Bicycle chain waxing

I recently saw a forum post by somebody who tested the efficiency of bicycle chains with various lubricants. The best lubricant was paraffin wax with added PTFE and MoS2 powders, but even pure paraffin wax was very effective. It turns out that waxing chains with paraffin wax is a very old practice. The claimed major benefit is that it's much cleaner than liquid lubricants. Some people claim it has poor performance in wet weather, which is a problem here in the UK. By mixing it with bee's wax it's supposedly possible to make it slightly sticky, trading off cleanliness for wet weather performance. I have some bee's wax and some paraffin wax so I decided to give it a try.

First step is cleaning the chain as throughly as possible. I have a fairly new 8-speed chain installed. I have mud guards on my bike but the weather has been very bad lately and I've been riding on muddy tracks, so I think it would benefit from cleaning now even if I wasn't going to wax it. I put the chain in a jar of degreaser and shock it for about 10 minutes. The degreaser became very dirty looking, but it could be filtered and reused. Here's the sediment a few hours later:

Sediment left over from cleaning a bicycle chain in degreaser

I then washed the chain with hot water and detergent, and then rinsed it with hot water. I didn't dry it because the next step will drive off all the water.

I set up a double boiler with the waxes (about 10% bee's wax) in a jar and the jar in a saucepan full of concentrated brine. Brine boils hotter than water which will help dry the chain. I covered the brine with aluminum foil to stop it evaporating excessively or splashing into the wax. I lowered the chain into the wax and let it sit for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The wax reached a temperature of about 106C, which drives off the water on the chain as bubbles of steam. If I'd dried the chain partially first it wouldn't have needed so long. The molten wax soaks into all the parts of the chain to lubricate it throughly.

Double boiler for heating wax

After the bubbles stopped I carefully removed the chain and wiped it gently with a cotton rag to remove excess wax. I then hung it on a clothes drier to let the wax set.

Waxed bicycle chain cooling on clothes drier

The chain is very stiff at first. As the links move it loosens up and moves freely. I use an internal hub gear with an eccentric bottom bracket, and I had to adjust the EBB because the wax shortens the effective length of the chain. It's only a small difference so if you're using a dérailleur you might not notice it. I gave it a quick test ride and it feels identical to a conventionally lubricated chain, but I can touch it without getting my hand dirty.

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