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Technical FAQ: Factory chain lube, elliptical subcompact chainrings

To remove—or not—the lube that ships with chains, and more options for ‘climbing’ gears.

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Have a question for Lennard? Please email him at veloqna@comcast.net to be included in Technical FAQ.

Dear Lennard,
Reading thru your chain lube FAQ and this comment: “You won’t need to use the Park Cyclone anymore until you replace the chain and use it to remove the factory lube before applying Squirt or Ceramic Speed chain lube.”

I’ve been riding Campy chains since ’05 on my Chorus gruppo. I believe that Campy stated in their documentation to never clean the chains prior to installation, that their factory lube would help with break-in and continued lubrication. Your thoughts?

Long ago (the late 1970s) I tried the hot paraffin and the old hot motor oil soak/lube with mixed results on that era’s chains. Having to use the chain tool monthly for this was just more hassle than needed, and then Tri-Flow came out which became my go-to for the 1980s and ‘90s.
— Richard

Dear Richard,
From this test with Friction Facts and subsequent tests, a chain was always faster when cleaned first and then lubricated with a fast (low-friction) lube. And the more friction in a chain, the more the parts are wearing on each other. So, a chain will also last longer with a lower-friction lube, particularly if it doesn’t pick up grime as much as factory chain lube does.

Here is what Jason Smith, founder of Friction Facts currently chief technology officer of Ceramic Speed, says about this question:

“I can answer the first part (fast) with high confidence. I’m going to give my best opinion on the second part (longevity).

I fully agree, and testing supports, that removal of the factory lube and replenishing with a fast aftermarket lube will create a faster chain. One of my well-repeated statements in many articles is the following: No out-of-the-box factory lube is faster than the ‘faster’ aftermarket lubes”. I say ‘faster’ because the aftermarket lube replacing the factory lube must be faster than factory lube. Careful selection must be considered, as there are many aftermarket lubes which could actually create a slower chain than factory lube. This is where the Velo lube tests came in, so a cyclist can select one of these ‘faster’ lubes.

But in no case have I ever seen a factory lube outperform the faster aftermarket lubes.

Another thing as you know – the factory lubes have multiple roles to play. They need to keep the chain from oxidizing/rusting for (possibly) several years of shelf life. The lube has to be durable enough considering a non-maintenance cyclist might not ever re-lube. So, in defense of factory lubes, high efficiency might not be the top priority.

Also, I don’t know if this still holds true with the packaging, but you might know if the packaging is still the same. In the past, for example, the SRAM chains were not hermetically sealed, and they had that thick pasty grease on the chains. Shimano hermetically sealed its chains in a plastic overwrap, and they also used a thinner (and faster) lubricant from the factory. I have always speculated that Shimano could get away with a lighter, faster lube from the factory b/c they seal their chains. Again, I don’t know if Shimano and SRAM chains are still like this, but a few years ago that was the case.

For longevity, factory greases are good…. theoretically. Eg, heavy grease is used in bearings because of its longevity characteristics. However, bearings are sealed. Chain drivetrains are exposed. We know the factory grease and oil on chains is like a magnet for contaminants. So, within a few rides, that grease/oil can become a grinding paste, actually decreasing the longevity when compared to, say, a dry wax-based lubricant.”

― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
I have a suggestion for Bob in lieu of a triple, and that’s to try the absoluteBLACK elliptical sub compact rings, which work with Shimano cranks. I’m using the 46/30. My new (used) 2018 Roubaix was configured with these rings by the previous owner – a biking buddy of mine, and they are great. 2 others in my group run them as well.

It works because they take advantage of the asymmetric nature of the Shimano chainring bolts to fit an elliptical 30, whereas a circular ring is limited to a minimum of 34. Of course, the first question will be: “Won’t that feel strange?” and I wondered about that as well. But when I did my first test ride — mostly to check frame fit — I really couldn’t feel the asymmetry at all. In fact, they just felt completely natural. One funny thing is that since I now switch back and forth between oval and circular rings, I wondered which would become the new “normal”, and it turns out it’s the circular rings that feel odd for the first few miles, not the elliptical. Shifting is not compromised at all. Smooth as silk.

Shimano Ultegra RX rear derailleur with a clutch. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

One other trick the LBS did on all 3 bikes in my group was to put an Ultegra RX derailleur on the back – the one with the clutch. This derailleur allows all of us to run an 11/40 MB cassette with the stock hanger, so shifting is rock solid perfect. I gather this derailleur is the predecessor to the GRX, but I don’t know if a GRX would also work.
— Steve

Dear Lennard,
When I upgraded my Campagnolo Record drivetrain from 9- to 10-speed around 2009, I was riding a triple crankset, so I got a Campy Record triple front derailleur – I also got a medium cage 10-speed rear derailleur to accommodate the triple. A few years later I switched to a compact double crankset, but I kept the front derailleur. It works fine – the limit screws have enough range for adjusting to double chainrings, and I’m still using it and the rest of the 10-speed setup. Some creative mixing might help your questioner find a Campy front derailleur that works with his NOS Campy Record drivetrain.
— Larry

Dear Lennard,

In a previous column it was mentioned:
“As our lab test showed, the very lowest chain friction was obtained by a thorough electrostatic cleaning of the chain.”

What is electrostatic cleaning? Do you mean ultrasonic?
— Raymond

Dear Raymond,
Oops. Yeah, I meant ultrasonic cleaning. Don’t know what I was thinking there. Too much looking at labels of N95, KN94, etc. electrostatic medical masks, perhaps. Thanks for catching that.
― Lennard


Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,”DVD, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikesand Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.” He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Follow @lennardzinn on Twitter.