cycle chain waxing
The idea of waxing the bicycle chain instead of oiling it came to my mind over 30 years ago. But I didn’t want to mess up my mom’s cooking pots and so my idea was sidelined and I never tried it later. Since I have been riding bicycles, oil-smeared bicycle chains have been getting on my nerves and I have tried all kinds of lubricants and bicycle chain oils. No matter if high quality bicycle oil, WD-40, silicone spray, chain spray for motorcycles, gear oil, motor oil etc., I was never satisfied with any product.
In the end, you have to wipe the dirty oil film from the chain so often until nothing more comes out of the gaps. But then the chain is already too dry again.
Recently I had the idea to try it again with wax. So I booted my computer and googled the subject. I came across an article by Marcus Baranski, who I still know from my BMX days. But this article is about Molten Speed Wax, which is not so cheap in Germany. But this is about Molten Speed Wax, which is not really cheap in Germany. Molten Speed Wax is a paraffin wax to which is added PTFE and molybdenum disulfide. PTFE and molybdenum disulfide have lubricating properties and are therefore used as additives to motor oils. However, I consider this unnecessary when lubricating bicycle chains, since friction is only reduced when metal rubs against metal. The wax creates a thin wax film between the pin, the sleeve and the roller and provides sufficient lubrication. An additive will probably contribute little to lubrication. So much for the (my) logic.
So I decided to go for the cheaper option and got everything I needed in the hobby store, hardware store and Amazon.
What you need to wax your chain:
- New bicycle chain: It is recommended to replace the old chain, but it is not necessary. On my everyday bike I have replaced the chain, on my mountain bike I have waxed the used chain.
- Chain Breaker: A new Chain must be shortened to the right length, so you need a Chain Breaker.
- Degreaser: A fat-soluble solvent is suitable for degreasing. I have bought petroleum for cleaning at the hardware store. But gasoline from the gas station should also serve its purpose. Petrol and petroleum themselves contain oil, which means that the chain will still have a light film of oil after cleaning. Some people recommend acetone or brake cleaner to get the chain completely free of oil. But in my eyes this is not necessary, because hot liquid paraffin dissolves and absorbs the residual oil.
- Paraffin: Candle wax made of pure paraffin is available in most craft stores or on the internet. The kilo costs approx. 8-12 Euro and should be enough for 20 times chain waxing.
- Paraffin oil: In one of the videos paraffin oil is added to the candle wax. Candle wax is very hard and brittle at low temperatures, so kerosene oil can be added to paraffin oil. I mixed it with the wax in a ratio of 1:10. But next time I will try it with a ratio of 1:5, because the wax still seems too hard to me. But I do not want to risk that the mixture becomes oily.
- chain link pliers: A waxed chain will probably last about 500km until it has to go into the wax bath again. Every day I cycle 20 km to and from work, so I have to wax the chain once a month. So it is recommended to use a chain with a SmartLink chain link, which can be opened and closed quickly with a chain link pliers.
- chain closing link: Actually every 8, 9, 10 or 11 chain should already be equipped with a Smartlink (Shimano), or MissingLink (KMC), if not, you will need that too.
- rice maker or similar: I melted the wax on a hotplate in a baking pan. That worked too, but in many videos in the comments a rice maker is recommended to melt the wax.
- Degrease old or new chain with the cleaner. I left the chain in a petroleum bath for about 15 minutes and cleaned it with a brush.
- Place the chain in the wax bath and leave it in for a few minutes.
- Remove chain from the wax bath and hang up or quench in water bath: I have worked on two chains. I hung one of them and let it cool down, so that the wax could drip off in peace. However, some people recommend to dip the chain into water immediately after the wax bath to prevent wax from running out of the gaps. The chain with water bath (everyday bike) had too much wax on the links to my taste. But that went off with the first ride. I liked the chain without water bath much better. If the wax will stay there for a shorter time remains to be seen.
I have now ridden about 40 km with the chain on my everyday bike and I am totally overwhelmed. The bike runs as smooth as never before. Really awesome, just because of the riding feeling I would prefer a waxed chain to an oiled one 100 times. Furthermore the derailleur reacts much faster now. But that could also be due to the new chain.
The whole procedure may seem very complicated for some people. This is true, but you have to keep in mind that this is just for the first time so complex. Once you have waxed the chain, you don’t have to constantly clean the chain with a cloth. If you want to wax the chain again, just take it off the bicycle and dip it into the wax bath. This takes less than 5 minutes. The wax is simply left in the container or rice stove until the next time.
As you can see the chain is absolutely clean.
I have been cycling to work in wet weather conditions the whole last week. After not even 100 km the chain started to squeak a lot and felt sluggish. So I waxed the chain again after about 80 km. But this time waxing was much faster. I simply heated the paraffin, freed the chain from sand with a brush and put it into the hot wax bath. Afterwards I let the chain cool down and mounted it on the bike again. This time I added some paraffin oil to the wax and I think there is now about 20% oil in the wax. The chain now runs perfectly again. 80 km is of course not much, but the chain looked really bad. There was a lot of sand and leaves on the bike lanes. An oiled chain would probably not have been able to cope with that much longer. In dry weather you probably have to wax the chain much fewer times.
So, now I have gained about 3/4 year of experience and tried different wax mixtures. I also bought PTFE to test if this has a positive effect on the wax.
I could not find any difference with PTFE concerning the riding feeling. If the chain will last longer is possible, but I can’t say anything about that.
I also added sometimes more and sometimes less oil to the wax. By the way, engine oil works too and it doesn’t have to be paraffin oil.
But I have come to the conclusion that I do not add anything to the wax anymore. Pure paraffin without oil, without PTFE, without molybdenum sulfite, simply without anything, runs wonderfully, is the cheapest solution and is best for the environment. In good weather conditions you can ride at least 500 KM with one waxing, but in rain things are completely different.
It is recommended to use 2 or more chains per bike, so you can finish a few chains in one go and change the chain if necessary.
After each wax bath I let the wax solidify, take it out of the container and scrape off the sand and dirt that has settled on the floor with a scraper.
So I always have relatively clean wax.
Conclusion: I now only ride with wax chains on all my Bikes. It is really the best for me. I rode about 5000 KM with the first chain and it is still in quite good condition.
Videos on the subject
How To Wax A Bicycle Chain (Global Cycling Network)
Wax your Chain – best Lube ever (oz cycle)
Wax a NEW chain + Re-waxing a chain (oz cycle)
Molten Speed Wax vs Homemade Wax (oz cycle)
The last video shows clearly how candle wax counteracts the wear of the chain. With kerosene the chain lives much longer than with all tested chain oils.