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by Dave Rome
April 22, 2020
It seems we’re coming into the golden era of chain lubes. Friction Facts originally broke ground with its research into the efficiency of various lubes, and more recently Adam Kerin of Zero Friction Cycling proved a correlation between those efficient lubes and improved drivetrain durability, too.
The summary? The very best lubes are seemingly wax-based, they reduce friction while their non-sticky nature makes them impressively resistant to watt-soaking and metal-grinding contamination, too.
Such findings have seemingly spurred on a new generation of lubes that further refine these known good lubes. Silca is seemingly the latest to add to this list, having just announced its new “Super Secret Chain Lube” that Silca’s owner, Josh Poertner, has just begun bottling in his garage while in lockdown.
Over a year in the making and with help from the Indy Car world, Silca’s new US$25 (per 120 ml bottle) drip lube seemingly aims to offer the impressive efficiency properties of popular hot-melt lubes such as Molten Speed Wax, but without the need for a crockpot.
The super secret ingredient in the Super Secret lube is, in fact, nano-scale Tungsten Di-Sulfide (aka, NanoPlatelet WS2). According to Silca, this fine particle is over three times slipperier compared to PTFE (Teflon) and four times slipperier than the special ingredient in Molten Speed Wax – Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2). It may even be slipperier than an old Look cleat on a freshly polished tile floor.
The suggestion to use NanoPlatelet WS2 came from a few of Silca’s neighbouring Indianapolis-based companies who specialise in Indy Car engine and gear box friction reduction. Their expertise led Poertner down of path of investigating the surface roughness of chains and adopting the WS2 particles to that.
“We found a supplier of nanoscale WS2 for lubricants and began playing around,” he said. “Honestly, my first attempt at this was a stabilized olive oil with 4% WS2 and it turned out to be nearly as fast as hot-melt wax, but was so dirty-looking and messy that I killed it. I still have this all over my floor and wall from using it on the home trainer earlier this year.”
A simplified version of Friction Facts’ drip lube comparison from a few years ago reveals the efficiency of many popular lubes. Note “NFS” high on the list: this is a product that Silca once sold and seemingly stopped doing so once its in-house lube went into development.
Poertner then turned his focus to wax-based lubes such as Squirt and Smoove, “both of which are mixtures of slack wax, paraffin oil, paraffin particulates and some microscale PTFE, just done at different viscosities and percentages.
“This led us to take a formula that was basically what Smoove looks to be doing, but with more micro paraffin powder, plus a healthy dose of 0.2-0.5 micron WS2, and then we cut it with a few % alcohol to get the viscosity to near water so it can penetrate more easily.”
For background, Squirt lube once sat at the top of Friction Facts’ most efficient chain lubes list and was also previously the recommended top-up lube for CeramicSpeed’s UFO race-treated chains. Zero Friction Cycling has since found Smoove to provide improved drivetrain durability, and therefore an assumed reduction in friction when compared to Squirt. However, both of these popular wax-based lubes suffer from a thick viscosity that makes it difficult to get the lube into the chain.
Silca’s new lube looks to address this key issue while adding in some clever friction modifiers, and at least on paper, it’s sounding very good.
The application process appears much like that of other wax-based drip lubricants, such as Squirt or Smoove, albeit with the extra recommended step of forcing the lube in by backpedalling the chain through your fingers. Once applied, the lube is said to dry within 10-15 minutes.
And while a crockpot isn’t needed for application, Silca’s new lube is no different to other wax-based lubes in that its best adhesion is met with a bare metal chain. Unfortunately this requirement to start with an obsessively clean chain is arguably the biggest barrier also facing hot-melt waxes.
Once that initial clean is done, then like hot-dip waxed chains, you can in theory put away the harsh chemicals. “Because it is just wax, it will melt off with boiling water, and also we’ve made sure that the initial alcohol carrier is one of the alcohols used in the SILCA/Hirobel gear wipes … so those do an amazing job of cutting and removing it as well.
“Even better, the nanoscale WS2 seems to lock up in the crevices of the metal and stay there even after cleaning/melting off of the wax. In theory, the chain will get faster with age due to the WS2 loading up on these surfaces.”
And unlike hot-metal products such as Molten Speed Wax, Poertner suggests his chainlube doesn’t go hard enough to flake off. “This is a result of the residual paraffin oil from the slack wax which doesn’t evaporate, so it dries to a sort of two-week-old Haribo gummy bear sort of consistency … but doesn’t fully harden to that sort of white candle flakiness.”
In our communication, Poertner was honest about the issues of his new chain lube, notably that the WS2 is grey/brown in colour and so will give a slightly dirty look to the chain when dry.
And while this product has been designed for simple application, Poertner suggests that the very best durability and efficiency results will be earned by submersing the chain in the lubricant. The most obsessive will want to use an ultrasonic cleaner for this, while Poertner suggests simply shaking the chain in a sports drink bottle is almost as good.
So what’s next? Adam Kerin at Zero Friction Cycling in Australia tells us he has received some of Silca’s new lube for testing, and is currently in the process of wrapping up testing of other seemingly similar (and even Tungsten-based!) lubes. While the testing is not yet complete, the tease is that we’ll soon need to update the recommendations within our holy grail of chain lubes article. Stay tuned.