Wednesday, July 7, 2010

tech talk: how many lubricants do we really need?

At work, my desk is cluttered with samples from various companies, all hoping that our shop will find their products appealing enough to add to our line.
Lately I'm surrounded by samples of chain lube. The ad copy for each claims that this product is the "best" at lubing your chain. Some also add that your chain will slough off dirt and grit while in use; others simply say that their product will seep into the tiny cracks better and faster than other oils.

Purple Extreme is, well, purple. It says it's synthetic and biodegradable.
A co-worker infors me it smells odd, a little "chemically".

"A.T.B. *Absolutely The Best)" is red and contains "anti-friction additives". There are many mentions of this on the Web but the company doesn't seem to maintain its own web site.

Phil Wood's Tenacious Oil has been a gold-standard for years -- I also use it to prep spokes for wheel builds and as an emergency lube for bearings in new, cheap pedals. They came out with something called Bio-Lube a couple years back but lately it's on closeout at the distros, which tells me it's not selling well.

Of course, there's Tri-Flow, another tried-and-true oil with Teflon in it. The original compound smells, according to just about everyone, like bananas.
Last year they began selling their own "green" version called Soy Oil; when I contacted the company to find out if the new product still contained Teflon, they admitted that yes, it did. "Then it's not 'green'", I said. End of discussion. Soy is mostly a product of Big Agra and monoculture nowadays, and Teflon is so bad for the environment I can't begin to discuss it.

Finally, there's a small sample on my desk of something called Chain-L (a nice play on Chanel, the perfume; the label's design plays this up even further). On the plus side, this company claims that their product doesn't do anything but lube your chain, and yes, it's just straight-up oil -- petroleum, dead dinosaurs and all that. However, they swear that their thicker, goopier recipe is a better lube.

Bottom line is that all of these products have at least some petroleum derivative in them -- otherwise the bottles would not say things like, "Flammable". There are hundreds of chain lubes on the market. Hundreds.

And in the end, how many chain lubes does one bike industry need? It feels vaguely ridiculous to me, especially when friends are now experimenting with things like olive oil and hemp oil as alternatives to mass-produced, petroleum-based products. One friend has even gone back to the old-school method of carefully waxing his brand-new chains in parraffin before installing them. It takes forever, he says, and you have to be careful; but it works "better than oil".

I dunno. It just seems like overkill to me.

2 comments:

Vance Ricks said...

Hi -- thanks for a depressing posting! What do YOU use? Phil's?

bikelovejones said...

Hi Vance -- For cheap singlespeed and three-speed bikes with 1/8" chains I use Phil's Tenacious Oil. It goes on and stays there, and since the owners of these bikes tend to practice little or no maintenance it's a pretty forgiving solution.

I also use it as a much more affordable spoke-prep when building a wheel; and on tight bearings of cheap pedals.

For bikes with 3/32" chains and derailleurs, I prefer Pedro's "Chainj", a biodegradable, synthetic lube that seems to work well and doesn't contain Teflon. But I admit I'm waiting to hear the results of a friend's experiments with Hempseed and Olive oils. Stay tuned.