CyclingTips podcast, Episode 23: Watts up with mechanical friction and chain lube?

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There are four main obstacles to forward motion when you ride a bike: aerodynamic drag, gravity, rolling resistance, and mechanical friction.

Of those, mechanical friction — created by the chain, bottom bracket bearings, hub bearings, pedal bearings, and rear derailleur pulley bearings — is the smallest value by far, and certainly much less significant than aerodynamic drag.

Nevertheless, that figure isn’t zero.

On average, bikes with conventional geared transmissions toss away 10-20 watts of your pedaling effort, and unlike aerodynamic drag or rolling resistance, it doesn’t scale with speed. Percentage-wise, that means mechanical friction has a greater negative effect on casual riders than fitter, faster riders.

If you want to increase the mechanical efficiency of your bike, what’s the best place to start, and which components are the biggest culprits? Ceramic bearings invariably come up any time there’s a discussion about drivetrain friction, and while the good ones do often work as advertised, the gains they offer pale in comparison to their expense.

Luckily, it turns out that chains are not only the greatest contributors to friction, but also the easiest and cheapest area to improve.

This week’s CyclingTips podcast features two guest speakers: Jason Smith, the chief technology officer for CeramicSpeed and founder of Friction Facts, and Kyle McBride, an associate formulator for an industrial lubricant manufacturer.

Together with U.S. technical editor James Huang, we’ll take a (very) deep dive into mechanical friction, chains, and chain lube, and discuss why it’s time to start thinking about your bike the next time you do your laundry.

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