The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I Sniff Your Chain: The Olfactory Man's Guide to Chain Lube

Are you an olfactory sort of person? Take this brief quiz to find out:

1. I open the milk jug for an illicit swig when Mom is not looking. My first move is to give it the old sniff-test to make sure it's not too far down the road towards cottage cheese. (true/false)

2. "Oh see and look: a pair of socks. I think that I will wear them with my tennies. Wait--are they clean?" *sniff* Oh yes, this is what I do. (true/false)

3. Is it raining? Is it going to rain? Has it rained recently? I know this by smell. (true/false)

4. Something is wrong with my car. I know this because it is emitting: a) bad sounds; b) bad vibes; c) bad persons; d) "Bad Bad Leroy Brown;" e) bad odors.


6. I've got a nose. Having a nose is one of those things I'm good at. (true/false)

If you answered any of the above questions at all, you might be an olfactory person, and consequently, this post is for you.

Have you ever wondered how to tell what a chain has been lubed with? Here's a fail-safe way to distinguish among several of the top brands of chain lube using nothing but your olfactory bulb.

Here is Thad. Thad has literally got a picture of sprocket teeth coming out of his head. Thad is modeling a lovely yellow bottle of Dumonde Tech Lite. Fitting, because Thad is a culinary-trained grillmeister, and Dumonde Tech Lite smells kind of like blue cheese. More precisely, it smells like Roquefort cheese, which comes from moldy old caves in France, and features the same Brevibacterium linens that makes your feet stink and attracts mosquitoes. Are you a foodie? Here is your chain lube!

Here is Pete. Pete is wearing a shirt with his name on it. He's been working out, as you can see. In his right (or left, whatever) hand, he holds a bottle of Finish Line Dry. Finish Line Dry was the original dry chain lube developed in the War of 1812 when the battleship "Old Ironsides" battled Mothra on the banks of Lake Gogebic. The hulking steamer was simply making too much racket as she lurched sturdily toward the ever-alert mothlike creature, so they came up with Finish Line Dry... anyways, it smells subtly of patriotism mixed with a hint of nail polish remover. It is extremely low-odor for those with sensitive beaks.

Here is Mario. Mario is standing near the Greenway, and fittingly, holds a bottle of Finish Line Wet lube, the official lube of the Greenway from November through March. It is pretty much the only lube that can hold up to a Minnesota winter's salt and slop. It smells like virtue and strength; Minnesota resolve to ride our bicycles even when the rest of the world laughs us to scorn. Actually, it kind of smells like a lawn freshly mowed where you accidentally got into the herb garden with the weed eater, especially if you grow peppermint. Mixed with Band-Aids.

This is Medium Tyson. He is ecstatically holding a bottle of T-9. He is ecstatic because the bottle is tightly sealed: T-9 smells kind of like a freshly loaded diaper if the child has eaten sushi, plus a little hint of paraffin. Boeing developed T-9 to build airplanes out of, but building airplanes out of waxy liquid proved impractical. So they implemented Plan B: stink up bike shops with it!

This is Karl. Karl's mechanical savvy is legendary, and so is the lube he is holding. Tri-Flow has been around for decades and is a great lube for rainy days and Mondays. And speaking of rainy days and Mondays, Tri-Flow probably has the cheeriest and most identifiable scent of any lube we've tried: it smells like bananas. Seriously, monkeys will drop everything and chase you bodily out of the woods if you lube your chain with Tri-Flow. But don't go writing to the Tri-Flow people for recipes: it is evidently not very tasty despite its amazing smell.

This is Brian. Brian is a registered Iowegian, and true corn-fed Iowegians know that regular WD-40 doesn't belong on a bike any more than a toaster belongs in the bathtub. But they (WD-40, not Iowegians) have recently put forth some products that are intended for bicycle use. "Hot diggety" we all said in unison when we heard the joyous news. The bottles showed up and we crowded around them like gypsies at a yard sale, and then we looked for a chain to lube with... WD-40! I know, it's crazy talk! But then we got whiff of the stuff. "Axe Body Spray," said Brian, crinkling his nose disdainfully. "Frat boys." said Dave, evidently drawing from a deep well of life experiences. "The shoe department at K-Mart," I quipped, trying to look on the bright side. This stuff is strong, and the scent lingers tenaciously. If you use it, we will know. We put it on the bikes of "special" customers for a while until our responsible service manager hid it somewhere, lest we get into trouble.

So there you have it, folks. This will get you started for when you go around sniffing people's chains!