During the past couple of years I have almost exclusively used FinishLine Dry Teflon lubricant. My trusted LBS, Swan Cycles, recommended it--and more importantly: sold refills for cheap. The Finish Line lube is great in that it does not leave any dirt-attracting residue on the outside of the chain, therefore keeping it relatively clean. The downside is that it gets washed out pretty quickly, especially when riding in the rain or on wet roads. During winter this would often mean that my chain squeakingly demanded more lube after just a day. And since I'm a bad, bad bike owner, those demands often were ignored for several days...
Consequently, the idea of a lube that withstands wet conditions without the constant need to re-lube seemed pretty attractive for riding in Montreal's winter. I first read about Chain-L on Kent's Bike Blog, whose writing I appreciate and whose bike-related opinions I trust. He was full of praise for Chain-L and commenters seemed to agree. On the Chain-L website there are also links to a bunch of very positive reviews from reputable sources. So when the accomplice went to visit some friends in Portland, I asked her to stop by at Clever Cycles and buy me a bottle of that wondrous fluid.
|This is not chain lube (Image by Dvortygirl under a CC-BY-SA license)|
Chain-L is sold in 4 ounce bottles (1 oz trial bottles are available, too) and it costs 12 dollars. This comes out to 10.14 for 100ml, compared to 6.76/100ml for FinishLine Dry or 8.74/100ml for Phil's Tenacious Oil. The lube resembles in color and texture Grade A maple syrup (translation for people from non-maple producing states: dark golden color and fairly thick). The instructions recommend to apply one drop per chain link, ideally on a new or thoroughly cleaned chain. After giving it at least 10 minutes to permeate into the chain and turning the cranks a couple of time you wipe of the excess from the outside of the chain. The stuff really is sticky and when you watch the chain running over the cassette you can see thin oily threads form between cogs and pulley wheels. The manufacturers warns you that due to its viscosity then drivetrain will attract a lot of gunk but I didn't find it as bad as I expected.
So what's my verdict?
Initially I was pretty disappointed. I applied Chain-L on Wolfgang, my all-purpose Cross-Check, some time in February, a time when there was still plenty of snow around and roads were wet constantly. Within just a few days my drivetrain started squeaking and surface rust was clearly visible. I reapplied the Chain-L, and this time around it lasted a little longer, but still nowhere near the hundreds or even thousands of kilometers that other people claimed. The next attempt with the lube was on the following Sunday: the weather was predicted to be lovely for March: 10°C and sunny, and so, after lubing up the chain in the morning, I set out for a 120km, 6 hour ride around half of Montreal Island. There were still plenty of snow heaps around, and thus a good deal of riding was on wet roads. Come next day's commute: squeak squeak squeak. So within just one ride all of the lube had gotten washed out again.
So what's going on? A) I'm doing something wrong. B) There's something about the environment that negatively affects my outcomes; or c) All the positive reviews for Chain-L are written by shills or people who don't know what they're talking about.
A) seems pretty unlikely, as there's not that much you can do wrong when applying chain lube. B) seems more likely. At least in the first weeks of me testing Chain-L there probably was still quite a bit of salt on the roads and it's possible that Chain-L and corrosive salt water don't go together well. I've kept using Chain-L since then and once roads switched from wet to dry and salt-free the lube did stay on longer, but still nowhere near the "1000 miles in the wet" some people have boasted.
Now this doesn't mean that Chain-L is necessarily a bad lube--in winter it clearly is superior to dry lubes. And who knows if, assuming I reapply it frequently enough, it will prolong the lifespan of my chains and cogs. But I'm very skeptical if it is superior to any other oil-based lubes.
The only comprehensive lab test of lubes I know was done in 2009 by German road bike magazine tour (free registration required for the download). However, performance in wet conditions was not tested. A really nice real-life test was done by Rainer Mai (German only; results table here) but nobody has replicated his results and there doesn't seem to be any systematic relationship between the type of lube and its performance.
So to sum up: in a world belief and convictions it's probably best to be an agnostic. For me, that means that on the commuter I'll use up the bottle of Chain-L (and keep reporting) and on the fair-weather Gunnar I'll stick with the FinishLine Dry. And once both bottles have been used up I'll try the next wonder lube.