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I’m interested I switching to paraffin chain wax or a wax product like Molten Speed Wax. But I’ve got concerns about how it might perform in winter where I live in Calgary, Alberta.

It’s supposed to be good for not picking up grime so I’m presuming it will do well to keep from picking up salt and snow, but I do wonder if it won’t just lock up or flake off when the temperatures get too cold.

Any insight or experience using chain wax in winter climates would be appreciated.

(To be clear, I’m asking about the kind of product you melt in a slow cooker and immerse your chain in after stripping other lubes off with mineral spirits. I’m not asking about wax based dry lubes that you apply to the chain while it’s still on the bike.)

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  • I've recently put waxxed chains on two bikes, but its high summer here so the opposite of what you ask. I'll reply in ~6 months with my experiences.
    – Criggie
    Jan 4, 2020 at 5:50
  • I know that wax based bottle lubricants work fine (with appropriate application intervals) in very cold temperatures. I don't see any reason a different application method would change the properties of the lubricant. Jan 6, 2020 at 15:17
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    It’s my understanding that this product is different in more that just the application method. You don’t need to use solvents to strip all other lubricants with liquid wax lubes the way you do with hot wax. Hot wax is meant to bond to the chain in a different way than other lubes. Even if the application was the only difference the extra labour required might make or break the utility of this product in winter. You can’t quickly re-apply hot wax. You need spare chains. The entire process is different, which is why I asked specifically for experience with hot wax.
    – dave
    Jan 6, 2020 at 15:30
  • @dave that isn't entirely true. Most lubricants suggest that you clean your chain and remove whatever the previous lubricants were (no mixing) before applying their lubricant. Then they assume you will just reapply their lube when needed and re-clean when needed. I don't think the bonding method is any different (I could be wrong, link/info might help). Dipping leaves a layer in place, bottle wax contains a solvent that evaporates, leaving the wax layer in place. Both methods simply create a liquid to get into the necessary spaces (one with solvent, one by heating the wax). Jan 7, 2020 at 18:58
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    I don’t believe most lubricants call for mineral spirits and denatured alcohol to clean the chain. Here’s the instructions from Molten Speed Wax. moltenspeedwax.com/pages/clean-your-chain Here’s another stack exchange thread on the issue. bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/51202/26161
    – dave
    Jan 7, 2020 at 19:03

4 Answers 4

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If this is your first go at waxing you might want to hold-off until summer so that you can get the hang of waxing before having to deal with the extra workload caused by poorer riding conditions.

I use waxed chains in wet BC weather, not as sever as Alberta, but winter maintenance is still a challenge compared to summer. Like all lubes, waxing does not last as long in poor weather as it does in good weather. During the winter, when it is really wet and grimy (e.g., 10-20 mm rain per day, and riding on gravel/dirt), I only get 2 days (4 commutes - 100 km) out of a chain before I need to re-wax it. To get around this I have about 4 chains that rotate on the bike with a Wipperman reusable quick link (these quick links are expensive, but are reusable and last forever). I opted for 4 chains as I typically re-wax 3 chains at a time to make it worth the hassle of cleaning the dirt off chains (much easier than an oily chain), melting the wax, re-waxing, and freeing up the links after waxing. I wouldn't recommend doing it for batches smaller than this as you will drive yourself bonkers!

If it is cold and dry the wax lasts much longer than in summer (e.g., 2x longer).

In terms of salt, this is a challenge for any lube. When it's salty I can get some surface rust depending on the chain quality and whether it is wet and salty or dry and salty.

So why bother

Running waxed chains in the winter is more bother than the summer, but maintenance is always higher in the winter. An advantage of waxing is that the chain and drivetrain remains relatively clean, even in disgusting wet conditions. The image below was from one winter commute in the pouring rain. The frame gives you an idea of how much debris has been thrown on the drivetrain (despite full length aluminum fenders with rolled edges), yet the the drivetrain is remarkable clean and can be quickly whipped clean with a damp rag, no solvents or elbow grease.

winter grime

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  • We're probably colder and drier in Calgary than in BC. Salt really only becomes a problem on warm days when built up snow/ice melts, or on days it snows, which isn't all that often. Changing chains every other day sounds like a pain, but maybe I can get more time out of it here.
    – dave
    Jan 6, 2020 at 22:02
  • @dave the wetter it is the more frequently you will need to re-wax/change a chain. When its dry I can get 400-800 km before needing to re-wax. Its a real sliding scale. I was highlighting the difficulties of a wet/dirty winter riding environment.
    – Rider_X
    Jan 6, 2020 at 22:07
  • Changing chains isn't a bother with a good replaceable chain lock. It's faster than applying lube to a chain on the bike. Open lock, let chain drop out, pull new chain through rear mech, throw other end over chain ring, close link, done. Takes about 3 min.
    – gschenk
    Nov 10, 2023 at 8:05
  • If it rains, it's not winter as far as I'm concerned. In my experience at around -5 degrees centigrade wax stiffens and impacts shifting.
    – oscu0
    Nov 10, 2023 at 12:10
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I posed this question directly to the people at Molten Speed Wax and got this reply:

Our product works great in winter, the key is to put the chain on the bike inside and run it through the gears when the chain is still warm from the pot. The reason is a newly waxed chain is very stiff in super cold temps., but if you pre-break in the chain before going outside it eliminates the problem. This is a tip we give to fat bikers who race in temps.well below zero F.

Concerning salt and sand, that's really tough on any lube. The fix is to have a backup chain or two so if you ride in wet conditions for some time you can quickly change out a chain with a fresh waxed one. Short rides in the wet are no problem but when in doubt re-wax. We ride outside year round and Minnesota is notorious for sand and salt, but wax performs really well.

One last note, don't worry about wax flaking off. Some excess will flake off but all you need is a very thin layer on the chain and that will stay on the chain, particularly on the inside, where all the friction is.

In sum, ride wax year round, no problem.

Obviously they’re promoting their own product so I’ll take their advice with a grain of road salt, but I think I’m convinced to try it and report back.

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  • Their assertion makes sense. Excess wax that gets cold will create losses. If you "shape" the wax by running it warm and getting it down to just the lubricating layer and the excess gets moved while warm, it would/should be better. Jan 6, 2020 at 15:21
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The home-brew wax lube I use (paraffin wax and tungsten disulfide powder in a slow-cooker) doesn't seem to like the cold (noticeably higher friction) even only down to -10 to -15C. I don't commute in the winter, only fat biking on groomed trails, so using an oil on the chain in the winter isn't the black sludgefest it would be in the summer since the only contaminant is clean snow. I haven't tried the Molten Speed Wax suggestion but it's not like the chain doesn't go through the gears on a ride.

I don't find wax to be a very good rust preventative on a chain. The wax gets scraped off sections of the outside of the chain (rollers, outside of the chain plates) and the cassette teeth and these areas will rust. With a wet lube the oil is more mobile and will coat everything with an oily non-rust coating. It works well at keeping mud or grit out of the inside of the chain much better than wet lube but isn't good at keeping rust at bay.

Salt is likely to be hard on anything. Your best bet is something with low-tier components you can replace inexpensively or a belt drive with an internal gear hub (or single speed).

Depending on how much effort you want to put into this there's always the option of the old-school method for rainy grand tour stages: Soaking the chain in melted grease. In the cold the grease should thicken to the point it will help keep some contamination out of the inside of the chain much like wax but still provide lubrication and likely be a better rust stopper than wax. Your pant legs will probably not thank you however.

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  • Welcome to the site - that's a well constructed and useful answer, thank you.
    – Criggie
    Nov 9, 2023 at 22:08
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In my experience with immersion waxing, when temperatures drop a few degrees below freezing the wax in the chain stiffens and starts to impact shifting. You adjust the barrel a little and get going, then it stiffens more, you do it a little more and end up offsetting the drivetrain by a whole gear just so it downshifts. And it's very hard to debug, because in a warm bike shop it shifts fine... I was using a locally-sourced wax with PTFE in it, Campagnolo 12-speed chains and drivetrain. Maybe with a wider chain, 8 speed or something, the effect would be less noticeable. Squirt makes a winter-specific drip wax, and I've used that for a while, but it flakes off very fast, I had to relube multiple times a week.

I've since switched to Silca Synergetic wet lube, I find it doesn't collect that much sludge after the first ride after application because of how little of it is necessary to use.

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