Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chain-L: The Best Chain Lube You Probably Are Not Using

Francis Bollag is a chain lube evangelist. Francis believes that his product is the best lube you can put on your chain and after having used Chain-L for the past three months, I've come to believe that he is right. He sent me a bottle to review, called repeatedly to make sure I used it and followed up relentlessly to chat about lube. While Francis is a persistent man, that is somehow fitting -- he makes the most persistent chain lube I've ever used.

Chain-L is the opposite of the lubes that promise to be "Clean". It is the thickness and texture of honey and it smells like hell. And by that I mean it smells like hell in the brimstone sense. "Yeah," Francis chuckles in his whatcha-gonna-do New York accent, "there's some sulphur in there. I'm makin' chain lube, not perfume." Francis will straight up tell you that his product is oil, but there is other stuff in there to make it long-lasting.

In the summer, in good conditions, Chain-L didn't seem like anything special, but when the weather turned worse Chain-L's tenacity became apparent. On our Oregon Coast Tour in September, the ocean air and morning fog made the drive-train on Christine's conventionally-lubed Allant chirpy while my Chain-L-lubed Allant remained silent. On the trip, Christine's bike got a couple of treatments with Tri-Flow (still one of my favorite general-purpose lubes) but on returning home, her bike got the Chain-L treatment.

Christine's commuting experience has been quite convincing. It's the rainy season in Issaquah now and she rides back and forth to work in the rain. Her bike sits out in the rain for hours while she works. It's been two months since I lubed her chain with Chain-L and it's still running smooth and silent.

Chain-L is messy to apply and requires a good wipe-down after application but the stuff certainly works. Properly applied it doesn't attract dirt any more than an other wet lube and I've found occasionally wiping down the chain with a dry rag without re-lubing keeps the chain from getting too gritty.

At about $12 per bottle, Chain-L might seem expensive, but given that I have it on four bikes now (my folding Dahon, my Octocog 29er and our two Allants) and I still have 3 ounces left in my 4-ounce bottle, I'd say Chain-L is a bargain.

You may have a problem finding Chain-L at your local bike shop, but I don't think that's as much a fault of the product as it is the nature of the bike business. Most bike shops work with a few big distributors (folks like QBP, SBS and J&B) to get most of their stock and don't think Chain-L is available via any of these distributors. Francis has signed up quite a few dealers via his grass roots evangelism and you can find a nearby dealer by consulting this map. This is actually quite impressive since Chain-L is a harder product to sell than some other lubes. Chain-L requires more consumer education and since the consumer will ultimately use less Chain-L then some competing products, there is little financial incentive for a bike shop to carry it. Sometimes the free-market works against the little guy,

But I sure wouldn't count Francis and his Chain-L lube out of the running. He's won Christine and me over and Ed Pavelka is also convinced. So is Larry Varney.

As of this writing, I have no financial interest in Chain-L (the shop I work at is not in Francis's dealer network...yet), but I sure hope Francis and his lube are a success. I'd like to see a guy who makes such a good lube succeed and I have one other reason for hoping he sticks around. In another year or two, I may need a second bottle of Chain-L.

Update as of 3:30 PM 11/16/11: I guess I'm more persuasive than I thought. Mike, the owner of the Bicycle Center of Issaquah, where I work, just ordered 18 bottles of Chain-L! They'll be in the shop on Friday.

Update as of 12/1/12: After a year of Christine and I using it on our bikes, I still have 1/3 of the 4 ounce bottle left. This highlights the problem of selling Chain-L from a shop perspective. It lasts too damn long. Customers who buy other lubes wind up spending more! Really, this is good stuff. If you can't find it at your local shop, ask for it. If you still can't get it locally, I'm adding an Amazon link below. (And yeah, I do make about 7% off the Amazon sales.)

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA
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