Workshop: how to wax a bike chain
Waxing the chain of a road- , time trial- or gravel bike has many advantages about which we will inform you in the following. We will provide you with detailed step-by-step instructions by tuning expert Marcus Baranski (“Der Baranski”) on how to wax a bike chain.
Step 1: Wash and dry the chain
In order for the liquefied and hot wax to get onto and especially into the chain, the links must be thoroughly freed from the original greasing it comes with ex works or was applied by you in the course of time. To do so, pour benzine in a jar, put one or more chains into it and shake them. Repeat until the benzine remains clear. Depending on the manufacturer, this may take a little longer: With Shimano chains you’ll need to do it three to four times, with SRAM chains it usually only takes two times.
By the way, the benzine can be reused afterwards if you run it through a paper coffee filter. Caution: Please only work with benzine outside in fresh air and ideally wear a respirator. Regardless of your waxing goals it is important that the chain is as grease-free as possible. Simply because the wax sticks better on bare metal than on a greasy film.
- Those of you who want to get slightly more potential out of a new chain, run it in on a clean drive train for half an hour beforehand – ride deliberately with diagonal chain run and change gears often. Why? Because this is the only way to polish the chain from the inside and to prepare the contact surfaces optimally for the following wax bath. It’s similar to a paint job where the surface is lightly sanded to make the paint stick better.
- The difference between a brand-new chain and a run-in but otherwise new chain is striking. The metal abrasion and grease residues make the fresh clear benzine turn deep black and filtering becomes rather difficult.
- Then remove the last bit of factory grease and metal abrasion from the chain by using an ultrasonic device and a splash of alkaline cleaning fluid. You will be surprised how black the bath will become even with new broken-in chains.
- Use some ethanol to remove even the slightest residue from the chain and let it flash off before applying the wax.
Don’t panic: This procedure does not need to be repeated once the chain has been waxed. That is unless you put anything oily on it afterwards, so please don’t, if you do not want to start all over again.
By the way: Please take all liquids used to the recycling centre!
Step 2: Immerse chain in wax bath
Now that the chain is clean and grease-free, put it into the hot wax. Melt the wax, e.g., in a regular saucepan, and bathe the chain in it. Just make sure it does not get hotter than 100 degrees Celsius. You may also do as I do and use a slow cooker, which is available for little money on the internet.
It does not matter whether you use wax granules or pucks like Molten’s Speed Wax, both need to be melted and heated to about 90 degrees Celsius. The wax will become extremely fluid which allows for it to perfectly penetrate the inside of the chain. To ensure that the important additives stick to the chain, it is advisable to stir the wax bath vigorously before putting in the chain, put the latter on a metal hook and move the chain through the melted wax.
Please wear gloves, as the wax is quite hot, and some splashes will very likely end up anywhere but on the chain. After two to three minutes the chain is fully waxed and ready to be hung over the saucepan or the slow cooker to cool down.
If the wax is not stirred for a moment, the additives often settle at the bottom, which looks a bit like sediment in a river. Just stir it again before waxing the next chain.
The wax that is left in the pot after waxing all chains will harden into a large lump and may be reused over and over. I’d recommend a slow cooker instead of a simple saucepan. You’ll get them for little money, and they always come with a built-in temperature limiter, which actually is integrated to make sure the food doesn’t burn.
This limiter allows for the wax to simmer without you standing next to it, as the cooker won’t let it get much hotter than 100 degrees Celsius, i.e., to a temperature at which it would start to smell and lose volume. A packet of 500 grams will easily last for 15 chains and more if you do it right and let the chains drip off over the bath.
Step 3: Make the chain flexible again
Don’t be surprised: The cooled-down chain will be stiff as a poker. You’ll need to make it flexible again by using a round piece of wood, a plastic tube or similar so that you can mount it on your bike.
The final running-in, however, is done on the bike. Usually, a few minutes and a few gear shifts (all the gears) will do to make the chain ready for use. Depending on the group set, the gears may make some noise, especially at the rear, but this will soon stop. If the gears were correctly adjusted beforehand, please don’t start tinkering with them.
After half an hour, the chain will work just as it is supposed to after waxing. There will be a few flakes of wax on the chain stays, which you can simply wipe off, this is completely normal and harmless. Sometimes excess wax collects on the cassette between sprockets 10, 11 and 12. Remove it with a screwdriver to prevent the chain from jumping.
Well then, have fun now, everybody, ride many clean kilometres and always push big gears!
Listen up, nerds: If you want to squeeze out the last bit of tuning potential for your competition, run in the chain for an hour and then maybe apply some powder such as Molten Speed Wax. However, these are really marginal gains, and the bigger effect will probably be a psychological one.
Equipment for waxing the chain:
- One or more chains, ideally brand new.
- A wax product, such as the two 500-gram Molten Speed Wax pucks
- A large jar for rinsing the chain(s)
- Clean rags, preferably made of terry cloth
- Paper towels to wipe out the dirty containers
- A slow cooker or a saucepan with a thermometer
- A hook for the chain that allows for moving it around in the wax
- A place to hang the chains to dry and harden.
- Newspaper to place underneath
- A pair of gloves
- A log or the like to make the freshly waxed chain flexible again
Tuning tips for equipment
These accessories professionalise the process even more to get out every single watt of performance – of you and the waxed chain:
- Smart trainers or basic trainers with clean drive to run in the chain before all other steps.
- An ultrasonic device as the icing on the cake to wash the last grease residue including abrasion out of the chain. The more heating- and ultrasonic power, the better. A kettle can also help.
- Alkaline ultrasonic cleaning agent, for example from German manufacturer Allpax.
- Ethanol to get the last remnants off the chain including cleaning agent. Remember: Clean as a whistle is key!
Last but not least, these are nice to have
- Breathing protection and plenty of fresh air or ventilation.
- Suitable chain locks and pliers instead of rivet fasteners to quickly mount and dismount the chains.
- A chain gauge to check whether another round of waxing is worth the effort.
Text and images: Markus Baranski