How to switch to wax lube for a cleaner chain and free watts!

How to switch to wax lube for a cleaner chain and free watts!

October 23, 2020

One of the most common things we see here in the workshop is a filthy, mucky drivetrain. Apart from leaving grease marks on your legs (the dreaded Cat 4 Tat), a dirty drivetrain can cause excessive wear on your chain, cassette, chainrings and jockey wheels, all of which can result in a much more expensive service than you had planned!


Wet lubes and new chain factory grease in particular tend to be the biggest culprit, as the lube picks up grit and grime and becomes a grinding paste which wears away at your chain and other components. Getting everything really clean and swapping to a wax based lube will dramatically reduce wear, and save you a lot of money in the long run. 


It really is pretty amazing the difference a good wax lube like Tru-Tension Tungsten All Weather can make. Testing has shown it can make chains last 3-4 times as long to 0.5 wear than something like Muc-Off Hydrodynamic (a personal least favourite lube). It’s also much cleaner, doesn’t require degreasing, and has lower friction (free watts!).

We’ll run through the process in detail, but here are the basic steps to a happy drivetrain:


  1. Clean your drivetrain thoroughly, then clean it again, especially if you’re currently using a wet oil based lube
  2. Apply a wax based drip or immersion lube like Tru-Tension All Weather
  3. Measure your chain regularly, and replace at 0.5 wear
  4. Smile your way into the sunset with less friction, longer lasting parts, and a cleaner bike

Cleaning

For a wax based lube to work, all traces of the previous lube should be cleaned off your chain, cassette, chainrings and jockey wheels if you want to get the best results. It’s hard to overstate how important this step is, and it applies to brand new chains as well. 


Basic clean

If you’re pushed for time, or aren’t super confident in removing your chain/cassette/chainrings for cleaning, the easiest option is to bring it in to us for a proper clean. However, if you’d prefer to do a basic clean yourself, you can get a little clamp on chain cleaner like the Park Tool CM-5.3, fill it with degreaser, clamp it on and spin the pedals backwards until your arm gets tired. Rinse the chain with water, then do another clean with dish soap + water, then rinse again. That, plus scrubbing the cassette and chainrings will be better than nothing and you’ll still get some of the benefits of the wax lube, but it will turn black pretty quick. It’s better than chucking it on top of your existing wet lube, but a lot worse than a deep clean. 

This quick clean does work fine if you’re sticking to a wet lube though. 


Deep clean

Adam over at ZeroFrictionCycling has several guides on chain lubes, including immersion waxing which is the gold standard, but maybe a bit beyond this blog. The method we use is from him, with a couple of little additions. If you’ve got several hours and like nerdy bike stuff, his site has some serious gold! 

It’s important to note that this process only has to be done once with each chain if you’re using a wax lube - once it’s clean, simply wiping the outside of the chain with a clean rag is sufficient, and maybe the odd soapy water clean of cassette + chainrings. In terms of total time investment, it’s much less than doing the above basic clean every week!


The deep clean basically boils down to as follows:

  1. Remove chain, cassette, chainrings
  2. Soak chain in plastic jar with mineral turpentine for about 15 minutes (not longer), 
  3. Shake vigorously for 2-3 minutes. Longer shaking is better
  4. Be amazed at the colour it turns
  5. Pour dirty turps into container for safe disposal (local authorities usually have a hazardous chemical disposal facility)
  6. Warm water + dish soap in the jar, shake around and pour out to clean off the turps
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 until the liquid is clean (probably only 2 rounds for most chains, campy + SRAM use some sort of horrific glue/grease on factory chains so maybe 3-4 on them)
  8. Once the chain comes out clean, dry it off using a hairdryer or heat gun - easiest with the chain hanging on a bent wire coat hanger like this. Get it really hot, and really dry. 
  9. Do a final rinse in methylated spirits, then dry again as per above. 
  10. Clean the cassette, jockey wheels + chainrings with degreaser and a stiff brush, then rinse with hot water + detergent. If your jockey wheels have sealed bearings (most higher end ones will) just clean those with a rag + some degreaser or disc brake cleaner, and again rinse off the degreaser. 
  11. Install on the bike, and see the next section.

Applying the lube

How to apply?

With all wax based lubes, it’s really important to let them fully dry before riding, otherwise the carrier won’t have evaporated off and can attract dirt. My process is to do a quick wipe of the outside of the chain with a clean cloth post ride, then apply the lube and let dry overnight.

The below steps can be used for any type of lube, but are based on drip wax lubes like Tru-Tension

  1. Put the chain in the big cog + big chainring to open the side plates up a bit so the lube can get inside.
  2. While winding the chain backwards, drip some lube on the inside of the chain. Do about 2 full revolutions of the chain.
  3. Using your fingers, ‘pinch’ the top and bottom of the chain (see photo) to push the wax in
  4. Wind the pedals backwards a few times to work it in
  5. Wipe the excess off with a clean microfibre cloth. The only part of the chain that needs lube is the inside of the rollers themselves, not the outside bits you can see so don’t worry if it looks really clean!


How often?

For the first few rides, I do an application every ride to ensure the inside rollers/pins get a good coating of wax. After that, Tru-Tension recommends every 250 km or so. If the chain starts squeaking, you’ve left it far too long and you’ve got metal on metal - this is the case for all lubes and means your chain is crying out for attention!


Measuring your chain

Keeping an eye on your chain wear is super key, as if you let it go much past 0.5 wear it’ll start to wear out your chainrings and cassette, which are much more expensive than a chain! 


We use the Park Tool CC-4 which works on all chains, including SRAM AXS, which a lot of other checkers aren’t. For this checker, put the two closer together prongs into the chain, and pinch the chain to the tool. See if it can drop in at the other end while keeping tension on it. If it drops into the first ‘shelf’, it’s at 0.5 wear and should be replaced. If it goes beyond that, you’re getting into needing to replace the whole drivetrain. 


Usually, if you’re replacing the chain at 0.5% wear, you should get about 3 chains to a cassette. Chainrings and jockey wheels can last longer - it’s probably best to get these assessed by a mechanic but signs of shark-tooth looking teeth are a good indication it’ll need replacing.



If you’ve made it all the way to here, well done! You’ll be well on your way to a sparkly drivetrain, free watts, and more affordable riding! 


If all the cleaning steps look too hard, our Full Service includes this and more and is a great option if your bike hasn’t had much pro TLC in a while, and we can also add it on to any other service. See all the options here: https://www.girocycles.com/pages/giroworkshop 


If you’ve got any questions or comments, drop a comment below or get in touch at workshop@girocycles.com.


Cheers and safe riding!


Danny




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