Friday, June 09, 2006

Chain lube

Cyclists are a contentious bunch. Just mention helmets in a newsgroup, for instance, and watch the sparks fly! Now, chain lube may not be as divisive an issue, but I'll state in advance that the following is my opinion, and your's may differ.

Paul Tay wrote:

...I am gonna try this kewl new idea for chain lube and cleaner: model airplane fuel. It turns out da said fuel is a highly flammable, well duh, mixture of probably kerosene and some kind of lubricant, probably parafin. Da said kerosene vapors off and leaves a film of some kinda protective slimy stuff, da parafin? ...Got any ideas on dat?

Back in the old days, before STI even, we used kerosene as a near-universal solvent in the shop. We kept it in an old pressure cooker and used the basket for soaking parts. It was cheap and it worked. But disposal was a problem. I usually mixed it with the used motor oil when I went to the recycling center.

Kerosene is far less volatile than gasoline, and I suspect that just like gasoline, the model airplane fuel could ignite very easily. Gas vapors are heavier than air, so they 'puddle' and flow downhill. I'd be very hesitant to use any form of gasoline as a solvent.

Kerosene removed all the grime and old lube from bearings and chains, but they still required lubrication. I tried plain old 10W motor oil for awhile. It's messy and attracts dirt. I tried 3-in-1 oil exactly once. It goes on nice and thin, but after the solvents evaporate, it leaves a thick layer of gunk behind. Motorcycle chain lube does the same thing. These products are better than nothing and since I rode a fixed gear through the winter and normally pitched the chain in the spring, this wasn't a big problem.

Replacing drivetrain parts on a multi-speed bike can get expensive, so I try to be more careful with maintenance. I started using Tri-Flow after a saleman gave me a sample can. In the late 70s, it was my high-tech lubricant of choice. The biggest drawback is that it goes on wet and stays wet. It stains clothing and does not come out - ever. But it's a fine lube and I stayed with it for years.

One of the shop mechanics talked me into trying a wax-based lubricant. I won't mention the name since I've taken to calling all of them 'boutique' lubes. It worked fine, but it had to be reapplied far too often. I found that it lasted only about a week in regular commuting use, and that's about 100 miles for me. If it rained, it had to be reapplied that much sooner. But the stuff was very clean.

A friend is an Amzoil dealer, and he told me about their Metal Protectant Heavy Duty (MPHD). This is a wax-based lubricant too, but it's more an industrial product. It will stain clothing somewhat, but not as bad as oil or Tri-Flow. It will develop a brownish build up on chainrings if the excess isn't wiped off promptly. But it lasts twice as long as the boutique lubes and per unit, it costs much less. The boutique stuff was $6 for 4 ounces. MPHD is about $8 for 16 ounces. The appearance isn't an issue for me because my commuter bikes aren't pristine anyway. I use them and use them hard, so I want them to work reliably. They don't have to be pretty.

I clean the chain with WD-40 and scrub it with a rag to try to remove as much dirt as possible. Then after the solvent evaporates, I apply the MPHD and wipe off the excess. I wipe the chainrings and crankarms, and anywhere that might have caught some overspray. Then I'm good for another 200 miles.


Blogger Paul Tay said...

It turns out da said fuel is mainly methanol and a lubricant. Santa put it to da test today on 169 before popo ordered him off at da 71st exit. We'll check durability in about a week. Gawd, how we hate exposed chains. Gimme a full chainguard bike from da Netherlands.

8:32 PM  

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