Tandem Tech & Equipment: Chain Wax & Rain Don’t Mix


Yes, I’m one of the old-school riders who still uses a hot-melt paraffin wax bath to lubricate the chains on our bicycles. Why? Good question.  I suspect it falls into the realm of “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and “old habits die-hard” for my road bikes.  Off road is a different thing altogether.

I’ve tried all of the various wet and dry lubes and have yet to find one for road bike use that doesn’t make a sloppy mess out of chains, sprockets and rings. The paraffin wax bath I use doesn’t, and I like that.

As an aside, I was given the opportunity to acquire the rights to Chainwax (at right) several year back. It was a great product and the price was very attractive but I had serious concerns about consumer competency & liability so I decided to pass. I really just wanted some good chain wax, not a business and remain mindful that I somehow ended up the tandem decal business when I simply went in search of a couple decals for my Yakima fairing.

My current home brew is a variation on a recipe shared with the Tandem@Hobbes list by Tom O., from St. Paul, MN, many years back.  It includes Gulf wax, petrolatum, mineral oil & beeswax, but no teflon or graphite additives.    The lubricating properties aren’t on par with Pro Link Gold and other really good chain lubes, but so long as we don’t get caught out in the rain I can get several hundred miles of riding in between chain wax bath treatments.  Chain life has also been pretty good with my homemade wax concoction.

Sadly, the biggest weakness for chain wax is the ability to hold up in the wet, given our Calfee was soaked through-and-through on the Tour de Cure, its chains were in need of some post ride attention once we got home.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

Of course, since the triplet was up on top of the truck during the monsoon and then got power washed on the drive home, its chains would also need some attention. I like to use the bra to keep bugs off the bike’s finish, but it also does a pretty good job of protecting the headset bearings from water penetration.  As good as the dust seals and waterproof grease now used in most better quality bicycle parts bearings are, they still can’t keep out water when it’s blasted against the bearing and car-topping does that in spades.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

So, once we were back at home the Calfee got attention first since it was still raining and I didn’t feel like getting soaked again while wrestling the triplet off the top of the truck.

The process is pretty straight forward:

  • Pop off the chains and throw them into my handy-dandy parts washer to soak in citrus degreaser.
  • Use a paint brush and nail brush to clean the chain rings, rear sprockets and derailleurs on the bike while the chains soak.
  • Rise off the bike and then give it a quick wash with soapy water and rinse again.
  • Chains get pulled out of the parts cleaning bath, a quick scrub with the nail brush, and then a rinse with clear water.
  • VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 WChains get a quick spin to shed away some of the water, then get placed on top of the hard wax in my Fry Daddy deep fryer.
  • The deep fryer gets plugged in and then as the wax heats up the chains sink into the wax at room temperature.  If I were to drop the cold and damp chains into the 375°F  the Fry Daddy would immediately been turned into a frothing volcano of wax as the water clinging to the chain would be boiled into a vapor instantly on contact with the hot wax.  This gets ugly fast and if you don’t react quickly serious burn injuries can occur.

Here’s a couple of short videos that show the front-end and back-end of the “chain cooking” process.  In the first video you get to see the cold chain disappearing into the wax bath as everything begins to heat up.

In this second video you can see the water that was captured in between the rollers and side plates being boiled out and replaced by wax via capillary action.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

Once the bubbling and churning is all done the chains get fished-out of the deep fryer and put on a bed of paper towels and towels to cool.  Note the steam coming off of the pile of 375°F chains in the photo at right.  I tumble the chains around to draw off some of the excess wax and then carefully wipe the side plates before laying them on the concrete garage floor to cool.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

The second photo is the even larger, steamy pile of chains from the triple which include two timing chains and a drive chain.  It actually takes longer to describe the process than it actually does to do the process.  What’s nice is that so much of the process is queue time that allows me to go off and do other bike cleaning chores while chains soak in solution, cook in the deep fryer or cool on the garage floor.  Everything always seems to come together at the same time such that when the bike is clean, the chains are cool and ready to go back on the bike.

VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 W

Well, suffices to say, the Calfee and triplet were all squared away about an hour after we got home.  The triplet eventually got hung back up and out-of-the-way between the garage doors where it will probably stay until Southern Tandem Rally in October unless one of our friends from On the Border decides to go for a spin with us.  I think her goal is to get her hubby out on a bicycle but I’m thinking that may be a pretty big challenge.  However, short of that it would be fun to get her out on the triplet for spin just to change things up around here.


About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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6 Responses to Tandem Tech & Equipment: Chain Wax & Rain Don’t Mix

  1. Gabe Mirkin says:

    Thank you.
    This blog was very useful to me as it taught me a lot about chains.
    Some of this was new information for me.


  2. Larry Parker says:

    I saw where a company did some testing and decided that wax was the BEST lubricant, at least short term. They charge an arm and a leg to clean and wax and “certify” a new chain so it is ready for race day. After I wax I hang the chain from a nail. I don’t know if the effect would be different from lying flat or not. I also mix in a bit of graphite powder. Just made sense to me years ago . . .

  3. Pingback: Long-Weekend Re-Cap: If Only…. | The TandemGeek's Blog

  4. Wayne Sulak says:

    I am starting down the waxed chain road and noticed your wax contains mineral oil. What is the purpose of including this in the wax?

    • TG says:

      I’ll be honest, I’ve never questioned Tom O. from St. Paul — from whom I originally obtained the recipe I now use via Tandem@Hobbes many years ago — as to why the slightly different petroleum products (vaseline & mineral oil) were chosen as additives to the paraffin base. Perhaps the vaseline provides some degree of water resistance whereas the mineral oil is used as a “clean oil” to enhance mobility? I don’t use the teflon powder that some folks use, but have added Beeswax to my bath as it seems to make the final solution little more resistant to rain and, well, it’s nice to have something natural in there.

      I’m probably due for a refresh of my wax bath, as I’d guess the current block of wax is at least 3 years old. I typically just scrape the bottom to remove the heavy contaminants after it’s cooled and then put it back in the Fry Daddy. I’ve noticed that performance / longevity of my wax treatments hasn’t been lasting as long, so that’s probably a good sign that I really do need to cook up a new batch.

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