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What is the sludge on a chain?

Old 08-02-17, 11:47 PM
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Robert P
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What is the sludge on a chain?

After cleaning the gears and chain absolutely clean and lubing with Rock N Roll Gold, ride for about a week and the chain develops this gray coating. Ride exclusively on asphalt road and concrete sidewalks, not a particularly mucky environment. Any speculation what the sludge coating is? Material wearing off the various gears?
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Old 08-03-17, 12:14 AM
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I think it's road grime kicked up into the drive train and mixed with the chain lube. It's the same fine grit you get on your shins. Add a little moisture and oil turns gray.
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Old 08-03-17, 06:44 AM
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Road grime + wear particles from the chain + chain lube = sludge
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Old 08-03-17, 07:30 AM
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Like others mentioned, it sounds like a light case of road grime. I'm often amazed that the amount of small particualte matter in urban areas like where I ride (north NJ and NYC). I developed a habit of wiping the chain after every ride. I also check the tires. They can get a lot of tiny slices from microfine rock, glass and metal. I also notice that I often have to dig out the tiny object out of the tire. If you have a bike pump, then you can let some air out of the tire to help get stubborn stuff out by pinching it.
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Old 08-03-17, 08:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert P View Post
After cleaning the gears and chain absolutely clean and lubing with Rock N Roll Gold, ride for about a week and the chain develops this gray coating. Ride exclusively on asphalt road and concrete sidewalks, not a particularly mucky environment. Any speculation what the sludge coating is? Material wearing off the various gears?
"Road grime" is mixture of a bunch of minerals from the weathering of your local rocks, brake pad dust from cars, tire wear from cars and some metal bits from the chain and gears (and cars). It's a range of particle sizes from barely microscopic to nanoparticles (nanometer range or 1 billionth of a meter or 0.000000001 m or 3.93701e-8 inches). Most of them are harmless (or mostly harmless). Anything harder than steel on the Mohs scale can damage the chain. That's probably going to be quartz for most people.

If you wan't to avoid the "sludge" use a lubricant that doesn't act as a vehicle for the stuff in the sludge to hang onto the chain. My chains never have any "sludge" on them.

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Old 08-03-17, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
If you wan't to avoid the "sludge" use a lubricant that doesn't act as a vehicle for the stuff in the sludge to hang onto the chain. My chains never have any "sludge" on them.
Seems like all lubricants are going to be sticky to some degree - what lube do you use? After riding a couple of weeks, if you ran your fingers back and forth along the chain there's nothing?
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Old 08-03-17, 09:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert P View Post
After cleaning the gears and chain absolutely clean and lubing with Rock N Roll Gold, ride for about a week and the chain develops this gray coating. Ride exclusively on asphalt road and concrete sidewalks, not a particularly mucky environment. Any speculation what the sludge coating is? Material wearing off the various gears?
How well do you wipe off the chain after applying the R'n'R? Should be almost dry to the touch. If you just squirt on more and go, of course it's going to build up a lot of muck.
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Old 08-03-17, 09:16 AM
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As noted it's mostly road dust mixed with and adhered by the oil. While there may be some metal wear byproduct from the chain and sprockets it, that's only an extremely tiny fraction of what you see. After all, the grime forms in days, and how much wear happens by then.

Side note. I grew up in NYC and for years believed that subway cars were painted that particular dark olive color which was common throughout the fleet. It wasn't until my late teens, when they bought new cars painted a bright cherry red, and observed the metamorphosis over time that I learned the sad truth.
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Old 08-03-17, 10:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert P View Post
Seems like all lubricants are going to be sticky to some degree - what lube do you use? After riding a couple of weeks, if you ran your fingers back and forth along the chain there's nothing?
I clean my chain by dumping it in a sealed container with a 50/50 mix of degreaser and boiling water, then shake the crap out of it. Drain, rinse, shake, and drain again. To get rid of the water, I either pour some alcohol in the container, or blast some brakleen in there and shake again. Amazingly, I still get black goop out of the chain. Repeating this step finally yields a spotless chain, and it dries pretty quickly.

From here I dump it in a tub of paraffin. This stuff works really well, and it's not too pricey. But I use a double-boiler, because the plastic jar will melt if you let it rest on the bottom of your pot of boiling water.

The paraffin dries pretty dry, so it seems less likely to attract road grime. As a result, I have to go through this less often than when I used "wet" lubes. And the chain is super quiet after a waxing. It's a little labor intensive, so probably not for everyone.
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Old 08-03-17, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert P View Post
Seems like all lubricants are going to be sticky to some degree - what lube do you use?
Not all. I use, and have used, White Lightning for about 20 years

Originally Posted by Robert P View Post
After riding a couple of weeks, if you ran your fingers back and forth along the chain there's nothing?
Yes.



I don't do dirty chains nor do I clean them excessively...or at all. I strip the factory lubricant when I install and that's the last cleaning, including wiping, I do on them. I lubricant about every 500 to 700 miles. The above was taken in the middle of winter and I probably lubricate less because the lubricant doesn't go on as well when it is cold.
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