Formulating the ultimate bike chain lube.

Jan 5, 2016
Greetings! Had anyone tried to use vast accumulated knowledge about lubes, EP/AW additives and tried to formulated the ultimate bike lube? Here is my take: First, if you are using your bike somewhere else than sparkling clean tarmac - forget about wet lubes. I've an amateur, but rather dedicated cyclist, my yearly average is about 10 000 kilometers. Year before I've been using a host of recommended lubes, including Finish Line ceramic wet and Chain-L, highly recommended chain oil on MTBR. I usually only lube after cleaning the chain off-bike in a bottle of solvent. Lifetime of chains until 1% 'elongation' - about 2k kilometres, give or take. I cycle about 50/50 tarmac (not exactly clean) and dusty cross-country trails. in 2015 I've made a switch to paraffin after getting an RWD recumbent and reading about good experience with it on Bentrider and Velonews article, that called paraffin 'the fastest lube'. While I cannot verify the 'efficiency' claims, this year I've cycled about 6.5k on two KMC x10.93 chains (same as those I've been using last year, both them 'in bulk'), rotating them at equal internals. No solvent washing, no careful lubing - only dunk into liquid paraffin, agitate, remove, cool, on the bike it goes. Nether chain is even remotely close to 0.75 mark on my chain wear indicator (pretty good one despite being cheap - 'bike hand'). It is not surprising for road chains used in very clean condition to see thousands of miles of use before critical wear, same with MTB chains that are cleaned VERY meticulously before each lube (but it requires way too much hassle), btw. So, paraffin DOES work and I'm am a convert. However, I am aware that typical 'household' paraffin is a marginal lubricant indeed - once it cools it is brittle, does not stick to metal very well, hence only stays inside the pin/roller interface for a reasonable time (and only as a very fine film). Pretty soon after application it begins to rattle a bit - it is not a high-pitched noise of metal-on-metal friction, but links hitting chain teeth with no oil damping the impact. It does little else than make cycling easier on the ears, though. If you cycle in the rain on a paraffin-lubed chain even for a relatively short time, it would start to rust and squick pretty quickly. By the way, applying a solution of wax as most 'dry' lubes is NOT a good idea, because lubing it on the bike would drive the surface dirt into the rollers and trap it there, negating all the benefits of paraffin. This is why, I guess, 'dry lubes' are not as good as pure paraffin 'hot bath'. So, I'm trying to formulate a bike lube that would combine the cleanness of dry paraffin lube and lubrication/rust inhibition of wet lubes. Such thing actually exists, it is called Kluber SK11-299, 'a lubricating wax based on wax-like hydrocarbons and a synthetic hydrocarbon oil. It protects reliably against wear, shows excellent adhesion and is extremely resistant to water, thus providing excellent corrosion protection also when in contact with water. Once applied to the component surface, the lubricant leaves a “quasi-dry” non-tacky lubricant film.' They are claiming as far as !'lifetime'! duration of their lube on the chain (in case of 'non-extreme conditions'). Unfortunately, this seems to be sold only in industrial quantities and corporate clients, and I don't feel like opening a business of buying it and relabelling it as an 'ultimate bike chain lube', heh. So, I've decided to replicate, or even improve it. What I've found so far: After reading about 'a mix of hydrocarbon waxes', I've begun reading what kinds of paraffins are there. Well, it seems there is a very interesting type of paraffin wax called 'micro-crystalline' wax that, while having higher meltpoint, is tackier and more pliable than 'regular' paraffin, and adding some to the mix would very favourably alter the physical properties of regular, cheap&plentiful variety. It is relatively expensive and not that easy to obtain, but doable. Next, 'synthetic oil'. Well, likely some sort of cheaper, higher-refined mineral oil that is usual called 'synthetic' nowadays. I highly doubt that it has any 'esters' in it. But after learning about strange and wonderful world of natural and synthetic esters, I've began to research them further, and stumbled first upon the article about esters in lubrication, than this forum, where I've learned more than I hoped for, including how 'hydrodynamic' and 'boundary' lubrication works, trilogy articles about 'EP/AW' additives, their synergistic effects and limitations, etc. That got me thinking again, mainly: 1. Due to high-load (relatively to their size)/low speed of bike chains, they are, very likely, NOT hydro-dynamically lubricated. The fact that bike lube immediately turns black with metal particles also 'hints' it. 2. Would EP/AW oil additives work in conditions that chain runs in? It is not a hot motor or gearbox, and most EP/AW additives are activated by temperature. MoS additves do sound nice, but are very sensitive to presence of water as I've read. Ceramic nanoparticles seems promising, but would they 'work' in bike chain environment? There are bike lubes with that stuff, but due to total lack of any laboratory wear tests I know about - their presence might be only good for marketing purposes. And, most importantly, all that must work when suspended in hardened mixture of paraffin waxes, with no renewable supply of additives from an oil bath - because otherwise liquid oil will trap sand and dust, it would get sucked into the rollers and no amount of AP/EW additives would outweigh the resulting silicon dioxide grinding paste. So, if anyone can recommend readily obtainable additives that might work in such conditions - I'd be very glad to hear about it.
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Originally Posted By: Trotter
You need to get yourself a girlfriend... OT
When you are hard core into cycling you have no need for a girl friend. ! Years ago I would remove the chain then put the chain into a double boiler pan with melted wax for about a hour an hour. The chain would get hot and the wax would get into the chain. The chain would loosen up with in a mile of riding and would last a long time. Now I just spray the chain with dry lube and call it done. link
Erm, while my private life is offtopic here, I already have a girlfriend, she also is a cyclist and is very interested in results of my research smile. Anyway, if anyone can, with reasonable certainty, name a lube that would extend a life a typical multispeed (9-10 speed in my case) chain beyond 6 thousand miles when used offroad (that would be from zero to 1% elongation, tested with a proper chain tool or a reference chain), I'd be glad to hear about those.
I am familiar with existing formulations, there is also Muc-off, Pedros, etc. Based on reviews, they are reasonably clean, but do not seem to extend chain life as much as simple paraffin hot bath. If anyone can provide me with statistics - I'll be glad to hear. I'm reasonably powerful and heavy rider - FTP of about 330s, weight of 220 pounds, btw, that might explain why my 'conventionally lubed' chains do not live that long. But paraffin bath extends the life of a chain 3x at the very least.
Yea, I've read about experiments with WD-lubricated chains. They are similar to paraffin in that regard, except for method of application and the fact that it is mostly for rust-proofing. Otherwise the chain runs noisy yet clean and longevity is much better than that of traditional wet lubes. The fact that paraffin and WD works so well is a proof that it is better to run your chain completely unlubricated than wet-lubed - because even no lubrication is preferable to grinding paste. Yet I want 'the best of both worlds'. I think that chain that is both clean, well-lubricated and made of decent materials should last a VERY long time, perhaps tens of thousands of miles - at least that is how chains that are well-designed for the loads and chain-bath lubricated work. I doubt that I can achieve that, not with a multispeed chain with no chainguard, but something similar might be possible.
I spray WD-40 Specialist Water Resistant Silicone on a clean rag and spray/wipe the chain a few times. Easy, clean, and seems to last for many miles.
Ok, but how long does you chain last to 1% elongation? Without concrete numbers this is not really useful - finish line ceramic and chain-L did last a very long time, did not pick up a lot of mud when carefully applied and wiped off, but still my all my chains were dead in less than 2 thousand miles, while paraffin, while noisy, makes chains last 3x times more at the very least.
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You could substitute paraffin with some heavy monograde engine oil, like motorcycle owner's manuals suggest. Something like SAE40 or SAE50. Readily available, cheap, recommended by OEM's...
This is just spit balling here... What about taking conventional, readily available paraffin, melting it and then mixing in a low percentage of a liquid lubricant or even a thin EP laden grease? EDIT: Either in addition too or instead of, maybe some teflon?
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With all the respect to OCD sufferers, as I am one, this is very unnecessary. I just use a plain ol Lucas chain lube in a aerosol. It comes out runny as water (probably a solvent in it), creeps into the cracks and thickens beyond any grease I have ever seen. The only problem with this Lucas stuff I can't get it off easily, takes forever. I'll try carb cleaner and some gasoline next time, maybe it'll work. The reason why I don't worry about the chain is because I've seen guys that put dozens of thousands of miles using plain WD40, nothing else. Chains seem fine, so if no lube is ok, than plain jane lube should be fine. The $12 can of lube is still half full, and it's been over 5k miles. One less headache for me.
I used to use all of the fancy prepackaged chain lubes. I've settled on Phil Wood Tenacious Oil. It's messy and time consuming to oil the chain correctly but I gotta say, it works really well. I use it on my 29er and my fat bike but not my Dahon. I still use a dry lube for that since I bring it on the rail road and don't want to get anyone dirty if I can help it.
Since I haven't seen the actual report mentioned, I can only state my technical requirements for biclcle/motorcycle chain Lube: 1. Must be wet so that anti-wear (AW) and/or EP additive gets into links and have some solvency so that crud is released, 2. must have some tack for cling, 3. Solvent must eventually evaporate and leave behind a high level of anti-wear or EP additive I use my own formulation for my chains, a mix of OSP, esters, AW, and a non-sulfur-phosphorus EP additive. One of the better commercial chain lubes seems to be the JB Heavy Duty Chain Lube. While the liquid wax may show a temporary reduction in friction, I have my doubts as to its long-term friction reduction, anti-wear capabilities, and chain cleaning. It seems to me that one would have to heat up the chain and dump into a solvent in order to wash the crud out of it.
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Appologie for my confusion. I did not realize thst this is a bicycle topic. Here I am going on about 160+ horsepower at 150+mph, and this is about bicycle chains lol. In this case, I'd use hair gel. I have a bike over ten years old at my dads house and the thing had nothing but rain and rust for lube. Work great! laugh
Thanks! Here is PDF with one of the latter tests, again wax-based lubes win: But I agree, I've seen no 'endurance tests' mentioned. Perhaps I should contact the Friction Facts guy.
Originally Posted By: MolaKule
I use my own formulation for my chains, a mix of OSP, esters, AW, and a non-sulfur-phosphorus EP additive.
OSP - that would be Oil Soluble Pags? I've researched them, do sound extremely promising, but extremely hard to get. Any chance of parting with the recipe for your chain formulation, as you did with 'MoleBrew'? Maybe it would work if suspended in wax, too. What about chain life, at least? Or this is not a bicycle, but a motorbike chain? As for method of application, I'm using a hot water bath to melt paraffin in a glass jar with a screw-on lid. I dunk the chain into the jar, close it, shake it around vigorously, and fish out the chain with a hook and let it cool. It seems to combine cleaning and lubrication in one. Accumulated dust and metal particles are simply lopped off with a knife from the bottom once it cools, it does not have to be done every time too. So far I'm experimenting with adding some gear oil and lanolin to the mix at least.
Originally Posted By: Dyusik
With all the respect to OCD sufferers, as I am one, this is very unnecessary. ... The reason why I don't worry about the chain is because I've seen guys that put dozens of thousands of miles using plain WD40, nothing else. Chains seem fine, so if no lube is ok, than plain jane lube should be fine.
Not really. First, like I said, I'm cycling thousands of offroad miles per year. I've been using not just 'any' lube, but recommended lubes, and still had to throw away 5 chain per year, and those relatively expensive 10-speed types - they are much more sensitive to wear. This is not just OCD (though, admittedly, it also plays a role :)). And yea, WD does seem a great chain lubricant - for reasons paraffin is one, the chain stays clean. Though 'dozens of thousands of miles'... well, if we are talking about o-ring motorbike chains, than I agree. The oil stays trapped by orings in crucial zones anyway. Modern bicycle multispeed chains are much more fragile, and you cannot put orings into them - the drag penalty would be about equal to an average cyclist's power output I bet smile.
There was a chain lube in aerosol that foamed like mad to displace crud from the said chain, before it solidified. Can't remember for the life of me. If I do I'll let you know.