Duck Smart The Black Stuff Chain Cleaner is a drivetrain degreaser gel, designed to seep deep into the chain links, theoretically blitzing lube and ingrained grime. Being a gel, it's clingy, relatively economical to use, with minimal mess. Non-caustic, it won't do anything nasty to painted, polished, plated, or anodised surfaces, so can be used without removing chains, cassettes, rings, derailleurs and so on. It also does a reasonable job of removing ingrained grime from handlebar wraps, saddle covers and faux leather shoe uppers. However, there are faster acting blends for purging drivetrain grot.
- Pros: Gentle enough for generic degreasing/cleaning jobs
- Cons: Too tame for rapid dismissal of heavy duty petrochemical chain lubes
For obvious reasons, Duck Smart wouldn't talk specific alchemy. However, it would tell me it's a blend of 'mainly softeners and detergents' free of petrochemicals and biodegradable. Nonetheless, Duck Smart also suggests using gloves and eyewear. I'd certainly go the gloves route, if you have sensitive skin and/or are prone to dermatitis.
Public safety announcement served, pop bike(s) in your preferred outdoor fettling spot, ideally in a workstand, and get to work.
First time round you'll need to cut the spout with scissors and pour into the chain links/related components – exactly as you would a chain lube, basically. The flow rate is reassuringly pedestrian, enabling easy and precise delivery.
Spin the cranks and cruise up and down the cassette where appropriate to get them evenly coated. Now leave it to work in and nibble away at your transmission's ingrained grot for five minutes or so.
Then, round up your preferred brushes and get scrubbing. Rinse with clean water and, where necessary, repeat.
In common with Green Oil Degreaser Jelly, the Black Stuff also makes easy transition to other lube-stripping duties, from hub, headset races and bottom bracket shells through to contact points.
Regardless of context, the Black Stuff seems relatively kind but equally pedestrian compared with the Green Oil jelly mentioned above, which is arguably its closest rival.
Shifting sophisticated ceramic/petrochemical lubes, including Smoove universal chain lube, Muc-Off Team Sky Hydrodynamic Lube and Fenwick's Stealth, have required at least two helpings, warm water and vigorous scrubbing – 10 minutes all told.
The song remained much the same with more traditional wet lubes, such as Finish Line Wet, chainsaw oil and old school 10w/40 motor oils.
Admittedly, a citrus-based solvent type – the sort you decant into chain baths – also takes two attempts but less time, not to mention elbow grease. Green Oil's jelly will strip all these within five minutes and will even gobble its own grimy puddle afterwards.
The Black Stuff fares better with bog standard, ISO/PTFE type lubes, ultra clean/wax formulations and so on. First time, six minutes, modest effort.
In the context of frames, forks and contact points, working it into surfaces and leaving to marinate for two minutes, then agitating with a medium-stiff brush before a quick scrub 'n' rinse finale after five minutes reaped reasonable reward. Basic PTFE greases were dismissed.
Using a similar MO, it does a reasonable job of lifting ingrained grime from cork and other (non-polymer) bar wraps.
Ceramic, polymer and marine type greases needed nearer 12 minutes and repeated scrubbing. Testament to their staying prowess on the one hand, but Green Oil jelly has also stripped these faster and, ultimately, cleaner.
The Black Stuff is a reasonably useful, surface-friendly degreaser. However, as a drivetrain grot blaster, there are many more efficient brews around. Some kitchen sink alchemists will point out that washing up liquids will do much the same job and for pennies. I've used a household dish detergent to bring some scabby looking rings, chains and cassettes up to scratch over the years; not my first choice but they will do the job.
If price is your bottom line, then these and more primitive solvents (50/50 petrol/derv mix used to be a firm favourite with pro mechanics) represent much better value. For me, comparing like with like, Green Oil Chain Degreaser Jelly wins hands down.
Okay as a generic degeaser but distinctly average when it comes to drivetrains
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Duck Smart The Black Stuff Chain Cleaner
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for
Duck Smart says: "The Duck Smart Black Stuff Degreasing Gel, has been designed and developed by our zany chemist especially for the purpose of being a lean mean Degreasing machine for your Bicycle and its components.
The Gel formulation gives the product a longer contact time with the grease and grime, and slimes its way in all of the tight, nooks, crannies, chain links..... on your bike.
Here's how we recommend you use it:
Start by spreading the Black Stuff over the cassette and drivetrain using the neat little brush provided. Then like a Chain Lube, squeeze and spread the Gel into the centre of the chain. Stick the kettle on now and let the Gel work its magic for a few minutes. Then grab a stiff brush to scrub the cassette, chain rings and anywhere that has a build-up of dirt, grease and grime such as the outer plates of the chain. You can now rinse the product off with water, preferably through a hose.
To give your Drivetrain an extra shine afterwards use our Foaming Bike Cleaner Earth Mover".
My feelings are that it's useful enough as a general degreaser and seemingly kind to surfaces and skin. However, there are faster acting blends for purging drivetrain grot.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Duck Smart says, "A blend of mainly softeners and detergents. It is always recommended to wear gloves as black stuff is a degreaser so it can de-fat your skin and eye protection is always a good idea."
Distinctly average compared with Green Oil and similar competition, not to mention more traditional petrochemical strippers. However, it works quite well (and moreover, is gentle enough) when tackling more generic, ingrained dirt-bar wrap, saddle covers, shoes and the like.
Pleasant enough to use.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Overall, the Black Stuff has proven a very average degreaser when it comes to tackling chain lubes and associated grot. Compared with Green Oil Degreaser gel and similar products, it requires more intensive scrubbing and repeat applications, especially when dismissing heavy duty wet lubes and accumulated gunk.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Easy and controllable delivery, gentle on surfaces and skin alike.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Insufficient bite for efficient drivetrain cleaning in its present guise.
Did you enjoy using the product? Pleasantly indifferent.
Would you consider buying the product? Not in its present guise.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No, there are better products for drivetrain blitzing.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Useful generic degreaser perhaps but in its present guise it lags behind Green Oil and other gel-based products.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough stuff tourer based around 4130 Univega mountain bike frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)