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Seven Steps To Waxing Your Chain

Luke Meers discovers and explains the benefits of hot wax dipping a chain for increased performance.

In the cycling world, there are a few quick measures often used to judge the seriousness of other cyclists encountered on the road or in the cafe. Shaved/unshaved legs, disc/rim brakes, tubes/tubeless, appropriate sock length…the list goes on.  

While these superficial judgments are not always helpful, in the right setting they can provide for good banter. One judgement I have historically found myself on the wrong side of is the “clean drivetrain quick inspection”. I am certainly guilty of washing my bike less than some would say is appropriate (although it gets washed 10 times more frequently than my poor car). 

Wet chain lubes have contributed to what can become a particularly nasty situation if not degreased and washed regularly. 

It has been interesting to observe the trend in waxed chains over the years. Early adopter friends, the same ones that would oft cast aspersions on the state of my drivetrain, have for a while now been proselytising on our bunch rides the benefits of hot melt dipped wax systems. These same characters would brazenly touch their chains at the cafe and hold clean hands up to the astonishment of the caffeinated crowd. 

So, I entered the waxy world of chains over the last 12 months, though at first with just a “pour-on” wax. Now, after my wax-head friend gave me some wax and a slow cooker for Christmas last year, I have fully entered the world of the hot-dipped chain. 

A clean and pristine chain and groupset is one of the keys to efficient and minimal friction cycling.

This article describes the process of cleaning and waxing chains and the challenges therein, and will be followed in future editions of BA with an article that assesses the long term benefits said to be gained by waxed chains.

Please Note: these benefits are said to include: not needing to degrease your drivetrain; markedly improved chain and gears wear, and hence lifetime; and the ever-important marginal gain of increased efficiency (i.e. free watts). These benefits have been mentioned in previous BA articles and also elsewhere, and as such won’t be covered in depth here. Rather, we’ll walk through how easy/difficult the whole process is so interested readers can evaluate whether they want to join the “clean waxy shiny” cyclist club.

A brief note about pour-on waxes. I used Squirt pour-on wax and found it really quite user friendly. Rather than needing to dip the whole chain in wax, you would simply pour it over a clean installed chain and it would set over the course of an hour or so and be ready to ride. 

A slow cooker is a great help for riders keen to regularly clean and re-wax a chain.

Reapplication was probably every couple of hundred kilometres for me but was as easy as wiping any dirt off the chain with a rag then reapplying the wax and letting it set. This, however, is probably a
bit of a gateway lube system. 

The pour-on wax doesn’t cover the entire chain the way an immersion wax system does, hence it doesn’t provide the same barrier to dirt or quite the same level of friction reduction. My time using it did enamour me to the enjoyment of a cleaner drivetrain and make me much more interested to immerse myself in the hot wax world.

So without further ado, let’s go through the steps I took to set up my waxed chain drivetrain. 

How Often?

The first hot tip is that these hot-dip chains need to be re-dipped every 200-400km depending on who you listen to and the life you want to get out of your chain.  

Obviously the more often you re-dip the better off your chain and drivetrain are in terms of wear. So if you ride more than 100km a week, buying several chains to dip at the same time then cycling through them all before having to re-dip is probably a good idea. I bought three, but I think in the future I may go as high as five.

Cleaning Your Chain

There will likely be some difference in this process depending on where you get your advice. I followed a two-step cleaning process; the first was cleaning the chains in mineral turpentine to completely strip them of all the lubricants, coatings, et cetera that they come with from the manufacturer. 

The chain needs to be thoroughly cleaned for optimal wax adhesion.

This is important because the wax needs to adhere straight to the clean metal of the chain for best adhesion. I immersed the chains in the turps in a jar, agitated and left overnight (the overnight bit may be overkill). Then you wipe the chains down and repeat the process with methylated spirits. 

The turps can leave a film on the chain, as can other heavy-duty cleaners, and so the methylated spirits leave you with a clean and film-free chain ready to wax. I was intimidated by this process beforehand, but it was really quite easy.

Heating & Melting The Wax

For this step, you probably are best served by buying a dedicated slow cooker. These are pretty cheap now, so it is just space that is the biggest problem. The wax is heated in the slow cooker to about 93 degrees Celsius. I used Molten Speedwax but there are numerous other companies. 

The wax came in powdered form and took about an hour in my slow cooker to reach 90+ degrees. The clean chain can be looped over some wire in smaller lengths to ensure it fits in the cooker. Then you simply put it in and “swoosh” it around for a few seconds, long enough and with enough movement to get wax on to all parts of the chain.

Allowing It To Dry

Then you take it out and hang it up to dry. Note: the chain will dry stiff, but this is the solidified wax doing its job. Also, just be careful: the chain comes out at 90+ degrees, so avoid touching it directly.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back after several thousand kilometres are in my chains and give some reflections on my perceptions of the effect on performance and chain wear. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my shiny bike and all the social perks of my new-found bike-nerd status.

The chain is removed from the pot and left to dry.

Riding Your Faster, More Efficient Drivetrain

This is the fun bit; the chain feels smooth and fast, shifting is nice, and everything stays clean. Now I feel like part of the cool in-crowd with shiny drivetrains and clean hands. 

Is it worth all the effort? As with everything, it depends. Certainly, the outcome is great, fast clean, efficient and long-lasting drivetrain! So nice. The downside is the regularity of removing chains and recleaning and redipping. (Note: after the first clean, you can just use a pot of boiling water to clean the chains). For me, even with three chains waxed the redipping needs to be done every few weeks. So time will tell whether the clean bike motivation continues to outweigh the bother-factor. I think it will, now that the equipment (slow cooker etc.) is set up, it doesn’t take too much time or effort.

Other Helpful Hints

It is best to use quick links as the chain will be taken off numerous times (more than 20) throughout its life. So a quick link tool would prove handy. Also, make sure the clean and wax the quick links the same as described for the chain above.

It’s important to properly clean the whole drivetrain prior to waxing and fitting the chain.

Thoroughly Clean Your Drivetrain

I took off my cassette and cleaned it and my chainrings with the turps to ensure they were nice and clean too. Cleanliness of everything is the aim here—if using old components some of that worn-in dirt can be tricky to remove, but a soak in turps works fairly well.

Articulate The Links

I then used the circular bar of my bike stand to ‘articulate’ all the links—that is, snap the dried wax so that the chain moves freely.  It felt a little stiff initially until quite a few loops through the drivetrain were performed.

Have any tips of your own? Have your say in the comments section below.

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