A faster chain
Jakob Ohlsen 20th March 2018
When it comes to free speed, most triathletes think about disc wheels, aerodynamic helmets and expensive carbon frames. Many athletes ignore a crucial part of the bike, the chain. And what could you change about a chain? You can't make it more aero and when it comes to the weight you want to be careful as well because in the end the chain translates the riders power to the rear wheel. Therefore a chain has to endure heavy loads and it is due to this loads, that the friction of chain and chain rings become of interest when we are looking for free speed. In the following I would like to explain a few things about chain care, lubrication, the chain itself and what you can gain from the best solutions in each field.
Even though this is obvious, I would like to encourage every reader, to visit your basement, garage or bike shed and clean your bike - your chain and chain rings in particular. You should do this on a regular basis and not just after you rode your bike in wet and muddy conditions. A well lubricated chain acts like a magnet to dust and gets dirty even if the roads are dry and clean. With the time dust and chain wear accumulate to a black chewy mass and slow your bike down. You can clean your chain in the old fashioned way by using a old cloth and maybe a toothbrush but nowadays there are special tools and agents* on the market, which make chain cleaning much easier. Compared to a dirty chain you can save around two watts with a clean drivetrain.
In a training camp I once witnessed a friend lubricating his chain with olive oil. Today I know this might have been a smart move of him, because olive oil is, in terms of friction, a quite good lubricant, but more on that later. First of all it is important to lubricate your drivetrain in the right way. When you apply the lubricant you should not drown your chain in it, but apply it carefully. Make sure you get rid of unnecessary lubricant by giving your chain a quick wipe afterwards. A lot doesn't help a lot in this case. A too well lubricated chain will attract more dust (see above), which then leads to more friction.
When you choose your lubricant, you should take a closer look on what's available. The differences between good and poor lubricants can be up to four watts in terms of power. At this point I would like to refer to the website www.friction-facts.com. Company founder Jason Smith tested 55 different lubricants in his laboratory. You can buy the test results for a few bucks (nothing compared to your new aero wheels) . Beside the olive oil especially wax based lubricants performed very well in his test. Additional to the low friction this lubricants also show a good performance in wet conditions and prove themselfs as quite durable. All purpose lubricant WD40 did not come of very well in this particular test.
My insider tip: Squirt Lube Chain Wax* - Compared to other wax based lubricants it is rather easy to apply this one and it has excellent friction qualities.
The chain itself
Of course there are also some differences between the various chains you can buy for your bike. The differences between a good and a poor chain (using the same lubricant) are not as big as one could expect. When you look at the higher price range the chains of the big players only differ in a range of about one watt. So when it comes to chain efficiency the most important things are the chosen lubricant and the cleanliness of your chain.
Jason Smith, Founder of the company Friction Facts published a recipe for a very low friction chain-lubricant combination a few years ago. Now every bike enthusiast can make his own so called "UltraFast Chain".
1. Chain running-in
To allow the best possible performance you should give the chain a short run-in (for example on a hometrainer) before you go on to the next steps. The run-in will make sure that small production related imperfection are smoothed out.
2. Clean Start
In the next step you have to clean the chain from all coatings and lubricants. To achieve the best results you have to clean it in two steps. First you put the chain in an ultrasonic cleaner together with some dissolvent. Afterwards you bath the chain in rubbing alcohol to make sure the chain is totally free of lubricants.
3. UltraFast Lube
To produce the special lubricant you first have to melt the paraffin wax. You can do this by using a crock pot or an ordinary pot, which you then heat in a water bath. The wax should melt at a temperatures from 60-80°C. Never heat the wax in a pot which sits directly on the stove, because it is inflammable at high temperatures. Once the wax is molten you add the PTFE and MoS2 and whisk everything until the powders are evenly distributed.
4. Lubricate the chain
To apply the wax to the chain, you should heat the chain (to approx. 80°C) as well before the two come together. You can do this by using a heat gun. Smith then uses another ultrasonic device in which he places wax an chain for about 20min (10 each side), but he suggests that one can achieve a similar effect by agitating a sealed container, which holds chain and molten wax.
5. Another chain running-in
To get rid of excess wax you should run the chain a second time. Afterwards the chain is prepared to make your bike a little faster.
Meanwhile Smiths Friction Facts lab merged with the company CeramicSpeed and serves now as a test lab for products of this manufacturer. Because of that I assume, that the CeramicSpeed UFO Racing Chains, are produced in a similar way to the chain recipe you can find above. For everyone who is not in the mood for chain cooking the CeramicSpeed UFO Racing ChainÜ is probably the fastest bicycle chain you can currently buy on the market.
(*) Affiliate Link