. Silca recommends leaving this product for 24 hours to penetrate and dry. I applied more Super Secret Chain Coating on a rest day, and left it for a day. The fluid dries out, and leaves a dry wax. The chain ran better and was good for a few more rides. Super Secret Chain Coating works to top up hot wax applied to a clean chain.

The directions on the Super Secret Chain coating drip bottle and jar, and the promotional material do not tell the whole story. Silca Velo, unlike the larger lube makers, has product directions and resources on the Web.

Derailleur adjustment

A new cable will stretch after time on the bike and shifts. The cables hold the derailleur against springs.

The shifts on a rear derailleur on a single click of an indexed shift are small. Cable stretching can result in a click moving the pulleys too little or too far. The barrel adjuster(s) (I have one adjuster at the derailleur end of the cable to a Shimano 105) make tiny changes in response to a quarter or half turn of the barrel It was necessary to watch YouTube (Park Tool’s 16 minute rear derailleur adjustment) and experiment to learn the skill.

Wet lubes and paraffin don’t mix

Wet lubes adhere to all the metal surfaces they touch including the other drive train componments: chain rings, cassette cogs and rear derailleur jockey wheels. A rider switching to paraffin must clean the drive train to remove wet lube and contaminants adhering to the lube. It is not possible to avoid cleaning the drive train. The wet lube, and dirt adhering to the wet lube adhering to drive train components, will affect the paraffin. It may not happen instantly but it will make the chain squeaky or creaky again

The components must be down to bare metal or plastic. The components don’t have to be washed in solvent to the same standard as the roller chain.

Techno-optimism: Carbon fiber

Carbon fiber composites are used to manufacture bike frames, forks, wheel rims, cranks and handlebars. CyclingTips explained the machinery and processes for mechanics, riders and others not involved with manufacturing

Carbon fibers are a chemically engineered product. Short fibers can be manufactured, spun, weaved and cut into threads, ribbons and sheets. The threads are laid in forms and coated and held together with baked resins and plastics produce long pieces of high modulus (stiff), flexible plastic, known as carbon composite, carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers or carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (“CFRP’). Some industries need CFRP made to high specifications (e.g. aircaft components). The sporting good industries are less rigorous, and the rejection and waste ratio of CFRP material is lower.

There is one company in the world, as of late April 2022, Carbon Fiber Recycling in Tazewell, Tennessee, USA that recycles carbon fiber from composite scrap. CyclingTips NerdAlert podcast covered the company in the April 28, 2022 episode. A composite item has to be shredded, and metals removed. The CFRP is pyrolized. The necessary heat is initially supplied with natural gas, which contains methane. Baking the plastic produces more methane. The methane is collected and use to fuel the process. The carbon fiber is chopped and can be reused. Silca Velo was the first cycling company to use recycled carbon fiber. It uses the fibers to make a tubeless tire sealant. Carbon Fiber Recycling hopes to license its patents, and suggests that recycled carbon fiber can be used to manufacture durable small components.

Manufacturing carbon fibers, baking them into CFRP, and breaking down CFRP burn fossil fuels and produce products of combustion. The bike industries have been using CFRP to replace metal but have not stopped using fossil fuels to make carbon fibers and CFRP.

Manufacturers of bikes, components and lubricants talk around the fact that bikes are manufactured and maintained with industrially manufactured materials and maintained with industrially manufactured petrochemical lubricants, solvents and detergents.


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