Luke Meers discovers and explains the benefits of dipping hot wax on a chain for increased performance.
In the world of cycling, there are a few quick metrics often used to judge the seriousness of other cyclists you meet on the road or in the coffee shop. Shaved/unshaved legs, disc/rim brakes, tubes/tubeless, proper sock length… the list goes on.
While these superficial judgments aren’t always helpful, in the right frame, they can provide some good jokes. One judgment I have always found myself on the wrong side of is “quick clean transmission inspection.” I’m certainly guilty of washing my bike less than some would say is appropriate (despite it being washed 10 times more often than my poor car).
Wet chain lubes have contributed to what can become a particularly nasty situation if not degreased and washed regularly.
It has been interesting to watch the trend of waxed chains over the years. Early adopter friends, the same ones who often disparage the state of my drivetrain, have been proselytizing on our group rides for some time about the benefits of heat-dipped wax systems. These same characters cheekily touched their chains in coffee and held their hands clean to the amazement of the caffeinated crowd.
So, I entered the chain wax world over the last 12 months, but at first with just a “pour-on” wax. Now, after my wax-headed friend gave me some wax and a slow cooker for Christmas last year, I’m fully into the hot warp world.
This article describes the chain cleaning and waxing process and the challenges involved, and will be followed in future editions of BA with an article that assesses the long-term benefits that waxed chains yield.
Please note: these benefits are claimed to include: not needing to degrease your transmission; significantly improved chain and gear wear, and therefore longer life; and the ever-large marginal gain of increased efficiency (i.e. free watts). These benefits have been mentioned in previous BA articles and elsewhere, so they won’t be covered in depth here. Instead, we’ll explain how easy/difficult the whole process is so that interested readers can assess whether they want to join the “clean waxy shiny” cycling club.
A brief note on pour-on waxes. I’ve used Squirt Pouring Wax and found it to be really user friendly. Rather than needing to dip the entire chain in wax, you would simply pour it over a clean, installed chain and it would harden in about an hour and be ready to ride.
Reapplying was probably every two hundred miles for me, but it was as simple as wiping the dirt off the chain with a rag, then reapplying the wax and letting it cure. This, however, is probably a
bit of a gangway lubrication system.
Pour-on wax does not cover the entire chain like a dip wax system does, therefore it does not provide the same dirt barrier or quite the same level of friction reduction. The time I spent using it pleased me with the pleasure of a cleaner transmission and made me much more interested in immersing myself in the world of hot wax.
So without further ado, let’s review the steps I took to set up my waxed chain drivetrain.
The first good tip is that these hot chains should be re-soaked every 200-400 miles depending on who you listen to and how much life you want to get out of your chain.
Obviously, the more often you re-dive, the better your chain and drivetrain are in terms of wear. So if you’re covering more than 100 km per week, buying several chains to soak at once and then running them all before having to re-soak is probably a good idea. I bought three, but I think in the future I could go up to five.
Clean up your channel
There will likely be some difference in this process depending on where you get your advice. I followed a two-step cleaning process; the first was to clean the chains with mineral turpentine to completely rid them of all lubricants, coatings, etc. they contain from the manufacturer.
This is important because the wax must adhere directly to the chain’s clean metal for best adhesion. I dipped the chains in the turps in a jar, stirred and left overnight (how little overnight can be overkill). Then you wipe down the chains and repeat the process with rubbing alcohol.
Turps can leave a film on the chain, as can other strong cleaners, and so methylated spirits leave you with a clean, film-free chain ready to wax. I was intimidated by this process beforehand, but it was really very easy.
Heat and melt the wax
For this step, you will probably be better served by purchasing a dedicated slow cooker. These are pretty cheap now, so it’s just space that’s the biggest issue. The wax is heated in the slow cooker to around 93 degrees Celsius. I have used Molten Speedwax but there are many other companies.
The wax came in a powder form and took about an hour in my slow cooker to reach over 90 degrees. Clean string can be wrapped around a wire in smaller lengths to ensure it fits the cooker. Then you just have to insert it and “swoosh” it for a few seconds, long enough and with enough movement to get wax on all parts of the chain.
Then you take it out and hang it up to dry. Note: the chain will dry stiff, but it is the solidified wax that does its job. Also be careful: the chain sticks out more than 90 degrees, so avoid touching it directly.
Stay tuned. I will report back after several thousand miles in my chains and give some thoughts on my perceptions of the effect on performance and chain wear. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my shiny bike and all the benefits of my newfound bike-nerd status.
Drive your transmission faster and more efficiently
This is the fun part; the chain is smooth and snappy, the shifting is nice and everything stays clean. Now I feel like part of the cool crowd with shiny drivetrains and clean hands.
Is it worth all the effort? As with everything, it depends. Certainly, the result is excellent, a fast, clean, efficient and durable transmission! Really nice. The downside is the regularity of chain removal and recleaning and soaking. (Note: After the first cleaning, you can just use a pot of boiling water to clean the chains.) For me, even with three waxed chains, redipping has to be done every few weeks. So time will tell if the clean bike motivation continues to outweigh the disturbing factor. I think so, now that the equipment (slow cooker, etc.) is installed, it doesn’t take too much time or effort.
Other useful tips
It is best to use quick links because the chain will be taken apart many times (more than 20) throughout its life. So a quick link tool would come in handy. Also be sure to clean and wax the quick links as described for the chain above.
Thoroughly clean your transmission
I took my cassette out and cleaned it and my platters with the turps to make sure they were nice and clean too. Keeping everything clean is the goal here – if you’re using old components some of that worn dirt can be tricky to remove, but a soak in the turps works well enough.
Articulate the links
I then used the circle bar on my bike stand to “hinge” all the links, i.e. break the dried wax so the chain would move freely. It felt a little stiff at first until several loops through the drivetrain were done.
Do you have any advice for yourself? Have your say in the comments section below.