Chain waxing, what am I doing wrong?

Hi chain wax experts out there. I have just completed my first year using solid wax lube (MSW). It has changed how I look after my bikes for the better and I find it quick easy and less work then oil. So yes I am a fan. However I am not getting the chain lifetimes quoted by the experts. For example I have just completed 10000 Kms on my summer bike this year. I have been rotating two chains (one ultegra and one YKN). typically only do 200km before a rewax. The YKN is worn out and the Shimano one is just clinging on. So assuming even use I am only getting about 5000km out of a chain. I had similar lifespans over the winter but I thought that might be due to the wet UK climate.
I was hoping to get more out of a waxed chain. So any ideas on what I could be doing wrong? I have followed friction facts methods as best I can. I wonder if my initial cleaning is not quite cutting it and that means oil is getting in the wax, or its not adhering as well as it could. Interested in anyone’s experience or ideas on this?
Thanks!

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Hi Gavin,
I have been a long time obsessive chain waxer and I’m getting much better results from my waxed chain. I have a KMC X10SL chain with over 12,500 km with only 0.247% stretch (I use a digit calliper, measuring 6 random section of the chain and average it). I top off the chain with a liquid wax lube (Silca Super Secret Chain Lube) every 200-300 km between complete chain cleaning and rewaxing every 1200 km with Silca Secret Chain Blend (Hot Wax). I wipe down the chain after each and every ride with a cloth - wiping down any dirt that might on the chain is very important.
Now, I’m a fair weather cyclist and I rarely ride in the rain. All of this sounds like a lot of work but wiping down the chain only takes about 5-10 seconds after each ride.
Hopefully, this helps but winter riding in the wet UK might be the reason for early chain wear. Good luck

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Isn’t it just a weight and power thing. I take care of both mine and my wifes bikes. Im exactly twice her weight. My chains probably don’t even last 1/2 as long. I switched to wax, and my chains last longer but thrre is no world where I’m getting 10000kms.

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Well yes I suppose that must come into it. I am 80kg so no lightweight…

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I weigh 80kg as well so I doubt it is a weight issue. My power-to-weight ratio isn’t horrible (3.3-3.4 w/kg). As I said, try wiping down the chain after each ride. Perhaps, it might be a 10 vs 11/12 speed chain. I’m not sure. I have 3 chains in rotation with other two (KMC X10SL Ti-Nitrite & KMC X10SL) with 3700km with 0.10% stretch.
I also use an ultrasonic cleaner for cleaning my chains before rewaxing.

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OK thanks. I will give the wipe down a go this winter and see how I get on. I have two new chains to clean so I will be going to town on them to get them as clean as possible.

Still its better than oil. I have killed chains in a UK winter within 2000KMs with a wet lube and little time to clean them…

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I would suggest that unless you live somewhere coastal (sand and salt), something is going awry with the waxing. I’m Uk based too, 70kg, just over 4w/kg, and 2 chains have lasted me over 10,000km, though both are now almost done.

I find I get much more success if I let the wax cool a little before removing the chain. Yes, more adheres to it, and it takes a little longer to break in, but the chain stays quieter and smoother longer. I would hypothesise that many people remove the chain while the wax is still very hot, and much of it simply runs off/out. I know there are people who say that’s not necessary, but I can only comment from experience.

The other possibility is cleaning. You should be able to wipe the cleaned chain on a wedding dress. And if a chain gets wet and sticky, I will clean it back to ‘base’ again before re-waxing, rather than just throwing it in the pot.

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Just a thought, have you checked the wear on your chainrings and cassette? If these are worn, they will increase the wear on your chain as the chain rollers will be riding higher on the chainring.

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Yes, I 100% agree with this methodology. I wait until the top wax layer in my crock pot has cooled and started to form a thin film when pulling out the chain. I test this with a wire. Yes, there’s a little more hardened wax on the chain but it’s leaves a proper amount of wax between pins, rollers and plates.
Josh Poertner of Silca recommends this method.

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Great thanks for the advice. I am going to try letting the wax cool for a bit as described. I have been whipping it out the wax and hanging it straight away. Also I have never really felt like I have been having a “break in” period to a freshly waxed chain, other than about 100 m and a few shifts. Maybe that indicates that I am not getting as much wax in there as I should.

I disagree with the statement that removal time is an important criterion, I think it’s based on a misunderstanding of how wax works.

When you remove the chain and let it cool it should become quite rigid because the wax has wet the internal surfaces and the hardened wax is binding them together. This will happen even if you remove the chain while the wax is at peak temperature if the wax has wet the the chain properly. In this situation the internal spaces of the chain are completely filled with wax so there is no advantage to letting it cool before removing.

The wax will not flow out from the inside of the links as this is energetically unfavourable: the surface energy of a clean metal surface is high, the surface energy of the wax is low, so the system energy is minimised when the surface remains wet. Put another way: the surfaces are close enough for capillary action to overcome the effects of gravity if the surfaces are clean enough for the wax to wet them*.

This last point is very important: get the chain properly clean and waxing is easy but vice versa.

The commonly touted simple green / dish soap in water + ultrasonic cleaner method does not clean a chain properly in my experience.

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*These two statements are equivalent since capillary action is driven by the surface energies.

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Thanks for this explanation :+1::sun_with_face:

I do have one question: I’ve got 2 chains on an 11sp drivetrain in rotation which are going pretty strong.
However, I’ve got also 2 chains on a 1sp IGH setup, which have been worn prematurely (regarding theory of >10k km). Same process as 11sp, only difference is weather (1sp sees rain, if there is some) and a lengthy summer-vacation of ~1000km where I use drip on wax almost every day. Why? I noticed the chain sounding dry after just one day in dry, dusty heat (>24C + sun).
My current hypothesis is, that the accumulated duration in high temps with larger gaps between parts (rollers, pins etc) drives the wax out when moving chain. Could be totally wrong on this, though and the cleaning process is not good. I’m a bit lost here.

Oh, the 11sp are campy and YBN, 1sp was KMC o_O
Sorry for the lengthy reply, but couldn’t fit the info shorter :person_shrugging:

It’s most likely due to it being a KMC chain. Zero Friction Cycling found that they consistently have wax adhesion issues across their entire line and go dry much faster than the other brands, probably due to whatever low friction coating or finishing treatment KMC uses.

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To get a completely clean dry chain with no thin film residue( brake cleaner seems to adds to this film when I use it for general cleaning. tend not to use it now)

I use kerosene as the first step
I use a separate wax remover solvent that contains Toluene as part of the cleaning process
I use dish soap and warm water as one of the steps
I always finish with isopropyl alcohol as the last step

I think you are wasting your time and money using toluene on cold wax. Solid wax is almost impossible to dissolve for reasons I have explained at length before*.

This is one of the reasons I deprecate the use of toluene and similar aromatic** hydrocarbons for wax removal. They only work above the melting temperature of the wax and at these temperatures the risks posed by the vapours are excessive.

Industrial and lab processes use specialised reflux equipment for hot aromatics to avoid this but these are out of reach for DIY applications. Amongst other things you will have to sign off on a declaration that it isn’t being used for a drug lab before the vendors will let you buy it.

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.* This does not apply to waxes that are premixed with things that make them soluble but then you don’t need toluene either.
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.** aromatic here means “containing a benzene ring” not “fragrant”. Toluene, for instance, is methyl benzene.

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Thanks for sharing your knowledge and time. Much appreciated. G

I’m rotating 2 KMC chains that have 10-11000kms on them using molten speed wax. I prepared them IAW the Zero Friction Cycling procedure. I don’t baby them, I only wipe and apply Squirt to them if I rode through rain, which I generally avoid.

No signs of wear yet. I am in Australia, though.

In my experience, KMC is fine. I have YBN chains ready to replace them, but they’re still waiting.

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Do you mean YBN chains?

2 possible options

  • cassette is already worn out. Depends on the mileage before you had your new chains.
  • poor wax practices. If you need to re wax each 200km that’s very very short (now is it cause the chain is a bit noisier or hear grinding “metal-to-metal” noises?) if the second, that point toward waxing issues, it should last longer.

I’ve had pretty good results aiming for 100degC, and high temperature appears to help with degassing.

But it does occur to me that the wax shrinks (not insignificantly) when it cools, so removing at say 120deg could result in less wax than at 80deg.

Does this matter?
What happens during the shrinkage as it cools?
Does it draw in more wax, air, both?

Interested in your thoughts.