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Technical FAQ: Wax chain lube, really? What now?

With VeloLab's findings on the efficacy of paraffin wax for lubing chains, readers are left with questions on how to lube their drivetrains

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Editor’s Note: Lennard Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

We received a number of concerned reader letters in response to the VeloLab chain lube test that appeared in the March issue of Velo magazine, on newsstands now. That test, which pitted 30 lubes against one another to determine which resulted in the most efficient drivetrain (not measured for durability or weather resistance), produced some surprising results and left some readers wondering what now?

Wax, really? What now?

Dear Lennard,
On the Velo chain lube test, what’s your take from the lab testing? Any thoughts? Any recommendations for road and/or mountain bikes?

Dear Steve,
I must admit that I was as surprised at the results as anybody. I never would have guessed that paraffin would outperform everything, nor would I have guessed that ProLink (on which I have relied personally for 10 years or so and felt had enhanced my chain life with a relatively unscientific test of longevity versus my prior go-to lube), would be ranked so low and absorb a couple more watts versus paraffin.

My immediate takeaway is that I really don’t know what to use now, but there’s not a way in the world I’m going to use paraffin to save a couple of watts, even though I usually install all of my chains with master links. If you use a Shimano, Campagnolo, or other chain that you close with a pin, the net damage to your chain from opening and closing it in order to clean and wax it would be so great that it would negate any small performance increase you might obtain.

I also believe that lubing regularly with almost any lube (other than high-carrier wax-based ones, perhaps) will make at least as much difference as using a particular lube that tests well but not doing it frequently. I wipe and lube my chain after almost any ride — it’s a routine for me, just like taking a shower after a ride. I think that the permanent state of cleanliness of the chain as well as keeping lubricant in every nook and cranny by doing that will lead to nearly optimal performance without much hassle. If it’s a hassle, I’m not going to do it often, and then my guess is that the chain will not run with as low energy.

I asked Velo tech editor Caley Fretz, who wrote the article, what he thought, and this is his answer:

I think it very much depends on how much you ride, where you ride, and how much free time you have to mess about with crockpots and paraffin. Since I have the tech room downstairs, I love wax. If I remember to turn the crockpot on in the morning, it takes five minutes before a lunch ride to rewax the chain, and it’s never, ever dirty. Love that. The watts, to be honest, aren’t as much of a concern as the dirt because I don’t race much anymore.

If I lived somewhere wet, and had to re-wax every few days, I’d give up on it. But out here I get a solid 1.5-2 weeks out of an application. That’s not so bad.

For the average person, I’d probably still recommend a regular lube. Maybe have a chain set aside for race day that you wax, but only if those few watts matter to you.

A decidedly unscientific answer, I know. It is a practical answer, though. BTW, at cyclocross worlds, Helen Wyman (Kona) told us that for sandy cyclocross races in Belgium, mechanics put talcum powder on the chains to keep the sand from sticking. Too bad we didn’t test that, too!

Dear Lennard,
Now that Velo magazine has published new results on the efficiencies of various chain lubes, do you have any plans to change your own strategy of using ProGold ProLink after each ride? ProLink was fourth worst (out of 30) in the efficiency test.

Dear Keith,
Yes. Suffice it to say I’ll be experimenting more on my own bikes. I don’t know with what yet. I do believe that my regular lubing was still giving me decent performance and that I wasn’t losing much, if anything, in chain drag to other riders.

Dear Lennard,
Is there a chain lube that mimics the stuff that comes from the factory? I’ve tried many different oils, waxes, etc., but none is as good as what is on the chain when the box is opened.

Dear Daniel,
I would guess that paraffin mimics it pretty well!

Anti-seize versus, versus

Dear Lennard,
Where and when do you use grease versus anti-seize versus thread locker (and what types, and what about Spoke Prep, etc.?) versus carbon assembly paste?

When I started working on bikes, we only had chain lube and waterproof grease in the shop. One of the mechanics I work with has never used anti-seize. I must confess that my own knowledge of these things could use some sprucing-up. Surely you can provide a definitive guide.

Dear Jesse,
Actually, one of my pet peeves is the rampant use of anti-seize grease for applications all over the bike. The copper flakes in it get all over and is unnecessary, for instance, for greasing front derailleur band clamps, seat binder clamps, seatposts, and many other parts I see it used on.

Use anti-seize compound on any titanium threads. And normal grease is generally fine for aluminum and steel threads, although it can’t hurt to use anti-seize grease. Use grease (or anti-seize grease) on all threads. Grease parts that can move and creak or that can get frozen in place: seatposts, stem clamps, front derailleur band clamps, and of course on all moving parts like bearings and bushings.

Use thread lock compound on bolts that won’t be fully tightened to high torque yet should stay put. So use it on things like cantilever-brake mounting bolts (over-tightening would swell the cantilever post and cause the arm to bind), spokes (since you tighten the spokes until the wheel is true and at good tension, not until the spokes are as tight as you can get them), mounting bolts for road brakes and disc brake calipers and rotors (since the downside of a loose bolt is so great), rear derailleur jockey-wheel bolts (these are not tightened tightly enough to stay in place permanently). And for spokes, use spoke-specific thread lock compound. Ideally, spoke nipples that already have thread lock compound inside are the way to go.

Use carbon assembly paste on parts that have slipped or have the potential to. Definitely use it on a seatpost that has slipped down in the past, rather than reefing on the binder bolt until it’s ready to snap. It’s probably unnecessary, as grease tends to work fine, but it can’t hurt to put it inside the stem clamp around the handlebar, and it’s a must if your bar slips with the bolts tightened to torque spec.