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From the outside, Silca’s push into the chain lube world has been one of sudden growth. In just the past 12 months the Indianapolis-based company has released its Super Secret drip wax lube, Super Secret hot-melt wax and most recently the Synergistic oil-based lube. And with each product release came claims (some backed by independent testing) of improved longevity, easier use, lower friction and cleaner running.
Now the company is producing race-ready pre-treated chains in an effort to save further watts while making the adoption of wax simpler. And while pre-treated waxed chains are nothing new, Silca has added a unique polishing step to the process that’s said to save approximately 0.7 W (at 250 W) versus the existing market benchmark when it comes to pre-treated chains (which already saves as much as 2-5 W versus many popular drip lubes).
These Silca pre-treated chains may be new to market, but company owner Josh Poertner has been quietly producing (and selling them) to WorldTour teams for at least 12 months. And Poertner suggests he’s been waxing chains for world championship and Grand Tour-winning rides since 2008.
Pre-treated chain with two differences
One of the largest barriers to entry for submersion waxing is the initial chain prep. Hot melt wax requires that you get the chain sterile clean, and this initial stage can be time-consuming and heavy on chemicals. Companies such as Molten Speed Wax, Zero Friction Cycling (Australia) and CeramicSpeed have long offered pre-treated and race-ready chains, and once that original wax coating wears off you can either use a drip-on wax lube or simply dip the chain back in a hot-melt wax – no clean-up chemicals required.
Silca has now joined the pre-treated party, but is doing so with a couple of points of difference. Firstly, and at least for now, Silca will only offer its treated chains as a bundle which includes a bottle of its Super Secret drip lube, a packet of hot melt wax, and a high-quality microfibre towel (for wiping down the chain prior to re-lubing).
The second point of difference is a little more complicated. The current best race-ready chains on the market are run-in (ridden by machines) to reduce burrs, smooth the surfaces of the chain and break in the wax prior to packaging. Silca’s process includes this and adds a step to smooth over the microscopic peaks and troughs in the chain’s material surface.
Silca has made some big investments in the ability to do this surface modification in-house with polishing machines (using a diamond slurry), and the company has other products in the works that will benefit from this investment. The chains are run in this slurry for 72 hours, and the company claims this takes the surface roughness (Rz value) of a new chain from 8-12 micron down to just 0.2-0.3 micron.
Going even smoother is possible but, as Poertner explained, there is a balance between making the surface too smooth and too rough. Too rough is obvious, but a surface that’s too smooth won’t offer the necessary troughs for a lubricant to stay and protect against metal-on-metal contact.
According to Poertner, those reduced microscopic troughs are an almost perfect match with the not-so-secret low-friction additive used in all three of Silca’s lube products (NanoPlatelet WS2, aka Nanoscale Tungsten Di-Sulfide). The use of WS2 was something Silca picked up through contacts in the Indianapolis-based motorsport industry and found the properties offer measurable benefit to bicycle chains, too. Zero Friction Cycling has since tested Silca’s lubes products and found them to be among the best options available.
Silca treats its chains with effectively double the quantity of WS2 versus what’s found in its packaged hot melt wax product. “With an ultrasonic [application] process, you can stir up the wax and get more WS2 into the chain,” said Poertner of the process. “You can’t agitate the wax enough manually in a crockpot, but ultrasonically you can suspend the additives.” Too much WS2 (that isn’t evenly distributed through the paraffin wax) can cause the chain to feel dry prematurely, which is why the packaged hot melt wax has a lower quantity.
The polishing plus the extra low-friction additives result in a chain treatment process that Silca confidently claims sets a new benchmark for efficiency.
Low watts and high durability
Poertner is open about the fact that in-house testing results don’t hold much weight, but it’s this testing that has helped form the final product. Silca has built a machine similar to what Jason Smith of FrictionFacts (now owned by CeramicSpeed) created. According to Poertner, his machine is capable of finding the wattage variation from one chain and chain lube product to another. “[Jason Smith has] got the most accurate machine in the world for measuring the absolute.”
According to Poertner, the previous best chain is the Ceramicspeed UFO which typically tests in the 2.6-2.9 W of loss on 250 W input. “Our chains are performing in the 2.0-2.1 W loss range.”
As covered in our best chain feature, there is a measurable efficiency difference between chain models, and that’s why you see a 0.3 W variance in CeramicSpeed’s figures. Silca claims that its polishing process greatly narrows the gap between the best- and worst-performing chains. “We can take the best chains and make them better, and take the less-best chains and make them almost as good,” said Poertner, diplomatically.
Faster it may be, but it’s worth noting that the polishing process removes a few microns of chain material and this loosens up the fit of the individual chain pieces. According to Poertner, the result is that a chain prepped by Silca may measure as much as 0.05-0.1% elongated when new. This is between 5-20% of a chain’s ideal lifespan depending on who you ask. (You can read more about chain wear in our dedicated feature.)
The durability of the wax treatment should be closely comparable to something like a CeramicSpeed UFO chain, approximately 500-600 km without any intervention. However, Poertner recommends that users do intervene and this is where the bundle of lubes come in.
While Silca’s melt-on and drip-on wax lube products should last for over 500 and 300 km respectively, Portner suggests that wiping the chain (with the supplied microfibre towel) and applying a drop of the supplied Super Secret drip lube to each chain link every 150 km will see the melt-on wax treatment easily last 1,000 km. The suggestion is then to reset the chain in the melt-on wax every 1,000 km and repeat the process. According to Poertner, this method is a relatively low-effort way of maximising efficiency, and that sticking to this routine should see the supplied chain and lubricant bundle last you approximately 25,000 km.
Such impressive durability figures aren’t unique to Silca’s pre-treated chains. The likes of Zero Friction Cycling have been promoting these benefits of melt-on wax for a few years.
Pricing and availability
Chain supply is extremely limited at the moment and remains the barrier for how many chains Silca can prepare and sell. To start, Silca will be offering 10 models of chain that span Shimano (including XTR 12-speed), SRAM, Campagnolo (including Ekar 13-speed) and YBN.
For SRAM AXS Road users Silca will be offering the SRAM Force chain and not the Red model as it tests almost a watt faster (something we previously unveiled in our best chain article). Meanwhile, for those on 11-speed drivetrains, Poertner suggests the Dura-Ace chain is the benchmark pick, but very closely followed by YBN Ti-Nitriride Steel chains and the lighter YBN titanium roller chain.
Professional pre-treated chains are extremely labour intensive (think days with multiple cleaning and bed-in stages) and rightfully carry a significant price increase over a factory stock chain. For example, the premium-priced CeramicSpeed UFO chains sit around US$160, and so it makes sense that Silca’s prepped chain and lube bundle is more again. Expect to pay US$225-300 for the Silca chain bundle (depending on the chain model).
“We’re confident we’ve created the fastest product,” said Poertner. “In relative terms, we beat everyone else, every time.” That high price will surely offend many, but I don’t doubt that Silca will almost immediately sell all of its stock to those seeking the ultimate in performance.
You can learn more about chain waxing in our complete FAQ.