Monday, January 12, 2009

Wax-based chain lubes?

Question 1: I know that paraffin wax is often used on some metal surfaces such as drill bits and saw blades to keep them sharp and to prevent corrosion. I talked with a beekeeper and I was told that beeswax is actually best for these purposes. I have heard that some chain lubes contain some wax, is this true? How can this wax retain its liquid properties? I also heard that some people dip their bike chains in wax. Does this help? I cleaned my chain thoroughly and applied a stick of beeswax to it as I rotated the chain. I also applied wax to my cogs. Should I also apply some oil to my chain or is the beeswax alone sufficient?

Appreciate it,

Q 2: Jim - As a general rule, things are pretty dry out here where I ride in Denver, so I don’t need an extreme lube. I also like to keep my drivetrain pretty clean. Thus, I like some of the wax-based lubes. I really like how clean White Lightning is, but it dries out and begins chirping like after two rides. I just tried another dry lube by SRAM, and it held up a little longer, but it seems to attract gunk more like a wet lube. What’s your favorite lube?


A: Good questions, guys. Whether or not a wax-based bicycle lube, or basic paraffin will work as a bicycle chain lube depends mostly on where and how you ride. Wax is best for relatively dry, clean climates and on bikes that aren't ridden in the rain or wet.

White Lightning wax lubeIf those are your conditions, Joe, an easy way to try a bicycle chain wax and see if you like it is to get some White Lightning Clean Ride, which is a popular self-cleaning wax lube. It's self-cleaning because you apply it to your chain and let it dry overnight. The next morning the chain is dry and as you ride, the wax build-up on the chain chips off in small flakes (don't worry, there's still wax on there lubing the drivetrain). As you apply more wax when you need it and keep riding, any old grime on your chain chips off until you're left with an almost white chain that's completely lubricated with the Clean Ride wax lube. You can also lubricate your cassette cogs with it.

I live in Santa Cruz, California where it is dry most of the year and I've used White Lightning on bikes I only ride on dry days and it works just fine. You should give it a try if you live in a dry area and don't get caught in the rain often, and see how it works for you.

You mentioned beeswax. I haven't tried that as a chain lube, but there are cyclists who believe you should use paraffin from the grocery store. They heat the paraffin to melt it and put the chain in the hot paraffin until it gets hot, too. That causes the paraffin to penetrate the chain nicely and get enough lube on and in it. They then remove the chain so the excess wax drips off, the rest dries on the chain, and they install the chain on the bike. A wax job like this could give you a month's worth of lube if you stay out of the rain and dirt. But, it is easiest if you have a connecting "master" link on your chain like the Wipperman Connex link . If not, you'll need to push out a pin and use a replacement pin each time you remove your chain to give it the hot wax treatment. That's not really recommended since every time the chain comes apart you need another new pin and you can damage links if you're not good with your chain tool.

You can certainly try rubbing the paraffin or your beeswax on the chain and cogs, but that will only get a light layer on the outside surfaces. You need to lube the inside too, where the links and rollers wear on each other. That's why you heat the chain and wax to get it to flow inside and all over, too.

You don't have to heat the chain to lube it with White Lightning because it has a carrier in it that keeps the wax liquid enough to penetrate the chain as is.

So, ultimately, if you're interested in waxing your chain, you should give White Lightning a try because it's easy to use and effective. I think you'll like it - as long as you don't live where you have to ride in the rain a lot.

If, like Paul, though, you discover that the wax lubes you try leave your chain squeaking in short order, I recommend another lube. I actually used White Lightning for a long time back in the mid 1990s but eventually got tired of the chirping when it ran out while I was on rides.
ProLink lube
So, now I use Pro Gold ProLink. I've had good luck with it. To apply, you put a drop on each link at night, then wipe off the excess in the morning and you should get about 2 weeks out of it before you need to apply more. (Depending on how often you ride and your riding conditions, of course.)

The ProLink isn't perfect. You still have to clean your chain once in awhile, but I just do it by applying some more lube and wiping the chain and rings down well. As long as you keep it wiped clean like this and don't put on too much, it should work great for you, preventing squeaking, providing a nice, smooth ride and ensuring your chain, cogs and chainrings last as long as possible. I learned about Pro Gold from Uncle Al at He swears by it and he rides in Montrose, Colorado.

There are other great lubes available from a variety of makers like Pedro's or Finish Line, so if wax or ProLink isn't right for you, check with your riding buddies and see what they like or visit your local bicycle shop and ask what they recommend, too. Sometimes it takes a little experimentation to find a lube you love.



Brad said...

I've been using Dumonde Tech lube on by chain for quite a while now. I average three to four months between lube jobs with it. It is all we use at the shop where I work as well. It is a polymer based lube and it builds on itself to form a long lasting lubrication. I don't work for them or get any profit out of my recommendation. It is just a great lube. Check them out online at

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for the great tip, Brad. That sounds like another fine bicycle chain lube worth a try. On their site they say the Dumonde Tech Original BCL lube is for mountain biking and the Lite BCL is for road riding. It doesn't look like you can order it from them, though, so I assume it's carried and available in some bike shops? (I haven't seen it out here in local shops.) They don't even list a phone number, though maybe you can call information and find it?

Thanks for the tip!

WIlliam Boyd said...

It is easier that all the above, and cheaper too. Any liquid car wax will do. Apply and wipe clean all in one step. It is easy to do often because it is so easy and clean. A quiet long-lasting "clean" chain is the result. Wash hands (or cloths if you get any on you) with a little soap and water. Five minutes every two or three weeks. For an alternative, put a little auto paste wax in a bottle of auto spray wax and apply as a spray. Nothng to it.

Jim Langley said...

Wow, that's an ingenious idea, William. I appreciate you sharing it!

Thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

New Dumonde Tech web site has dealer locator, on-line dealers, product info. Dumonde is the best chain lube I have used, and I've trid them all over the years. Good on cables and fork stanshions as well

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for your endorsement of Dumonde Tech lubes. Do you work for the company?


Anonymous said...

why would you lubricate your cassette cogs?

Jim Langley said...

Asking why you would lubricate cassette cogs is a little like asking why you need to put oil in a car, Anonymous. You need to lubricate the cogs because they're made of metal and the chain is made of metal and you need a film of lubricant between the two meshing components to make your bicycle shift and pedal smoothly and last as long as possible. If you lubricated your chain, the lube will make its way onto the cassette cogs, too, but it's still a good idea to add a bit on the cogs as well to ensure that it's on the sides and not just the teeth. As you shift, the chain bumps into the side of the cassette cogs and the lube helps with the shifting and wear and tear when that happens. So, lubing the cogs is important, too. I hope that helps explain, Jim Langley