- In these maintenance posts, I am in no way telling anyone to follow the methods and procedures I outline in the post. They are for informational purposes only.
- Please do not hold me responsible if you do choose to follow along and you do not like the results, or something gets damaged.
- If you are unsure, please research the task, and if you are still hesitant, then please visit your local bike shop (LBS.)
- Everyone in cycling has their methods and ways of doing things, and of course to them, it is the only/best way to do things. I do think that in many cases this kind of thinking is a bit foolish, as often there are many ways to achieve the same result.
- When possible, I will try to explain reasoning behind why I choose a method or a process, in the hopes that my decisions make some sense.
Over the course of my riding career, I think I am closing in on twenty years now, I have tried various chain lubrications from dry lubes, wet lubes, factory grease, and all different kinds of oils, with the outcome always the same, disappointing. All of the products listed create a messy chain, cassette, and chainrings. The black oil ends up all over the place. And worst of all, none of those solutions ever helped with the diabolical sand problem. Where I live, it seems that there is a permanent layer of sand covering the roads and shoulders. After a week of road riding, the chain builds up a layer of sand inside the links and rollers.
I am then forced to scrub the chain with a chain scrubber and degreasers, not to mention also the need to clean the bike, and then oil the chain again, only to have to deal with it all again by the end of the following week. A messy chain also increases my anxiety regarding the dreaded category five tattoo. A quick description of this tattoo can be read here: https://jbarcycling.blogspot.com/2010/01/cat-5-tattoo.html. To help cope with the sand, some years ago I decided to try to strip out the factory grease that all chains ship with. This is applied as a protection for storage and transport, but it is basically a magnet for sand and dirt, which, of course, is the enemy of all moving metal parts.
This past year I finally stumbled across the videos from Oz Cycle on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/c/stevenleffanue/videos) detailing the full deep cleaning and waxing of a chain resulting in no grease and sand buildup. I will admit that the process sounded a bit daunting at first and it does require some prep, tools, and supplies, but after I got started with it this past fall, it really has become something I am embracing. So far I have performed this on my most used road bike, the Roubaix, along with my Cyclocross bike (feature coming in the near future.)
I do plan on moving the rest of my fleet over to the waxing methodology in the coming months, but in the meantime, I thought I would detail the process I adopted and link to the videos.
- A slow cooker roughly 3 quart. It does not need to be expensive, although I am finding that I want one that can have a more precise temperature setting.
- A food thermometer to measure the temperature of the wax solution.
- A food scale to measure out the quantities of the ingredients that make up the wax solution.
- Paraffin Wax, 500 grams (approximately 18 oz.)
- PTFE (Teflon) powder in 1.6 micron sized. (I am finding it hard to get assurance on particle size.)
- A metal coat hanger to build a chain swishing tool (image below.)
- Methylated Spirits.
- Petrol (regular pump gasoline.)
- A new chain? I am now preferring the Connex chains that can be easily removed without tools with the supplied re-usable link. The process involves removing the chain from the bike, therefore having a tool-less removable link is very helpful.
Cleaning the Chain
Here I need to ensure that the chain is completely sterile of any grease or oil. If not, the wax/PTFE will not stick, and it will not work well.
- I bathe the chain in petrol and lightly agitate, and let it sit overnight.
- When I go to remove the chain, if there is significant residue in the liquid, I start again with fresh petrol, until there is no residue.
- I wipe the chain with a clean cloth, and then I place it in the degreaser and lightly agitate. After about thirty minutes, if I find that there is residue in the degreaser, I start all over again if not I go to the next step.
- I wash the chain in hot water, and dry it with a clean cloth and my compressor.
- Finally I place the chain in the Methylated Spirits and soak for about thirty minutes.
- When I finally pull the chain out I dry it again with a clean cloth and the compressor.
A Few Points
- I use a respirator for chemicals and protective gloves when handling the petrol and the Methylated Spirits.
- I try to ensure I have the necessary time and that I am not being rushed.
- Although a used chain can be cleaned up, I like to start with a brand new chain because it might be hard to get all the embedded sand out of the rollers.
- It is also a good time to thoroughly degrease and clean the cassette, chain rings, and Derailleurs.
Waxing the Chain
- I prepare the mixture by weighing out 500 grams of Paraffin Wax (clear/white candles can work just as well as long as the wick is removed) and 50 grams of PTFE.
- I turn on the slow cooker and add the ingredients.
- I wait for the mixture to reach between 90-95 degrees Celsius (194-203F.) This is why I have the thermometer to check up on the temperature.
- With the metal clothes hanger I make a reusable swishy tool which I can slide the chain and removable links on. I can then lower the chain into the hot melted wax without getting my hands in the solution.
- Once the wax is up to temperature, I put the chain in the solution and lightly swish it around and leave it soaking for about twenty minutes.
- After the twenty minutes, I pull the chain out and hang it above the pot so the excess wax drips back into the pot. Before it starts solidifying, I lightly wipe down the excess on the outer plates with a paper towel. On my Cross bike chain I try to leave a bit more on the outer plates for extra protection against the muddy conditions.
- Once the chain is dry, it will become very stiff. I spend a few minutes loosening up the links by hand.
- I put the chain back on the bike and spin it through some gears.
A Few Points
- The chain will be quite stiff for the first twenty or so minutes of riding. Which might make gear changing a bit wonky at first.
- Wax can build up on my frame. I use a paint brush to lightly flick the wax off.
- With the cassette I will sometimes scrub it with a stiff bristle brush or a flat head screw driver in the spaces between the cogs to remove excess wax.
- A re-waxing will be needed. I usually try to do it about every two weeks depending on how much I am riding. The process is quite simple.
- I pull the chain off the bike.
- I place the chain in a sieve, and pour hot boiling water from a pot. I try to coat both sides.
- I dry the chain with a clean towel and my compressor.
- I go back through steps 5 listed above in the chain waxing section. The nice thing is that the recipe makes a good quantity of wax and it is re-usable over and over again for many chains and many re-waxings.
So far I have ridden in wet and muddy (on the cyclocross bike) conditions and I have been happy with the results. My road chain has a thousand miles on it since I started waxing it, and I can not detect any stretch in it with my CC-2 Park Tool Chain Checker. Also when I grab the chain, and twist it, I do not get that sandy grinding feel. If no sand is inside to grind the metal down, then in theory it will last me a lot longer. The jury is still out but I am quite optimistic.
Here are links to the videos which taught me about the process.