Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

Easy waxing

A few months ago I got a Silca "spa" package in the post for a review of their bike care fluids. In case you haven't paid attention, Silca was the Italian producer of the best long-lasting floor pump in cycling history - everything was replaceable and so the same basic pump platform could last forever. They went out of business. An American guy, formerly of Zipp, bought the remnants and set up a new Silca in Indiana where Zipp is headquartered and he lives.
I got to chat with Josh, Silca owner, via an online connection as part of my review. That was fun because we have a similar long history in cycling. And we both get pretty enthusiastic about anything bike.
Silca has a YouTube channel that mostly demonstrates best practice with their various products. I've picked up two habits that work extremely well from Josh, via YouTube and I plan to discuss one today.
Wax is very popular for bike chains. I remember when I was a teen my riding friends and I discussed the idea of immersion waxing our chains with plain parafin wax. I think it lasts about 100 km or so before you need to re-do it. Modern chemistry has stretched that interval out around 4x, but the basics remain. I have never been a proponent of immersion waxing. I don't like removing the chain from the bike for routine maintenance.
My spa kit from Silca included a bottle of Super Secret drip wax. This stuff is exactly the same as the solid wax they sell for immersion, but emulsified in water at around 70% wax: 30% water. Immersion types can use this to top-up the chain in between immersions to extend their mileage. Or, like me, one can use the drip wax on its own. The Silca team found that the water evaporates and leaves the wax behind directly related to the emulsion ratio. The water will fill the chain's inner voids and on evaporation, 70% of those voids remains filled with wax. A second application can fill those smaller voids again at the 70% level (= 91% filled after 2 goes). And a third will fill 70% of the remaining 9% (= 97% filled after 3 goes). As far as I can tell, the third go is pretty much optional as it doesn't seem to effect the behaviour of the chain.
The Silca team investigated the best way to get drip wax into a chain. Into, not onto! The wax on the outside is simply messy. Wax (or any lubricant) needs to be inside the chain where the action is happening. Big ring and second largest sprocket is the recommendation. Why? Because the cross-chaining position articulates the chain as it leaves the chainring into the span above the chainstay (assume pedalling backwards for lubrication and not pedalling for motion) and again the opposite way as it lines up with the cassette sprocket. Drip immediately prior to the cassette sprocket take-up of that chain link and you get maximal penetration.
Josh demonstrated how placing a clean chain on top of a single drop of chain lube and articulating the chain side to side would pump the lube up through the chain and out the top. Same thing happens during the lubrication dripping. Each motion of the chain pulls the lube inside where it can actually lubricate.
I drip left handed while I pedal backwards with the right hand, placing one smallish drop of well-shaken wax onto the roller of the chain just prior to touching the cassette teeth. Once I've gone around the entire chain once, I back pedal for numerous revolutions to run the chain around a dozen or so times.
Top chains are hydrophobically coated, so the emulsion wants to run off the chain. The proximity of the cassette teeth apparently help with this too. Once the water evaporates, the remaining wax is attracted to the hydrophobic coating.
At the second application, another tip from Josh is to quickly pedal forwards and shift across the cassette. This leaves a thin wax layer on each sprocket which will make the bike a little quieter during the first 100 or so km of riding.
None of this is actually what I wanted to write about. It does lead up to it, however. At the end of an interval, how should we be cleaning our waxy chains off? I used to use a full bike wash with MucOff bike shampoo and get the chain all sudsy before scrubbing with a brush. There is a much better way! A kettle of boiling water. The boiling water is plenty hot enough to melt the wax off the chain and leave you with a fresh, clean but wet chain. On a MTB you can start with a really dirty looking chain and end up with one looking really fresh just by slowly pedalling backwards and pouring the boiling water over the chainring at the front where the chain is on it. No scrubbing. No waiting. Just clean.
And then the wax can be dripped straight onto the wet chain for application number 1. They hydrophobic chain holds the wax better than the water so the damp chain is not a problem.
All these years of using various waxy chain treatments and it never occurred to me to use boiling water to clean them. So easy. So effective.