Ask a Tech – Chain Lubrication & How Drivetrain Wear Relates to Cadence

Q)   I just bought a 2010 Felt B2 and wanted to know if cleaning the chain with a chain cleaner box works just as good as taking the chain off and cleaning.  Also, does riding at a slow cadence in a high gear stress the crank and cassette teeth more than riding a fast cadence? – Neil

A)  Hi Neil,   Great question.  We generally promote using cleaner running lubes like Boeing T9 and Rock n’ Roll, these lubes are generally more wax-based rather than petroleum based.   However, the downside to these cleaner running lubes is that the wax breaks down quicker than petroleum based lubes and thus the applications need to be made more frequently.  These wax based lubes promote a cleaner drivetrain as they dry into a nice, protective coating; just apply the lube every 40 – 50 miles or so and it will run clean and quiet.

The actual application process for chain lube is pretty simple. Clean the chain on the bike with a dry, clean coarse rag. Concentrate on wiping off all the grime on the exterior of chain and use a degreaser only as needed.  Of course, feel free to clean cogs and chainrings with brushes, parts washer, degreasers, etc…   Once you have everything clean, apply a nice steady drip of lubricant once around the chain.   Back pedaling is a good way to rotate the chain for application ease.   Let the lube soak in and wipe the excess off.  To eliminate lube dispersing all over the drivetrain, apply it the night before the ride and let the chain dry for the wax seal and, in the morning, wipe off any wet excess and you should be good to go with minimal spray or mess.

For those riders that know they simply will not lube as frequently as a wax lube requires, you can use a mid-thickness lube (like Finish Line Teflon lube) or you can use a thicker heavy lube like Chain-L.  Chain-L is a very good long-term industrial style lubricant that runs pretty quiet and lasts a long-time, but don’t expect it to run clean.  You have to choose between clean and lubricating more frequently or dirtier and lubricating infrequently.

On a related note, we’ve been trying to ween riders and mechanics alike from chain cleaners and immersing chains in solutions constantly.  I discourage cleaners, brushes and solutions from being used regularly on a chain as I’ve found that most chains will last longer if the factory lubricant on the inside of the rollers remains intact for as long as possible. There is simply no product on the market to replicate the consistency and application of the factory “jet-lubed” as this lube tends to be much thicker and deeply embedded than you can do in the shop or at home.

Second part of your inquiry…    Riding in a cross gear or very low and heavy gearing combination does indeed put greater force on your drivetrain rather than finding a consistent, moderate cadence.  However, it is really the shifting and grinding wear under great load associated with low cadence riding which leads to shorter drivetrain life and not the actual low cadence.  If you tend to “mash gears”, as they say, try getting comfortable shifting more often and intuiting which gear combinations will yield the right cadence for hill climbs, descents, sprints and the such to minimize wear.

Thank you for the inquiry and ride fast.

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