Latest news #9 – Marginal Gains podcast!

Good morning good cyclists who like saving friction & wear!

The lastest marginal gains podcast dropped yesterday and of course I’m biased due to the fact it was all about chains and lubes, but it was indeed a great podcast that one should listen too!

And….. it will lead into what will hopefully be an even more exciting next podcast where I have a chat with josh about why ZFC started and what little zfc is up to.

But overall, it is of course a great thing that an industry leader like Josh helps get the message out re just how much friction and $$ there is to be saved by simply showing your chain some love – it is BY ABSOLUTE MILES your hardest working component and it is completely exposed to elements and abrasive dust / contamination. Running Meh or poor lubricants simply costs you in many ways – watts, wear, maintenance  – even if you do not care about watts savings claims as don’t race – you probably care about doubling to tripling or more the lifespan of your chain, cassette & chain rings. And the harder the duty (gravel, mtb, e-mtb, cx etc), the savings just skyrocket.

2020 has seen a lot of genuinely next level lubricants hit the market so even if waxing is not for thee, there is simply no excuse for running a high friction, high wear drive train and subjecting your beautiful drive train components to a premature death. Hence why I get rather excited when industry leaders who really know what they are talking about shed more light and clear explanations that will save drivetrains the world over, vs the what we saw covered on a recent news update from GMBN advising to leave factory grease on!

I still can’t believe that content like this is made in 2020, to me its akin to someone saying we should re-introduce racial segregation – I just REALLY thought we were past that shite after the last 10 years of deep diving into drivetrain friction starting with Friction Facts – but somehow a major media publication, who must have been stationed on Mars for the last 10 years, rolls that out….. yep, still in shock and fearing for the life of hundreds of thousands of drivetrains around the world.

To the podcast – obviously its going to have a bit of a silca bend due to it being run by the owner of silca, but – this is going to be unavoidable when the head of silca understands just how big a deal chain lubricants are for saving watts, and has his company invest huge resources to bring out some market leading products in that space. However the information overall is a of great value to all who ride a bike, and you can always check ZFC for balance of information re product performance across multiple brands.

During the podcast there were a number of sections which covered recommendations by Josh vs recommendations by moi of ZFC. A number of these area’s I have investigated further as well as had a quick discussion with Josh, and below are some clarifications;

  • Citrus degreaser vs mineral turps – Josh is against mineral turps and for citrus degreaser – why do I recommend mineral turps?
    1. Citrus degreasers may have the risk of hydrogen embrittlement if left to soak for extended periods. Mineral turps in aus is organic, and will not cause hydrogen embrittlement if left for a long soak. On a previous Marginal Gains podcast Josh covered ensuring do not leave chains to soak in degreasers.
    2. It’s possible mineral turps may lock in some water content, but again we are mostly talking about cleaning new chains with factory grease so that’s not an issue, and also as the cleaning process ALWAYS needs to finish with methylated spirits, this will resolve any moisture issue on that front – so that part becomes a non issue.
    3. Leaving film behind – yes it does, but much less so than most degreasers, and also in podcast he advises post citrus degreaser you need to finish with denatured alcohol acetone – so same as what I recommend re methylated spirits – that’s a wash.
    4. Mineral turps in aus is cheap, and very easily recycled. If doing at home you can keep and dispose responsibly via your councils hazardous liquid waste for free, or in my case, I recycle it back on site via a large alcohol distiller. This is in large part of why my pre prep chain costs are so much lower than anywhere else in the world that offers pre cleaned and waxed chains.

All up I’m not sure if there is still a translation of chemicals mix up difference between Aus and usa and what constitutes mineral turps in each country, but trust me here in aus if you follow ZFC cleaning instructions of 3 x 200ml rounds of mineral turps and 2 x 200ml rounds of metho per chain – with an initial soak for first round of mineral turps as factory grease is stubborn, you will have a perfect prep, and chemicals that have overall low to very low environmental toxicity as well as ones that are easily recycled. **note campy chains need an extra turps round, sram chains need 5 to 6 turps round due to factory glue they use).

  • Cleaning up existing chains for top drip lube /waxing – this was conveyed as may just need 3 or 4 rounds of citrus degreaser, then denatured alcohol, and all good. In reality – and trust me I see a lot of customer chains – even after about 1000km of road riding or a couple hundred kms of trail, it can easily take 3litres plus to get perfectly clean. If citrus degreaser is coming out clean after 3 rounds, I would worry its because its simply not cleaning as well. Mineral Turps first round is black in 10secs, as is round 2, then 3, then 4 its getting lighter, and so on until about round 12 its coming similarly clear as when it went in. To me this shows its cleaning strength is most awesome, because if its still dirty inside chain, its cleaning it next round. You known when turps is coming back out clear, your chain is CLEAN. Due to the amount of solvent / number of rounds, you have to weigh up if worth properly cleaning an existing chain for waxing / top drip lube. This often depends on cost of chain and longevity, ie the cut off point for an ultegra chain will be lower than for an axs red 12spd chain that costs 4 times much and is much longer lasting etc – but in short – the SOONER you get chain off factory grease / meh drip lube – the better.
  • Ultra-sonics for home use – I get this question A LOT – I need to update my clunky ultrasonic guide – its on the list. I cant get to it fixing it up cos I keep answering emails about ultrasonics!!! If you were thinking of sending me an email re ultrasonics pls plod through that guide first -I don’t have departments there is just me 😊. Here josh and I align pretty well – for me a bank of ultrasonics is brilliant because a) I know how to use them and b) im providing a commercial service so I should be offering something better than what one can generally do at home and c) I will likely pre-prep & race prep nearly 2000 chains this year, so my ultrasonics are just going hammer and tongs every day pumping chains through various rounds of cleaning and each chain even for basic prep see’s 2 hours of ultrasonic time.

For those playing at home, an ultrasonic is an investment that you really need to ponder if you will get the value out of it. They are not a magic pop chain in and it comes out perfect add top drip lube, they take a lot more time and knowledge to use vs shaking chain in a container of solvent,

Once you have move to a top wax based lube / wax – then a proper clean via ultrasonic needs both heat and a proper ultrasonic solution. A quality ultrasonic that heats to 80dg c and has some actual proper ultrasonic power, and with dual band / sweep / pulse etc which is very helpful for cleaning and waxing chains – costs A BOMB. Customers buying cheap ultrasonics off ebay that look the same as industrial quality ones (hint – china copies the look of the top ultrasonics so a $60 ultrasonic looks as good as a $1000 ultrasonic – SURPRISE!!) can crap out in a couple of uses.

All up, you can drop some $, spend a lot of time learning how to use properly, and then if on a top lubricant choice your prep and cleaning needs are so limited anyway that for all but the most avid of tinkerers – for 99.999% of population using agitated container method is all you need. Ultrasonic may be handy if sticking with a wet drip lube and you need to frequently do the best clean you can for dedicated race chains etc, but we are talking some marginal differences here vs a well executed container clean, so again its for the most avid of tinkerers, not the general home player expecting to pop chain in and it comes out at some magical state of clean.

In short, no you do not need an ultrasonic unless you just cant help yourself as love to tinker, in which case school up, but a decent quality one and go nuts. Ultrasonics make sense for me providing a commercial service where one expects a higher level of prep than what they can do at home, I have a bank of them for both cleaning and ultrasonically applying lubricant prep choice – it’s a core part of ZFC business with typically 95 to 98% of chain sales customer selecting a pre-prep option. Mine work flat out every day so I get my $$ worth out of them, will you?

  • Off road lifespan of wax treatments – in the podcast josh alludes to there being little difference miles wise in lifespan of a wax treatment off road vs on road. Here ZFC advice is quite different. Two factors come into play, 1 – you travel slower off road – ie I can go an average 30+ on a hills ride on my road bike or high 30’s on a flat ride, but I will average 15 to 18kmh on my mtb on trails, or 20 to 25 on gravel. You pedal a lower gear, so you do more pedal crank revolutions per km than road. Often many more, maybe even double. And its in an environment that will be trying to abrade the coating off chain.

“Normal” trail conditions is a pretty broad definition as a trail can be dry but not very dusty, or dry but really dusty etc – but generally I give an “hours” guide for offroad vs miles which ranges anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on how dusty it is.

ZFC recommended re-wax interval lengths are much more frequent than manufacturer recommendations. Manufacturers have to worry about marketing and worry that users may be put off if re-wax frequency / re-lube frequency is too high. ZFC has spent years gathering data from field testers, myself, and entire race teams switched over to immersive waxing.  From this I can assure you the chain and drivetrain lifespan difference is HUGELY in favour of those who err on re-waxing frequently vs frequently pushing treatment lifespans.

Post a re-wax for X time there is effectively zero wear as all parts of chain are sliding on a solid coating of super slippery wax. Past a certain point a very low amount of wear and friction increase occurs as some airborne dust is able to penetrate, be pressed into set wax, and have a shot at abrading on chain metal. If run wax treatments really thin, a lot more airborne dust will have been able to get in over time and get a shot at chain metal vs if chain was re-waxed early with very little dust having penetrated – and now chain is re-coated and re-set back to basically zero wear for X time. The chain and drivetrain lifespans that can be achieved by regular re-waxes simply has to be experienced to be believed. For many avid cyclists simply running a couple of chains on rotation makes this very easy, run one chain for Mon to Fri, one for weekend, re-wax both on rest day – and say hello to a drivetrain you won’t have to worry about for years of avid riding.

  • Absolutely agree re the endorsement of YBN chains – which is why ZFC is one of the few to stock and recommend them when it is a whole lot easier to simply sell OEM chains vs for many some unheard of brand from Taiwan.

However, I can advise that for 9,10,11 spd the lifespan difference for YBN vs shimano is quite a bit higher, around 30%, sometimes 50% – and also due to the different coatings most of the top wax lubes the treatments adhere noticeably better on YBN so the chains stay in the silky smooth zone for longer before staring to sound and feel noticeably dry.

For 12spd, their longevity is on par with campy 12, and shimano 11spd, so they are not quite as long lasting as their 11spd chains, however they are a great plug n play fast option for eagle riders as whilst the eagle x01 / xx1 chains are the world leaders for longevity, they are a very slow chain – so eagle riders training on x01/ xx1, racing on ybn 12 – that’s a smart way to roll. If on xtr 12, the xtr chain is brilliant, it is fast and very long lasting, so just stay with xtr. Also campy 12 chain is blisteringly fast, just stay on campy 12, unless you want some colour in your life.

But for 9 to 11spd, whilst DA is a little faster out of the box, the YBN will have it covered in the longer run as the ybn breaks in and the DA which comes in a super broken in state, breaks out of optimal zone.

  • “locking as much wax in as possible” – Ha! Funny this one came up – I have been a bit hard on a particular aussie site recommending this based on fact that after 10 mins of pedalling the extreme pressures inside chain will have you at same wax level if you take a chain out at 90dg c and hang on a 40dg day vs taking out at near wax set point of 60dg c and hang somewhere cold to “lock in as much wax as possible”.

In discussing this with josh he confirmed that their testing has shown for Silca Hot Melt at least, there is a marginal gain to be had by “locking in as much wax as possible”. This will come with a) a higher wax usage rate and b) a lot more excess wax initially coming out of chain – however, if you have a Key A priority race that’s long and treatment lifespan may come into play, and you are using the super fast hot melt wax – then this may be something you want to consider. If its going on your ergo bike, its something you probably do not want to consider.

I am unsure if there is any benefit for msw users as the information I was given from the pioneers back in the friction facts days was that no – the pressures are far too high inside chain (as in thousands of psi on main load bearing parts) and so within 10 mins of riding one will be at same state re layer of wax, you just have more mess. It could be hot melt which has some differences and a different friction modifier, you can in fact pack a lil more of the good stuff in there by following josh’s marginal gain advice here on immersive wax.

Summary – its Josh’s wax and he has specifically tested this and found a repeatable, tangible & measurable benefit to locking in as much wax as possible by removing chain near to wax set point and hang somewhere cool to set. Would I do it with msw and for 99.9% of my rides – no. Would I do it if rockin a hot melt treatment before a long harsh conditions ride, based on the discussion with Josh – yes.

  • Heating wax quickly – Josh recommended an instant pot vs a crock pot (USA name – slow cooker here) that heats wax much more quickly vs waiting an hour for crock pot / slow cooker to melt.

This was another one I had to chat with Josh about as I have seen with those using rice cookers vs slow cookers – that as rice cookers blast the heat in, this damages the paraffin by breaking down the long chain molecules of paraffin which kills its lubricity. Over time those using rice cookers find their wax cools with a yellowish tinge, which means the wax is buggered. Those who have continued to use that wax have experience much higher wear rates than expected for immersive waxing.

Josh advises that an instant pot is not like that, whilst it heats much more quickly, it is even, doesn’t have hot spots etc, and you can dial the temp. Im not entirely sure we have the same item here, I googled instant pot and got some groovy looking appliances but they are not cheap – and appear to be what we call a “multi cooker”. I do have a multi cooker for the big pot of msw that preps batches of chains every day, and it is temp controlled and does heat wax faster than slow cooker – but yep you are paying some $$ for that vs a $20 slow cooker from woolies. So on this one, up to you – I think most home users the $20 slow cooker may still be the way to go, its what I use for my own chains – I just go away do something fun for an hour or whatever and the come back and swish chain. Also slow cooker on low, lid off – wax can never get too hot. You can forget about it and leave it overnight, no problems. You can forget about it and go on a round the world cruise (locked in your cabin due to covid) and no problems. The wax doesn’t care how long its melted, just not getting too hot.

A common issue for those who muck up how they heat wax (those choose to do on stove top, bbq, microwave, oven etc) is either getting wax too hot or heating too quickly. Either can break down paraffins long chain molecules and impact its lubricity.

K – that should be long enough – read this and listen to marginal gains episode, or listen to episode then read this 😊!

And then get ready for the next marginal gains podcast which will be a bit interesting indeed, I get to hear if I sound like a moron or not on a podcast!! If you want to know a bit more about how ZFC started and why and in general what I get up to, then stay tuned (or duck here and subscribe to marginal gains podcast if you are proper clever);