Perfect weather for a bike ride . . .

June 18, 2015

Chain-L; a three-month follow-up report

I've been using Chain-L chain lubricant now for about ... well, I applied it the first time on March 25th.  So, coming up on three months of occasional use.  I say occasional, because I honestly have not had many opportunities to ride lately.  Just when I think life is busy... I wait five minutes.  For the next couple of years, that's how things are going to be.  

But, on a quick side note, that doesn't mean I'm going anywhere.  Posts may wind down, and the more frequent thoughts are now logged primarily on Twitter and other social platforms... but, isn't going quietly into that good night, no-sir... once the kids' lives are successfully started, it'll probably ramp back up.  For now, my priorities are where they should be.  Nothing wrong with that!

All of the above said, I can't really call this a thorough review simply because the mileage isn't there.  If I'd the time to ride an honest, hard 1,000 miles on a single lube with enough frequency to call it "punishing" and truly a test of a lubricant's abilities, I would.  This is more of an occasional observation thing.  To be fair, I offer those asterisks ahead of time.  Below are short snippets of observation on what I believe to be a really, really good chain lube.   
These aren't bullets in the strict, business sense... more like paragraph or subject dividers:

  • It applies thick, like warm honey.  Initially I'd thought "oh no, this is gonna get everywhere", but, it doesn't behave too badly.  I followed my practice of applying one drop per roller to the chain, then removing the excess by rotating the chain backwards through a clean rag.  At each application, the drop would sit on the roller for a second or so, and then appeared to "wick" into the roller and side plates.  I can't really say if this is "magic" or not, as most oils will do this - but, it didn't simply sit there waiting to get spun off.  Seems to penetrate well, but the removal of excess is essential to avoid a messy bike and drive-train.  The apparent long-chain polymers create "spider web" like strings as each roller lifts away from the chain-ring while rotating the cranks slowly backward:  removing the excess is all that is needed to stop this, but it's a good indication of the lube's ability to stay put.

  • Upon initial observation, once the lube is "set" and the excess is sufficiently removed, the drivetrain seems to spin backward with very little resistance.  I wish I had a good way to measure this, but when the driveside crank is located at the "9 o'clock" position and I push down with "some force"  (I need a lab, people), it spins backward nearly a full turn - this is with the chain on the outermost position:  the smallest cog in the rear, and the largest chainring in the front.  Mileage may vary here, as freewheel resistance, the chain itself and its age, the chainrings, the bottom bracket, rear deraileur pulleys... all these individual variables must be considered and quantified to perform a true test of a chain lube's "resistance" or "speed"..... only recently did I see an article describing a company's in-house chain-dynometer which they'd used to test chains for Bradley Wiggins' recent run at the hour record.  Short of having one of those, well, you see my issue.  Still, compared to other chain lubes I've used, Chain-L seems to be less resistant to this simple, relative test.  

  • Noise levels with this lube are quite low compared to a thinner lube like ProLink - but, I think that can be said of any oil-based, thicker lubricant.  However, Chain-L doesn't seem to attract a lot of grit and dirt, either; thicker lubes can do that simply because they tend to be quite tacky, so while a good quiet drive-train may be a cyclist's goal, the trade-off is usually cleanliness.  Chain-L does take on some foreign material and transforms into the familiar, dark grey/black color we've all seen - but, the noise stays away and the protection seems to stay.  Now that it has grown hotter here in Kansas, more of the lube seems to want to migrate out of the roller-pin interface.  I handle this in the same fashion as usual, simply rotating the cranks backward and passing teh chain through a rag to remove this excess.  The chain, afterward, is visibly cleaner - but plenty of lubricant remains "where it counts":  I grab a chain link between my thumb and forefinger, and then - about four or five inches away from the first hand - I grab another link and twist the chain, axially.  This produces a sort-of "squish" as the chain side-plates move in relation to the pin and roller - and the "squish" is the lube in between.  There should be some fluid resistance felt when this is performed, but not too much.  The excess that migrated to the surface is the result of this sort of motion (on a subtler scale) displacing the extra lube.  I trust that after a few of these initial wipe-downs after a fresh application during warmer months, all of the excess will be eliminated and the cleaning interval will widen.  I'd think this to be normal with any lube, and if one wishes to prevent build-up or "gunky-ness", it's an easy and quick preventative measure to have a rag handy over the first week or so after a fresh application.  After that, only the lube the chain truly needs will be left-over, unseen, until it is time to reapply.

  • One-Thousand miles between applications?  Well, let's not get crazy here, Chain-L.  However, I can say this:  After having ridden about 300 miles in commutes and errands with a new chain, cassette and Chain-L application that I'd performed in preparation for the KCUC 600k (which I didn't end up riding), I didn't have any complaints.  The miles were mixed, one rainy ride with a lot of standing water didn't manage to wash anything out of the chain that I could tell, and several dusty gravel excursions didn't seem to clog it with grit, so I simply ran it backwards through a rag a couple times for good measure before departing this last weekend for a 400km brevet in Iowa (post coming).  After the long car trip with the bike on the roof, the associated high winds and dead bugs prompted me to give the chain another wipedown and re-application in the hotel room, especially since the forecast called for all-day rain for the event.  Unfortunately, I ran out of time and voted in favor of sleeping; so, the chain and I made it to the start line on the same lube application I'd made back in mid-May.  No worries: I always carry a small eye-dropper bottle with enough lube for at least one chain in my seat-bag kit - if it needs it, I can reapply later on.  I was surprised to find the lube handled the day quite well, mainly because the "all-day rain" turned into a brief 15 minute morning sprinkle, followed by 22 hours of 99.9% humidity.  Around mile 250, literally on the home stretch of twists and turns winding through residential Ames, IA., the drivetrain had begun to emit a slight squeaking noise; and was beginning to demonstrate chain-suck.... so, I figured, okay - 550 or so miles of real-world use versus a claimed 1,000 "laboratory miles"... that's not bad, I suppose.  I was okay with this until I arrived home, and the next day had begun to clean up the bike from a dirty, sweaty weekend of mileage.  First order of business involved dropping the chain and getting it out of the way so I could clean the chain-rings, but rotating it backwards to find the master link only resulted in the same chain-suck... which I found did NOT come from the chain at all, but was the fault of a nearly-frozen rear derailleur pulley.  The chain, while dirty, didn't seem dried-out at all, as it had seemed.  Once removing the jockey wheel and repacking its bearings with Phil Wood waterproof grease and reassembling, the chain was put back in place and tested for noise - and there was none.  All of the squeaking had come from the jockey wheel's dry bearings.  In fact, while rotating the drive-train backwards through a rag to begin the chain cleaning process, I could distinctly smell the lubricant's odor - which many liken to 90-wgt. gear oil.  Some profess the smell to be evidence-enough that Chain-L is precisely that, and nothing more.  I have no opinion on that: more later.  After a 400km ride in such humidity, and likely worsened by gallons of sweat - some of which had to have dripped onto the chain at some point or another, as I had never been so continually sweaty as far as I can remember - there was enough lube left in the chain that I could still smell it; after all that, and all that had come in the miles beforehand.  Still, the rest of the cleaning process commenced and I elected to apply a fresh coat... but, this next run I'm going to see about pushing the limit and trying for that advertised "1,000 miles."  Something tells me, especially in summer months, this won't be a problem.

If the bikes look like this, what's the chain going through??

  • A final expose on Chain-L comes from running support for a couple of riders for the Dirty Kanza 200 mile gravel race recently.  While I cannot say for certain whether or not either rider is still riding on the lube I'd applied to their bikes in Madison, KS. after the first muddy, horrible 77 miles of punishment, I do know a few things.  Glen R. had brewed up his own blend of lube, which consisted of a heavy gear oil (90 wt., not sure), and "something else" I can't remember... leftover retail chain lube "X"... After initial wipe-down, the chain was in surprisingly good shape; however, I applied a quick layer of Chain-L for good measure, as surely the next 100 miles would pile on continued abuse.  Upon checkup at the Cottonwood Falls control, the chain was in fine shape and the shifting still crisp.  Only a wipe-down was needed.  It would appear the conditions were well matched with the lube in use.  On Steven W's bike, the chain arrived at Madison with some noise and its condition quite dry.  A quick wipe-down and application of Chain-L solved the issue and let the drivetrain return to smooth and quiet operation.  Only a little rear derailleur tweak was needed to solve an indexing issue.  While this control represented the end of Steven's ride, I wonder if the lube is still in use, as the bike in question is no longer on daily duty as his commuter.  I'll report back.

I've been a long-time user of ProGold lubricants, namely ProLink - and while I had no real complaints about it -- and it is certainly cleaner -- adhering to the 200~ mile frequency for reapplications I'd grown accustomed to following requires a certain type of personality, as well as a certain amount of time.  The latter has been in short supply, and I can say with certainty that ProLink would not have enjoyed my missed Iowa hotel-room re-lube opportunity with 300 miles on the clock.  Carrying around extra lube aside, it is safe to say that even a dry 400 km is pushing the limits of ProLink's effectiveness, even if applied liberally.  I do recall having used ProLink on the KCUC 600k in 2007; however, I also remember reapplying a bit in the hotel at Butler before the final 200km, and that the rainfall during the first 100 miles had dried out my chain significantly, the resulting squeaking and ticking had nearly driven me crazy.  I could see Chain-L surpassing ProLink in these two areas, for sure.  Although, for what it is, ProLink is still superior for cable and deraileur pivot lubrication, so I'll still be a customer of theirs - and if a race or time-trial opportunity arises where a thin and fast lube is appropriate, it will likely get the nod.  For real-world, brevet, rain, commutes, and dusty gravel/dirt conditions, however, Chain-L seems to perform better, for longer.  Forums are dangerous places, and while discussion will always exist in attempts to debunk this and that; to wit, Chain-L smells like 90-wt. gear oil, therefore it "must be 90-wt. gear oil" if you subscribe to the "looks-and-quacks-like-a-duck" rule of law.  We also used to burn witches and draw maps with giant serpents on them, so, take what you will here with the same grains of salt one needs employ elsewhere.  My observations likely involve dozens of variables I've not identified which will not present themselves the same in anyone else's situation; regardless, a well-executed "rip-off" or not (and more likely "not", lest these forum claims are accompanied by gas spectrometer analysis), Chain-L represents a very well-executed mixture of detergents and petroleum-based polymers and lubricants which apply easily, stay in place, don't attract too much gunk, and last for a lot longer than most lubes I've tried in the past.  Chain lube is a tricky thing, and there are as many solutions to keeping a chain quiet and free-moving as there are natural and man-made things trying to seize it up and make it noisy.  This lube works for me, here in eastern Kansas, for the riding I do most.  However, like I have felt with ProLink, Chain-L is on a very short list of lubes I've tried and wanted to continue using forever, and I have to think I'm not alone.  I see Chain-L doing well as a hot and dry conditions lube, as well as a cold and wet conditions lube, and on into snowy and salty conditions as well.  Time will tell, and I'll report back again next March.

Until then, as I always say... your mileage will vary, and putting chain lube on your chain - no matter what it is you choose to use - is a good idea!

Thanks for reading!

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