23 Dec VeloNews – Hunting for Speed
Searching for the fastest lubes on the planet
by Caley Fretz
The first rule of chain lube is simple: there are no rules.
Given the endless variables of weather, road conditions, riding styies, equipment choices, and maintenance habits spread across the cycling world, there is simply no way to stamp a foot down and shout to the world that this, right here, is the best chain lube money can buy for every rider, every day, in every part of the world. It’s an impossible distinction to make.
However, determining the best lube based on the solitary, though very important, attribute of efficiency is possible. Using a collection of pricey lab equipment and a good deal ofelbow grease, it is feasible to find the fastest lube available – the best lube for your most important days, the one that most effectively slickens the hundreds of metaliic contact and rotation points on a chain so that it steals as little power from your pedal stroke as possible. Efficiency is speed, after all. Could we find the world’s fastest lubel That was our challenge.
On The Hunt
We began by returning to the Friction Facts 1ab owned by Jason Smith; we used the same setup in a nearly identical test last year. Utilizing his independent facility, we found out precisely how much power a chain saps as it articulates through a drivetrain with various lubes applied, measuring power loss in watts.
Because Smith calibrated the test equipment to a reference oi1 from the original round of lube tests, published in the March 2013 issue of Velo, all of the data from both tests is directly comparable. We’ve included key results from that original test, along with the new data, on the opposite page.
Last year was a first run; we picked 30 popular lubes and ran them through the process with no real notion of what would work well and what would not. The data from that test shaped our selection of 25 new lubes for this analysis. After last year’s test, for example, we knew that Teflon-infused lubes did well, as did wax-based lubes, so we sought more. We also looked into a few lubes making impressive claims based on their use of nanotechnology. And, ofcourse, we grabbed a few popular lubes that were left out the first time around, like Pedro’s legendary Syn Lube.
No stone was left unturned. Smith, who bought all the lubes on the open market to prevent manufacturers from tampering with their usual formula, tested everything from traditional drip lubes to melted paraffin wax to car oil to olive oil – yes, the sort that would normally end up on a salad, not on a chain. Were we successfull Did we find the world’s fastest lube? It’s impossible to say for sure, but given the trends in the data – the main ingredients in the fastest lubes tend to be consistent and predictable – we have certainly come close. If there’s something faster out there, it likely isn’t commercially available. Or, it may not be a bike lube at all.
For the second year running, the fastest lube wasn’t a traditional lube at all. Molten Speed Wax is, as the name suggests, a wax. It has to be melted before it can be applied to the chain. It is based loosely on a formula developed by Friction Facts itself, which Smith has published for public use. (We must stress that Smith has no association with Molten Speed Wax – the company is simply using part of his publicly available formula.)
Last year, hard paraffin wax, the sort that’s easily sourced from any local hardware store, was the fastest lube by a good margin. Molten Speed Wax adds Teflon, or PTFE, and molybdenum to standard paraffin. Both additives are frequently used to make liquid lubes more efficient. The results were predictable: Molten Speed Wax improved upon the results of normal paraffin by 0.14 watts – not much, but in this game of tiny margins, enough to consider going with Molten over generic paraffin.
The true hero of this test, though, was Squirt Lube. It is the fastest drip lube we’ve ever tested, and is actually faster than simple paraffin. It was only 0.10 watt slower than the Molten Speed Wax. Squirt is another wax-based lube; in fact, it is based on a substance called slack wax, which is the precursor to paraffin wax. “Slack wax is close to what comes out of drill rigs,” explained Smith. “It contains wax and oil in its natural state. Paraffin is slack wax refined to remove the oil. Squirt might be on to something by using the raw, unrefined slack wax, as it is a mix of wax and the natural oil.”
Squirt ran even faster when it was tested without the recommended overnight dry time, an experiment we performed out of simple curiosity. This goes against the manufacturer’s recommendation, so the lube’s official result remains based on an overnight drying period. But it is something to keep in mind: to make Squirt even faster, apply it just before a short event.
Because Squirt is essentially wax based, it runs exceptionally clean, preventing too much gunk from building up in a drivetrain. In our testing, longevity was slightly below average 300-4oo miles in good conditions. But it is much easier to apply than paraffin, a fact that may tip the scales in its favor for many riders.
The difference between the best and worst lubes in this test was 3.68 watts. The lubes in this round of testing were, on average, quicker than those we tested last year; it’s an unsurprising result as we honed our search for the fastest lube available. Rock-n-Roll Extreme did well, even better than the quickest drip lube in last year’s test, Rock-n-Roll Gold. Lilly Lube, which contains proprietary additives intended to decrease friction at high pressures, was faster than Rock-n-Roll Gold as well.
Amazingly, our grocery store tin of Del Papa Extra Virgin Olive Oil was the fourth fastest lube. We can’t speak to its longevity on a bike chain, but it’s hard to argue with that level of versatility.
The lubes making nanotechnology claims did not excel; however, we have found that they are incredibly long lasting in the real world and seem to improve drivetrain durability. SpeedX, which ciaims to utilize polar binding, was 1.51 watts slower than the Speed Wax. Rand Momentum, which claims to use rare vegetable oils and nanoparticles, had an average result, 1.15 watts slower than Speed Wax.
A11 waxes are not created equal, of course. Fast Wax Hot Melt Fluoro, designed for cross country skiing, did well, but was still half a watt slower than Speed Wax. Something about paraffin seems to work particularly well on chains. As before, certain additives seemed to be consistently effective. Look for lubes with molybdenum and PTFE – Gnar Lube Black Sapphire and Molten Speed Wax, for example – or wax in an oil base, like Squirt. Wax lubes in a solvent base tend to perform poorly.
We’ve long been proponents of the waxing method. With the right equipment, it’s not particularly onerous, and it leaves one’s drivetrain so wonderfully clean that any time lost in waxing is gained back ten fold in cleaning. Longevity of a wax treatment is better than most expect – we’ve ridden many hundreds of dry miles on a single application. That paraffin is also the fastest solution, producing the most efficient drivetrain, and is made even cluicker with Molten Speed Wax’s concoction, is icing on the cake. Squirt is a phenomenal alternative, though. It, too, is very clean, though not quite as clean as paraffin. Once the water in the solution dries it picks up very little dirt. The kicker, though, is that it can be applied like any other drip lube. No more crock pots, no more potential for flammable paraffin fumes. Ease of use and incredible efficiency: Squirt really is the whole package. It’s not great in wet weather, but on dry days only Speed Wax will be faster.