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Back To The Future: Waxing My Chains

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Back To The Future: Waxing My Chains

Old 01-29-19, 06:21 PM
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Back To The Future: Waxing My Chains

In the spring of 2016 I switched (back) to waxing my bicycle chains, and I've worked out a routine for doing it that I think I can live with indefinitely, and that actually is less (or at least 'no more') of a hassle than "conventional" squirt-on, scrub-off method of chain lubing.

I figure most people attracted to this thread will be wondering, "Why the heck would you even bother?" so I'll address that first. If you don't care why and only are interested in is the "How?" skip on down to the row of asterisks.

The first reason "Why?" is that paraffin excellent lube. Some lab tests show it's the best lube there is (except for the factory lube, which, mysteriously, no one apart the chain manufacturers seems to be able to duplicate). I've also seen reports claiming that those positive results are a sham but I would note that many "high-end" automotive motor oils also are "paraffinic," so the sheer lubricity of paraffin is beyond dispute.

Regardless, there are unrelated tests online which concluded that $5 a quart motor oil is as good a lube as any purpose-made liquid chain lube, and others which surmised that frictional losses from a properly-lubed chain are so low regardless of the particular lubricant used that functional differences between them are insignificant.

Which means we're off into the realm of "marginal gains," and even when I was racing marginal gains likely would not have improved my results, so now it's simply not worth the headache.

Second, paraffin is clean. Once applied, wax isn't wet and is less prone to collecting dust and dirt. Plus, a properly waxed chain leaves very little residue, either on the bike or on my hands if I should need to derail or remount the chain by hand, I don't come away with a handful of gunk. I clean sprockets much less frequently (practically never), and even when I do, it takes less time.

Third, A freshly-waxed chain runs as quiet as a mouse fart and shifts slicker than deer guts on a doorknob. Yeah, I know a fresh lube job always makes the chain initially quieter, then it gets over it. But a fresh waxed chain is uncannily quiet. Makes me giddy every time I ride out of the garage on fresh wax. Combine that with a nice, smooth piece of tarmac and the bike fair disappears from beneath you. It feels like you're flying a magic carpet, not riding a bike.

Fourth, it's cheap. I pay about $3 for a pound (453g) of paraffin OTD at a local big box store. Each application uses about six grams of wax. Even if spillage and waste in general runs as high as 50% (more on that topic below), that means I get ~50 applications for my three bucks, ~6¢ a pop.



Fifth, it lasts. I habitually run 400-450 miles per application. Just as a trial, in the autumn of '16 I ran consecutive applications on different chains (a Wipperman and a KMC) for around 700 miles (each), and after 700 miles on the same application they weren't yet screaming, "LUBE ME!" In the interest of full disclosure I should note that we had an uncommonly dry autumn that year and not once did the chain(s) get wet in the 1400-mile (combined) test period. Some people say that a single wet ride completely ruins the wax application, but that's not my experience. If it's a frog-strangler, yes, that usually calls for fresh wax, but that's no different from my experience with any liquid commercial lube. I think people who have more problems with waxed chains in the wet than liquid commercial lube either haven't applied the wax properly or didn't properly degrease the chain in the first place.

Sixth, for me, it's more convenient to buy than store-bought. I live in a one-horse town and the nearest bike shop is a too far to drive on weekdays. The nearest shop where they speak Italian (= sells Campy stuff) is even further. And on weekends I don't want to invest that much time in shopping for chain lube. So if I unexpectedly run low on liquid commercial lube, I either can bite the bullet and drive to the big city, or I can order online and wait three days for it to arrive.

OTOH, there are multiple stores in my (tiny) home town that carry paraffin. I'd hazard to guess every single grocery store carries it, located in the canning supply section. Plus the big box and hardware stores.

Seventh, with the chain maintenance routine I'm using, going from needing wax to freshly waxed is fast. Provided a freshly-waxed replacement chain is in the on-deck circle (which should always be the case, if you're sticking to "the plan" ), I can go from the realizing my chain needs lube to riding out on a fresh-lubed chain in three minutes. Five if I'm fumble-fingered. And I don't even have to stop and wash my hands when I'm done. Read about my method for details.

The final reason is ...me. I'm kind of a retro-grouch and this sort of thing makes me feel like I'm lavishing attention on my bike. Which I figure is the least I can do, considering all it does for me. And I like the "old-school" aspect of it, too. Maybe I should change my Screen Name to "Dave Stoller" and sing opera when I ride, just to round out the mien.



**For our compatriots who still have pictures of Elizabeth Regina II on their money, I'm using "wax" and "paraffin" interchangeably but the paraffin to which I refer is a waxy (duh!) solid at room temperature, as opposed to "paraffin oil" in the 'Old Blighty' sense, which Americans call "kerosene."
**************************************************************************************************** *************************************


Let me say at the outset that I think this method is best applied to chains with reusable master links. Otherwise I don't see it working out so well. Which was never a negative with me because I hope I've spent the last money I ever will on specialty tools for reconnecting master link-less chains. For my money, so long as I can find master link chains that I'm satisfied with the quality of, I'm never going back there.

Boiled down to the Readers Digest version, these are the ingredients in my 'secret' sauce:

1. Degrease the chain(s) thoroughly before the first application of wax.
2. Use two (or more) chains, in rotation, each ridden "to exhaustion" of the lube.
3. Only put the minimum amount of wax necessary in the waxing pot or on the chain.

I listed degreasing first because no matter what else you do, if you don't give the paraffin a bare metal surface to bind to, you shouldn't expect optimal results. I can't tell you how many posts I've come across where some guy wrote that he'd degreased his chain by spraying it with that enviro-friendly chartreuse stuff and wiping it down. Makes me laugh out loud. The wax won't cling properly unless the metal is bare. Not slightly bare, not mostly bare. Bare. Everywhere, including where spraying and wiping will never remove it. Note that as a consequence of stripping all lubrication, some chains will show a tendency to start developing a patina of rust within minutes. So you might want to be prepared to commence waxing as soon as the stripping is done.

To completely degrease, soak the chain overnight immersed in solvent, shaken now and again for good measure (causing the chain to articulate a bit while submerged helps the solvent to better penetrate into the crevices and recesses). I use odorless mineral spirits in a 1-lb steel coffee can (less the coffee grounds). After the soak, pour off the OMS and pour in enough denatured alcohol to cover. Give it a good shake, pour off the alky, then soak overnight in solvent again. Repeat until the solvent comes off crystal clear, then rinse one last time in alcohol.

It generally takes me three soaks before the solvent bath comes off clear. Which should tell you how much you'd be missing if all you're doing is spraying and wiping.

That's general information about converting from liquid lube to wax but not unique to my "method." The other two of my Reader's Digest points are, if not unique, at least not widely practiced.

The next point is: run more than one chain. No, not at the same time. Seriatim. One after the other.

The biggest single PITA to waxing chains (apart from the need to remove & replace the chain, which is even more of a factor if you didn't specifically select chains for their ease of R&R) is the fact that the bike is completely deadlined, out of service and NMC (not mission capable), little better than a Draisene until you get the chain removed and cleaned and rewaxed and remounted. For most of us, that means the process goes from outside to inside the house and then back outside again. At least once.

But with the two-chain method, the strategic objective is to be mindful of the condition of the chain that isn't on the bike. If the second chain already is cleaned and waxed and in the on-deck circle, heck, you might as well be 10-feet-tall and bullet-proof. You can't do enough damage to the chain that's mounted on the bike that it can't be corrected in mere (low single digit) minutes by swapping to the second chain.

Regardless how well you've planned and how diligently you've followed the plan, there's always the possibility you'll get caught short and suddenly find you're in need of 'unscheduled' chain maintenance. And if/when this happens, you're most likely dressed to ride and ready to go but the bike isn't fit to be ridden. I don't know about you but at the end of a typical ride, I have other needs I usually find more pressing than bike maintenance (especially if I got rained on), like getting in the bath or having my post-ride recovery beverage. And I sometimes forget to get back to the bike ...until I come out for the next ride. So it happens more frequently than I'd like to admit that I'm only reminded by the grime on the frame that I'd got caught in a popcorn thundershower or had run through puddles enough to get my chain wet, and I really shouldn't ride on the chain as it sits.

If this happens to you, and if you only had the one chain, regardless whether you're waxing or using squirt-on lube, you're looking at a more substantial time penalty before you could get on the road. But if you were using multiple (waxed) chains in rotation, and already had another chain prepared and waiting, you could swap chains and be on your merry way in three minutes (five, if you're being fumble-fingered).

That's the beauty of two (or more) waxed chains. I doubt there's any faster way to go from a chain in need of lube with one that's ready to rock, regardless how you're making the change.

Of course keeping two chains and rotating which one is in use isn't exclusive to waxing but I don't think the 2-chain plan would work as well with squirt-on lube because IMHO it's easiest to clean off liquid lube while the chain is still on the bike. It seems to me it would always require either otherwise unnecessary chain swapping or some sort of Rube Goldberg device to aid in cleaning the chain while it's not connected to anything. That or throw it in the dishwasher (don't laugh, I've considered it). Plus, mounting a fresh-waxed chain doesn't get goo all over your hands.

Strategically, the biggest change with the 2-chain waxing method is that it completely divorces your riding schedule from your the chain maintenance schedule, shifts the burden of time required away from the prime cycling hours. And as long as you follow the program, you'll never miss a minute's daylight (no more than five minutes anyway) because you neglected to take care of your chain after your most recent ride.

The just-removed chain comes in the house with me (preferably at the end of a ride) and I get to it when I get to it. I usually do the re-waxing while I'm preparing a meal because I'm at the stove then anyway. So unless I've been inattentive and got caught short, I shouldn't have to dedicate even off-bike time specifically to re-waxing.

The crux of the biscuit is always to remember that your next ride could be "inconvenienced" unless there's an already cleaned and waxed chain in the waiting. So long as you've got a prepared chain on stand-by, you're golden. You're never more than five minutes away from riding out on a fresh-lubed chain.

It's also been my observation that both chains and sprockets last a bit longer from this method. It certainly doesn't shorten chain life so you should get at least the same lifespan from each chain. So even though the initial cost is greater because you're buying an extra chain, you'll at least break even in the long run from increased component life.

The third point to my secret plan is to use the least wax possible when doing the lubing.

There are only a few companies now selling chain-wax-in-a-can but it used to be quite common. The idea that was you could just coil up your chain and lay it on top of the solid wax, put the (metal) can on the stove and heat it until the wax melted, and you're Bob's nephew (or niece).

Even back in the day I never much cottoned to that plan because it meant that the whole of your brand new can of wax started getting grungy from the first time it was used, and it only got grungier with each use. Which struck me as being like tossing in a thimble-full of sand each time you changed the motor oil and filter in your car. Stories I came across later about dirty lube leading to premature chain death (alluded to above) only reinforced my suspicions. So I came up with a plan to limit the spread of contamination from a dirty chain to a clean one as much as possible by not cross-contaminating the bulk of the wax.

At last here comes the devil that is the details. For starters, understand the act of melting wax does have an element of danger because somewhere after it melts but before it begins to boil, paraffin starts giving off an inflammable gas. Which you've seen in effect every time you've lit a candle. You strike a match and touch it to the wick, which melts the wax. Capillary action draws the molten wax up the wick, and once it reaches the flame, it's heated to beyond its flash point and catches fire. It's the vapors, not the molten wax, that ignite.

Wax melts at about 140°F (~60°C). According to the MSDS for Gulf Wax, its "flash point" (minimum temperature at which a liquid gives off vapor within a test vessel in sufficient concentration to form an ignitable mixture with air) is >400°F. From 140°F to 400°F seems a pretty wide berth but the adjustments on range eyes, especially electric ones, can be pretty crude. The eye doesn't even begin to turn red until it's past twice that hot, more than twice as hot than needs be to set your house on fire.

The danger comes from the fact that once it has melted, there are no visible cues that it is continuing to change. However, before it reaches a boil it will begin to emit an inflammable and invisible gas. Which also happens to be heavier than air. So for a time it will be confined to the pot, but once it overflows (invisibly) out of the pot, then it slides (also invisibly) down the outside and lands on the hot burner. At which point it will produce a highly visible flame. Which might run back up the invisible gas cascading out of the pot, then follow it down into the pot and catch the whole works on fire.

If this happens to you, whatever you do, DO NOT try to put it out with water. Because 400°F wax is far beyond the boiling point of water, so water thrown on burning wax immediately converts to steam and in the expansion likely will blow burning wax all over the kitchen.

So the safety Nazis will tell you never to attempt this without both a fire extinguisher and adult supervision. But I'm prone to running with scissors and think adultism is vastly overrated, so do whatever you want. But if you burn your house down, I never heard of you before.

The old school method for safely melting wax is to use a double boiler (also known as a bain-marie), which is simply a smaller pot containing the wax nested within a larger pot containing hot water. Since water (ordinarily) can't get above 212°F (100°C), that means the pot with the wax will never be exposed to dangerously high temperatures.

In reality it won't get quite get to 212° because the pot the wax is in serves as a heat sink and dissipates a few degrees into the air before all the heat has had the chance to reach the wax. I've checked my set-up and the wax typically is about 190°F, which is plenty hot for the task.

So here's the kit:



Simple. Just two pots, one sized to sit within the other and float on the (hot) water held in the larger. You probably have two that will work already in your cabinets.

The small tin cup is sold for holding condiments and dipping sauces. I chose them because they're about the right size and they're metal, so they can be heated, at least hot enough to melt the paraffin within. About three bucks for a set of four at the big box store. The cup is an integral part of my plan to limit the spread of contamination. More in that in a bit.

The instructions that come with some of those wax-in-a-can things say not to bother cleaning the chain, just throw it in the wax and the grime will all come off when the wax that's already on it melts. But again, that's needlessly adding abrasives to your nice, clean wax so I take a simple additional step to clean the chains first just by pouring hot water over them.

I put them in the sink coiled up and pour boiling water over them. I used to swish them around in a pan filled with boiling water but then I figured out I could boil water faster in the microwave than on the stove. Rinse one side in boiling water, then flip it over and rinse the other. Then a spritz of cool water to make it comfortable to handle and I transfer the noticeably-cleaner chain into the waxing pot (the smaller of the two).



Two things to note about this shot. First, the waxing pan is barely big enough to contain the chain coiled in a single layer, and that was of a purpose. That way it takes less paraffin to fill to a depth that covers the chain. The chain being submerged is important to its temperature completely equalizing with the molten wax which, in turn, insures optimum penetration. Which goes to Point #3 of my secret plan, "Only put the minimum amount of wax necessary in the waxing pot" to limit the spread of contamination.

This also shows how I employ the tin cup of wax. You might note that nowhere have I mentioned taking steps to dry the chain once it's hot rinsed. This is what I do instead. I coil the chain in the pot, still wet, put the tin cup of wax upside-down on top of the chain, then put the waxing pot into the water pot.

The pots I use are a fairly close fit, which would result in spattering if I heated the water to a rolling boil so I only heat it to slow bubbling. That's setting #2 of 9 on my electric stovetop. Then I walk off and do something else, checking back once in a while. So long as you don't boil the pan of water dry, you really can't leave it too long, so you don't have to be particularly attentive.

What melts the wax in the inverted cup is heat coming from the chain. Whenever it gets hot enough, the wax liquefies and runs out onto the chain all on its lonesome. The whole schmere warms pretty gradually, and since the chain has to get to beyond the melting temperature of the wax (~140°F) before the wax will flow out of the cup, by that time the chain already will be bone dry. So the upside-down cup assures that the chain will be dry before making any attempt to apply the molten wax.

I give it several minutes after the wax melts for the temperatures to equalize and stabilize (which helps assure best penetration), then I take the waxing pan out of the house to remove the chain. I use two pair of needle nosed pliers and try to keep the chain somewhat over the pot to catch the drips while I'm wrestling with getting the loops out. I've found that leaving loops in the chain while it cools can produce noisy spots, so I eliminate the loops.

When the waxing pot comes off the stove, paraffin and chain both are about 50°F hotter than the wax's melting point, and it won't cool but just a few degrees before I pull out the chain. Which means it's still hot enough that most of the excess wax should run off and drip back into the pot. Excess wax left on the chain mostly is wasted because it will flake off the chain in first yards of riding, whereas this reclaims a sizeable portion of the excess and preserves it for the next wax job.

With the chain left hanging on a convenient nail to cool, the waxing pot comes back in the house with me and goes back into the double-boiler because it will have cooled some while I was outside and I want it as hot (and runny) as possible before I pour it off.

After a couple of minutes back on the heat, I pour the remaining wax back into the tin cup slowly enough that the heavier bits of gunk will settle to the bottom the waxing pot. It's like panning for gold in reverse, the stuff that pours off is what I want to keep. And at some arbitrary point I stop pouring and leave the worst of it in the pot to be thrown out. Once it's emptied I rinse out the waxing pot a couple of times with boiling water to get as much of the leftover sludge out as possible.

I keep about 25-30 grams of wax in the cup, which is based on how much it takes to cover that particular chain in that particular pot, and the pot was selected specifically because it's barely big enough to hold that coiled chain. So YMMV. But you don't need a scale because you can track the weight you need by monitoring the volume of what's in the cup. Once I've poured the still-hot wax in, I trim off enough fresh (& clean) wax from the unused block and drop it into the cup to bring the fluid level to the correct level. Then I know there's just enough wax in the cup for the next application.

And that's how I make sure that as much of the original pound of wax as possible remains clean and uncontaminated for as long as possible. At some point I'll decide that what's in the cup is too far gone and toss out the whole mess, then put a fresh 30 grams in the waxing pot. But that's only a once every few thousand miles event.

I've weighed the tin cup when empty so I also can tell how much the wax in the cup weighs. After applying wax to a chain, if I pour all it all back into the cup including the gunk, all but about six grams comes back, so even if I discard another two or three grams of contaminated wax per application (to be shut of the gunk), that's still only nine grams total. So I get 50-ish applications, enough for 20-ish thousand miles of (dry weather) riding from a $3 one-pound box of wax.

This spring will be three years I've been continuously using this method, and I don't see why I wouldn't stick with it. From my perspective there are only two down-sides to what I'm doing. First, it does have a little more up-front cost because you need a second chain, but you recoup that cost over time. But the cleaning/waxing process does take more total time than scrubbing a chain that's still on the bike followed by wet lube, but my method only requires hands-on attention for a small portion of that time. The rest of the time you can be darning socks or experimenting with the atom smasher in the basement. And if the process is going to plan, the need to perform chain maintenance never eats away any more of prime riding time than it takes you to swap a dirty chain for a clean and fresh-waxed one.


It's great lube, it lasts, it's clean, it's cheap, and if you do it right, it's also easy.

Last edited by NattyBumpo; 01-29-19 at 06:24 PM.
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Old 01-29-19, 07:03 PM
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I started waxing last season, I do the crockpot method with a 3 chain rotation. I am a huge fan of waxing. Its where its at!
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Old 01-29-19, 07:46 PM
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Elite Gourmet 1.5qt adjustable temp slow cooker, $15 @ Amazon

Fits two chains easily, and you never need to clean anything out. Just turn it on, put the chains in, and when you take them out, turn it off.

For about 5 months now, I've been adding about 2oz of Slick 50 Engine treatment to each pound of wax. In my experience, it really extends the service interval, without making the chain any more prone to picking up dirt.
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Old 01-29-19, 08:14 PM
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Originally Posted by NattyBumpo
In the spring of 2016 I switched (back) to waxing my bicycle chains, and I've worked out a routine for doing it that I think I can live with indefinitely, and that actually is less (or at least 'no more') of a hassle than "conventional" squirt-on, scrub-off method of chain lubing.

I figure most people attracted to this thread will be wondering, "Why the heck would you even bother?" so I'll address that first. If you don't care why and only are interested in is the "How?" skip on down to the row of asterisks.

The first reason "Why?" is that paraffin excellent lube. Some lab tests show it's the best lube there is (except for the factory lube, which, mysteriously, no one apart the chain manufacturers seems to be able to duplicate). I've also seen reports claiming that those positive results are a sham but I would note that many "high-end" automotive motor oils also are "paraffinic," so the sheer lubricity of paraffin is beyond dispute.

Regardless, there are unrelated tests online which concluded that $5 a quart motor oil is as good a lube as any purpose-made liquid chain lube, and others which surmised that frictional losses from a properly-lubed chain are so low regardless of the particular lubricant used that functional differences between them are insignificant.

Which means we're off into the realm of "marginal gains," and even when I was racing marginal gains likely would not have improved my results, so now it's simply not worth the headache.

Second, paraffin is clean. Once applied, wax isn't wet and is less prone to collecting dust and dirt. Plus, a properly waxed chain leaves very little residue, either on the bike or on my hands if I should need to derail or remount the chain by hand, I don't come away with a handful of gunk. I clean sprockets much less frequently (practically never), and even when I do, it takes less time.

Third, A freshly-waxed chain runs as quiet as a mouse fart and shifts slicker than deer guts on a doorknob. Yeah, I know a fresh lube job always makes the chain initially quieter, then it gets over it. But a fresh waxed chain is uncannily quiet. Makes me giddy every time I ride out of the garage on fresh wax. Combine that with a nice, smooth piece of tarmac and the bike fair disappears from beneath you. It feels like you're flying a magic carpet, not riding a bike.

Fourth, it's cheap. I pay about $3 for a pound (453g) of paraffin OTD at a local big box store. Each application uses about six grams of wax. Even if spillage and waste in general runs as high as 50% (more on that topic below), that means I get ~50 applications for my three bucks, ~6¢ a pop.



Fifth, it lasts. I habitually run 400-450 miles per application. Just as a trial, in the autumn of '16 I ran consecutive applications on different chains (a Wipperman and a KMC) for around 700 miles (each), and after 700 miles on the same application they weren't yet screaming, "LUBE ME!" In the interest of full disclosure I should note that we had an uncommonly dry autumn that year and not once did the chain(s) get wet in the 1400-mile (combined) test period. Some people say that a single wet ride completely ruins the wax application, but that's not my experience. If it's a frog-strangler, yes, that usually calls for fresh wax, but that's no different from my experience with any liquid commercial lube. I think people who have more problems with waxed chains in the wet than liquid commercial lube either haven't applied the wax properly or didn't properly degrease the chain in the first place.

Sixth, for me, it's more convenient to buy than store-bought. I live in a one-horse town and the nearest bike shop is a too far to drive on weekdays. The nearest shop where they speak Italian (= sells Campy stuff) is even further. And on weekends I don't want to invest that much time in shopping for chain lube. So if I unexpectedly run low on liquid commercial lube, I either can bite the bullet and drive to the big city, or I can order online and wait three days for it to arrive.

OTOH, there are multiple stores in my (tiny) home town that carry paraffin. I'd hazard to guess every single grocery store carries it, located in the canning supply section. Plus the big box and hardware stores.

Seventh, with the chain maintenance routine I'm using, going from needing wax to freshly waxed is fast. Provided a freshly-waxed replacement chain is in the on-deck circle (which should always be the case, if you're sticking to "the plan" ), I can go from the realizing my chain needs lube to riding out on a fresh-lubed chain in three minutes. Five if I'm fumble-fingered. And I don't even have to stop and wash my hands when I'm done. Read about my method for details.

The final reason is ...me. I'm kind of a retro-grouch and this sort of thing makes me feel like I'm lavishing attention on my bike. Which I figure is the least I can do, considering all it does for me. And I like the "old-school" aspect of it, too. Maybe I should change my Screen Name to "Dave Stoller" and sing opera when I ride, just to round out the mien.

The Marriage of Figaro


**For our compatriots who still have pictures of Elizabeth Regina II on their money, I'm using "wax" and "paraffin" interchangeably but the paraffin to which I refer is a waxy (duh!) solid at room temperature, as opposed to "paraffin oil" in the 'Old Blighty' sense, which Americans call "kerosene."
**************************************************************************************************** *************************************


Let me say at the outset that I think this method is best applied to chains with reusable master links. Otherwise I don't see it working out so well. Which was never a negative with me because I hope I've spent the last money I ever will on specialty tools for reconnecting master link-less chains. For my money, so long as I can find master link chains that I'm satisfied with the quality of, I'm never going back there.

Boiled down to the Readers Digest version, these are the ingredients in my 'secret' sauce:

1. Degrease the chain(s) thoroughly before the first application of wax.
2. Use two (or more) chains, in rotation, each ridden "to exhaustion" of the lube.
3. Only put the minimum amount of wax necessary in the waxing pot or on the chain.

I listed degreasing first because no matter what else you do, if you don't give the paraffin a bare metal surface to bind to, you shouldn't expect optimal results. I can't tell you how many posts I've come across where some guy wrote that he'd degreased his chain by spraying it with that enviro-friendly chartreuse stuff and wiping it down. Makes me laugh out loud. The wax won't cling properly unless the metal is bare. Not slightly bare, not mostly bare. Bare. Everywhere, including where spraying and wiping will never remove it. Note that as a consequence of stripping all lubrication, some chains will show a tendency to start developing a patina of rust within minutes. So you might want to be prepared to commence waxing as soon as the stripping is done.

To completely degrease, soak the chain overnight immersed in solvent, shaken now and again for good measure (causing the chain to articulate a bit while submerged helps the solvent to better penetrate into the crevices and recesses). I use odorless mineral spirits in a 1-lb steel coffee can (less the coffee grounds). After the soak, pour off the OMS and pour in enough denatured alcohol to cover. Give it a good shake, pour off the alky, then soak overnight in solvent again. Repeat until the solvent comes off crystal clear, then rinse one last time in alcohol.

It generally takes me three soaks before the solvent bath comes off clear. Which should tell you how much you'd be missing if all you're doing is spraying and wiping.

That's general information about converting from liquid lube to wax but not unique to my "method." The other two of my Reader's Digest points are, if not unique, at least not widely practiced.

The next point is: run more than one chain. No, not at the same time. Seriatim. One after the other.

The biggest single PITA to waxing chains (apart from the need to remove & replace the chain, which is even more of a factor if you didn't specifically select chains for their ease of R&R) is the fact that the bike is completely deadlined, out of service and NMC (not mission capable), little better than a Draisene until you get the chain removed and cleaned and rewaxed and remounted. For most of us, that means the process goes from outside to inside the house and then back outside again. At least once.

But with the two-chain method, the strategic objective is to be mindful of the condition of the chain that isn't on the bike. If the second chain already is cleaned and waxed and in the on-deck circle, heck, you might as well be 10-feet-tall and bullet-proof. You can't do enough damage to the chain that's mounted on the bike that it can't be corrected in mere (low single digit) minutes by swapping to the second chain.

Regardless how well you've planned and how diligently you've followed the plan, there's always the possibility you'll get caught short and suddenly find you're in need of 'unscheduled' chain maintenance. And if/when this happens, you're most likely dressed to ride and ready to go but the bike isn't fit to be ridden. I don't know about you but at the end of a typical ride, I have other needs I usually find more pressing than bike maintenance (especially if I got rained on), like getting in the bath or having my post-ride recovery beverage. And I sometimes forget to get back to the bike ...until I come out for the next ride. So it happens more frequently than I'd like to admit that I'm only reminded by the grime on the frame that I'd got caught in a popcorn thundershower or had run through puddles enough to get my chain wet, and I really shouldn't ride on the chain as it sits.

If this happens to you, and if you only had the one chain, regardless whether you're waxing or using squirt-on lube, you're looking at a more substantial time penalty before you could get on the road. But if you were using multiple (waxed) chains in rotation, and already had another chain prepared and waiting, you could swap chains and be on your merry way in three minutes (five, if you're being fumble-fingered).

That's the beauty of two (or more) waxed chains. I doubt there's any faster way to go from a chain in need of lube with one that's ready to rock, regardless how you're making the change.

Of course keeping two chains and rotating which one is in use isn't exclusive to waxing but I don't think the 2-chain plan would work as well with squirt-on lube because IMHO it's easiest to clean off liquid lube while the chain is still on the bike. It seems to me it would always require either otherwise unnecessary chain swapping or some sort of Rube Goldberg device to aid in cleaning the chain while it's not connected to anything. That or throw it in the dishwasher (don't laugh, I've considered it). Plus, mounting a fresh-waxed chain doesn't get goo all over your hands.

Strategically, the biggest change with the 2-chain waxing method is that it completely divorces your riding schedule from your the chain maintenance schedule, shifts the burden of time required away from the prime cycling hours. And as long as you follow the program, you'll never miss a minute's daylight (no more than five minutes anyway) because you neglected to take care of your chain after your most recent ride.

The just-removed chain comes in the house with me (preferably at the end of a ride) and I get to it when I get to it. I usually do the re-waxing while I'm preparing a meal because I'm at the stove then anyway. So unless I've been inattentive and got caught short, I shouldn't have to dedicate even off-bike time specifically to re-waxing.

The crux of the biscuit is always to remember that your next ride could be "inconvenienced" unless there's an already cleaned and waxed chain in the waiting. So long as you've got a prepared chain on stand-by, you're golden. You're never more than five minutes away from riding out on a fresh-lubed chain.

It's also been my observation that both chains and sprockets last a bit longer from this method. It certainly doesn't shorten chain life so you should get at least the same lifespan from each chain. So even though the initial cost is greater because you're buying an extra chain, you'll at least break even in the long run from increased component life.

The third point to my secret plan is to use the least wax possible when doing the lubing.

There are only a few companies now selling chain-wax-in-a-can but it used to be quite common. The idea that was you could just coil up your chain and lay it on top of the solid wax, put the (metal) can on the stove and heat it until the wax melted, and you're Bob's nephew (or niece).

Even back in the day I never much cottoned to that plan because it meant that the whole of your brand new can of wax started getting grungy from the first time it was used, and it only got grungier with each use. Which struck me as being like tossing in a thimble-full of sand each time you changed the motor oil and filter in your car. Stories I came across later about dirty lube leading to premature chain death (alluded to above) only reinforced my suspicions. So I came up with a plan to limit the spread of contamination from a dirty chain to a clean one as much as possible by not cross-contaminating the bulk of the wax.

At last here comes the devil that is the details. For starters, understand the act of melting wax does have an element of danger because somewhere after it melts but before it begins to boil, paraffin starts giving off an inflammable gas. Which you've seen in effect every time you've lit a candle. You strike a match and touch it to the wick, which melts the wax. Capillary action draws the molten wax up the wick, and once it reaches the flame, it's heated to beyond its flash point and catches fire. It's the vapors, not the molten wax, that ignite.

Wax melts at about 140°F (~60°C). According to the MSDS for Gulf Wax, its "flash point" (minimum temperature at which a liquid gives off vapor within a test vessel in sufficient concentration to form an ignitable mixture with air) is >400°F. From 140°F to 400°F seems a pretty wide berth but the adjustments on range eyes, especially electric ones, can be pretty crude. The eye doesn't even begin to turn red until it's past twice that hot, more than twice as hot than needs be to set your house on fire.

The danger comes from the fact that once it has melted, there are no visible cues that it is continuing to change. However, before it reaches a boil it will begin to emit an inflammable and invisible gas. Which also happens to be heavier than air. So for a time it will be confined to the pot, but once it overflows (invisibly) out of the pot, then it slides (also invisibly) down the outside and lands on the hot burner. At which point it will produce a highly visible flame. Which might run back up the invisible gas cascading out of the pot, then follow it down into the pot and catch the whole works on fire.

If this happens to you, whatever you do, DO NOT try to put it out with water. Because 400°F wax is far beyond the boiling point of water, so water thrown on burning wax immediately converts to steam and in the expansion likely will blow burning wax all over the kitchen.

So the safety Nazis will tell you never to attempt this without both a fire extinguisher and adult supervision. But I'm prone to running with scissors and think adultism is vastly overrated, so do whatever you want. But if you burn your house down, I never heard of you before.

The old school method for safely melting wax is to use a double boiler (also known as a bain-marie), which is simply a smaller pot containing the wax nested within a larger pot containing hot water. Since water (ordinarily) can't get above 212°F (100°C), that means the pot with the wax will never be exposed to dangerously high temperatures.

In reality it won't get quite get to 212° because the pot the wax is in serves as a heat sink and dissipates a few degrees into the air before all the heat has had the chance to reach the wax. I've checked my set-up and the wax typically is about 190°F, which is plenty hot for the task.

So here's the kit:



Simple. Just two pots, one sized to sit within the other and float on the (hot) water held in the larger. You probably have two that will work already in your cabinets.

The small tin cup is sold for holding condiments and dipping sauces. I chose them because they're about the right size and they're metal, so they can be heated, at least hot enough to melt the paraffin within. About three bucks for a set of four at the big box store. The cup is an integral part of my plan to limit the spread of contamination. More in that in a bit.

The instructions that come with some of those wax-in-a-can things say not to bother cleaning the chain, just throw it in the wax and the grime will all come off when the wax that's already on it melts. But again, that's needlessly adding abrasives to your nice, clean wax so I take a simple additional step to clean the chains first just by pouring hot water over them.

I put them in the sink coiled up and pour boiling water over them. I used to swish them around in a pan filled with boiling water but then I figured out I could boil water faster in the microwave than on the stove. Rinse one side in boiling water, then flip it over and rinse the other. Then a spritz of cool water to make it comfortable to handle and I transfer the noticeably-cleaner chain into the waxing pot (the smaller of the two).



Two things to note about this shot. First, the waxing pan is barely big enough to contain the chain coiled in a single layer, and that was of a purpose. That way it takes less paraffin to fill to a depth that covers the chain. The chain being submerged is important to its temperature completely equalizing with the molten wax which, in turn, insures optimum penetration. Which goes to Point #3 of my secret plan, "Only put the minimum amount of wax necessary in the waxing pot" to limit the spread of contamination.

This also shows how I employ the tin cup of wax. You might note that nowhere have I mentioned taking steps to dry the chain once it's hot rinsed. This is what I do instead. I coil the chain in the pot, still wet, put the tin cup of wax upside-down on top of the chain, then put the waxing pot into the water pot.

The pots I use are a fairly close fit, which would result in spattering if I heated the water to a rolling boil so I only heat it to slow bubbling. That's setting #2 of 9 on my electric stovetop. Then I walk off and do something else, checking back once in a while. So long as you don't boil the pan of water dry, you really can't leave it too long, so you don't have to be particularly attentive.

What melts the wax in the inverted cup is heat coming from the chain. Whenever it gets hot enough, the wax liquefies and runs out onto the chain all on its lonesome. The whole schmere warms pretty gradually, and since the chain has to get to beyond the melting temperature of the wax (~140°F) before the wax will flow out of the cup, by that time the chain already will be bone dry. So the upside-down cup assures that the chain will be dry before making any attempt to apply the molten wax.

I give it several minutes after the wax melts for the temperatures to equalize and stabilize (which helps assure best penetration), then I take the waxing pan out of the house to remove the chain. I use two pair of needle nosed pliers and try to keep the chain somewhat over the pot to catch the drips while I'm wrestling with getting the loops out. I've found that leaving loops in the chain while it cools can produce noisy spots, so I eliminate the loops.

When the waxing pot comes off the stove, paraffin and chain both are about 50°F hotter than the wax's melting point, and it won't cool but just a few degrees before I pull out the chain. Which means it's still hot enough that most of the excess wax should run off and drip back into the pot. Excess wax left on the chain mostly is wasted because it will flake off the chain in first yards of riding, whereas this reclaims a sizeable portion of the excess and preserves it for the next wax job.

With the chain left hanging on a convenient nail to cool, the waxing pot comes back in the house with me and goes back into the double-boiler because it will have cooled some while I was outside and I want it as hot (and runny) as possible before I pour it off.

After a couple of minutes back on the heat, I pour the remaining wax back into the tin cup slowly enough that the heavier bits of gunk will settle to the bottom the waxing pot. It's like panning for gold in reverse, the stuff that pours off is what I want to keep. And at some arbitrary point I stop pouring and leave the worst of it in the pot to be thrown out. Once it's emptied I rinse out the waxing pot a couple of times with boiling water to get as much of the leftover sludge out as possible.

I keep about 25-30 grams of wax in the cup, which is based on how much it takes to cover that particular chain in that particular pot, and the pot was selected specifically because it's barely big enough to hold that coiled chain. So YMMV. But you don't need a scale because you can track the weight you need by monitoring the volume of what's in the cup. Once I've poured the still-hot wax in, I trim off enough fresh (& clean) wax from the unused block and drop it into the cup to bring the fluid level to the correct level. Then I know there's just enough wax in the cup for the next application.

And that's how I make sure that as much of the original pound of wax as possible remains clean and uncontaminated for as long as possible. At some point I'll decide that what's in the cup is too far gone and toss out the whole mess, then put a fresh 30 grams in the waxing pot. But that's only a once every few thousand miles event.

I've weighed the tin cup when empty so I also can tell how much the wax in the cup weighs. After applying wax to a chain, if I pour all it all back into the cup including the gunk, all but about six grams comes back, so even if I discard another two or three grams of contaminated wax per application (to be shut of the gunk), that's still only nine grams total. So I get 50-ish applications, enough for 20-ish thousand miles of (dry weather) riding from a $3 one-pound box of wax.

This spring will be three years I've been continuously using this method, and I don't see why I wouldn't stick with it. From my perspective there are only two down-sides to what I'm doing. First, it does have a little more up-front cost because you need a second chain, but you recoup that cost over time. But the cleaning/waxing process does take more total time than scrubbing a chain that's still on the bike followed by wet lube, but my method only requires hands-on attention for a small portion of that time. The rest of the time you can be darning socks or experimenting with the atom smasher in the basement. And if the process is going to plan, the need to perform chain maintenance never eats away any more of prime riding time than it takes you to swap a dirty chain for a clean and fresh-waxed one.


It's great lube, it lasts, it's clean, it's cheap, and if you do it right, it's also easy.
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Old 01-29-19, 08:38 PM
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That's an intense post. I read a bit and after I saw it was the same as all the other wax posts I went to scroll to the end and just kept going and going. Impressive.

I use a plug in foot bath to wax my track chains. Even on the velodrome I rarely get more than 20-30 miles before the wax is all gone. I've tried different brands and formulations and they're all the same. Must be me.
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Old 01-29-19, 11:08 PM
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I use the wax/oil mix. Wax with paraffin oil and a bit of enviro-friendly chain saw oil. It's pasty. I apply it by hand to the chain then take a heat gun to it to melt in.
While on the road, I use Squirt
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Old 01-30-19, 06:10 AM
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A bit too much time are you hands... snow-storm shut-in are ya?
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Old 01-30-19, 08:06 AM
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I started waxing last year and it has worked well for us. We do a lot of touring so a nice feature of waxing is mybke has the RD and chain removed for air travel. But when at the airport or arrival point it is a "clean" experience when assembling the bikes. But I do carry CleanStreak and a oil based lube in my pannier. Oil base in the event we are riding in a little of rainy weather.
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Old 01-30-19, 09:24 AM
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A crock pot will make that a lot easier. I use a Little Dipper that was included with my full size crock pot. Perfect for waxing chains.
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Old 01-31-19, 09:50 AM
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Waxing is good. Waxing with a crockpot is easy. I use canning wax and add some stuff to it, as pure paraffin wax will fall off the chain as it is brittle. I last used a toilet bowl wax sealer, cost about $3 from home depot as it is beeswax. Very sticky stuff. I have also added synthetic auto grease and moly lube. It takes a while for the crockpot to melt the wax and I have 5-7 bkes I ride regularly so I like to do one after another. I just wipe each chain and stick it in for 1/2 hour, then fish it out, let it cool and back on the bike. Since a little grease just makes the wax more malleable I just stick nnew chains in as is.

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Old 01-31-19, 10:33 AM
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I just buy the Molten Speed wax and add 1/4 lbs of paraffin wax, works awesome and lasts a long time. For $25 is pretty easy!
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Old 01-31-19, 11:53 AM
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I understand you like the process of waxing, but how long does your chain last in miles?
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Old 01-31-19, 12:07 PM
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Originally Posted by themp
I understand you like the process of waxing, but how long does your chain last in miles?
The ritual can last forever! =)
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Old 01-31-19, 12:14 PM
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Originally Posted by AnkleWork
What?
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Old 01-31-19, 12:29 PM
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Molten speed wax claims longer chain life than any other type of lube, according to their tests. I prefer wax and oil dissolved in naptha, as a home made liquid wax lube. I apply it often, since it's so easy to do. No chain removal required.

Accurately measuring chain wear is something that few people do correctly. Most chain checkers add roller wear to elongation and exaggerate the actual elongation. The roller OD wear can be 20-30 times greater than the pin to bushing wear that causes elongation. Many people toss chains at the exaggerated .5% elongation reading, in order to avoid new-chain skip when the next new chain is installed, so they only get 2-3,000 miles from a chain. If you use cheap chains, that's probably OK.

Measuring elongation properly only requires a precision 12" rule. It is possible, with Campy chains to have severe roller and side plate wear, with very little elongation. The spacing between the rollers needs to be monitored too. I used a Campy chain for 6,000 miles and though it showed little elongation, the roller wear and side plate wear were extreme and it did cause chain skip, when a new chain was installed. I now use chains in groups of three, alternating their use, so each chain can be used longer and there will be no new-chain skip over the life of those chains. You could increase the number of chains in a rotation.
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Old 01-31-19, 02:51 PM
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Originally Posted by themp
I understand you like the process of waxing, but how long does your chain last in miles?
Do you mean between waxing or its usable life?

I go about 500 miles or so then put a fresh one on. I have a 3 chain rotation.

As far as the life I use a digital caliper and when I get beyond 1/16 of ware I take it out of service OR 3 years whatever happens first. As far as the mileage for this I would have to guess at about 5000 miles? But that would be guess.
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Old 01-31-19, 05:57 PM
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Nice OP!

Here is my ultrasonic cleaner that I use first w/ 80°C dish soap / water; then mineral spirits, finally denatured alcohol, all in a jar.

Here is my modified wax warmer that I use to attain the Molton Wax specified 93°C.

The chain waxing works very well for me. I also have a spare chain and do both together as a batch.
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Old 02-01-19, 12:16 PM
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Sorry to say but this is just another in the long line of elaborate time consuming procedures to preserve something that isn’t worth the effort. A chain is cheap and it wears out at about the same rate regardless of how elaborate the procedure. How much time and effort do people really need to expend in a vain attempt to wring out a few extra miles out of a $15 part? I’m not going to go through the whole post but I will point out a few issues.



I listed degreasing first because no matter what else you do, if you don't give the paraffin a bare metal surface to bind to, you shouldn't expect optimal results. I can't tell you how many posts I've come across where some guy wrote that he'd degreased his chain by spraying it with that enviro-friendly chartreuse stuff and wiping it down. Makes me laugh out loud. The wax won't cling properly unless the metal is bare. Not slightly bare, not mostly bare. Bare. Everywhere, including where spraying and wiping will never remove it. Note that as a consequence of stripping all lubrication, some chains will show a tendency to start developing a patina of rust within minutes. So you might want to be prepared to commence waxing as soon as the stripping is done.
Why? What chemical reason do you have for the need of a “completely” bare chain? Wax is just a solid form of the mineral spirits you use...kudos for using the proper solvent. Once it is hot, it will dissolve away any residual lubricant just like the mineral spirits will. The wax will cling to the surface just fine.

To completely degrease, soak the chain overnight immersed in solvent, shaken now and again for good measure (causing the chain to articulate a bit while submerged helps the solvent to better penetrate into the crevices and recesses). I use odorless mineral spirits in a 1-lb steel coffee can (less the coffee grounds). After the soak, pour off the OMS and pour in enough denatured alcohol to cover. Give it a good shake, pour off the alky, then soak overnight in solvent again. Repeat until the solvent comes off crystal clear, then rinse one last time in alcohol.
Again, why? Odorless mineral spirits is a good solvent as noted here and elsewhere but you don’t need all these steps. Yes, start with a new chain, but you only need to shake it for a short time...30 seconds to a minute is enough. Soaking overnight does nothing more. Chasing the mineral spirits with alcohol is just as pointless as soaking in alcohol and then repeating the whole procedure again. You are proposing at least 2 days of preparatory work (maybe more) which is about 47:59:30 too long.

It generally takes me three soaks before the solvent bath comes off clear. Which should tell you how much you'd be missing if all you're doing is spraying and wiping.
Okay, 71:59:30 too long.

The question that has to be asked is does your elaborate (and overly long) procedure result in longer chain life? You don’t mention how many miles you get but is it really worth all the effort?

As to your point about no one being able to duplicate the “factory lube”, it’s because most of the waxers are using the wrong material. Canning wax is a hard wax and as such is brittle and stiff. The factory wax...and, yes, it is a “wax”...uses much softer waxes that aren’t readily available in your grocery store.

A minor quibble but it is “colorless” not “clear”. There is a big difference. Water can be clear and colorless or it can be cloudy and coIorless. I hear the voice of Dr. Salzman in my head every time someone says “clear” when they mean “colorless”. Don’t get me started on “scale” vs “balance”.

You can use your procedure as much as you like but, honestly, most of it is akin to the elaborate good luck rituals that baseball players go through while on a hot streak...and about as effective.
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Old 02-01-19, 12:37 PM
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"Why"!?! There is no "why."
Rationality and fetish are orthogonal.
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Old 02-01-19, 03:45 PM
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Let's run ol' cyccommute through the Carlin Filter, for the sake of concision:

"Anyone spending less time than me maintaining their chain is an idiot, and anyone spending more time is a maniac."

Or perhaps even more concise, based on previous posts:

"There are only two ways to lube your chain: my way, or the wrong way."
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Old 02-01-19, 04:05 PM
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Originally Posted by DrIsotope
Let's run ol' cyccommute through the Carlin Filter, for the sake of concision:

"Anyone spending less time than me maintaining their chain is an idiot, and anyone spending more time is a maniac."

Or perhaps even more concise, based on previous posts:

"There are only two ways to lube your chain: my way, or the wrong way."
Carlin cuts both ways.

To put it a little less conisly, “There are two ways to lube your chain: the easy way or the hard way.
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Old 02-01-19, 04:30 PM
  #22  
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We've had this conversation a zillion times before.

It's really not as complicated as the OP makes it sound.
  1. Remove chain from bike
  2. Drop chain in hot wax
  3. Remove chain from wax
  4. Put chain on bike
It doesn't take any more time than applying wax from a bottle. I've done it both ways many times.
(I skipped the 30 seconds it takes to clean the chain the first time because you only have to do that once.)
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Old 02-01-19, 05:25 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by kingston
We've had this conversation a zillion times before.

It's really not as complicated as the OP makes it sound.
  1. Remove chain from bike
  2. Drop chain in hot wax
  3. Remove chain from wax
  4. Put chain on bike
It doesn't take any more time than applying wax from a bottle. I've done it both ways many times.
(I skipped the 30 seconds it takes to clean the chain the first time because you only have to do that once.)
Couldn't agree more, the first cleaning takes 5 minutes maybe? Then I just heat up the Molten Speed Wax in the crockpot and reapply literally takes minutes to reapply. The crock pot warming takes the longest and I am cleaning the bike during that time anyways.

As for longevity, is it negligible? maybe...but I do believe your saving other components too at the same time because there isn't all the dirt, gravel, grime, sand and whatever else attached to the chain using traditional lubes.
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Old 02-01-19, 06:03 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by kingston
We've had this conversation a zillion times before.

It's really not as complicated as the OP makes it sound.
  1. Remove chain from bike
  2. Drop chain in hot wax
  3. Remove chain from wax
  4. Put chain on bike
It doesn't take any more time than applying wax from a bottle. I've done it both ways many times.
(I skipped the 30 seconds it takes to clean the chain the first time because you only have to do that once.)
It does take more time than applying wax from a bottle. You are missing the steps of getting out whatever you use to melt the wax, heating the wax, cooling whatever you use to melt the wax, and putting it away.

I suppose you could break applying wax from a bottle into steps but it would be several steps less and a whole lot less time. It takes some time to heat the chain and to take it off and put it back on. Even if you use multiple chains, you still have to do the same steps.

I do agree that chain cleaning and maintenance doesn’t have to be complicated, however. NattyBumpo’s procedure is one of the most complicated I’ve ever seen. His post is also the longest post I’ve seen and, for someone who tends to go on and on, that’s impressive. If his procedure provided double the mileage that most people get, it would be worth the effort but just. But for only marginal improvements, elaborate procedures just aren’t necessary.
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Old 02-01-19, 06:13 PM
  #25  
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But he's not spending any of your time, or anyone else's time to do it. No harm, no foul. I have in excess of 25,000 miles using hot wax now, after trying pretty much every wet or dry lube commercially available. Extra time used? Absolutely zero. I set aside zero minutes out of any given day to lubricate a chain. I am in physical contact with said chain for less than 2 minutes total (removing, putting it in wax, taking it out, putting it back on the bike) and my current wax blend and mileage division between bikes means chain care adds up to about 5 minutes per month. Time for the crockpot to warm up doesn't count, because I don't have to blow it up like a balloon. I turn a knob, and electricity does the rest. Do the chains last longer? Don't care one way or another-- regardless, I go through 3-4 chains every year. I want a clean and quiet chain, and in the pursuit of that, nothing comes close to hot wax. Nothing.
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