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So im thinking of waxing my chain (with parafin wax) what would the advantages of this be over wet lube (i use muck off). Anybody have any experience with waxed chains?

Thanks.

  • In many ways paraffin/beeswax is an ideal lubricant (and most chains come from the factory waxed). However, it collects dirt and can only be effectively applied/refreshed by removing the chain from the bike (so you're far less likely to maintain it properly). A chain washer (with solvent) and a liquid wax of the climate-appropriate type is far more practical. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 29 '17 at 23:08
  • I've switched from oil lube to this one: www.squirtlube.com (not an advert, just an experience). I'm happy with it - in summer I've done some xc races, sometimes in lots of mud - this lube performed much better than oil: less friction and less mud on the chain – k102 Dec 1 '17 at 14:41
  • Lube oils for chains contain waxes ( microcrystaline ?). I am not a lube engineer but I talked with some about motorcycle chain lubes. – blacksmith37 Dec 15 '18 at 20:28
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I have been using paraffin wax this year on my "fast" road bike as a bit of an experiment. This was using the hot wax approach, where paraffin wax was melted (in a slow cooker) and a clean chain dipped in the hot wax.

Pros

  • Very clean drive train, even after 2000 km the cassette and rings sparkle. Straight paraffin (i.e., without bees wax) does not attract dirt. I rarely find myself cleaning the drive train as it just isn't needed.
  • Efficient - feels quite efficient when pedaling. Nothing earth shattering, just a positive feel. Perhaps this is confirmation bias, due to the Velonews research. I haven't tried to quantify any differences yet.
  • Longer period of time between maintenance. Typically 400-600 km between needing to reapply.
  • Reapplication of hot wax can be quick 15 min - if you have the setup.
  • Lower wear rates. My preliminary results have shown lower wear rates relative to wet lube, but I need more data before I can sign off on this. See ParkTool CC-2 chain checker incorrect readings for an example of how to measure chain wear rates precisely measured in the field.

Cons

  • Time consuming to prepare a chain for first waxing (ALL LUBE must be removed). This step is critical and time consuming (see below).
  • Chain runs a bit nosier, especially if cross chaining.
  • Chain must be removed from the bike to re-wax
  • More paraphernalia required (e.g., slow cooker, wax, gloves, solvents, jars)
  • You need to be organized. Wet lubes are easier, if you don't plan.
    • Typically, I have about 3 chains pre-waxed which I rotate once the wax has worn off.

Additional Details on Hot Waxing

When done right paraffin wax adheres to the metal and takes up the space between the rollers and inner links. Because the wax is solid at room temperature, this means the chain is running on a film of hard wax, which increase efficiency and reduces roller wear. This only works if you prepare the chain correctly, otherwise the wax will not adhere and the wax will not remain between the rollers and inner plates/bushings (inner plates act as bushings in modern chains).

Initial Preparation

Probably the most critical step for a successful hot waxing is preparing the chain. All lube must be stripped off. EVERYTHING. No residue, just bare metal. This is actually more difficult than it first sounds. I typically follow this tutorial by Molten Speed Wax (although I haven't tried their wax yet). The mineral spirits do a good job of stripping out oils, but they do leave a residue. Mineral spirits is therefore followed by rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) baths, which leaves bear metals. After drying the chain is ready for a hot wax treatment. Regular bike degreasers will likely not be strong enough.

Solvents are expensive and potentially harmful to the environment so I reuse my solvents, but moving them down the chain. I use about 6-7 sequential baths (4 mineral spirits, 3 alcohol). Tedious! Afterwards solvents will need to be disposed/recycled at the proper facilities- not down the drain!!!

debris Example of the debris removed from a new chain after the first solvent bath.

Multiple Chains

Because of the tedium and work involved I tend to prepare batches of chains then rotate them on a bike. This makes re-lubing as easy as swapping a chain. I also use master a link, which I tend to reuse a number of times before replacing.

Re-waxing

Re-waxing is as simple as wiping any dust or dirt off of the chain and re-inserting into hot wax again. Any remaining dirt tends to fall out of the chain as you mix the pot, settling on the bottom. Afterwards you can cut out the dirty wax which settles to the bottom of the pot. I typically keep my re-waxing wax separate from my first time wax which is pristine.

Known Unknowns

Right now I get good longevity in the dry, even better in the cold and dry (as the wax is harder), but I have no idea the longevity in the wet and muddy. I remember the Velonews test showed good friction performance (the paraffin keeps out mud) but I am not sure anyone looked at longevity (i.e., how long before re-waxing).

Once I set my commuter up on a waxed chain I will have a better of how this may pan out.


UPDATE 1: Wear Rates

The wear rate of Paraffin treated chain is significantly lower (p < 0.001) with a wear rate about 40% of the wear rate measured while using oil. In the figure below oil was used on the chain for the first 100 hours before switching to paraffin. The slope of the regression lines indicates the wear rate, with the shaded region indicating the 95% confidence region for the regression line. Note that the measured wear drops slightly after switching to paraffin, my best guess is that the wax fills some of the space between the roller and pin, effectively reducing measured stretch.

oil vs paraffin chain wear rates

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Generally wax based lubes (here, I’m not talking about dipping your chain in hot paraffin wax, but of liquid lubes with wax in them) are best in dry conditions. “Wet” lubes are best in wet conditions. Wax based lubes are a type of “dry” lube.

Wax based lubes tend to reject dry dust and dirt quite well. In my experience, they will literally clump up into waxy balls of dirt and fall off. This effect does not work well in wet conditions and, if it is wet, wax based lubes will need reapplication so frequently that they are not good to use.

Wet lubes attract dust and dirt. So in dry conditions they will make dirt stick to the chain, which can end up essentially making a grinding paste that will wear down your drivetrain. That being said, it will last much longer in wet conditions.

The two types of lube are not compatible. Wet lubes will block dry lubes from adhering to the chain, and vice versa.

I live in a rainy climate and mostly use wet lubes, but I do have a “dry day only” bike where I use a wax based lubricant.

There is a technique of literally submersing your chain in melted wax. This is great for getting it in all the internal spots that may be hard to reach, although you can do something similar with wet lubes. Notes that if you soak your chain in a wet lube you should definitely wipe off ALL the excess lube. With dry lubes this doesn’t really matter as any excess will just fall off the chain.

  • 4
    Paraffin waxing a chain is very different from wax based lubes. The latter use a carrier to get the wax into the chain and never last as long as a paraffin hot wax treatment. – Rider_X Nov 30 '17 at 6:18
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    Based on the comment to the original question I was beginning to suspect that might be the case. I’ll have to do some reading in the subject, but indeed I’m starting to doubt the accuracy of my answer given the specific mention of paraffin wax. – WillyC Nov 30 '17 at 6:26
  • I clarified the answer a bit as I was confused in the first paragraph and thought the OP was nuts. – RoboKaren Nov 30 '17 at 18:39
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My answer will be nowhere near the quality of the answer above. If unscientific observation from an old duffer has any value, read on. In the early sixties we paraffin waxed our trail motorcycle chains for our days of riding and camping in the rainy Olympic mountains. It didn't take us long to develop noisy and rusty chains. As an Industrial Engineer at Boeing, I was given a quart of the cutting fluid developed for use drilling the huge titanium landing gear beams to the center bulkhead. We began using it on our trail bikes and learned to just ignore chains for long intervals. I thought I had the ultimate answer. I retired and moved to Arizona and have become an avid mountain biker. I used a series of oil based wet lubes and found our volcanic pumice, powdered clay, and sand turns oil lubes into a mess similar to asphalt. I was so excited to find Boelube available. I found it significantly better than other oil based lubes. But, it still gathers grit and makes a grinding slurry, I returned to hot paraffin treatment and would get chattering chains in 60 mile or so trail rides. Now I clean the outside of my new chains thoroughly with alcohol and use 1 of several paraffin liquid waxes (like White Lightning). They don't begin talking to me until about 80 miles. I change them out about every 800 miles.

My conclusion is use Boelube in Seattle and bike shop liquid paraffin in the desert. Even as an old retired duffer with lots of time, the effort to hot paraffin chains may exceed its value. New chains are cheap. Gears and chain-rings are not. After several years of saving maybe still good used chains, I threw them all away.

  • The key to titanium cutting fluids is chloride ( or halide) . Not a good thing for steel, it promotes corrosion. – blacksmith37 Dec 15 '18 at 20:25
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    I like that this acknowledges that different lubes are appropriate for different conditions. – Deleted User Dec 18 '18 at 14:00

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