Considering waxing my chains (MTB/Gravel)

Gravel/MTBer on the east coast. The occasional creek crossing, and east coast mud is my typical environment. I use the gravel bike on road rides as well. Been using Muc Off wet lube for the last few years, but I also spend a lot of time cleaning the drivetrain between rides. I try to clean the chain on the bike as much as possible, to keep from using powerlinks. I have an ultrasonic cleaner when I want to really clean stuff.

All drivetrains are Sram 1x, pretty much all Eagle.

So I’m considering switching to hot-dip wax, trying to cut down on in-between ride maintenance.

Looking for advice on wax; lessons learned, etc. I know that the chain needs to be super clean on the first application; what can go on between rides? Or does it just get hosed off?

Oh, and I don’t care about saving 3 watts… after listening to the last Nerd Alert on chains and lube, it all seems to be hogwash anyway. Longevity and reliability, with less between-ride maintenance are the priorities.

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My experience with immersion waxing is that it’s great for summer road bikes, that don’t see much moisture or muck. No cleaning of the druvetrain at all between rides, and around 500km between applications (I reuse quick links cos I like livin in the edge :metal:)

OTOH, I tried it on the winter and gravel bikes, but found the wax was not robust enough in the grimy conditions, and I would have been obliged to rewax after every ride. So I gave up on it, and went back to wet lube, and lots of degreasing.

This is nw England, so cool and wet climate. I just use pure candle wax and a rice cooker on the summer chains.

Take an listen to the recent Nerd Alert podcast with Dave Rome, Adam Kevin, and Jason Smith. Lots of good info. Also, Adam’s website (and company) Zerofrictioncycling.com.au has a ton of info and waxing procedures as does Dave’s guide on Cyclingtips.

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I do MTB and road, and am a complete waxed-chain convert–keeps the chains cleaner, smoother and longer lasting. You can always top off in cruddy conditions with Squirt or a few other options, but I would never go back to dirty black oiled/dry chains, no matter what it is (“dry”, Teflon, etc.). I mix the wax myself with paraffin, PFTE and a bit of Molten (prepared hot wax) and is the best thing I’ve done recently–great in the wet (no rust, if you waxed right) and great in the dry–quiet, smooth as silk, and both chains and gears last significantly longer.

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If you haven’t already then be sure to check out the endless FAQ to chain waxing.

From what you’ve described I’d say that chain waxing will likely save you time and effort in the long run. Once you’ve done the initial chain prep then you won’t need to worry about degreasers and deep cleans again – boiling water will reset a dirty chain and have it ready for re-waxing.

If you’re on the fence then I’d suggest trying a good drip-on wax lube. Smoove, Silca SS, CeramicSpeed UFO 2.0 or Tru-Tension Tungsten All-Weather are great options and will be vastly better for drivetrain durability and cleanliness compared to what you currently use. Melt-on wax takes the cleanliness benefits up another notch from there.

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I have been waxing all my chains for a couple of years. Main lessons:

  1. Paraffin wax works ok on its own, but MSW is far better and not that expensive.
  2. Its very easy, and well worth it to rewax regularly on the MTB. Keeps it running smooth after muddy/wet rides.
  3. I reuse the quick links until they get really sloppy (I would always put a fresh one on to race) and just make sure I always carry a spare one - not that I’ve had one fail yet.
  4. An old spoke cut to about 15cm and bent at both ends is great for a swisher, and then to hang the chain above the crockpot so the wax drips back into it. I put it back on the bike as soon as I can handle it, rather than let it fully dry (then you have to break the links which I find a pain).

I think its well worth doing, once you’ve got your setup dialed its a pretty easy job.

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I use paraffin wax with 10% PTFE powder in a slow cooker, have 3 chains and wax them all then just swap over as needed, every 200 ish miles, not much experience using in the wet though as I am a fair weather softie. Use a Wippermann link so easy to swap chains without any tools. Put the dirty chains in a collander and pour a kettle or two of hot water over them to clean.

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For years I was a fair weather fairy - my bikes generally only came out when the sun shone. Regardless, every ride saw me wiping down the chain and rings when I got home. A reapplication of my beloved Prolink lube happened after >150km, single or accumulated rides. Sparkly. :two_hearts:
But my mate was waxing his chains and riding through filth (he lives in the bush, as we call it in Australia - dirt roads). He sold me on the benefits, particularly around chain life. He was getting 7-8,000kms from a waxed chain when before his chains would be replaced <2000km.
So I bit the bullet and cleaned up a few chains (that’s the tedious bit - but you can buy them prepped). I went to KMart, bought a slow cooker for 20 bucks and a fat candle for $5. A $10 spend on eBay saw the PTFE powder arrive a couple of days later. The last two winters I’ve been almost exclusively riding gravel/mud; dusty roads through summer last (it’s presently spring at last Down Under. :sun_behind_small_cloud: ) I’ve exceeded the distances I was historically getting riding on dry roads, despite frequently getting my bikes covered in crap. In fact THE main thing I realised was that my bike and I would routinely get filthy, but not the drivetrain. I often don’t clean the drivetrain at all, just wipe the thick mud off my frame and wheels. Every 200-300 km I pull the chain off and pop it in the crockpot. Too easy.
Caveat: proper rain will get the chain wet. As will hosing off the mud. When stored wet the chain can get surface rust, which inevitably disappears on the next ride. I’ve taken to drying it off with an old tea towel and this minimises that occurrence. This is still MUCH easier than the old Prolink re-lube jobs I used to do.
I have just replaced my first lot of wax. I got 63 chains through it. $15 for 63 reapplications; over 10,000 kms collective wear and none of my chains have hit the 0.5 wear mark. That’s pretty good value. The wax had gone quite brown because, unlike my friend, I don’t wash my chains before relaxing them. I dry them if obviously wet, but I expect the heat of the hot wax would expel any water that’s ingressed into the chain. I don’t wash them because the mud and dust just doesn’t stick to them.
The only additional task I’ve added to my routine is the use of index cards: I have 10 bikes that are “mine” ( I don’t count the kids’ or partner’s), so keeping tabs on how many kms each does is simpler this way. The index cards also facilitate my analysis of Di2 battery performance and tyre life.
I used to ride each of my main sports bikes (road, CX & MTB) at least once a fortnight. But I fell in love with gravel roads once I threw out the 35mm tubed tyres (pinch flats!) and got 38mm tubeless. That was what drove me to waxing the chains - so frequently enjoying riding in bad conditions. I’m having so much more fun off road I bought a new titanium gravel bike (Ribble CGR), and between that and my CX (S-Works Crux) I’m riding the gravel so much it might go 6 weeks, even months before the old roadies each get a run. Waxing the chains makes the roads I used to avoid, because of the additional wear and tear associated with riding them, my first preference now. I’m out of the traffic and having a ball AND doing much less maintenance. :ok_hand:

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Thanks all for the replies! I’m still reading the endless FAQ (can one ever finish an endless FAQ?) and am going with MSW. They have some detailed instructions as well as an ultrasonic cleaner option. Reading the fine print, they only endorse ultrasound for new chains, preferring solvents for an old chain. So I’m deviating a bit, though this is on a single speeed chain and an 11 speed that sits on the trainer.

Already have an ultrasonic cleaner and after reading up some more my choice of model was a good one. Not the most expensive but it seems to have the specs where it counts.

One thing I didn’t know about ultrasonic cleaners is degassing. Makes sense now but didn’t think it affected the performance so much. I’m using a “splash” of simple green Extreme (the aviation grade recommended on an earlier Nerd Alert episode by James) and after degassing, 6 minutes on each side of the chain has really cleaned up my test chain!

My process so far for a greasy, sticky chain that’s been on my trainer:

  1. Removed chain, dipped in boiling water just to see what happens. Black film formed around the pot so something came off
  2. Ultrasonic bath, 6 min/side, after degassing, and using Simple Green Extreme mixed with hot tap water. Temp set to 57 C on the cleaner.
  3. Water rinse. Chain appears shiny and clean…
  4. Mineral spirits bath per CT: shaker jar… fluid turned BLACK…
  5. So here’s where I had an idea, and it started with thoughts on how to responsibly dispose of waste fluids. I had tried a coffee filter to clean some of the solids out of the cleaner fluid. It had mixed results. BUT when I tried this with the used mineral spirits it filtered out pretty much clear. Was able to re-use the filtered fluid and continued to get crud out (based on clarity of the fluid in the jar). Also just tested a cycle with “new” spirits, and that also stayed clean. As the filter accumulated crud, the filter started working better (slower drip rate), and I’m now getting clear fluid out from the filter.
  6. So it’s a small amount of work, but with a large coffee filter and a shop funnel you can use a lot less spirits and therefore a lot less waste. I’m going to keep the filtered product for future chains. Edit: Second chain (single speed, newish but a few miles on it outside) the spirits didn’t filter out so well. Must be finer grit/dirt in there that gets through the filter paper.
  7. Alcohol bath was clean on the first cycle.

Don’t have the wax yet so I’ll edit this as that progresses

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I am also new to waxing. My cleaning process is a little different from yours. I have an ultrasonic cleaner that also heats the fluid. For both a new or used chain I shake the chain in a jar with a standard degreaser. This gets most of the factory grease off or other gunk off. Next into the ultrasonic with mineral spirits heated to 60C for 20 minutes. Change fluid and repeat. Then do two repeats with isopropyl alcohol. With a new chain the two fluid fills look the same after the ultrasonic bath so the second one may not be necessary. For a used chain the first bath is fairly dirty. I save the fluid and use again next time.

When you rewax Adam Kerin from Zero Friction Cycling says that you can just wipe the dust off and stick the chain into the wax in most cases. If the chain is really contaminated (like a wet and muddy ride) he said that you can soak the waxed chain for maybe 5 or 10 minutes in boiling water and then rewax. He told me that this lengthens the time before you need to change the wax in the pot.

Hot tip - do one outdoor ride on the newly waxed trainer bike. Otherwise little bits of wax will fling off everywhere in your house

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Super quick drying method:

Bounce the bike on its tyres to dislodge water. Spray the wet chain with metho, bounce again. Spray chain with acetone or ethyl acetate (nail polish remover), bounce again.

The metho washes out most of the water, the acetone washes out most of the metho, the residue evaporates.

Neither is a good solvent for wax so they won’t remove the wax from the inside of the chain. If using wet lube (I use NFS) apply a couple of extra drops.

Cleaning dirty chains to prepare for waxing is hard work. It takes a lot of work to get all the dirt off.

I’d suggest:
Step 1: get an oily rag, dip it turps and wipe as much crud off as you can. Get a toothbrush (not one you are using on your teeth) and clean out in between the gaps.
Step 2: use some dirty, saved mineral turps in a jar and shake the chain around. it will still be filthy, but you’ll loosen some crud.
Step 3: repeat Step 2- again with dirty turps.
Steps 4 to X: repeat Step 3 - ideally with incrementally cleaner turps but not clean/new turps - as the chain is still filthy and will ruin the new turps instantly.
Step Y: this is the point at which you’ve gotten most of the really nasty crud off the chain - put clean turps in a jar and shake the chain up.
Steps Z to ?: repeat Step Y with new turps until the turps doesn’t change colour much. personally I’ve never got to the point where the turps stays perfectly clear, but it should be almost clear before you assess the chain as cleaned.
Step AA (I’m using Excel row numbers): Wash it in Metho to get the turps residue off the chain.

Basically my suggestion is to not start with clean turps to wash a dirty chain, or you’ll go through stacks of turps.

I just started chain waxing as a lockdown project -converted my MTB and number 1 road bike.

Second the comment above about dirty chains - even though they were relatively new they took crap loads of solvent to clean, and I still think there was some residual. The new chain I got as a second for a roadie was much easier. In future I might buy a prepped chain.

I am using straight high grade paraffin. Early days but the motivation for me was recently breaking or wearing chains quickly, despite using a good lube (NFS). On my road bike I think chain line was a contributing factor - my cassette was just beyond derailleur capacity with relatively short chainstays. Still, with consumable prices going up and the benefits of less cleaning I figured was worth a go.

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Use gasoline to clean a dirty lubed chain. If its very dirty, I use two separate bottles. The dirt will settle to the bottom and you can decant the gasoline into a 3rd bottle, and clean/discard the dirty leftover. If the chain has already been waxed, then I will wipe it off with a wet rag, or spray it with water and shake it to get most of the water off.
Damp chain will go into the hot pot of wax, and the water will evaporate. Any dirt still on the chain will settle to the bottom of the pot. Use a metal screen on the bottom of your pot to separate the dirt/metal bits from the chain. Use a piece of wire to take out the chain and let it hang to dry/cool.
I use a twist tie to keep the quick links and the chain together. Both quick links and the chain get waxed at the same time and I do not need to fish out the small quick links from the pot.
Rewax when it squeeks, or slightly before. This depends on your riding conditions.
If using a quick link, try the Wippermann Connex. They are very good, although the 12speed quicklinks are not in stores yet.

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QUESTION: Does anyone else end up with wax building in between the smallest and next-smallest cogs on their cassette? It’s obviously coming from the chain wax and causes the chain to skip when in the small cog.

I can pick it out manually in 2 minutes but has anyone else experienced this and how do you prevent it? I’m wondering if I’m not wiping down enough excess wax?

It’s been said above, but the cleanliness is the real benefit for me. No more degreasing, cleaning and reinstalling, only to have the chain turn black again in a few kms.

I use a couple of chains per bike. If one starts sounding a little dry I just switch it. Takes a couple of minutes. Then I re-wax a few chains at a time, which is still only a few minutes work.

It’s mostly dry where I am in Australia, but if my drivetrain was particularly muddy I’d hose it off and dry the chain with a rag and see how it looked. Still waxy and clean, ride again. If it looked particularly dirty I’d switch it, and rewax, maybe with a boiled water bath beforehand to melt off gunk and dirty wax.

I get the wax between the smallest cogs. It’s a common thing. Scrape it off. And a stiff brush will clean some wax off the cassette top of you want it a little brighter.

I’ve been waxing both road and mtb chains for two years using MSW. The clean drivetrain was the main thing for me but nothing is wearing out either which is amazing.

When I ride in the wet I try to always wipe the chain down afterwards, and I swap the chains after a few really foul days. I figure it’s easy enough to do that so probably clean (just a wash in dish soap and hot water) and re-wax more often than I need to. I use Aliexpress quick links which are super cheap and I’ve never had any trouble with them. Three or four chains on the go at once makes this easier too.

My main tip is that new, high-end chains need some breaking in. Dura Ace and XTR chains have a finish that the wax doesn’t stick to well so they only last a few hours for the first few rotations.

Oh yeah, and popping off the cassette and pouring boiling water over it is magic for cleaning it.

new chains come coated in factory lube. you’ve got to wash them before waxing.

I posted above, basically saying that waxed chains are the single best thing I’ve done recently with regards to bikes, and of course it doesn’t matter what kind of bike (gravel, road, MTB…). Since a few have mentioned what they do, here’s my approach.

  1. Remove the chain and put chain and quick links in a small container with mineral spirits (essentially paint thinner). Stir around a lot.
  2. Remove the quick links, and set aside (they don’t need to be waxed). Put the chain in boiling hot water, “cook” for a few minutes, stirring.
  3. Remove the chain (I use a thick piece of copper wire), and place it into a hot pot that already has the melted concoction made up of 200-300 grams paraffin chips, some PTFE powder, and a few tablespoons of Molten Speed Wax. Mix it thoroughly and let is soak for up to 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the chain using the copper wire, hang it and straighten out, and immediately wipe it clean with a thick cloth.
  5. While the chain is still warm, put it back on the bike, with the quick links. You’re ready to ride.
  6. Repeat once every 300-500 kms.
  7. If necessary, towards the end of the current run, but before you have time for re-waxing, give a coat of Squirt to keep things smooth.