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Silca's Super Secret Chain Lube uses the very latest tech to put a new spin on the age-old waxed-chain preparation. Friction is next to non-existent and it makes your chain silent as the grave – but at a cost in money and maintenance.
Few areas of cycle maintenance are as contentious as chain lubrication. What lube you use, how and how often, and to what result is fraught with multiple confounding factors. Variables such as the lube, the chain itself, age, preparation process, cleanliness, weather, ride duration, frequency, ride surface and bike storage all impact the end goal of having a chain that stays clean-ish, lasts a long time, is quiet and shifts quickly.
For many, the gold standard of chain care is the hot wax method, where a stripped-clean chain is immersed in a molten pot of pure wax on the stove for a long time or until your spouse catches you, then removed, wiped, strung around a hawthorn tree on a full moon and only ridden every second Michaelmas. Or something like that. Your local cycling group's self-appointed maintenance guru will have their own take (you know, *that* guy on every ride – and yes, it's always a guy), and whatever you're doing, it will be wrong. Even if it's an exact copy of what they said to do last week. But I digress.
A quick recap: you need lubrication between the chain's rollers and pins (ie 'inside' the chain) and between the inner and outer plates, where they overlap around the pin. You specifically do not need it on the outside of your chain, or indeed on the cassette/chainring teeth. When your chain contacts a cassette or chainring and sits into the hollow between teeth, the roller stays still relative to the teeth, and the chain's outer plates and their attached pins pivot around the now-stationary inner plate and roller. Hence why it's critical that the gap inside the roller is full of wax, so as the pin rotates, there's as little friction as possible.
How to get lubricant into that gap, keep it clean, and replenish it with as little faff as possible is the holy grail of chain maintenance. This matters, because an unlubricated chain costs you a lot of money, watts and sanity in the form of noise. Exactly how many pounds, watts or braincells is variable, but it's safe to say that you should care.
For many people the answer is to slather on a cheap oil-based lube off the counter of a bike shop before every ride, and maybe every few months use a degreaser and chain cleaner tool to make the chain look shiny again, before adding yet more lube. The issue with this method, even done very diligently, is that there will still be gunge in between the pins and rollers. The alternative, if using a waxed chain, is to completely strip it back, melt off the wax, degrease it again, then reapply.
All of the above sets the stage for Silca's Super Secret Lube, because Silca has pretty much cracked the problem of getting a chain super-slick and keeping it that way with an acceptable level of cost and faff.
At the heart of Silca's formula for super-slickness and ease of application are 'nano-scale Tungsten Disulfide NanoPlatelets'. Basically, the slipperiest stuff known to mankind. More or less. These are suspended in a solution of air-drying liquid wax with alcohol as a carrier.
The application process is reasonably straightforward. First, start with a clean chain. Silca means seriously clean. There's a video on the Silca website about how to get your chain clean enough, and it involves removing it, putting it in a bottle of high-strength degreaser, and really going to town with the shaking. Probably two or three times, depending on how bad your chain is. Or, better, starting with a new chain so all you have to remove is the factory grease. I own Silca's recommended ultrasonic cleaner, which, combined with heating to 65°C, really does the trick but isn't obligatory.
Once the chain is fastidiously clean and dry, the process of application is simple and effective: apply a drop per roller, along the top of the bottom half of the chain, between the bottom of the chainring and the derailleur pulley. Once dripped, then run two fingers gently along the top and bottom of the links, to 'massage' the lube into the roller-pin gap. At first the lube will be filling the gaps between the two rollers in each link, where the teeth go - but after a few passes it starts to work inside the rollers. If done with care then no drips are evident, but be prepared – this is very slippery stuff, and will slide straight off a clean chain – a good sign you've got one, but means taking care applying, and not over mother's best parquet flooring or oriental rugs if you don't mind.
Silca says to dribble the lube onto the chain while pedalling backwards – but 'no more than two drops per roller' – before using your fingers. In practice this is simply not possible – the stuff is so slippery it goes everywhere, and applying it while pedalling means little flecks of it everywhere. The drip-drip-drip method might take a bit longer but is much more effective and tidy.
Proceed around the chain until back at the start (either start at your split link, or mark the chain outer plate in some way). Once done, Silca recommends running the chain for at least three to four revolutions at both extremities of chain angle – as in, smallest sprocket and chainring, then largest sprocket and chainring. This is to get the plates actuating side to side, to really work the still-wet wax solution right into every part of the roller and links. Then leave to bake/evaporate for 30-40 minutes.
Any splatters will dry to a clear waxy spot in about 15 minutes, and can be wiped off hard surfaces easily enough. If you want to, now's the time to remove any overspill from chainrings, chainstays or pulleys for a super-clean look.
Now, there's no getting away from the fact that this is one of the most expensive lubes on the planet – £32 for 120ml is a lot of cash. Applying a drop per link to a 116-link chain is about 4g of lube – the 4oz bottle is good for about 25 applications. That's £1.28 a shot, which will be more than enough to send some readers apoplectic with e-rage, but please, bear with me.
Once riding, something magical happens – your drivetrain is pretty much completely silent. No matter what gear or RPM, the noise from your chain is likely going to be imperceptible above wind or more likely tyre noise. Everything certainly feels much smoother – pedalling and shifting alike. This was particularly noticeable on my turbo bike, for which I completely stripped, ultrasonic-cleaned and reinstalled the drivetrain for the review. Indoors with only the hum of a slick turbo tyre on a fluid resistance unit, the drop in volume of the drivetrain was very significant.
And so to the first real-world learning of the Super Secret Chain Lube: it flakes. Tiny, grey-black flakes. I placed a sheet of A4 paper under my indoor turbo bike, and over about 100km of pedalling a visible smattering of flakes drifted down to the floor. Being wax, the few that landed elsewhere did need careful cleaning off the wood, and a light-coloured carpet or surface might not do very well here – but then I can't imagine oil splatters being non-marking either.
Silca and every other wax aficionado will admit that over time the wax does push out of the chain and flake away, and the main telltale that this has happened is an increase in audible volume while pedalling. This doesn't really happen with oil-based lubricants unless there's a lot of water involved and it's quite thin stuff. The problem with oil lubes is they simply collect dirt – aka Very Small Rocks – and then create a grinding paste inside your chain. This paste is certainly quiet – but in a very bad way. The regime of simply dribbling more oil over the top existing means you're not 'lubricating' as such, more like adding to the grinding paste for another few hundred miles.
A 40km loop involving a fair bit of standing water and mud ended with no appreciable increase in volume or loss of efficiency – a simple wipe down with a cloth had the chain looking pretty clean to the casual observer. Bearing in mind at this point I'd deep-cleaned the drivetrain 300 gritty, muddy, cow-poo'd km ago, the fact that a single wipe with a cloth got it looking so good is, frankly, phenomenal.
One thing to bear in mind is that once you're out there riding, the chain lube will degrade over time. Adding more lube over the top – even an awesome wax drip like Silca's – will not be the same as a truly-properly-waxed process. But the trade-off is that drip application is something you can do in your garden shed, hotel room or pretty much anywhere 30 minutes before a ride, and get the silence and pretty close to the feel of a proper wax job, with only a fraction of the hassle and none of the infrastructure (pot, stove, etc).
I found my turbo bike chain was good for about 150km before it started to get noticeably louder. Outdoors and on mostly dry gravel roads results were fairly predictable – one 80km stretch of mostly gravel saw the beginnings of a squeak, after a reapplication and another ride of 50km, the follow-up ride of 40km saw the chain positively shrieking near the end. So for my drivetrain (Shimano GRX 1x11) and where/how I ride (gravelly Scotland, not as wet as you'd think) it seems 75km is the sweet spot for reapplication. Or about 1,800km/1,100 miles for a full £32 bottle.
Is that a good deal? Depends how much you love your drivetrain. Chains are cheap, cassettes and chainrings not so much.
Australia's Zero Friction Cycling, aka ZFC, is a chain-friction freak's candystore of preparations, guidance and science, and is running what appears to be the world's only drivetrain longevity study. Its lubricant tests make for embarrassing reading for some rather pricey industry-leading brands, and I'm sure over time the site will become something of a bible for all things drivetrain-related. Its initial test of Silca Super Secret Lube for initial chain penetration was very positive – better than any other drip lube on the market. The chain wear-per-lube testing continues, including with the 'immersion' pot of lube Silca sells, allowing you to dunk your entire chain in a pot instead of dripping the lube on and massaging in.
Clearly as a drip lube, Silca Super Secret in a bottle is never going to beat a proper immersion process, but as ever this is about the right compromises at the right times. How will an immersion Silca treatment fare against actual wax? Time will tell, and the important factor in reference to what Silca Super Secret Lube costs is: will spending £32 over 1,100 miles equate to longer drivetrain life, thereby paying for itself?
Based on its testing, ZFC estimates that drip lubes will only allow a chain to last a few thousand km before needing replacing. A notable exception is Tru-Tension's All Weather Lube – a tungsten disulfide wax drip lube that met with approval from Shaun. Looks like the Tru-Tension products and Silca share a lot of similar thinking, and aren't too dissimilar in price either.
One benefit of a true wax solution is cleanliness – and after 300km of mostly off-road use, the chain and cassette were very clean indeed. Running the chain through a full ultrasonic cleaning at 65°C then filtering the water through a white kitchen towel, there was almost nothing visible – the wax is soluble and flowed away, and critically there was no evidence of the retained grit that turns any oil-based lube into a jet-black soup. This cleanliness could be a major reason to consider Silca's lube – if you're often getting your bike in/out of a car, or a bike box, or up/down stairs, risking marking clothing or interior surfaces. I'm not saying a brush against a Silca'd chain in a wedding dress would go unmarked, but it'll be a lot less bad than an oil lube.
As a tungsten disulfide wax-based drip lube, Silca's offering pretty much stands alone in the market. Tru-Tension All Weather Lube is probably the closest competitor, and seems to deliver similar results – although more lab time is needed with both. Critically, ZFC has recently assessed the 'Initial Penetration Test' results for Super Secret Lube as being very, very close to the performance of a dip into a wax bath – considered the gold standard of application and reduced wear. Basically, over a 1,000km test rig run Super Secret Lube showed a fifth of the wear of the Tru-Tension lube – all down to how easily it slips between the rollers, pins and plate on the first application.
So is £1.50 per 100km acceptable for an easily maintained, super-quiet, slick and clean drivetrain? If you value these things and can appreciate the nuances/benefits, Silca's Super Secret Chain Lube could be for you.
Very quiet, slick and clean wax-drip lube that redefines how good a lube can be
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Silca Super Secret Chain Lube
Size tested: 4oz
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
It's for people cycling indoors or out, who want a super-quiet and slick wax-based lube.
What is it?
SILCA Super Secret Chain Lube brings all of the super speed and silent running of a hot-melt wax-dipped chain to a drip applied wax (all of the benefits, none of the hassle!). Secret Chain lube also utilizes the world's fastest, most lubricious additive, nano-scale Tungsten Di-Sulfide. NanoPlatelet WS2 has less than 1/3 the dynamic coefficient of friction of PTFE and 1/4 that of Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2)
Who's it for?
The cyclist looking to maximize performance through friction reduction, or the cyclist who loves a silent running bicycle.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
WHY WE DESIGNED IT:
SILCA Super Secret Chain lube started out as a project to develop the fastest Hot-Melt wax lubricant available more than a year ago. Josh has been recommending Hot Melt Wax and helping Pro cyclists and triathletes wax chains for years and wanted to bring his lubricant formula to our customers, the challenge was how to consistently melt, dip and agitate the chain across different crockpot designs and temperatures. The project took a fascinating turn from the world of IndyCar when josh was introduced to a group that had developed a technology to put micro-scale wax powders into a solution that was quick drying and forms a coating that is indiscernible from hot melt dipping. The combination of air-drying liquid wax and Tungsten Disulfide would quickly prove to beat all currently available hot melt waxes in friction testing while being much faster and easier to apply.
Best of all perhaps is that this formula would prove to be very environmentally friendly, utilizing 4 different types of wax, nano platelets of WS2 (Tungsten Disulfide), and mild alcohol to act as a carrier. This same alcohol is used in the SILCA Gear Wipes, making them a perfect product to clean and remove Secret Chain Lube.
4 oz. and 8 oz. bottles with the precision applicator tip for dripping on your chain or 16 oz. jar with 12 oz. lube (leaving room for your chain) for dipping the chain
The chain should be VERY clean and dry before applying
Apply and let dry for AT LEAST 30 Minutes! We recommend using AFTER your ride so it's ready for next time!
if 'construction' means the formula, yep it's awesome.
When it's on and lasting, it's fabulous.
For tungsten formulas, it's a bit more expensive than Tru-Tension, but it works very well.
Whether it's worth the price depends on your view. I love how clean it is, and quiet when applied, so £1 per ride-ish is no problem for me.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really, really well. Dead quiet, and the lab results are pointing to longevity bonuses for the drivetrain.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Ease of application compared to a full wax.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It can drip a bit.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
If you park the fact that *every* drip lube needs reapplying, the only thing to mark Silca down on here is price. The Tru-Tension offerings seem a bit cheaper per ml/application.
About the tester
I usually ride: Sonder Camino Gravelaxe My best bike is: Nah bro that's it
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, general fitness riding, mtb, G-R-A-V-E-L
Living in the Highlands, Mike is constantly finding innovative and usually cold/wet ways to accelerate the degradation of cycling kit. At his happiest in a warm workshop holding an anodised tool of high repute, Mike's been taking bikes apart and (mostly) putting them back together for forty years. With a day job in global IT (he's not completely sure what that means either) and having run a boutique cycle service business on the side for a decade, bikes are his escape into the practical and life-changing for his customers.