Chainwear Challenge: Quick Interview with Shimano

After the last Chainwear Challenge post, there were a couple questions that had risen mainly about the stock grease or lube that Shimano uses and differences between the construction of 9 vs 10 speed chains. At the end of my time at the Shimano XT press camp, I took the opportunity to ask one of Shimano’s main tech gurus, Nick Murdick, those very questions to get the official answer straight from the source.

So should you keep the factory chain lube? Are there notable differences between 9 speed and 10 speed chain construction?

Check out my short interview with Nick after the break!

BikeRumor: Are there any critical differences between the construction of a 9 and 10 speed chain that may cause a difference in wear and longevity? Other than the Dyna-Sys chains being asymmetrical, of course.

Nick: There are a lot of things that affect the lifespan of a chain. Chains are a system of outer plates held to inner plates via a pin that is firmly attached to the outer plate, loosely attached to the inner plate and a roller that holds the two inner plates apart.  Chains stretch when the hole in the inner plate gets bigger, this allows the rollers to get further apart from each other.  The rollers also wear.  Their thickness is reduced as the inside of the roller is worn away.  The rollers are the interface between the chain and the gear, so if they get worn the chain will want to sit lower on the gear where the pitch of the chain does not match the pitch of the gear.  The inner plates and rollers wear down from friction as the individual links move to wrap around a gear.  The smaller the gear, the more a chain link has to move to wrap around it.  The Dyna-Sys drivetrain tends to keep you on bigger gears in both the front and the back so this effect is reduced.  As a chain wears and stretches the chain will try to grind down the teeth on a gear to make its tooth to tooth distance match the chain’s new roller to roller distance.  A larger gear will be able to resist this effect so cassettes and granny gears are actually more durable as well.

You mentioned the asymmetrical chain, which is certainly a factor.  Another important factor in the life of a chain is the amount of stress it is under.  The asymmetrical chain with specific front shifting plates on the outside, combined with ramps on the chainring that are specifically designed to work with that new chain shape significantly reduces the amount of stress on the chain during a front shift.  In addition, the chain is actually a mountain bike specific chain.  The outer plates on the outboard side are designed to resist twisting forces encountered during hard front shifts on a mountain bike.  There is also material removed from the back sides of the outer link plates on both sides to improve mud shedding.  The clearance between the outer plates is actually very similar on 9 and 10 speed chains even though the 10 speed chain is narrower.

There is also a new production process which increases the strength of the chain.  The plates are forged in a new way that allows for a better interface between the inner and outer plates.  This is a big part of the reason we are able to make a narrower 10 speed chain just as strong as a 9 speed chain.

BikeRumor: What is Shimano’s official stance on the chain lube that comes stock on a shimano chain? Is it actually a lube, or a grease? And is it best to leave it on until the chain gets noisy and relube, or strip it right away and relube before riding?

Nick: So that brings us to lubrication.  I mentioned that the chain wears because of friction as the chain moves to wrap around a gear.  Well, that friction is reduced if there is lube on the chain.  If there is dirt mixed in, the lube makes a bigger difference in reducing friction.  If there is water mixed in, the lube helps displace the water.  The grease that comes on a Shimano chain is applied at the factory to the individual pieces before the chain is assembled.  The grease does a better job of reducing friction than aftermarket chain lubes and it lasts longer.  The main reason we use liquid chain lube, whether it is one that stays liquid or a dry lube that has a solid lubricant in a liquid carrier (like a PTFE lube) is because we need to get the lube on a part that is not accessible without disassembling the chain.  So the best thing to do when installing a new chain is to leave the factory grease on, not apply any other lube, ride until it wears out and then start applying liquid chain lube.  In dusty conditions you can wipe off the outside of the new chain with a rag that is wet with a gentle degreaser to keep dirt from sticking to the grease.  The factory grease also keeps the chain nice and quiet.  After soaking a chain in degreaser and then lubing the chain with liquid lubricant the chain gets noticeably louder.

Shimano does not have an official recommended chain lube.  They all seem to work pretty good.  Different people have different preferences and different conditions require different lubes.

 

So there you have it. You absolutely should leave the original chain grease in place for best performance, and there are differences in construction that were necessary to make up for the narrower 10 speed chain. So far, those differences seem to be working as the 10 speed groups are still slightly better as far as wear, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the end!

Comments

norcom - 06/28/11 - 1:16pm

“The grease does a better job of reducing friction than aftermarket chain lubes and it lasts longer.”

They forgot to add an extra line: “And the reason we’re not selling it is because we want you to buy more chains.”

Most chain lubes will not get between the rollers and pins. If you’re using the liquid stuff that does, it’s not going to last that long. So why not sell the factory grease and a thin liquid equivalent that you apply first and then apply the grease to keep the liquid in between the links longer? just a thought

Max - 06/28/11 - 2:50pm

They don’t sell the grease because you can’t put it onto the individual chain parts like Shimano can at the factory. Have you ever tried to grease your chain? It’s not pretty…

Adam - 06/28/11 - 3:59pm

I wish Shimano 10-spd chains had a master link. On my 9-spds I use a power link, and have recenlty started melting slick-honey grease INTO the chain using a heat gun to liquify it. I follow it up by wiping the outside of the chain with an alcohol soaked rag, and finish with my normal oiling procedure. Seems to work well, but you want to take the chain off first both to clean it, and to avoid overheating anything on the bike.

Banana boat - 06/28/11 - 5:15pm

Adam,
That reminds me of some guys I used to ride with that used White Lightening. They swore by the stuff.
They would apply a healthy dose, then light it on fire (on the bike) and blow it out after a few seconds. Wild.
This was in the days of steel and aluminum bikes, so not real risk of damage to the frame.

I stick with low viscosity wet lubes most of the time.

mkrs - 06/28/11 - 5:19pm

@Adam – have you tried a Wippermann Connex 10-sp link? I haven’t used on an MTB chain, but it works perfectly with my Dura-Ace CN-7900 and is completely reusable. I think it’s worth trying. Cheers!

CHOPPER - 06/28/11 - 7:35pm

Perfect, good reportage, Thanks.
Now we have to do is see what the best lubricant for our chain

Epic29r - 06/28/11 - 9:50pm

@Adam … or pickup a KMC-9 masterlink that will work on all 3 brands anytime. 9/10 no matter.

Robin - 06/29/11 - 12:54am

Give the KMC M/L10R if you’ve got a Shimano chain. I’ve got the KMC Campy version, the M/L10CR, on my Campy 10s Ultra Narrow chain, and it’s a fine piece.

Andy - 06/29/11 - 7:17am

Come on, what do you expect him to say? Dyna sys wears out faster than old 9-speed and their chain grease sucks? His job is to promote shimano products!

Pare - 07/09/11 - 2:43pm

for lubing the old Enfield motorbike chain, we used to do thi so the lube gets inbetween the rollers. it should work on bicycle chains too.
- place the chain in a bowl flat and without overlap
- heat the lubricant and slowly(no air traps inbetween) pour it until the chain is completely covered.
- leave it overnight and wipe the outsides on the chain the next day.

Dewet Marais - 07/10/11 - 11:22pm

This is the relevant part of Nick Murdick’s opinion:
“In dusty conditions you can wipe off the outside of the new chain with a rag that is wet with a gentle degreaser to keep dirt from sticking to the grease. The factory grease also keeps the chain nice and quiet. After soaking a chain in degreaser and then lubing the chain with liquid lubricant the chain gets noticeably louder.”
Firstly he admits that the factory grease is sticky. Not only dirt in dry dusty conditions will stick to it, but all dirt in all conditions. His advice will not work – under stress the remaining grease will warm up becoming more fluid and will be squeezed to the outer parts of the chain where it will pick up dirt again, form a grinding paste and ruin the chain.
Secondly the “noticeably louder” statement – clearly he has not tried Squirt lube. Briefly, Squirt lube is the only wax/water emulsion available (all other wax lubes are dissolved in solvents), resulting in nearly 3 times as much wax. The water also evaporates slower than the solvents, allowing the wax to penetrate to those difficult to reach areas Murdick refers to. See more here:
http://www.bikerumor.com/2009/01/29/bikerumorcom-review-squirt-lube/ .
It will be worthwhile repeating the chain wear test with several lubes – all wise money will be on Squirt lube for better lubrication, less friction, better shifting and no chainsuck, resulting in extended chain life!

Robert Joseph - 09/03/11 - 3:40pm

I’ve got to second the big-ups to Squirt wax lube. I’ve tried a ton of different types, dry, teflon, wet etc etc. Done the degreasing on regular basis and the soaking the chain in lube. Squirt is quieter than all of these… gear changes are so slick you just feel a different ratio. Chain is nearly silent. Rollers stay immaculately clean while dirt just clumps on the outside of the chain until it drops off (and the wax is biodegradable). Brush it to clean it. Definitely give the chain a thorough degreasing until it runs completely clean to the touch before you first apply it though :P

Mutton - 09/29/11 - 12:42pm

Squirt FTW. It is really hard to get hold of here in the PNW but i have been using it for over three years now and it is hands down the best lube i have ever used. I have not cleaned my chains in the last three years. Allow it to dry, brush the dry dirt off and re-apply lube. I didnt think wax lubes would work in the wet / mud. Wierd thing….is my dog loves the stuff and if i turn my back the little sh1t will lick my chain clean after i apply the Squirt.

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